Sunday, September 15, 2013

natural form skirt supports

One of the biggest hitches in my natural form dress plan this past summer was having to make a whole new set of skirt supports before I could start the dress.  When I first planned out this project, I naively thought that I could get away with just my regular Victorian petticoat under the gown, but I quickly discovered that even though this period claims to be "natural", it takes a good bit of engineering to support the swooping trained skirt shape of the late 1870's.

I ended up making 4 different skirt foundation pieces to wear under my ball gown, and all of these pieces include recycled materials in them in one way or another, so I'm using this set of skirt supports for my Re-make, Re-use and Re-fashion entry for the Historical Sew Fortnightly.  I'm bending the rules a bit because the bulk of these garments were made well before the challenge started, but I did put some finishing touches on them this month by adding a few final hooks and ties.  

The first garment that I made is a hip pad, which was constructed from embroidered taffeta and cotton batting that came from a fancy coverlet that was given to me years ago.  My version is modeled after the 1901 patent drawing shown on the left, but a wide variety of hip pads also existed in the 1870s as well, so I felt confident that the idea was sound even though I used a later style for reference.  Although the shape is subtle, it adds a bit of "umph" to the hourglass look, which is so important with princess-line natural form dresses.

Next I made a set of natural form hoops by using one of the patterns in Fashions of the Gilded Age.  The hoops help hold the train of the skirt out below the knees and give it a much nicer line.  The fabric is cotton sateen, and the hoop wire was recycled from a beat up vintage hoop skirt that a friend gave me.  I modified the original pattern slightly by leaving off the front slits, and I also made a laced panel behind the legs like you see on lobster-tail bustles, which allows me to adjust the size of the hoops.  I have never worn a bustle so low on my legs before, and I was worried that it would make it difficult to walk and dance, but I just left a few buttons at the bottom undone for the gala, and I barely even noticed that I was wearing it.

Over the hoops and hip pad, I wore my usual Victorian petticoat, but then I added a tie-on ruffled back piece to fill out the train.  The pattern for this garment also came from Fashions of the Gilded Age, and the organdy ruffles all came from a ripped and stained vintage petticoat.  This piece is actually a good bit longer than it appears in these pictures. It has a flat section at the top that is folded under when worn with this particular dress, which shortens the train length to work with demi-train styles.  If I ever get a chance to make a gown with a longer train, all I have to do it flip up the top and it will work for longer lengths too.

Finally, I made a balayeuse for the train, which is just a ruffle of fabric that helps support the skirt hem, provides a bit of decoration if the hem flips over, and it keeps the inside of the train clean.  All I did for this one is cut the ruffle off of a badly damaged Edwardian petticoat and baste it to the inside of the skirt train.  You can see my balayeuse at the top of this post.

To show you what a difference these foundation pieces make in the overall look of a dress, I took two sets of pictures of my natural form ball gown - the first pictures show the dress worn over these four new foundation pieces, and the second set of pictures shows it with my corset and petticoat alone.  It all flows so much nicer with a proper foundation, so I'm very glad I took the time to build the right support garments for my dress.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

natural form ballgown

I have one more new dress from Costume College and the Historical Sew Fortnightly that I need to document, but I think I have developed "post-traumatic sewing disorder" and I can barely force myself to write about it.  I had intended to make this one for the Pretty Pretty Princess HSF challenge back in mid-June, but even though I picked an understated natural form style specifically to be "quick and easy", it turned into nothing but constant stress and design problems.  It ended up being 7 weeks late for the challenge, and I was actually still sewing and trying to figure out the final decorations just hours before the gala.  While there are some things that I like about the way the dress finally turned out, the main things that I see when I look at the pictures are things that wish I had done differently.  Don't you hate it when projects turn out like that?  :P

Anyhoo.  Here's a few details about this one, and then let's never speak of it again.  LOL!

One of the many gowns from 1877
that helped inspire my dress  
The dress is made for a combination of 4 different patterns from Fashions of the Gilded Age, and I did not base it on one particular fashion plate or image - it's a hodge-podge of a lot of different sources from around 1876-1878.   I broke from my stash-only rule this year and bought 6 yards of heavy sateen for the body of the gown, a yard of silk taffeta for the trim and bertha, and several yards of 6" rayon chainette fringe for the trim (I bought the fringe from Dove Originals and definitely recommend them as a source for trim!).  I also used up several dress-lengths of misc. fabric from my stash for the mock-ups and linings, so the stash-busting goal wasn't completely ignored.  I only had 6 yards of the sateen to work with, and while I thought this would be plenty of fabric when I started, I ended up having to scrap the decadent long train that I originally envisioned for my dress, which was a real downer because that was one of my favorite parts about my original plan.

The one part that I was really excited about experimenting with on my dress was the fringe, which I dyed and knotted myself after realizing that there was no way on earth that I could find pre-made fringe to match the odd salmon color of my gown.  The fringe is my favorite part of the whole dress, and I loved the way it moved when I walked or danced.  I also found that knotting yards and yards of fringe was strangely zen-like and relaxing, and that was the one part of this project that I really enjoyed.  I seem to be a bit of a fringe-making fanatic after working on this dress and my fringed Redingote from last fall.  I think it's my own quirky equivalent to women who knit or crochet.

Here are some of the posed pics from the night of the gala.

Although this project was difficult in many ways, I am still so grateful that I made it because it allowed me to be a part of a somewhat accidental theme group with my friends Merja and Elizabeth in our pink-hued natural form gowns.  I had SO MUCH FUN spending time with these ladies all weekend, and being a part of a "pretty pink princess" group with my buddies at the gala was one of the best highlights of my trip.


