Making an 1860s ballgown: plans and foundations

This project has been in my head for a while now. I first ran into a photo of the extant gown that inspired it last summer, so nearly a year ago. I found this photo of this 1860s ballgown held at the National Museum of Denmark:

Søgrøn selskabskjole, 1860'erne

Although the photos are blurry, there was something about it that grabbed me. I love the colour but also the simplicity of the design. There is no trim but the gathered tulle on the neckline. Though I absolutely love detail, I thought it might be interesting as well to make something where I can’t hide mistakes under trim. I really want to work on my fit and construction so I decided to tackle this.

I found the fabric for this dress back in December, when I visited New York and had the best time in the garment district. I don’t think any fabric shopping will ever compare to that. I found this lovely mint/light green satin for $5 a yard. FIVE DOLLARS. I could never find anything so affordable in London. Anyway, I got a bit confused. I was frazzled because there was so much fabric around and I was so excited and a bit overwhelmed by the shopping and the shop owners, so I didn’t buy enough. I originally asked for five yards, and then six when I remembered yards are different from meters but still… as I drafted the plans for this, it was just cutting it close and I still had to reduce the gloriously long skirt.

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It really didn’t photograph well.

The museum has a whole page on the original dress here. It had some useful information about materials and dimensions. I had found this page before buying the fabric, but when I actually sat down to plan this dress properly, I made the best discovery: on the bottom right corner of the page, tucked away, is a pdf of a pattern drafted from the original dress! SCORE.

My next hurdle was that I don’t speak Danish. Thankfully Instagram is amazing, so a huge shout out to lillea84 on IG, she kindly volunteered to translate it for me. These notes on the pattern were very helpful in understanding its construction.

I sketched out the project and set about making the foundation garments.

Some of them were already made. I used my Victorian corset, which I made quite a while back, using a pattern by Redthreaded. I already have a Victorian chemise, though I think it’s too big for this so I might make a new one with a lower neckline and no sleeves. But the big missing item was the crinoline. Although the dress is dated 1860s, I thought the crinoline definitely looked elliptical so I went for the Truly Victorian 1865 Elliptical cage pattern. I bought a kit from Vena Cava Design which included the pattern and everything I would need for it.

Though it ran a bit pricey, I calculated what the items would’ve cost if I bought them individually and this was a very good deal in the end. The pattern was fairly easy to follow, and the kit was wonderful. My only comments would be that I would’ve used a lighter weight cotton drill or something cheaper, because the twill provided was very good quality but also very heavy and for a cage that was already going to have 30 meters of steel on it, weight was a concern. Secondly, their buckle and waistband didn’t work for me. The cage was too heavy to be secured properly with the buckle they provided. I would’ve needed an extra hand. I ended up stabbing my finger on one of the teeth of the buckle and bleeding all over the cage. I switched out the buckle and used two sets of hooks and bars instead.

Because I followed the pattern, I didn’t actually take any construction photos, I didn’t think they would be very helpful? Feel free to tell me if you think otherwise.

Cage in construction.

Here are some photos of the foundation garments:

 

Here I was wearing with the tied drawstrings, but I think I’ll loosen them for a fuller shape. I’m also making an extra petticoat in case I want extra pouff (I probably will). And that is it for foundations and plans!

Update! I did make an extra petticoat. It is three tiered, the top layer is plain cotton and the bottom two are organdy. I measured around the crinoline so that I made sure each tier was bigger than the corresponding hoop, gathered the long edges down and sewed it together. Then I did up the back seam, leaving a seven inch gap so I could get into it. I turned the gap edges inwards, attached a waistband and ta-da, extra poufiness!

Making a Jane Porter cosplay: the bodice

You can find the previous post about this cosplay here. I explain a lot of the concept behind this project there, but I’ll give a brief summary here. I wanted to make a more detailed version than the film. For my Esmeralda cosplay, I made it with plain, block colour fabrics, and while I love the result, I would also like to push this next Disney cosplay and try to give it more of a different spin. A huge inspiration was a redesign by Designer Daddy (photo in the other post!). And so, while I was calling this ‘Victorian Jane’ in my head, there is nothing historical accurate about it and it’s not meant to be!

