Wednesday, June 10, 2015

An early 1870s gown

Or - An Unstoppable Force meets an Undoable Project
A few weeks ago a good friend of mine from outside the historical costuming community commissioned me to make a ruffly 1870s gown, and since I anticipated having a lot of free time over the summer, I agreed.  The only problem was that she lives halfway across the country and I have never sewn for anybody else in my life!

I'm not usually very fond of lots of trim and flounces but I found myself very taken with the ruffles (which almost compensates for how little I enjoyed sewing them on) and found an easier way to put them on.  One edge of each ruffle is selvage, the other is bound, the binding fabric folded down and encased between the two running stitches.  It's a few less steps than hemming one side, binding, sewing down the binding, gathering and applying.  I used some modern methods in the construction of this garment to expedite the process, as exact historical accuracy was not a huge concern.

Since the dress isn't made for me, it doesn't fit me correctly.  I just wanted to give a general idea of how it looks.

Here's my best Toulmouche impression!

I used Janet Arnold's 1870 pattern as a base and various different original garments for style inspiration.  The silk fabric is from Renaissance Fabric (I'm definitely getting myself some!) and the lining is quilter's cotton from Hancock's.  The whole garment took about a month, working off and on.

I sent the wearer a bodice mockup and made adjustments, and I hope I didn't over-compensate.  I also wish that I had shortened the sleeve caps a little, because they are a little awkward-sitting.  I also wish that I'd stiffened the hem of the underskirt like the original pattern prescribes, because at the moment it gets a little deflated (keep in mind, I'm not wearing any petticoats for these pictures.)  Since this dress was for someone else I didn't want to cut too many corners, though, so I'm really quite pleased with the extent to which everything was finished and neatly put together.  Through my tumblr sewing blog I was also able to give day-by-day updates of the dress being built, which was a lot of fun and, I think, helped the process by confirming that I was actually working on the garment!  We sent a lot of messages to each other regarding how we wanted the finished product to go together.

I hope you all have a lovely summer!  I have some fun projects coming down the pike that I can't wait to share with you all.

Update:  On the recipient!
All credit to L.R.


  1. Oh I can't wait to see it on her! Yippee for sewing and ruffles (which i do not have the patience to work with!) Can't wait! Beautiful job as ever, Frieda!

    1. Thank you, my dear, putting them on was frustrating but the second I put on the underskirt I looked in the mirror and went "I'm a PWIINCESSSS!" and spun around, so I guess that's a win.

    2. Lol! ;) So cute! Yes it's definitely a win!