The Panicked Plaid Walking Dress, circa 1897

After Georgian Picnic, I got to start my new job! It’s a bit more complicated than anticipated, but otherwise it is working out well. The only tangle is that Saturday hours are required. Many Guild events are on Saturdays, so I was worried I would have to miss the December events, Lantern Light and Candlelight. Lantern Light was actually a last minute event. We were invited on the fly to attend for free if we all come dressed in 1890s garb. I love the 1890s! And free? Everybody loves free!

When the schedule rolled out at work the following week, however, I was scheduled to work that Saturday. It broke my heart, but Lantern Light was off the table. The Thursday before the event, the schedule suddenly changed and I got the day off, but by then other plans had been made, so I still missed it. I was, however, now free to attend Candlelight. I planned to wear my 1856 day dress since I thought it was “Christmas-y” enough to fit the mood. Plus, December events are frequently frigid, so yards of heavy quilting cotton would be a welcome haven from the chill.

But the seed of discontent had been sewn by my missed 1890s opportunity and the unruly Texas weather only helped that discontent grow…

Saturday, December 6th
(7 Days until Candlelight)

The forecast predicts that the weather, which has been unbelievably warm for December, will continue to prove the existence of global warming throughout the week. Highs are listed in the low 70s through the following Saturday. I wonder if six yards of quilting cotton is the wisest choice.  I have that summery cotton 1890s dress that’s much lighter. Maybe wear that? No. It’s too spring-like. I want to be festive! There’s a new Walmart down the road with an awesome fabric department…no! There’s no time! Plus, my 1850s dress is super cute.

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Maintain the course, Lizzie! You’re too deep in already, what with this new job. You don’t have time to make anything new. No more last minute sewing!

Becky is a busy bee at work and has no time to sew, so we troop over to the neighborhood Goodwill to put my Easy Edwardian thrifting tutorial into action. Hallelujah! The perfect lavender formal skirt appears! One flouncy silk shirt, pair of perfectly plum pumps, and a swanky sheer jacket later and we have the perfect basic Edwardian lady! We part discussing hats hats hats. I love hats…especially 1890s hats.

Sunday, December 7th
(6 Days until Candlelight)

O…M…G…This Walmart polysatin looks so fabulous! And look! A matching plaid! I need this plaid. It is sooooo 1890s!

The Delineator January, 1898

I’ll just stash them together since they’re practically made for each other. It’ll be a good project for later. Can I get some help in the fabric department please? Thank you. Is it okay if I start stacking bolts here? Fabulous!

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Ahem! What? Nope! Nothing to see here! Carry on!

Monday, December 8th
(5 Days until Candlelight)

Wow, is my head stuffy! I hope I’m not getting a cold…

Tuesday, December 9th
(4 Days until Candlelight)

Yup. Cold. Dammit.

Wednesday, December 10th
(3 Days until Candlelight)

Becky is going Edwardian. Chris is (was) going in his blue Edwardian coat. I wanna match eras! A stupid idea this close to the event, but–themes! Plus, I have this awesome, festive plaid that is just screaming holiday without being too kitschy. Yup! Totes making an 1890s dress! Simplicity 4156 has lots of pieces, but I’ve made it before and I’ve refined the pattern to the point where it fits pretty well. Sewing the skirt would take up a big chunk of time, though. Time for some thrifty cheating!

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I have a red satin formal skirt I used for my Edwardian hack, and it matches pretty well. I’ll just use the bodice portion and forgo the skirt. But housework first. I’ll start tomorrow.

Thursday, December 11th
(2 Days until Candlelight)

2:34 pm: Wow, work was a bear! I’ll just lie down for a short nap to recover. Better take some medicine, too. I should probably lay out my pattern pieces fir–ZZZZZZZZ….

5:53 pm: Whoa, I did not mean to sleep that long. Time to meet Becky at Hobby Lobby for hat decorations. Feathers! Flowers! Fabrics! Trims take the most time to shop for, at least in my case, plus, you can never have too many ostrich plumes!

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Chopping up a cheap Christmas wreath yields the perfect touch of Christmas cheer for my hat, too.

Friday, December 12th
(1 Day until Candlelight)

10:00 am: Probably should not have slept this late…

1:30 pm: HOLY COW HOLY COW HOLY COW! I HAVE 24 HOURS TO GET THIS DONE.

<abject panic and flailing for about 2 hours>

Maybe I’ll just wear my 1856 dress after all. But that would be quitting. I ain’t no quitter!

