Category Archives: Mid-19th Century Costumes

The Alphabet Dress

The Alphabet Dress

Four Score and seven years ago, okay 1.5 years ago, the theme for the Friday night ball we were attending at Gettysburg’s Remembrance day was “Fancy Dress” and when browsing through fashion plates of fancy dress ideas I found the dress of my dreams. The Alphabet Dress. Incase you’re unfamiliar with what IS fancy dress, it’s basically the Victorians playing dress up. Imagine a halloween party, but not at halloween, and with no “sexy” everything.

Why am I just writing a blog from a costume that is over a year old you ask? well first of all stop nagging I’m a slow writer, and secondly because there were exactly zero good photos at Gettysburg but I just got to re-wear it to a fancy dress party and got actual photos.

I started with easy foundations, I used a bridal hoop I bought off e-bay and cut the bottom hoop off of, my standard 1860s off the shoulder chemise, and my 1860s corset which is from the Redthreaded pattern (highly recommend).

The skirt

I stared at the skirt for a long time deciding what was the best method of construction. I debated appliquéing grey stripes onto an orange skirt but I just didn’t think I’d be able to get them straight enough for my OCD. So I went with what I deemed the easiest method.

Prepare for incoming math: I figured out my pattern by measuring the circumference of my bottom hoop then divided it by 3. I wanted the grey stripes to be half as wide as the orange. So circumference divided by 3 = grey width, and circumference divided by 3 times 2 = orange width. I made patterns out of poster board and cut away.

I assembled in bulk. First I sewed every orange stripe to a grey friend, then I sewed the pairs together, then into quads etc etc until I had a whole skirt.

Did I mention I frenched my seams? looots of trimming
Before hemming or a waistband

I had a really limited amount of the orange silk I was using (it was a generous gift from Jenny-Rose that she got in the LA garment district) actually I had a limited amount of both fabrics as the grey was a generous gift from Adrienne. (it really takes a village to dress this Robin). To save on fabric instead of turning up a hem I faced it with a bias facing made of a different orange silk I had. No I do not have an orange problem, I have an orange solution!

Inside view
Lookit those pretty french seams

The Bodice

For the bodice pattern I used the Truly Victorian ballgown bodice. It’s a very versatile pattern. I cut the point off and piped it all with double piping. Because piping is my faaavorite detail. It’s flat lined with cotton broadcloth and boned at the center front, darts, sides and back. The finished bodice is sewn to the waistband to prevent gapping. I used to leave them separate in my 1860s outfits but they ALWAYS gap when I move so now I join them.

I never fit the darts till the very end as they’re always different than in your mock up
Back lacing is annoying as you need a friend to help you,
but please admire my hand done eyelets

The bertha is black cotton sateen that I am 90% sure Amanda draped on me but it was so long ago I can’t remember (this is why you’re supposed to blog right after the first wearing) I free handed the design onto it with gold fabric paint.

Fun fact: it accidentally spells S-T-A-B on my right shoulder
where it closes with hooks and eyes

The sleevey things are just strips of silk organza gathered to the armscye, I again hand painted the letters, and if I’m honest they’re the part of this ensemble I’m least happy with. I may revisit them again, if this ever gets a third wearing.

I know some people like to see the messy inside.

The letters

I was planning to print the letters on printer paper and pin them on. They used lots of cardboard in fancy dress costumes, remember it was a throw away outfit. But Mr. Sewloud was HORRIFIED that I’d put that much effort into the dress and just phone in the letters.

So he painted them all, good job honey only 25 more to go!

They’re a layer of painted silk backed with muslin and tacked in two places. and yes there are 26 of them. Can we discuss how fun turning all those corners was?

It took exactly as long as you can imagine

Finishing touches

There’s a really tragic derth of orange boots on the market (please American Duchess get on that) so I was left with a bit of a quandary about what to put on my feet. I settled on using white dance boots that I bought from Amazon and dying them with RIT in my washer.

