Making an 1871 Evening Dress: the photos

This dress was made based on an extant 1871 evening dress at the Fashion Museum Bath. There’s a picture of it in my first post. You can find the Making of posts herehere and here.

I really enjoyed the process of making this. It involved making a bustle cage, which was a first. I wore it over my Victorian corset, the bustle cage and two early bustle petticoats. The dress is made up of a bodice, a skirt and an overskirt. Like at the time, the bodice remains separate from the skirt. Since I have some leftover fabric, it might be nice to try an make a day bodice for this project at some point in the future! In the end, I had a lot of fun and I’m happy with a lot of the elements.

Thanks for reading!

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Making the Cream dress: sleeves, skirts and details

The Cream dress (for lack of a better name) is now complete and I’m pretty chuffed with it! It’s turned out very close to my original vision and there aren’t any really terrible mistakes. The bodice is a little looser at the waist than I’d like, but that is my fault for not accounting for the loops. Since they can’t overlap, the bodice can’t be laced very tightly. Otherwise, I really like the flow in the skirt, and it’s very comfortable to wear! I hope to take some proper photos of it soon.

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After the bodice was pretty much complete, I moved on to the sleeves. I am scared of sleeves. They just terrify me. I researched a bit about puffed sleeves, since I hadn’t made any before. I used Elizabeth Friendship’s ‘Creating Historical Clothes’ again to draft a plain sleeve block. Then I slashed it a few times and spread it out with an inch and a half into each slash. I wanted them to be really poofy, especially because the beautiful chiffon is so light that the poof wouldn’t hold very well. The sleeve pattern seemed to be bigger than my torso at this point so I thought it would be wide enough.


I cut it out of the shifty chiffon. Then I sewed two rows of gathering stitches at the top and bottom. Then I sewed up the side seam with a french seam. I left a six inch gap towards the cuff, so that I could attach the cuffs and actually get the sleeves over my hands. I turned these edges inwards by hand to match the seam. Then I made the cuffs. The cuffs are two small rectangles cut out of the brocade I used for the bodice. I folded them in half to create a finished edge then ironed the edge to be attached to the sleeve inwards. I sewed these to the gathered down ends of the sleeves by hand, as I didn’t want any visible top stitching. I added a button and a loop so that they could close. I realise now I didn’t take any photos of this. I do most of my sewing after work, at night, and my brain isn’t great at that point.

Anyway! Then I gathered down the sleeve cap to fit the armhole. I was a bit concerned about attaching these since I whipstitched the sleeves of my robe à l’Anglaise and I wasn’t happy with the result. So I decided to try something that looked more like an actual seam. I lined the edges up and then sewed with a half an inch seam allowance. I used extra strong thread and backstitch and it worked wonderfully! I’m very happy with it. I used some lace tape to bind this seam to hide the fraying edges.


I was pretty happy with the sleeves at this point.


I made the sleeves before I made the frill for the neckline because I wanted to use the same chiffon but I needed to know what I’d have left over. The sleeves were the priority. Thankfully I had enough to cut two long strips and join them to make an extra ruffle ruffle. I made it three times the lengh of the neckline. I folded the long strip in half then ironed the other edges inwards, like making bias tape. Then I sewed that edge down, and then two rows of gathering stitches. It took forever to gather it down, but then I attached it with large whip stitches that went through the lining only.



Since I’ve decided I can’t watch Netflix without a hand sewing project, I decided to go ahead and bead the neckline of the bodice. This was after I made and attached the frill from the original design but I thought it still looked a little plain. I played around with the design of fake pearls and seed beads until I was happy, and then I beaded the whole neckline, up to the center back. I’m pretty happy with it too. It was my first time beading but I watched some of Angela Clayton’s and Atelier Licorice’s tutorials and they really helped.

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Then I moved on to making the skirt. The skirt is just a giant rectangle because I’m lazy and panels terrify me. One of the first set backs as that as I draped the fabric to figure out the skirt, I opened it fully out for the first time and found a bunch of mystery small stains. They are quite stained and scattered, and I don’t think they’re very noticeable in the finished skirt. But they still annoyed me.

I made it about three meters and half long, then pleated it down to the waist measurement on the bodice. This was achieved through two double box pleats at the front and at the back.

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I did up the back seam with a french seam to hide the raw edges, leaving a ten inch gap at the top. I turned the edges of the gap inwards by hand. It was time to attach the skirt to the bodice.Now I made a mistake here that really irks me still. The bodice seams are 4.5 inches apart, and the pleats at the front are 6 inches apart so I could never line it up properly with the bodice. Grrr. I sewed it to the bodice by hand with a backstitch again, which worked wonderfully.