Also quick reminder that this is a description of how I did things – they are by no means the best or correct methods!

With that in mind, I went about tackling the bodice. I really liked the idea of a square neckline and then something that looked like a chemise or blouse underneath, with a high collar. I had a look in some pattern books, but I couldn’t find anything that sort of matched what I wanted, so instead I draped it on my dressform. I’m still fairly new at this, but I was happy with what I came up with. I started by using large-ish pieces of fabric and laying them on the dressform, pinning them so that they laid flat. I marked the seams and cut out the extra fabric, and drew on the shape of the bodice. It left me with this:

I marked where all the seams were, where they joined and what each bit was. Then I took it off the dressform, pieced it together, and cut a mock-up. After some adjustments to it, I made a pattern and a second mock-up.

My first mock-up. Some of the adjustments included making the waist longer and taking it in at the bust.
After I settled on all alterations, I went ahead and cut it out of the lining, the outer fabric and a layer of cotton twill as interlining (placed inside, between the fabric and the lining, to stiffen it).

The cotton drill interlining layer.
I wanted to add some boning for structure support. I decided to add boning to all seams, but I also wanted some at the centre front to support the neckline. So I marked out two boning channels in the centre front and sewed half an inch bias tape to the cotton drill. I then flatlined the outer fabric to the cotton drill, matching each piece individually, and basted with a large machine stitch very close to the edge. Then I assembled the bodice by sewing the seams together with a half an inch seam allowance. I then went ahead and assembled the bodice with the same seam allowance.

 

Pining the lining layers together.

The assembled bodice. I’m actually in love with this lining. It was super cheap but it doesn’t look it – it’s this beautiful shimmering gold and I want to make everything out of it.
I turned all the edges inwards by half an inch on the main bodice. I didn’t bother turning them twice to hide raw edges as I would be putting the lining over top and so they wouldn’t be visible anyway (and this made the edges less bulky). I did turn the back edge twice under to create a boning channel at the back to support the eyelets.

This bodice had a lot of sharp edges that were a PAIN TO TURN. I was always afraid of clipping too much, but then if I didn’t, it wouldn’t lay properly.
I handsewed all these edges down because I didn’t want top-stitching. I went into this cosplay thinking it would be a lot less time consuming than my other historical projects, but turns out I don’t like visible stitching on these either! Silly me.

After all the edges were turned inwards (including the armholes), I moved on to drafting the chemise/blouse looking bit. Originally my plan was to have it simply as an extension of the bodice, stitched onto the bodice itself. This meant that I had to attach before I could sew on the lining, to hide the stitching.

Draping the blouse looking bit. I used off cuts and small bits of the proper fabric.
This was made up of the flat section of the shirt and the collar. I then cut these out of plain cotton as a mock up.

My biggest issue was that, while it was pinned, there was not enough tension for it to lay flat and I couldn’t tell if it would work properly out of the lace. So instead I started looking at alternatives. I decided upon making it into a chemisette. They were worn mainly in the 19th century to fill in the neckline and they gave the impression of a blouse. Sounds perfect, right? I just wish I’d thought of it immediately.

So I added two extending panels to the mock-up so that it was longer, ending just about the natural waist. I turned the bottom edge inward twice so it made a channel and then passed some ribbon through to tie in place. And it looked much better!

Now that I was happy with this, I came to the next conundrum. This project has really highlighted a terrible flaw in me. I am awfully indecisive. I don’t want to commit to a decision and I’m always afraid that something else would’ve looked better. It’s something I’ll have to get better at, if only for efficiency’s sake (since I end up putting off deciding and delay projects). I think if I ever get more confident in my sewing, this will get better naturally. Anyway, I had to decided whether I wanted to line the chemisette. The lace was somewhat see-through and originally I thought that would look good – but then I didn’t quite like the contrast that seeing my skin through the lace would give the costume. Instead, I thought lining it would be a nice throwback to Jane’s solid looking bodice.

