A Little Reflection Time

What was the original purpose of this project/experience?

I had a number of reasons for starting this project. First, I wanted to see if I could actually do it. Second, I wanted a big amazing mid-Victorian dress that was all mine. Third, I thought it could be useful in the future doing programming at museums, etc. (And it has! I’ve worn it during one of my needlework workshops!)
What were the critical factors helping or hindering completion of this project?

Helping: I would say that I have a very healthy background in mid-Victorian history and fashion. Hindering: I had an extremely basic knowledge of sewing.

What do you wish you had spent more time on or done differently: I wish I made the bodice tighter to my body so I don’t look so balloon-y. I still might make a few adjustments.
What part of the project did you do your best work on:I’m really pleased with the way the hand gathering on the dress turned out. I’d never done anything like it before, but I took my time and the end result is a highlight for me.

What did you learn most about yourself by participating in this project? 

That things don’t really change and that I still get mad at myself for making mistakes.

What differences has the project made in my intellectual, personal or ethical development? I have learned that if I want to make a big giant dress – I can. I don’t have to have a reason or rationalise it to anyone. If it’s something I want to do/try, and I’m not clear-cutting a forest to do it, then I can just go ahead and do it.

What level of personal effort do you feel you put into your project? A lot. I had to look up a lot of new terms, watch videos, read blogs to really understand some of the processes. I usually like quick projects and instant gratification – since this was a multi-month project I really had to keep learning and keep at it.

What was the most enjoyable part of this project: 

Being able to answer; “Yep, I made that” (I’m not going to lie – recognition for effort feels good)

What was the least enjoyable part of this project: 

Ripping stitches out to repair the petticoat.

If you were to redo your project, what would you change about it?

If I were going to redo this project, I would see what I could do to alter it in such as way as to make the skirt and top separate pieces. That way I’d have a skirt to mix and match. Zoave jacket? Next time 🙂 

If I had chosen to do “x” or not to do “x”, what might have happened? If I had chosen to go with a sheer fabric (as originally planned), I think the dress would have been much lighter and flowy. I think it would’ve been harder to hide little imperfections though… and as this was my first dress I was counting on a few imperfections.

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Out on the Boardwalk

Tyler got to play photographer while I got to test out the full outfit for the first time. One lady asked if I was an actress, one kid watched me for a bit then waved, and two little Scottie dogs couldn’t give a hoot and liked that I gave them a pet. It was fairly windy on the coast, so prepare yourself now for a great deal of hat holding.

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Time for Trimmings

I finally had an afternoon off to sit down and add some style to this dress. As mentioned already, I did the easiest part first (because the feeling of doing something right is a great motivator), and added some bias tape around the bottom hem to strengthen against any dragging on the ground. Next I studied and planned out the easy-looking geometric trim.

Planning took on a few different approaches. I’ve never done anything like this before so I was trying all sorts of ways to translate what I saw in the photo, to my materials, to my dress. I measured and drew out a version of the pattern, then eventually made a mock-up from some packing paper. Once I was happy with the scale of everything, it was go-time.

I began but cutting out a little diamond… and then did that seven more times. Those got pinned to the dress at measured intervals, before adding alllll the rest of the trim. For the finished product you’ll have to wait until the next post for the big reveal!

Afternoon Distraction

Trimming a skirt is a lot more work than I’d imagined it would be. I hemmed the dress and sewn on some brown trim that will help protect the end as it rubs over the ground. I’ve also drawn up some plans for a super tasteful geometric pattern along the bottom of the skirt. Doing that involved math so I honestly got bored and needed a little more excitement.

I whipped out the handmade straw hat I’d been gifted and set to work sorting ribbons and silk flowers. This was going to be a quick, easy afternoon job (read: instant gratification).

I looked up a few examples of straw hats from the period from various sources, then got to work. Important to note here is the presence of the pumpkin spice latte. Coffee was required, and ’tis the season! About an hour later I had my silk ribbon trim and ties, velvet band, and silk flowers on and ready to wear! I’m still debating lining the inside of the hat – there’s nothing worse than doing your hair perfectly and then having little stray bits of straw pull your hair all out of sorts.

A little more Inspiration

Now that I’ve finally created the bare-bones dress, I need to start concentrating on the finishing touches – those little additions of ribbon or lace that add personality and Victorian pizzazz. This calls for a trip down Pinterest lane to see what inspiration I can take from historic photos and dresses in museums around the world…

Methinks a certain amount of frillage is in my immediate future. Any thoughts? Also, I think I’ll need a bigger crinoline 😉

Two Become One

So, you know, in my spare time I like to whip-stitch a bunch of meticulously created hand gathers to some ribbon to make one heck of a pleated skirt! I’m really impressed with the end result, but also really happy that I’d used an upholstery-grade nylon thread to help hold up all this fabric.

Once the million pleats have been safely attached, the next step was to attach the bodice to the skirt to create the dress. The next steps are to add the buttons (and button holes…), as well as hook and eye closures, and of course, the collar!

It’s Starting to Look Like a Thing!

Alright! There have been some major developments regarding the creation and future life of my soon-to-be dress. I’ll start with the sleeves – They exist! They went from really large and odd-shaped bits of fabric to actual tubes of material that my arms will go into. They were unsurprisingly a lot of work, but by this point I feel like I’m really getting the hang of hand-gathering and using the zipper foot on the sewing machine, so it wasn’t too bad.  After doing up French seams, gathering the top and bottom portions and creating and sewing on the cuffs, I sewed them onto the bodice and voila!

Interesting point of note number two for this post: I have found the most amazing accessories. During a visit out-of-province for a family reunion, I popped into a local antique market and nabbed up a vintage chemise and Irish lace collar. I’ll add a backing the to the collar to give it more definition, then use some of the Welsh lace scraps I have to match for the cuffs. This really is a pan-British ensemble.

Last, but very not least, is the gem of a find online of a dress-maker’s mannequin. Usually one can find these in any sewing supply store for about $150-$300, but I managed to buy one in perfect condition for $30. I’d like to thank Tyler for stumbling upon this on the internet, as well as the universe which was clearly on my side for this one. With the mannequin I can layer everything up then do any hemming, or detail work by hand without having to try the whole thing on every time. Getting dressed can really be a workout.

Fear Not the Zipper Foot

I’ve felt bad for neglecting my dress, so I decided to do the steps that I’ve been reluctant to do, either because I was afraid I wouldn’t know how or because I didn’t look forward to the time/concentration commitment. I finally made up the piping to go around the shoulders and neck, and just sat down an accepted that there’s still a great deal that has to be sewn by hand. I made a really big coffee and got to work.

I’ll mention here that another reason I made a push to finish off the more tricky steps is finding the photo below. It was a great inspiration to see a dress from the period that will look extremely similar to the one I’m making.

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