I even unpicked and sewed the skirt back on but I still couldn’t get them to be even.Sighing constantly, I moved on.  Thankfully the design had a sash anyway and that would help hiding how uneven they were. Next, I made more loops and attached the same way I did on the bodice, with ribbon and by hand.

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I moved on to hemming the skirt. I turned the edge an inch inwards and then three inches again. I pinned it all in place.

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Then it was really easy to hem it with a blind hem stitch. I wanted to try this as it seems to be quicker than a catch stitch or herringbone stitch but it doesn’t look half as nice so I won’t be doing it again. I also didn’t take any photos of making the sash (bad late night me). The sash is a large rectangle of the same material as the skirt. Then I bunched it up rather than pleating it and loosely pinned the edges. I sewed them down by machine and turned the edges inwards. I sewed those edges inwards. I didn’t pleat it properly because I wanted it to look bunched and still have some movement to it, so now I can arrange it however I want. I sewed two rows of snaps on the back and it was finished!

Making a Cream Dress: The Bodice

I didn’t really know what to call this so for now I’m going with the Cream Dress. To be fair, it does look very cream. This is a dress I’d thought up doing a few months ago, after seeing a photo of a dress from Reign that I quite liked. It seemed fairly simple and I wanted something to keep me busy and with which I could practice more. The dress I originally saw on Instagram looks like this:

The inspiration dress is from season 3 episode 5

While I don’t really watch the series any more, I have always appreciated the prettiness of the wardrobe (even if it isn’t historically accurate). And so I was all for it! I bought the fabrics for this over the summer while I was away in Alicante. I bought a meter for the white and gold brocade bodice, a meter for the sleeves and four meters of the light cream with discreet dots for the skirt.

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In much need of ironing

You can’t really see it in these photos but the bodice fabric and the sleeve fabric have wonderful sheen to them. I am especially in love with the white fabric, I can’t really say what it is – it is light like chiffon, but feels more like cotton and muslin. It has a sort of shiny sheen of it, though it is very discreet. As I said, I am in love and sad that I did not buy more.

For the bodice, I got to try out something new. The last bodice I drafted was for my robe à l’Anglaise and I flat drafted that following the instructions from a book. I didn’t really like that method, it took forever and a lot of maths. But in the meantime, my dressform arrived and I could finally dip into draping! So I did. I read up on what I could, but it’s pretty self-explanatory. You put a piece of fabric on it and you draw on it.

I did one mock-up for this, where I realised the back was too big so I took it in by about an inch. Then I turned it into a pattern and cut out the pieces.

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The bodice is made up of one layer of the fashion fabric and one layer of stiff cotton twill. On the cotton twill, I sewed on a couple of boning channels, as I planned on using the seams as bone channels.

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I wish I hadn’t, because I didn’t leave enough seam allowance to make them nice and neat, so the edges are fraying a bit. Oh well! After attaching bias tape as the extra boning channels, I then proceeded to flatline the bodice. I decided to use this method because when I assembled the lining and the outer bodice separately and then joined them on the edges before, it always ended up being baggy and not… great. I was hoping this would look better. To flatline it, I simply pieced all the equivalent pieces together and machine basted around the edges, at a quarter inch in the seam allowance. Then, I assembled the body pieces in one go.

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I sewed down the seams and used spiral and steel boning to fill the boning channels. Then I turned in the top and bottom edges and sewed that down by hand, so that there were no visual stitches. The only bit that gave me grief were the shoulder seams, as I couldn’t get them quite to line up and they were very chunky. I ended up having to try to hide some imperfections further on. Then I worked on the final bit of the bodice which was the closures. Instead of going with eyelets like usual, I decided to go with loops for closures. For this, I cut a long thin strip of the brocade. I ironed half an inch on each side inwards and then folded it in half. It’s the same process for making bias tape, though I’d never bothered with that before. Then I stitched the folded edges together. I cut twenty eight two inch long bits. Then I pinned them onto ribbon, which I folded over to hide the raw edges.

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The process of stitching over these was so painful. I found some of the loops were too short, so if I sewed too far from the edge of the ribbon, the tips of the loops would stick out. After the first few straight stitch rounds, I found that sewing over with a zig zag stitch worked really well in keeping them attached. I’m not sure how sturdy, or practical, they really are – but they are damn cute!

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And that is for this bodice! Up next are the sleeves, frills and skirts.

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