So I decided to line it.

Cutting the bits out of cotton to line the lace.
I cut all the bits from the plain cotton and then the lace. Then I pinned the respective sections of cotton and their lace equivalent, right sides together, and sewed them with a half an inch seam allowance. I pressed the seams open and then trimmed them, as the lace is see-through and you could spot some of the wider ones. I then turned it the right side out and pressed everything again.

Then I sewed the shoulder seams and attached the collar (very fiddly).

(sneak peek at the skirt, which I actually completed first!)
I turned the bottom edge inwards twice, creating a channel for ribbon, and added snaps and hooks to the closure at the back. I was very happy with the result!

With the chemisette finished, it was time for the sleeves! I couldn’t sew in the lining without sewing the sleeves in first (the lining was meant to hide all my shame). I got on to drafting. In my quest to never have to draft sleeve patterns from scratch, I decided to just use patterns I had already made. The sleeves are made of three components: the puff sleeve, the straight bottom portion and the cuff.

For the puff sleeve, I dug out the pattern from my Red Velvet dress and slashed it further.

The original Red Velvet dress sleeve pattern
I ended up slashing it a total of five times, adding about 5 extra cms every time. I wanted the pouf! But the first time I only slashed it an extra three times.

After the first set of slashes.
Then bottom portion is just a rectangle, of how wide I wanted the sleeve to be and my arm measurement. I then made a cute little mock-up:

The mock-up, minus the cuff
I was happy with it, except for a few minor alterations. I wanted more pouf and the bottom portion was a little tight and short. I slashed the pattern again and then cut out my actual fashion fabric and lining portions. Then I flatlined the lining to the outer fabric.

The sections. A bit blurry, sorry!
The cuffs were made from a rectangle, interfaced and folded in half.

Exactly like a waistband, but for the arms. Armbands.
I have a few things I would’ve done differently. I wouldn’t have interfaced it, as it makes them a bit stiff and uncomfortable. I would’ve sewn them on before sewing up the side seam on the bottom portion of the sleeves (this was just stupid of me). I also sewed them on by hand, which made them not completely flat (would fix by sewing with my machine).

Then I sewed the gathering stitches on the pouf sleeves. Since I suspected the sleeves still weren’t good enough, I decided to add a layer of gathered tulle. I could’ve made sleeve supports (they were a thing) but I didn’t want to further hinder the costume (comfort and practicality were my point with this cosplay!). So instead I sewed two rows of gathering stitches on the lining layer and on the outer fabric layer, on the top portion of the sleeve (the two pieces weren’t basted together in the upper section). Then I gathered them down to the required size and I gathered down a layer of tulle about 7” wide to the same length. Then I sandwiched it between the lining and the outer fabric and sewed the three layers together. I did up the side seam and I had a pouf sleeve!

The side seams were done with french seams for finished insides.
Then I attached the cuffs to the bottom portion of the sleeves. The cuffs were cut purposefully of the wrong side of the fabric, because in the original film they look like they’re a lighter colour than the rest of the dress. I assumed this was because it was made to look like the the bodice had full length sleeves that were rolled up (some people have made the cuffs a totally different colour, like white, which also looks good, but I was satisfied with the wrong side of the fabric). I sewed them on by hand, sandwiching the bottom edge between the cuff. Then I pinned the upper section of the bottom sleeve (sorry, I can’t thin of a better way to explain it!) to the pouf sleeve, and sewed them together by machined with a a half an inch seam allowance. Then I did a flat fell seam by hand.

The flat fell seam.
Then I sewed the sleeves with a half an inch seam allowance to the armhole bodice, with a backstitch, by hand.

And since this was all done, I could attach the lining! I turned all the edges under by about half an inch, so that it was blush but not over the edge of the bodice, covering all seams.