3:40 pm: Hmmm…I don’t really want balloon sleeves this go-round. Mutton sleeves sound better. Internet tutorials to the rescue! There are lots of methods, but I need to stay simple. The easiest two are the vertical slash for a very full, tapered sleeve and the curved slash that concentrates that fullness at the top:

Leg of Mutton Sleeve Pattern Diagrams, circa 1940
The vertical slash method is on the bottom.

 

Leg of Mutton Sleeve Pattern Diagrams, circa 1940
The “Gill” method is on the left.

They produce very similarly shaped results, but I don’t like the amount of fullness the vertical slash method creates down the length of the arm when used for long sleeves (for short puffs it should work just fine). Both would be correct, but the more fitted forearm of the “gill” method is much more flattering. The sleeves take almost a full yard of fabric by themselves!

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I would have gone bigger, but there was no time to do another mock-up.

4:50 pm: All pattern pieces cut! I scrounge for lining and end up having to line the sleeves in cotton rather than net, so they won’t puff as much as I like. If you can, flatline mutton sleeves with net if your fabric is soft and drapes. Crisp fabrics usually don’t need it, depending on how you want the final result to look. Another option is to make 1980s-esque shoulder pads. I had time for neither, so my sleeves flop a bit. Oh well!

5:50 pm: Time to go to dinner with the family and go to Journey to Bethlehem at church.

9:40 pm: Chris drops me off at the house on his way to Magic the Gathering.

1:15 am: There’s so much to do! The lapels are giving me lots of trouble because I’ve worn out the needle and I have no more! Chris has the car way across town, so buying a fresh one is a no-go. I hand crank the needle through the thick lapel interfacing, which works great….until I realize I’ve just sewn one lapel backwards! Crap.

2:26 am: THE NEEDLE BREAKS.

2:27 am: Wailing and gnashing of teeth.

3:15 am: Chris picks me up after Magic the Gathering and we buy fresh needles from Wally World.

4:40 am: Bed.

Saturday, December 13th
(The Day of Candlelight)

9:00 am: Alarm goes off.

10:00 am: I decide I needed to make life even more complicated by adding a faux belt front to the bodice insert. I bought the buckle off eBay about a month ago for a few dollars. I didn’t really know why I bought it at the time, but it works perfectly. Must have been fate! Also the hand of fate: I have a red silk shirt from Goodwill to recycle into a belt that pretty closely matches the skirt color.

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11:30 am: Insert done. The collar came up an inch short, but there is no time! Hide it with a brooch…

12:05 pm: The peplum requires a ridiculously long piece of facing. I don’t have time to hand-tack it to the lining. Iron-on hem tape that sucker!

1:25 pm: Sleeves done.

1:30 pm: Wait, I was supposed to be curling my hair this whole time?! Noooooooooo! I forgot!

2:00 pm: Becky arrives and we get her all gussied up.

3:15 pm: Chris is hollering at me from downstairs that we need to go and I am still sewing feathers on my hat. Also, he has decided to go in his western vest rather than in his more formal vest and one button has fallen off. Sew it on while stuck in Dallas traffic.

4:55 pm: Arrive late, but look oh-so-fabulous! (Sorry for making you wait, Jen!)

1910s and 1890s

1910 on the left, 1897 on the right!

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Our cozy little group, complete with a pair of handsome gentlemen!
Photo courtesy of Festive Attyre (and the woman who so kindly took the photo for us!)

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Photo (filtered B&W) courtesy of Festive Attyre

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Photo (filtered B&W) courtesy of Festive Attyre

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Becky made her hat from a sun hat that she covered with velvet and trimmed with silk hydrangeas and sequined ribbon. Her first Edwardian hat-making project ever! The sequins caught the light so well.

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Edwardian hats are large horizontally while 1890s hats are large vertically, so I went for big, tall feathers and flora. Like many 1890s hats, I put a big V shaped bow at the back to create the “setting hen” look that was popular at the time.

Festive 1890s Hat Cost Breakdown

Wool hat base – $18.95, Go-a-Hat
Fabric for band and bow – Scraps, so free!
Various greenery from dismembered wreath – $4.95, Hobby Lobby
Red feathers – $1.99, Hobby Lobby
Cream plume – $3.99 Hobby Lobby

Total: $29.88

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Photo courtesy of Festive Attyre

Panicked Plaid 1890s Dress Cost Breakdown

3 yards navy polysatin – $6, Walmart
1 yard plaid cotton – $1, Walmart
Red silk shirt for belt- $2.15, Goodwill
Gilded brass belt buckle – $4.49, eBay
Red formal skirt – $5.49, Goodwill
1/4 yard interfacing – A gift, so free!
White beaded purse – Technically it’s my sisters, so, um, free?

