More Sawing than Sewing- Starting my 18th Century Court Bodice.

I have finally gotten started actually sewing my court gown. I am starting with the foundation for the bodice, which is essentially a built in pair of stays. (for those unfamiliar with the 18th century, stays are the earlier version of the corset).

Although it is not from exactly the right era, I decided to use the 1690 stays pattern from Norah Waugh’s “Corsets and Crinolines”.  I chose to do so for several reasons. One is because it is because this is a pattern taken from a court bodice (which is what I am making) and court bodices are known to be very conservative in style (the fashion for them changed very little in a century). The other patterns are all for proper stays.

In addition, the pattern for the fully boned stays c. 1740 laced in the front, which is not what I was looking for, and the 1776 stays were half boned.

For materials, I am using a linen canvas to create the foundation, and cane/reed for the boning. Whalebone, which was what was most commonly used in the era, is now unobtainable, so our options today, are to either use cane or a synthetic boning. Synthetic bones are made of plastic, and plastic does a very good job of holding in heat. Obviously, it is not historically accurate either. I am using a jeweler’s saw to cut the cane because I happened to have one lying around. I’m not sure what other people use but the little saw is quite convenient. Continue reading

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Planning my next project- 18th Century Robe de Cour

Now that my Victorian (Early Bustle) Ballgown is done, I have started planning my next project. Going to Costume College let me see many gorgeous costumes and definitely gave me plenty of ideas for inspiration. There were quite a few people dressed in lovely 18th century gowns.

Next year’s theme for Costume College is “Royalty”.  To me, no costume exemplifies royalty more than court dress (the pinnacle is probably court dress + coronation robes). Court dress existed during many eras, but the 18th century is rather famous for it, and this is the era I decided to make my next dress on.


Information on 18th Century court dress is rather scarce, and there are actually no extant gowns worn in France left in existence. Sweden has a couple lovely examples left though. There are several blogs that show some construction of court gowns, and it seems there was a project several years ago where costumers decided to recreate court gowns of the era.

Les Arts Decoratifs has very helpful posts on court gowns, and Isis’s Wardrobe also has some great posts documenting the creation of her court gown. I highly recommend visiting their sites if you have any interest in 18th century court gowns.


What distinguishes the 18th century “Robe de Cour” is the make of the bodice. It features a low, wide neckline and the bodice laces in the back. Instead of being worn over separate stays like the majority of costumes of the era, the stays are built into the bodice itself. The other thing that the court gowns of the era were known for was the wide paniers.

Petticoat of bright yellow silk worn at a ball at Holyrood in 1760 by Helen Robertson of Ladykirk

Is this dress wide enough?            Petticoat of bright yellow silk worn in 1760 by Helen Robertson of Ladykirk

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My First Dress Done- and Costume College 2017

1870’s Early Bustle Ball Gown

Nothing gets a project done like a deadline- and I finally got my dress done right before the gala. This was my first time attending Costume College, so my mother came with me for moral support. She also helped a lot with last minute finishing of the gown.

I didn’t get to add the ruffle at the bottom that I wanted to add, nor did I manage to make a balayeuse ( the dust ruffle), but overall, I am very happy with my dress.

Here is a picture of me in the dress-IMG_4223 Blog Version

 

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Treasure Hunting in Antique Shops, Ebay, Thrift Shops

For many of us fascinated by fashions and trends from the past, many modern items for sale often just don’t cut it. Whether due to lack of demand (things not in fashion), the increasing cost of labour, we find that most things we desire are not made today.

Thrifting gives us an opportunity to buy items from the past. Sometimes the prices are reasonable. If we are lucky, we can find a great bargain. Other times, gorgeous items are way out of our reach. However, with persistence, we might be able to find an item that both strikes our fancy and won’t make us broke. I think part of the appeal to me is the thought of hunting for treasure, sold at a bargain.

Not that it is easy. The majority of goods sold in antique shops are not antique, but in fact vintage (over 100 years old- antique. Less than 100 years old- vintage). Personally, I don’t care much for the style of clothing later than 1908. That is not to say that I have absolutely no interest in items newer, as the styles of some things go out of fashion sooner than others. The gloves I found (pictured lower in this post) were made sometime later than 1950. There are also some rather nice looking vintage revivals of Victorian jewelry made.

Here, I will show some of the items I have found in antique shops or on ebay.

I found at my local Antique Shop, this collar in needle run net. It is in imitation of Brussels Point Lace, and while perhaps not considered a “true lace”, it is a beautiful piece to behold. Some parts of it will need to be repaired, and it could use a good soak, but nevertheless I was very happy with this find. It was sold for a reasonable price of $15.

needle run net collar Continue reading

Lace

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While I gather and sew on yards and yards of lace to my dress, I decided to make a brief post on lace. I absolutely adore lace, and it’s popularity during the Victorian Era may be one of the reasons I feel so drawn to it.

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Venetian Gros Point

 

Said to be first popularized in the 16th century, lace is deeply ingrained into western culture. In the past, it has been a way to symbolize status, as the cost of handmade lace was quite expensive. While lace’s popularity has waxed and waned over the years, it has never completely disappeared. Even today, while perhaps not the same type or quality, lace is a popular trim for ladies’ garments.