I thought the grey lacing tied in with the grey,
I’m unsure and may swap for orange

They were pretty perfect visually but have the distinct downside of not being waterproof so on a snowy day in DC you have to wear rainboots to the party then change there. Not the end of the world, but not my classiest grand entrance.

The first time I wore it in Gettysburg I ran out of time to make the tiara and just wore a generic one, but for the second wearing I really wanted to try to replicate the fun Alpha, Omega tiara. Sewcialist Revolution convinced me to try using Worbla and I’m glad she did. It was actually pretty easy and I was very happy with the result.

It’s on a cheap headband to keep it on my head

The Dress in Action

This is probably the most work I’ve ever put into a dress so please forgive me as I’m about to spam you with a bunch of photos from the party at The Modern Mantua Maker’s house in DC.

Okay first one in Gettysburg as proof it WAS there
Pre-party mirror selfie circa 2003
Her staircase was the most amazing thing ever, I wanted to stand there for hours
WHEEE it is SO fun to spin in
I found some naughty can can girls! Lauren and Carolyn are the most fun and you really lose something without sound as they jingled everywhere they went
Posing with Amanda for a tintype
While I’m fascinated by how dark the orange went, I’m more so amused by Amanda and my epic Derp Face
Watch the magic happen!
Damesalamode really captured what a party it was
(I love that I’m not cool enough to really do rock on and did ‘I love you’ instead)
Did you know it snowed in DC this weekend? it was pretty

So that’s my most ambitious and lest blogged about project finished! What’s your big wish project? What should I tackle next?

A Paletot for Ice Skating

A Paletot for Ice Skating

Amanda turned 29 this year and for birthday festivities requested “Victorian Skating.” Which gave everyone lots of room for interpretation. On the suggestion of Jennylafleur I decided to be smart (I know crazy right!?) and make the paletot that I know I need for Gettysburg this year AHEAD OF TIME…..I’ll give you a moment to recover from the shock………Good? okay onward!

In doing my virtual shopping research I discovered there’s a fairly large range of 1860s outerwear.

From the ever stylish circus tent….


Oversized shoes encouraged

To more svelte fitted styles..


Gurl you rock that sassy fringe…brick..layer..look

Some like the image above have narrow coat sleeves but some have GIANT SLEEVES.


What? no it’s not drafty at all…why do you ask?

Common trims involve soutache or fur.


With hands like those you could be president


I killed a bear with my gaze for this fur. don’t you forget it.

And quilted trim was sure to keep you toasty


For that un-made bed look

I found examples of length that varied form short and cute to almost wrappers.


another theme? muffs make everything better


“I’m not wearing a corset…BUT YOU’LL NEVER KNOW! MWAH HA HA. *ahem*”

So all this to say that when it comes to 1860s warmth you have a huge range of options. I only focused on coat-like-things here, but the cloak-the-size-of-Montana was also a popular look. I just have enough trouble feeling like a giant blob most days, a sleeve seemed helpful. I’m calling this a paletot because to the best of my knowledge a sleeved coat with no waist seam is a paletot and I’m not expert enough to disagree with THE Katherine C-G.

I used navy blue 100% wool flannel with an orange silk lining. The curly lamb trim was a find at a local fabric store maybe 6 years ago that I had been hoarding for such a project.


Construction wise I used the Homespun Patterns “1860s Paletot coat pattern” on a recommendation from the ever wise Katherine. I was very very smart and didn’t notice that it came in sizes. so please imagine my face when I opened it and realized I had ordered the size 8-10-12 and I in fact needed a size 22…This is when it pays to have friends with fancy sewing degrees as Adrienne graded it up for me. I promised to have her babies.



Derpy faaaaace

I did NOT follow the pattern construction instructions..they made no sense to me. I pieced the fashion fabric and the lining separately then turned under a hem and whipped the lining in.