That was sewn on with a whip stitch by hand.

Then I put in the eyelets at the back. For now, I’ve gone with brass eyelets. I’m not sure I’ll stitch over them with embroidery thread, I kind of like the antique brass look.

And it was finished! It only needs some snaps here and there, but otherwise it is done. There are a couple of details that are in the bodice area (the extra collar and the cravat) that I will include in another post (probably about accessories).

I did a quick fitting and I was happy with it! The next post will be about the skirt and the overskirt. Thanks for reading!

Art Nouveau Meg: Details

After finishing the main construction of the costume, I was finally ready to tackle Worbla again. All I had left to do was the belt. I rolled a long strip of Worbla into a tube, moulding it with my fingers to try and make it look branchy. I then drew and cut leaves out of Worbla, using a shaping tool to draw the little leafy channels. After melting the edges of the leaves and pressing them to the belt, I realised I’d made it too big. It wasn’t in proportion to the rest of the costume, it’s bigger and chunkier than it should be. However, I went ahead and painted it, made the medallion and kept it.

I drew the medallion on craft foam and cut it out. Then I sandwiched it in between Worbla, using a crafting tool to press in the edges and dents. Then it was finished with layers of craft glue, then paint and then I used black paint to detail. Then I put on the same gems as on the shoulder bit.

And it’s come to the final details! The first thing I decided to tackle were the details on the bottom of the skirt. I had been panicking about these forever as I didn’t trust my ability to draw out a pattern. I first tried to lift the pattern off the digital image, but I’m not Photoshop able enough to accomplish that. So! I took up pencil and paper and stared at the image until I could draw something.

So I came up with this:

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There was more to the left, the design spread over four A4 sheets

I inked it, photocopied it and then stuck it on a flattened cardboard box. I used Ginger Liz’s method, since hers turned out so great! Her method was to paint it over parcel tape so that the paint sort of pools over on the right side of the fabric and becomes smooth. Top tip: make sure that the parcel tape doesn’t ripple. I didn’t and mine ended up having grooves all over. So then I just painted it over in sections, letting it dry for 24 hours in between. I used Jacquard Lumière Metallic Gold and it took nearly two bottles for the whole costume.

The chiffon shifted a lot as well, so I have to be careful. But it was done! Then I ironed it to set the paint and hemmed the skirt up with Heat’n’Bond. Unfortunately, it is still too long but since it’s painted I can’t hem it any more than it is. I used this same method to paint the golden borders on the edge of the sleeve and toga.

Then I did the little bit to decorate the top shoulder of the toga bit. It just looked like a bumpy trim. So I simply took a bit of leftover trim from the making of the breastplate and sewed it so that it had little raised pockets.

I attached that to the gathered stitches at the top of the sleeve. Then I painted the little dots on the sleeve. I wanted to use Tulip’s Beads in a Bottle but unfortunately I couldn’t find anywhere in the UK that sold the metallic gold I wanted and it was too late to order it from the USA. So instead I used Tulip’s Metallics Gold 3D paint which allowed me to do little raised dots on the sleeve. It’s a different sort of gold, so I experimented with painting over the dots with Jacquard, but I figured I liked this darker gold as well.

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I also painted the accessories with the same acrylic paint I used for the armour. The accessories consist of two headbands, a hair accessory, and a snake bracelet – all were bought from eBay. I also varnished them to try and keep the paint from scratching.

The last thing I had to do was to cut and add the chains! I used little jewellery hooks and closures to attach them to the shoulder piece. Hopefully it’ll be enough to hold it in place! I am wearing this costume to the London Comic Con this weekend and I’m so afraid of ruining it. The chiffon seems to tear and crumble with everything! Wish me luck.

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Holiday Haul!

This summer, I spent three weeks between Spain and Portugal. Since we were driving there, I had plans to take full advantage of being able to fill up a car rather than sticking to a suitcase weight limit. Every time I grumbled about the expensive prices of fabric in the UK, I got replies from friends and family defending it would be cheaper in the south, so I nurtured high expectations.