There are many, many different types of lace. Brussels point, Valenciennes, Chantilly, Venitian Gros Point, Duchesse Lace, Honiton, Irish Crochet Lace etc. the list goes on and on. Many laces are named after the region where they had been chiefly manufactured. A quick look at Wikipedia will give you some idea of the vast variety of laces.

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My first dress- part 1

For my first dress, I decided to make an early bustle dress. I looked at many fashion plates, as well as paintings and photographs. My main inspiration comes from fashion plates (my favorite magazine is Le Monde Elégant- their plates are gorgeous. I have a bunch of prints saved on my Pinterest board). My general sense of style is feminine and cute, formal, and the fancier the better.

To be practical, I decided I wanted to make a dress with two bodices- a day bodice and an evening (ballgown) bodice. This was common practice in the past to maximize the economy of a dress, allowing it to be worn on different occasions when strict rules were entrenched in society.

The main fashion plate that my dress is the pink dress from the fashion plate below.

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It is pink, has lace, ruffles, a bow in the back and appears to be some sort of day dress (reception dress?).

I decided to base the patterns off Truly Victorian patterns TV108 1870 Trained Skirt,TV400 1871 Day Bodice and the TV416 1875 Ball Gown Basque.

The fabric I chose was a pink silk taffeta flatlined with a cotton organdy. Flatlining is a sewing technique in which two fabrics are stacked and sewn as one fabric. Flatlining the slippery silk made it very easy to sew.

I chose to sew the apron separate from the underskirt to further increase the versatility of the dress.

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The underskirt in progress

 

The “dress form” that the skirt is on is my corset around foam and pillow filling wrapped around a pole on wheels.

Anyway, I made the ballgown bodice first because I figured that it would need less altering of the pattern, because I was not basing it off a fashion plate and I would follow the instructions. The day bodice would need the front altered into a point and I don’t even know what the back is supposed to look like.

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The bodice and overskirt in progress, trim merely pinned on

It was around here, when I was trying on the dress, that I felt that it didn’t have the right silhouette. The bustle was too low, and the waist too long (around 1875/1876 the bodice starts to get longer and the bustle smaller). The early bustle era has a higher waistline, and therefore higher bustle than the late bustle period. After going back and looking at more fashion plates and photographs of the era, I realized that it seemed common to either a really short bodice, or have the bodice tucked into the skirt. Tucking in the bodice presented an easy solution to the length, and the bodice could always be revisited later.

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A side view of the dress being worn.

 

As for the bustle, I decided to sew some wires together to make an additional little bustle to make the bustle taller. I didn’t use a pattern for this; I just cut out a half moon shape of fabric, and pinned the wires( 1/4″ steel boning left over from boning the bodice). Additionally, I added ruffles to the back of the mockup of the skirt I had made to make a ruffled petticoat.

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extra bustle device

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ruffled petticoat

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Both of these helped create a better silhouette.

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The improved silhouette

 

This shape is probably less flattering to modern eyes, but was the fashionable shape back in the day.

I have velvet ribbon that I ordered online (the quality was a little disappointing) that I plan to edge with a thin lace before sewing on vertically on the overskirt. I also plan to add pleating to the bottom edge of the underskirt. I am still unsure of what the design will be in the back; I think I will add the bow featured in the fashion plate but am unsure of what else to do.

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The trimming I plan for the bottom, maybe without the flowers

This blog is now caught up to myself sewing, so anything here on out will be done as I progress sewing.

Beginning of a Journey

Any good historical costume starts with the undergarments in order to build the correct silhouette. My first costume will be an early bustle dress (1870-1875) which will require a chemise, drawers, corset, bustle, and petticoats. At present time (as I write this post), I have these already created, and because I didn’t even consider writing a blog at the time, I neglected to take pictures of the process. I will, however post pictures as well as give a brief summary.

After a bit of research, I decided to go with the Truly Victorian patterns for everything. I got the TV102 Chemise and Drawers, TV110 Corset, the TV108 Grand Bustle, and the TV 170 Petticoats patterns. The chemise, drawers, bustle and petticoat were quite straightforward, and didn’t require much adjusting for size. The corset, I had some trouble with but with a bit of tweaking, turned out fine. The corset pattern comes in various sizes that you adjust individually to your figure, but I must have made a mistake somewhere when I made my mockup(out of a tracing interfacing fabric) and the corset turned out much too large. I sewed a pintuck vertically into each panel, reducing the width by a 1/2″. The corset then fit perfectly to my body, and I sewed the corset.

However, a perfect fit doesn’t translate to the waist reduction that I had anticipated, so I took the corset apart (this was before I added the boning) and I took a fabric pencil and (rather randomly) drew in the lines around the waist. Luckily I was successful fitting it, and although the corset doesn’t reduce the measurement of my waist very much, the appearance is quite changed and I am happy with the overall result.

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A photo of me in the chemise, drawers and corset.

 

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A photo of me with the bustle on.

 

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With the petticoat on. The bustle underneath lacks a button and is pinned closed.