In my semi-lazy quest to complete the steps of dress construction according to whatever colour of thread I have in the machine, I took on finally building the bodice of my dress. I was a bit nervous about this part as I really do want it to fit well. Historical Sewing had a couple blog posts on doing fittings and mock-ups that came in handy. What she doesn’t mention though, is the delicacy with which you have to don your in-progress bodice; the temporary home of a million tiny every which way pins.
Adding the boning
Getting that lace trim on the lining for a pretty interior
I worked again with instructions that seemed like some sort of advanced logic puzzle, and tried to make what I was doing look at least somewhat like the illustrations. I added some subtle lace trim to the inner lining of the bodice. Did you know that the vast majority of work/decoration/embellishment on a dress will never be seen by anyone other the person putting it on? I just made that up, but I’m pretty sure I’m right. I also added the boning to the lining to help keep and create that little waist that Victorians were going for.
Inside out bodice
Trying not to stab myself on pins while I take a photo
The inside lining
and the outside with those lovely little gathers
Once the lining was done it was time to add it to the bodice, pull and secure all those mystery gathers, and do some trying-on. It was at this point that I realised that I had basted the lining to the arm holes all wonkways, so that had to be taken out and redone. Finished product for this sewing session is one kinda completed bodice that still needs piping, hemming, buttons, a collar, and sleeves.
Just a small update on the goings on of my sewing room: things are progressing. Not overly quickly, but I am in fact getting things done. I managed to peacefully and happily sew the waist band into the petticoat – with a few of my own improvisations. I prefer a tie-back rather than hook and eye closures (I just never trust the things to stay closed) so I left the ends of the waistband open and fed a fabric tie through. Success.
The only thing left to do on the petticoat is the lace trim along the bottom. Since I am without a dress form or mannequin, I had to get everything on to determine the perfect finished length (gotta cover that hoop skirt), then try to pin it in place like a tin man with my corset all tied up.
Hilarious sidenote here – while Tyler was being a good sport and taking my photo, my dog Perry was hiding under my skirts.
With a few days off I tackled little bits of the dress and petticoat. It has definitely helped to be able to leave everything out on the dining room table. I can walk by and go “Yeah I’ve got a few minutes. I’ll cut out some skirt panels.” Little bit by little bit the steps are being checked off.
I did take that horrid mess of a waistband off the petticoat (it has yet to go back on). The four panels for the skirt have been cut with special help from the hallway floor (the dining room table wasn’t long enough). The bodice fabric and lining has been cut out as well.
Step 1 of the bodice took a little while to fully understand as it was another battle against vague instructions, and an ignorance on my part about how to actually hand-gather fabric. Once I had done all the hand gathering I was still at a bit of a loss as to when I should be tightening and tying off the stitches. Apparently it’s more towards the end of sewing the bodice together… is what I imagine because it never really says.
So. The other day I cut the fabric and the interfacing for the waistband of the petticoat, and then began to sew it on. I should’ve stopped right there and gone and done something else in another room of the house because things just went downhill from the moment I sat down at the machine.
In amongst one of the pleats of the petticoat was a pin that I had forgotten to remove. Thirty plus years of my life (either witnessing my mom sew or using the sewing machine myself) has taught me that this is generally not a problem. The sewing needle goes around or over it and is none the wiser. This time, however, the sewing needle decided to land right on that pin and then continue to bend it six ways from Sunday into the machine – bending itself in the process. The image on the right accurately depicts how I felt as this was happening. Once I was able to wrest the petticoat from the machine and sort out what had actually happened, I ran out to replace it. Thank goodness nothing else was damaged.
Once I did finish sewing the waistband I took a look at it… and by that, I mean I judged it with all the unhappy judginess I could possibly muster. I didn’t like it. I tried on the petticoat thinking that maybe it was just how I was holding it. Nope. It didn’t sit flat enough. I didn’t like the way the pleats sat in the waistband. I did not do a good job. Disappointed completely with the day’s efforts I draped it over the back of a chair and left the room… for a few days. I know myself better than to take the stitch ripper thing to a project when I’m mad. Currently, I’ve got the waistband off and ready to go back on. Properly.
I’d visited my local Fabricville on my day off and wouldn’t you know they were having a sale! Lucky gal that I am found the perfect fabric for the dress – AT 70% OFF! And thank goodness for it too because I needed a solid 9 yards. While I was there I also grabbed some great buttons, and some lace for my petticoat (which is still in progress).
The amazing luck continued to today when my boss brought me a bag of antique handmade doilies and handkerchiefs from her home in Wales. I am very happy that the lace on some of these handkerchiefs will make perfect cuffs and collars.
