Tag Archives: victorian

A dress for Victoria

A dress for Victoria

I have loved the absurdity of the 1830s since I first discovered fashion plates of it almost 20 years ago. I’ve made four previous 1830s dresses and love wearing them but I had been longing for a formal dinner party. Wandering a historic site just isn’t quite as glamorous as candlelight and friends. Finally a friend suggested if you can’t find and event, make one! So the Young Victoria Dinner was born.

Major thank you to the Joseph Ambler Inn for being so welcoming!

Fashion Inspiration

But what to where?! Obviously any of the four other perfectly serviceable gowns I own just WOULD NOT DO. Why?…because I said so and it’s my party.

I ask you IS there anymore delightful than 1830s hair? There isn’t.

When looking around at fashion plates I realized there’s a pretty large range of things to choose from, but evening ensembles seems to have a few common threads.

Portrait of a lady by Antoine Plamondon

Short sleeves, or short sleeves with a net over sleeve, wide necklines (some off the shoulder even) and they are made of either silk or a sheer. In today’s world that sheerness in not-a-silk would be cotton or if the fabric gods love you a wool but I’ll never find that in my life time.

She gets major points for the jaunty headnecklace

I also really enjoyed the delicateness of many white gowns I found. Which I would hazard a guess is a hangover from earlier in the century when delicate white muslin gowns were all the rage. If it’s not broke don’t fix it? slash use up the fabric you already made…

All of the inspiration images I liked best (slash pretty much all the images of early-mid 1830s gowns) have huge delightful sleeves, full skirts and a wide waistband. Or what I’m assuming is a wide waistband because they’ve accessorized with a belt or sash. But you know same “wide band of waist” thing.

In the end this image from the 1832 Costumes Parisiens is what stole my heart. Except not in that shade of yellow/green as this heart looks very sickly in that shade. So I decided to do a smash of the white airy dresses and the hanging ribbons with lilacs (or maybe hydrangeas hard to tell)


I’m sorry to tell you I took not-very-many construction photos because I don’t really deem my Victorian dressmaking all that interesting. The dress is made out of Pure Silks cotton organdy which was both very reasonable in price, got here quickly, had a nice stiff hand and smelled funny. I flatlined the bodice and sleeves with a white cotton broadcloth.

I used the Truly Victorian 1860s ballgown bodice as my sloper…Yeah I know it’s marketed as being 30 years later but I promise it really is the same shape. Please note how far ON my shoulder it sits. I didn’t change this angle at all, the gravity and heat of my body caused my final neck shape to stretch. You have been warned if you make a cotton dress.

Standard Robin bodice construction

  1. Cut everything out. Forget something. Cut more. Hate cutting, and neglect to cut sleeves.
  2. Sew; side back seams, front seam, side seams, shoulder seams.
  3. Finish neckline with a bias strip facing, machine sew to right side, then turn inside and whip stitch.
  4. Turn in center back opening 1/4″ and then 1/2″, whip down.
  5. Try on bodice. enlist well trained husband to pin the back closed, remembering why back closing dresses are dumb. Pin in the darts.
  6. Contemplate making darts even, then realize I’m crooked so it’s probably better this way and sew darts as they were fit. (don’t do that it’s wrong)
  7. Realize you didn’t cut out the sleeves. swear at past Robin and cut out sleeves.
  8. Finish the arm slit in this sleeve pattern. gather giant circle into armscye.
  9. sew sleeves. take out part you caught from the underside. swear more. redo. ta-da have sleeves.
  10. Sew hooks and bars up centre back.
Plate from the 1838 Workingwoman’s Guide

My sleeve pattern is figure 30 in the plate above. Previously I’ve used the one from Patterns of Fashion that is a circle with no flat side, but my intelligent self didn’t pay attention when lining up my pattern and it hung off the side of the fabric so flat side it was! I did use the vertical slit opening from PoF though instead of the centered circle. Also my sleeves are always a 30″ circle as it’s an arbitrary measurment I picked the first time and it worked great.

there’s a theme in my house, have you noticed? I’ll give you a hint it has to do with dated carpet

The skirt is super easy. It’s 3 straight panels of 54″ width with a 6″ hem. I gathered it down to a waistband.

Which went SUPER smoothly

I re-gathered to a new new-long-enough waistband and then tried it all on with the skirt over the bottom unfinished edge of the bodice and pinned where it wanted to sit. I then carefully hand backstitched through all the layers.

I tried to drape the bertha on Polly (my dress form) but Polly was a Christmas present in college back in *cough2001cough* and she just hasn’t…grown with me as a person. She’s kind of stuck in the days of our youth

FLOP right off the shoulder

And it turns out for almost-off-the-shoulder-just-kidding-it-stretched-all-the-way-off gowns you need an actual SHOULDER to drape the bertha around. So on Friday night before the party Amanda was super kind and did it on me. (and convinced an old lady it was my dress from our wedding-which-had-already-happened). The bertha is just a rectangle I ironed the edges under and gathered down the CF, the shoulders got pleated and to be honest I need to try ironing it a little flatter as I’m not a huge fan, it’s a wee bit to enthusiastic for me.

trying shoulder bows…and realizing berthas are stupid

The ribbon is from RibbonStore on Ebay and I give them two thumbs way up. The quality is great and shipping was immediate. The flowers were from Michael’s. I looked for vintage millinery or paper ones but that many flowers was prohibitively expensive.

The Dinner

I styled the dress with two pearl necklaces (more is more), new earrings from Dames a la mode that I LURVE and a pair of matching bracelets.

My I-N-C-R-E-D-I-B-L-E hair was a combo of custom piece from Jennylafleur and some cheap side curls from ebay. My apollo’s knot is probably the most beautiful hair I’ve ever had. My wedding included. It was fantastically easy to wear as well. I put my own center section into a high ponytail and pinned the hairpiece in front of it. I braided my hair and wrapped it around the base. My side sections I braided and crossed in the back and wrapped around the base as well.

Mr. Sewloud and I got married at this venue and I have a wedding photo in this spot
my net mitts were bought off an etsy seller that I don’t believe sells them anymore

Katherine found amazing square toed shoes and I ordered a pair from ebay. They came super quickly and the size 8s fit my dead average size 8 feet. Very comfortable, would order again.

Taylor is prepping the Pope Joan Board…I’m paying the bill…one of these is VASTLY more fun
I love this photo of all our hair!
I thought ever single person in the group was stunning! I have the most talented friends
you can just see my yellow shoes peaking out
I was STUPID proud of my pineapple centerpiece too
Mr. Sewloud and I looking tired. party planning is a lot of work!
a view from the dining room
Discussing the finer details
The background on this one makes me think I look like a 1990s glamour shot.
Our Victoria and Albert

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?