And the pink dress luv didn't stop there either.  There seemed to be fabulous pink dresses everywhere this year, and mingling among all those gorgeous pink confections made my matchy-matchy brain delirious with happiness.

So that's pretty much it for this one.  I'll be back sometime in the next few days to talk about the foundation garments that I also made to create this outfit.  Special thanks to Loren, Meilin, and Lauren for allowing me to use some their photos.   I also wanted to thank a few amazing friends who helped me find inspiration, make decisions, buy supplies, and stitch on last-minute sleeves.  I couldn't have done it without you!  

Wednesday, September 4, 2013


Pattern graciously shared by Allison Marchant on Flickr
If you tried to check out my Hooverest pinterest board last night, it is possible that the link didn't work.  I made the board secret while I was putting it together, but then I forgot to turn that off when I posted my blog entry about it.  But here's the link again if you are interested in this sort of dress.  I found over 50 examples of Hooverettes and 20s-40s wrap dresses while I was poking around online, and some of them are so adorable.

Thank-you Ista for pointing out the glitch!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

1930's Hooverette

I had grand plans when the "robes and robings" Historical Sew Fortnightly challenge was first announced. But since this challenge fell on the first week of school and after a busy summer of sewing for Costume College, I ultimately decided to take it easy on myself and make the most stress-free garment that I could come up with. And I'm so glad that I did, because I ended up falling in love with a quirky little subset of 1930's house dresses as a result. May I present the fabulous Hooverette!

It all started when I was flipping though the book Everyday Fashions of the Thirties as Pictured in the Sears Catalogue a few weeks ago, and I was looking for traditional house robes as a possibility for this project. In one 1935 listing, I saw something that looked very much like my idea of a robe, but it was being sold as a dress, and the ad called it a "Hooverette". So what the heck is a Hooverette? Well, I discovered that it was a simple housedress with a robe-like sash and wrap front, and the wrap could tie on either side.  That way, if you got your dress dirty while working around the house, you could just switch the overlap and quick as a flash, your dress was presentable again.  Considering how often I get stains on my clothes, I thought that was pretty darn brilliant! 

I poked around a little online, and found tons of examples of these dresses under a wide variety of names. The term Hooverette or Hoover apron seems to have been a trendy name in the mid-30's (BTW, the book Making History - Quilts & Fabric From 1890-1970 by Barbara Brackman offers some fun theories on how the garment got its name), but they were more often called more simple names in ads from the 1920's through the 1940's such as apron frocks (or dresses), wrap frocks, coat frocks, or house frocks. Amusingly enough, I never found the word "robe" being used to describe them, even though they totally look like robes to me. But after reading lots of ads for these dresses in period newspapers and catalogues, it seems like GREAT importance was placed on women looking nice and completely pulled together from the moment they rolled out of bed every morning, so what could be better than wearing a glorified robe that everybody had agreed to classify as a dress?  Here are a few of my favorite ads. Can you imagine having this much pressure on you to look chic while scrubbing the floors and cooking breakfast?

No longer will you have that "zero hour" feeling when the alarm clock rings, and you "haven't a thing" to slip into. Just reach for this Marian Martin wrap-around fock, tie the adjustable belt, adjust your puffed sleeves, give a finishing pat to your crisp ruffled collar - and you are "all-set" for a lot of admiration from your family.
Gettysburg Times - Feb 9, 1937

Open it out flat for ironing and keep it fresh and clean, ready to slip into at any time.... Frame your face with a snowy white collar edges with a dainty, feminine frill. You will be the picture of efficiency and charm all the time you are working.
The Telegraph - Jul 3, 1939

Every woman who loves her home and wants to look pretty in it at all times will love the flattery of the dainty frill that outlines the armholes and yoke-effect... Your family will admire your smart appearance if you choose a fabric of cheery and becoming colors. 
The News and Courier - Mar 16, 1937

Several ads mention that these dresses were nice enough to wear to the market or when visitors come over the to house, so to me, these dresses are sort of like when modern women wear their baggy sweats or yoga pants to run errands (but so much more stylish!)  Various patterns and ads also mention that they could be worn by professional women such as nurses or beauticians, and one listing mentioned that this type of dress is great for maternity-wear.  Others point out that they are a smart style for plus-sized women, with one pattern offering sizes up to a 52" bust.

So after learning about these amazing all-purpose garments, I was excited to try making one of my own.  There are several pattern diagrams online that show the shape of wrap-dress pattern pieces (here's a very simple one from the 20's), and for most dresses, it appears that there is just a front, a back, a sleeve, and sometimes a collar and/or a pocket.  Easy peasy.  I took bits and pieces from 4 different 30's dress patterns in my collection and cobbled together a single dress that looked similar to the examples that I had found online.

My dress is made out of orange and cream cotton houndstooth fabric that I've had in my stash for years.  I had a very small amount of fabric, so every part of my dress has piecing in it somewhere, which I love because I think it feels even more authentic for a depression-era garment.  I added some large vintage rick-rack for embellishment around the collar and pocket, and the only closure on the garment is a single vintage button on the back of the belt.

I'm really thrilled by how my dress turned out, and it is so comfy and easy to wear.  I can definitely see myself throwing this on the next time I need to make a quick run to Walmart!  :)

Whew!  Pretending to be a good 30's housewife is hard work!

You can find many more historical examples of these wrap-style frocks on my Hooverettes and Housedresses Pinterest board, and I have a few more pictures of my dress on Flickr.