Total: $19.13

You might notice something missing from this list: fasteners! indeed, there isn’t a single fastener down the front of the bodice! It’s held together by the belt, brooch and two strategically placed straight pins, but thanks to the fit and front pleating, you can’t even tell. Not bad for being totally on the fly!

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Happy Holidays!

One Pattern to rule them all; One Pattern to make them; One Girl to sew them, and with some changes, fake them!

Autumn Day Dress, circa 1855-60

SO…

After much procrastination, consternation, and perspiration (the sewing room upstairs gets rather toasty), I finished assembling my modified-for-the-1850s Simplicity 3723 day dress!

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Hmmm….not so impressive.

While it looks pretty close to the envelope, if you think it looks a little “off” in that photo, you’d be right! This is a perfect example of how much undergarments matter. Simplicity 3723 is designed to be worn without a corset, but I fitted it over one for a more period look. However, since my corseted measurements and my uncorseted measurements happen to be exactly the same, I decided to take the opportunity to show how important proper undergarments can be. This is what the gown looks like without any petticoats, hoops, or a corset. It looks rather frumpy, doesn’t it?

You’ll also notice that even the pagoda sleeves, while lovely, look a little flat compared to what you’d expect. If you look at period photographs, you’ll notice that some ladies are wearing their wide sleeves alone, but most have fluffy while undersleeves filling out the cuff:

 

Daguerreotype portrait of a Woman, 1849-52
Worn sans undersleeves. Another later example here.

Handtinted Ambrotype of a Woman, circa 1855
Example of undersleeves from right around the time of my dress! Her undersleeves and collar are “Broderie Anglaise” (a type of homemade eyelet that was very fashionable in the 1850s). I like this photo a lot because she looks a bit like me. I even did my hair similarly. We’re history sisters!

Undersleeves, circa 1850-69
These are also decorated with broderie anglaise.

Undersleeves could vary from very fancy to extremely plain. For simplicity (Ha, ha! Jokes.), I chose to go with the latter. Making your own undersleeves is very simple! They are just two tubes of fabric gathered with drawstrings at the top and bottom. I used elastic cord for the drawstring because trying to tie drawstrings on yourself is impossible otherwise. Many undersleeves of the period had drawstring tops, but button cuffs for this very reason. However, I wanted something very quick and easy that anyone could make. By using elastic cord, I can dress myself.

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I just measured the length from above my elbow to my wrist and cut that much off a bolt of 45 inch fabric, which I then cut along the fold, giving me two rectangles of fabric 18″ x 22.5.” This is about as “skinny” of a sleeve you can make. The fuller your dress’ sleeves, the fuller your undersleeves should be.

By 1858, hoop skirts were in full swing. I really want hoops, but right now, I don’t have the cash. Instead, I fit my dress over a cheap bridal petticoat I found in Goodwill for $7, a modest bumroll, and my “post-haste” petticoat.

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Also: sock boobs!
I fitted the dress over a corset, but I didn’t put my corset on my mannequin because she is actually much longer waisted than I am and is nipped in and hard as steel in already!

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My “post-haste” petticoat is just 3 or 4 yards of fabric with a drawstring waistband. it’s post-haste because I made it 20 minutes before an event in a panic! Now it’s been worn with everything from an 18th century dress to 1880s bustles!

So now:

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Thanks in part to the heavy weight of the fabric, the final shape isn’t as defined and full as hoopskirts, but it’s still full enough to be period appropriate, especially for a common country woman. This fullness is actually perfect for 1840s, though! Now I know what to do for that decade when I get around to it.

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The collar is just some soft net lace I had originally bought to make 18th century engageantes. I really wanted to use an antique collar, but I couldn’t find one the right size. This works well enough, though. I am really proud of how the tassels turned out. So much fun!

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I notice a lot of pictures of museum workers standing by Victorian dresses, especially Queen Victoria herself, commenting about how tiny everything is. Well, it’s kind of an optical illusion. My dress looks pretty small compared to me, but that’s mostly thanks to modern clothes which aren’t fitted and cut across the body at the widest point. Also, you can really see just how much wide skirts make your waist look smaller by hiding your legs, which in my case are the skinniest part of my body. By hiding them, the eye re-focuses on the new skinniest place: your waist!

