Friday, September 18, 2015

mourning calico

So back in January, I shared a new natural form dress that I had made for a Little House on the Prairie group that was in the works for Costume College.  But then I had a change of heart and decided that I wanted a lighter weight cotton dress instead of a heavy wool one.   I also am a hopeless follower, and when I heard that my friends were making calico prairie dresses, I decided that I needed one too!  I found a great deal on a repro calico fabric from Saunders Fabrics, and I picked a black fabric with a simple diamond pattern, which I thought it would make a lovely half-mourning dress.  I'm so glad that I ended up switching plans because I think we made such a fun little group of Ingalls sisters in our nicely coordinating calicos.

For something a little different, I decided to try a yoked bodice, which was an incredibly popular style in the late 1870's.  In April of 1879, Peterson's Magazine features a plaid yoked house dress and stated that "the deep waist is made plaited back and front into a yoke; a belt around the waist, with a bow of ribbon on one side." Most of these yoked bodices had high, round necklines or small standing collars, but I found one example of a yoked bodice with a middy collar on a teenaged girl, so I thought that the V-neck might help keep me cool while I also try a style that I haven't done before.  

To help me get started with the construction, I found 2 yoked bodice patterns and several narrow overskirt diagrams in Fashions of the Gilded Age, Volume 1: Undergarments, Bodices, Skirts, Overskirts, Polonaises, and Day Dresses 1877-1882.  Although I changed these patterns up quite a bit to make my own dress, they were a huge help as I figured out the overall shapes.  

I used cotton velveteen for the collar, cuffs, and belt, and I edged it with natural linen rickrack, which really made these features stand out nicely.  The buttons are vintage and slightly mismatched, which is a fun little detail that seemed appropriate for a prairie dress.  I'm always amused when I see Victorian photos of women who have a mismatched button on their dress.  It happens more often than you would think, and I love imagining a practical frontier woman just replacing a missing button with something "close enough" and not wasting any time worrying about it.

I also wore a silk bow at my neck, and a mourning rosette at my waist. The rosette was a lovely gift from 2 friends, and I made a faux tintype of my husband to use for the portrait.  Similar mourning badges were quite popular after the death of Abraham Lincoln, and you can see a similar style here.  

As the finishing touch, I restyled a vintage black straw hat into a bonnet.  You can see the "before" version on the left.  I cut the brim off in the back of the hat and then wired the edge and covered it with petersham ribbon so that I could curve it around my face.  Then I stitched some wide vintage lace into the inside of the brim, and I trimmed the outside with some vintege ribbon and the original black feathers from the hat.  The ivory silk bow that was around the hat when I bought it was repurposed for the bow at the neck of my dress.

I love the long, loosely curled ponytails that you sometimes see in the late 1870's, so I took the easy way out of styling my hair and just attached a clip-in hairpiece and tied it with a bow. I think it's a nice change of pace from the more severe buns of the 1880s.

I only got a few posed pictures of my dress at Costume College, but I'm hoping to get some more fun ones in a pretty setting when I wear it again this winter.  But if you'd like to see a few more, you can check out my Flickr album.  

Sunday, September 6, 2015

A Summer Chemise

A friend of mine was hosting an 18th c. themed birthday party this weekend, and I decided at the last minute that I wanted a new dress that lightweight enough to be comfortable in our lingering summer heat. It's still in the high 90's here in Texas, so I thought a new chemise gown would be well worth a little detour from my other sewing and blogging plans. I also couldn't resist joining my friends, who were also wearing chemises to the party. I'm such a sucker for a theme!
The fabric is a figured cotton with woven stripes and dots, and it was originally brown.  I bleached it and then re-dyed it to be a periwinkle blue-grey color.  I thought the color that I ended up with was a nice match to the hue in this lovely fashion plate from Cabinet des Modes.  I originally wanted to make a ruffled neckline and hem to make my dress match this fashion plate even closer, but I only had around 4 yards of fabric to work with, so I didn't have enough left over for ruffles.  

Although colored chemise gowns during this time period are plentiful, it's hard to find much evidence for cotton chemise gowns in colors other than white.   Most of the surviving examples and period references show that colored chemises were typically made of silk.  But there is one fashion plate that shows a chemise of pink English muslin, and as far as I know, 18th c. muslin was always made of cotton instead of silk, so I'm hoping that little tidbit of evidence is good enough to let me get away with this somewhat unusual material.

I used the same basic pattern that I created for my black chemise a few years ago, but this time I made elbow length sleeves and only had 2 drawstrings on the bodice instead of 3.  Chemise gowns with fitted backs are very easy to construct, and I think they are a lot less fiddly than the kind that are gathered all the way around.  I took a picture while I was getting dressed to give you a peek at the construction.  It's really just a basic round gown with a gathered section attached over the front of the bodice, and this panel is stitched down on to the bodice at the sides and tied in the center with ribbons.

For the party last night, I just wore a simple ribbon and some flowers in my hair since this seems to be a very common look for ladies in portraits from the late 1780's and early 1790's.  But I also loved the way the dress looked with my black tall hat, so I took some photos of both styles while tromping though the woods at my local park today.  Here are a few of my favorite shots, and there are a few more pictures on flickr.