I love the “swoop” of the back

I chose to split the difference between tent-and super fitted. Seemed most versatile while flattering that way. and I have to say I’m HUGELY pleased. It was comfortable, easy to wear, easy to put together.


And REMARKABLY easy to skate in!


All together now “HAPPY BIRTHDAY AMANDA!!”

Christmas, 1830s style

Christmas, 1830s style


Six more weeks of silly

Well I’m just a smidge behind on posting this dress…that I made for Christmas…heck I should have waited another month and done Christmas in July. But I resolved after moving to try to be better at posting so here you get a Christmas-in-June post.


Me, Alice, and Amanda looking so cold and Christmasy (photo from the Asbury Park Press)

*sings carols in the 90 degree heat*



Who am I kidding it was 70 at Christmas this year…but don’t worry climate change is a myth



Hey look it’s real bread!

I made this dress for another trip to Historic Allaire, they were having some Christmas shenanigans, honestly it’s been so long I forget the specifics. Oh wait there were long lines for carriage rides and decorations.

Anyway, I had just come off the high of Gettysburg (what do you mean I never posted about that either…son-of-a-sock-monkey, more catch up coming later)…where was I..right so Katherine C-G was in my house and when I wasn’t squealing over a celebrity IN MY GUEST ROOM she was getting me all convinced that I could make an 1830s dress in a week. Or something close to a week it was months ago.




Dress on the right


Nice wonky bow there Robin

Part of Katherine’s brilliant plan was pointing out I could use my nicely fitting 1860s ball gown bodice pattern and just cut it straight at the waist.

We were flipping through Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion and boy she seemed to be making a lot of sense (this is how you end up with the costume equivalent of buying a time share).

The 1830s often featured wide, almost off the shoulder necklines, and the sleeve pattern in PoF is so huge and gathered you could just put it in any old armscye. aaaand then I made a dress in a week.



Not having time for proper sleeve floaties I just gathered a wad of netting (technical measurement) and tacked it to the sleeve lining so it was in between the lining and the plaid.  It cross laces with attractive black lacing as that’s what I found when running out the door.


Stink eye is given

All in all I’m really happy with it. It’s a very simple cut in a very loud fabric. oh and crazy hair. The fabric is a some kind of synthetic I bought off a vendor at Belvidere. Nice hand but definitely dead dino.


Remember 1830s is ALL about dat hair

Godey’s 1864 knitted under petticoat

Godey’s 1864 knitted under petticoat

Eeek look my underwear!

Eeek look my underwear!  Photo Courtesy of JennylaFleur

The knitting kick continues. For my 30th Birthday my dear friend Amanda (maker of all things awesome) gave me a bag of ORANGE worsted weight yarn from Grandma’s-Dead-Friend (where we all end up with the most random craft supplies from). When searching around for something to use 11 skeins of yarn for I found this pattern for a knitted under petticoat. We’re going to Gettysburg in November when it’s cold and drafty under those hoops, seemed like a match made in heaven.



I of course had to make a few changes because I was using worsted weight yarn on size 8 needles instead of lace weight (beggar’s can’t be choosers). I only did two panels instead of three, each of which ended up around 35″ wide. I only did four stripes of five rows instead of the six called for in the pattern, and only 16 rows of ribbing instead of 24 to avoid having a floor length skirt.

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I really thought it was going to take FOREVER to knit but it took almost exactly a month, big needles FTW!…Although I still have I think 5 skeins of orange left…any one have any ideas what one can do with a ton of orange worsted wool yarn? I’m definitely looking for something.

Godey’s Lady’s Book 1864 knit shawl

Godey’s Lady’s Book 1864 knit shawl

I’ve been trying to fight off a cold the past two days and while that means I’ve gotten basically zero housework done (bad as my in-laws arrive tomorrow) but I have managed to finish my enormous shawl for Gettysburg.