I finally had some time to sit down and wrestle through the uniquely vague sewing instructions provided by Butterick for my new petticoat. I will not hide the fact that I was forced to consult YouTube, various online sewing glossaries, as well as other blogs and reviews of this pattern in search of clarification. I like to think I figured it all out…
Each step is very involved… a fact not immediately apparent by the brevity of actual instruction.
Fabric with itty bitty measuring stitches
Having all the pieces cut, I began to sew together the 14 feet of fabric for the petticoat. Ha, so much fabric!
So many pleats; so many pins
Then comes the marking and pleating… so much pleating! I only pricked myself once and for that I am both surprised and happy.
After the million folds and pins I did some basting stitches and just like that I’ve got a lovely pleated thing that resembles a petticoat! Stay tuned for Part Two!
Pinterest has come to the rescue again when it comes to finding images of historical dress. This time I was looking up petticoats and underthings. It’s nice to follow the petticoat pattern that was provided with the dress, but I’d like to make a few changes so that mine is a bit more historically accurate and a bit less “costumey”.
When it came to the actual trip to the fabric store I checked Historical Sewing to see which fabrics might work best. She’s got a whole article on which fabrics work best for different types, styles, and eras of petticoats.
Nothing can really prepare you though for that actual trip to the store, and subsequently the cutting tables. All the fabric you’ve seen over the years as “perfect for that” or “I would totally make a blank out of this”, now just aren’t good enough. I started to look at all the shades of white and off-white and cream-coloured cottons the way a snobby French art critic would look at a collection of still-lifes.
I did eventually choose almost 6 yards of a slightly off-white cotton. Phew. I backed away from any eyelet or fancy trims for now, but you never know…
The petticoat that I’m creating would have been just one of many layers of clothing worn by the average Victorian (c.1860s) woman. I’ve found a site with a few illustrations to help describe some of those undergarments, and the order in which you’d put them on. Each layer has a specific purpose as well as a set of dos and don’ts. For example, it was considered gauche to be able to see the hoops of your crinoline through your petticoat and dress – all should be nice and smooth.
1. The first Victorian fashion garment put on by the lady of the 1860s is the chemise, an unshaped undergarment which reaches just below the knees and has a drawstring neckline. Beneath the chemise are drawers with a back button closure and open legged for convenience. The drawers are calf length with scalloped, embroidered hems.
2. The next item worn under the Victorian dress is the corset which, with its back lacing, has a front busk closure.
3. Over the Corset and Corset cover is the Under Petticoat, usually quite plain and worn as many as six at a time, depending on the season.
4. Next is the hoop skirt or crinoline, hailed as a liberator from the need for the excessive layers of under petticoats. Only a single under-petticoat was required with the hoop.
5. The final undergarments in how to dress Victorian is the Over Petticoat, often, with an elaborately embroidered hem. It is worn over the layered under petticoats or, in the early l860s, the hoop petticoat.
6. Finally, the lady dons her Victorian dress, pictured here in with a “fan front” bodice with capped close-fitting long sleeves and a cartridge pleated, three flounced skirt. The properly attired Victorian lady is never seen in public without bonnet and gloves.
There is an amazing video from Prior Attire that shows Izabela Pitcher getting dressed in an 1860s day dress from the bottom up… or the inside out…. Either way, I would highly recommend a watch!
There really is nothing more satisfying than receiving something other than a bill in the mail. Even though you know you’ve ordered it, and you’ve lived the last week or so with the knowledge that yes it will arrive via post, you’re still thrilled to the moon when you reach your hand in the mailbox and ahhhhhhh a package!
Actually owning the pattern I can now sit down to planning my approach to this dress. I think what I might do is follow the advice of historical costumer Jennifer Rosbrugh and “build the undergarments first then all the pretty things that go on top”. That way it gets you back into the swing of things with the sewing machine, and if you make a mistake it’s not the end of the world because no one will really see it. And so with that I leave you now, off down petticoat lane.
Jennifer Rosbrugh runs historicalsewing.com, a haven for all things 19th century costuming. She also has a great Facebook page which posts all sorts of costuming tips, inspiration, and support.
After finding the pattern for the dress online, I thought I’d be able to find it no problem in my local fabric store. I checked the Fabricville website to see if it was something they had in stock and holy cow wouldn’t you know they’ve got it and they’re selling it for $18.95.
That seemed a bit much considering what I’m about to spend on fabric, so I went back to the Butterick website to have my mind blown by the low low price of $2.49! Seriously. I would’ve considered their regular price a bargain but $2.49? Fantastic.
I took a quickie look around on the web and discovered all sorts of amazing prices for this pattern. Like on Amazon:
I suppose the lesson here is that sometimes it really is worth it to shop around a little.