Before I could call my outfit complete, I needed a bonnet! No self-respecting 1850s lady, especially an ol’ married lady such as m’self, would be caught dead outdoors without proper headgear. Simplicity 3723 comes with a fabric sun bonnet pattern that’s pretty cute, but I didn’t want to be cute. I wanted to be petty, tailored, and stately in a modest-sized spoon bonnet that fit fairly close to my head. I also didn’t want to be too matchy-matchy. I had some dark blue ribbon that complimented the jewel tones of my dress and reminded me of this gorgeous bonnet in the National Trust Collections:

Bonnet, circa 1840-50
It’s dated a bit early, but simple enough that it could pass for almost any style between 1840 and 1860.

I used one of the many flower pot baskets out of my TV-intervention-worthy hoard as a base. As a few online tutorials suggested, I took off the top binding and soaked it in hot water for a few hours to try to remove some of the waviness in the brim. The basket straw is much thicker and brittle than hat straw, so I couldn’t get it as flat as I wanted, but slight waviness doesn’t seem to be a issue for these historical ladies:

Ladies of Davenport, Iowa,1863
My bonnet ended up being almost exactly the same shape as the one on the far left. Also: love that lady’s purse!

I rebound the edge with bias tape and in the process discovered that you never, EVER use “Amazing QuickHold” glue. Ever. It smells like skunk, makes the cat flee from the room in disgust, and causes the husband to ask many unflattering questions. It’s formulated to be thin, so it also soaks into fabric, leaving little frosted white patches when it dries. Do not recommend! I learned my lesson and went back to trusty old “craft” glue.

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I would have sewn everything on, but once again the thick straw got in the way– and perhaps no small amount of pure sloth. I really do love my hat baskets, though. They’re really cheap, easy to obtain, and highly entertaining. If I mess one up, I don’t feel as bad as if I had invested in an expensive reproduction bonnet form or even a straw hat. When I found the flower choices at the local craft stores to be rather uninspiring, I made some cockades using this tutorial and added a tassel cut from the dress trim scraps to tie it together without being overly matching:

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Bonnet cost breakdown:

2 yards navy ribbon – $4.75, eBay
2 yards mustard ribbon – $4.75, eBay
Hat basket – $1.59, Goodwill
1/2 yard net lace – $2, Hobby Lobby
2 yards pleated brown ribbon – $4.50, Walmart
Bias tape – $1.98, Walmart

Total: $19.57

Add some second-hand square-toed boots and I was ready to trundle everything out to my graciously obliging mother-in-law’s house for a photoshoot! Here’s everything being worn altogether:

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Dress cost breakdown

6 yards printed cotton – $17.82, Walmart
2 yards burgundy cotton – $5.94, Walmart
4 yards tassel trim – $15.96, Hobby Lobby
1/2 yard net lace – $2, Hobby Lobby
Cotton sheet for flat lining – $1, Thrift Town
Hooks and bars – $1.69, Hobby Lobby
Brown poly-cotton thread – $1.98, Walmart

Total: $46.39

Accessories

Bonnet – $19.57
Bridal Petticoat – $7, Goodwill
Flat, brown leather ankle boots – $29, eBay (Talbots brand)
Collar brooch – Personal collection

Total: $102.50
(a bit spendier than I would have liked, but still cheaper than purchasing one pre-made!)

Aside from the still-too-small petticoat circumference, I’d say my foray into the 1850s was a success!

I think the biggest reason the outfit came together so well stems from the way I approached the project. Sure, I wanted to be a bit ornery and prove you could make something passable out of the barest of materials, but I mostly made this dress for myself, approaching the project as though I was making clothes, not a “costume.” I chose fabric, colors, and trims that I thought looked best on me, not just because they were historically appropriate or pretty on their own and I made sure that I could generally exist in it comfortably without feeling suffocated or weird. A lot of costumes I’ve worn in the past have always felt costumey, so they projected as costumey, too. While taking on a different persona can be fun, if you are historically costuming in general, you are still you, even if you are an accountant in Alabama portraying a fisherman’s wife in 17th century Spain. Naturally, you would wear what “they” would have worn, but you are also the one wearing it, so wear what you would wear, too!

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Many thanks to Becky for allowing me to roam all over the back 40 and helping me take photos!

For construction details and the story behind this dress, check out Part 1.

 HAPPY HALLOWEEN EVERYONE!