I was disappointed.

I saw plenty of beautiful fabrics, particularly in Alicante, Spain. But they weren’t affordable, to the point where in Lisbon, all I bought were remnants. Nevertheless, I’m happy with the fabrics I got from the Spain and the diversity of stuff.

First up are these remnants I bought in Lisbon, at a chain called Feira dos Tecidos, which has loads of shops up and down the country. The remnants were in pretty good condition and they are all at least a meter, I reckon. My favourite is the one at the bottom of this pile, which is a peach coloured shantung. I was kind of all over the oranges and the peaches, I don’t even know why.

At the same place, I bought this little remnant of this dark red sheer fabric with a really cool pattern on it. Next to it is a flimsy black organza (I think!) and some black suede. I got both of these from grandmother and they are short lengths too, but I thought they were cool.

Now, in Alicante I went to the most amazing shop. It’s called Julián López and it’s three floors of absolute wonderland. The bottom floor has all sorts of dressmaking fabrics. Literally, all sorts. The second floor had home furnishing and decorating fabric, and the third had all sorts of (very expensive) silks and a haberdashery. The shop in general was very expensive, but I was lucky enough to walk in during the big summer sale – they had stacks and stacks of discounted, amazing fabric at very affordable prices. I bought seven meters of this blue stripped fabric for 0.99€. It’s very soft, slightly sheer, a pale blue, and I have plans to make it into an 1871 evening gown. Pray for me. Then I found that little blue remnant in Lisbon, which has a nice pink effect in some of it. I thought it was magical so I snapped it up, though it’s just a little bit.

From the same shop in Alicante, I bought these beautiful three fabrics. The middle brocade is 1 meter, it cost 6€ a meter and its’s for the bodice. The white fabric was 4€ a meter, it’s also 1 meter long and it’s for flowy sleeves. And the beige fabric on the left is for the skirt. It was 3.99€ a meter and I got four or five meters. It’s got a really nice discreet pattern to it.

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For the skirt!

I also collected loads of lace! As I decided to do the 1871 evening gown, the design required a lot of lace, so I went into every haberdashery I saw. It was surprisingly hard to find lace – though my requirements were tough to meet. I needed wide white lace, not too floral (I’m picky), and at an affordable price. In Lisbon, I saw loads of amazing laces but I can’t afford to pay 20€ a meter. Instead, I found these beauties! The first two are ecru laces from Julián López. They were on sale and I got three meters of each. The blue lace I found for 2€ at Colombo, in Lisbon. The white lace was gorgeous and I wanted a lot of it, but they only had under two meters of it. I found it in a haberdashery in downtown Lisbon for under 2€ as well. The last lace I found in a haberdashery in my hometown in Portugal. It was super affordable, just over 2€ per meter, and it was what I wanted for the evening dress, so let’s hope it works!

I also bought beads! Beads are surprisingly expensive here in London, so when I saw these little fake pearls for 1€ a pack I bought five. The other glass beads are from Lisbon as well and they were around 1€ each as well. I think it’s always good to have some golden beads around and I liked the brass tones of these. The green ones are for a ball gown I’ve been dreaming up, but haven’t found the fabric for.

Now my grandmother had already given me some fabric scraps but she also had a huge stack of things she just wasn’t going to use. So I grabbed it! Not all of it, because even in a car I wouldn’t have had enough space. First up she gave me buttons. A lot of buttons.

Buttons
And more buttons. And still loads I didn’t picture!

But I also got a bunch of random trim! Things like this really nice purple velvet-y bias binding, pink satin bias binding, loads of different satin ribbons, lots of zippers and scroll trim.

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And that is it! I’m fairly happy with that, and considering I’m already working on my Art Nouveau Megara, my robe a l’anglaise and I have fabrics for two other complete dresses, I have a lot to keep busy with.

Thanks for reading!