I used this pattern on Ravelry from an 1864 Godey’s Ladies magazine. It’s all done in Paton’s classic wool and took 4 skeins of the natural marl (which was on clearance, thus began the whole project), one of blue and one and a little bit of the berry. The pattern is really clever, the chevron shape is formed by regular increases in the center back. It’s all basic garter stitch, so not complicated, just huge!  I started it in the middle of August so it took a bit over a month with a big pause in the middle for my birthday dress.  For anyone who’s curious I knitted the center portion until it was 25″ long or a smidge less than three whole skeins of the marl. And the fringe took an entire skein.

I’m planning to wear this to Gettysburg for Remembrance Day in November, so far it’s now the only thing I’ve finished…so I’m basically currently going in a hoop, corset and giant shawl…at least I’m not naked! …I better get sewing!

A tea in Riverton

A tea in Riverton

Amanda, Alice and I were supposed to go to Ft. Mifflin in NJ for civil war days on Saturday…but it was 95 degrees…so we went with plan B. A tea room! And since the 1860s requirement was lifted several more people joined us for our impromptu tea.

Look at our fluffiness!

Look at our fluffiness!

I thought there was no way I would finish this dress in time but shockingly I did, without even sewing after work on Friday!

All the hoops together

All the hoops together

I realized in the car halfway there that I never did hem my skirt…oops. But it was for the best as my friend Victoria joined us and she’s much shorter so she needed my round hoop and I wore my elliptical hoop that’s longer. So my gown needed as much length in the front as possible!


finished dress

The bodice is made from swiss dot left over from my chemise a la reine. I used the Truly Victorian 440 for the bodice to save time, I gathered instead of darting the sheer layer. I realize in looking at photos that I wish I had made the sleeves much shorter, They’re so long and wide.  I also think next time I wear this I’ll add a collar at the neckline, I think it looks more finished that way.

But most importantly I started this dress on Monday and wore it on Saturday! Not too shabby.

This is my listening face

This is my listening face

venturing into the 1860s

venturing into the 1860s

Have you ever wondered what a 208″ petticoat looks like? Step right this way and let me show you!

Giant Petticoat of Doooooom

Giant Petticoat of Doooooom

My friends Alice and Amanda have agreed to venture into the 1860s with me. I love a good hoop but up until now no one was willing to run around in hoops with me! So I pretty much have to start from the inside out.

I bought the hoop off of ebay ages ago for renaissance things, I had always intended to shrink the top hoop to make it more farthingale shaped, but I never got around to it! Yay for laziness saving the day! I will wear my standard victorian corset as it’s actually pretty short and more suited for early Victorian than the later stuff I usually wear it for.

Now why on earth would anyone WANT a 208″ petticoat you say? Good question. Again, laziness. I got a great deal on some 104″ white quilting cotton at Joann‘s. It was supposed to be 108″ and when the company figured it out they had us put it in clearance, plus clearance was half off..and then we realized it had stains on I got it for 75% off of that. The whole petticoat cost under $5. Now one 104″ panel wasn’t enough, and I really didn’t want to deal with half panels…so 208″ it was!

I didn’t use a pattern just ripped it into rectangles that were the right length. For me it worked out to 32″ to the top of the ruffle, then the ruffle is three widths 12″ deep. I rolled hemmed them with my serger. Then I used my serger’s magical ruffling foot to attach the ruffle while it gathered it on.

In the end I couldn’t gather it all the way down to my 34″ waist measurment so it overlaps by 2″ in the back…I gathered instead of pleating. If I did stacked pleats I could probably fit it more tightly.

Onto the skirt!

Onto the skirt!

The skirt isn’t nearly as full. Again, no pattern required. I used the 45″ width of the fabric as my skirt length. Ripped a panel 150″ long and sewed the back seam, gathered the top and added a waistband. Ta da!

my fabric

my fabric

Again I found this sheer cotton in the Joann’s clearance section. It was $1.50 a yard. (Hey being a Joann’s employee has it’s perks!)