The late 19th century has always been intimidating to me from a sewing standpoint. Complicated waist hugging bodices and layer upon layers of trim. My local costuming guild arranged a meet up at the James Tissot exhibit and I decided now was as good a time as ever to delve into the period. Tissot is all about capturing the lush big bustles and fanciful bonnets so I naturally wanted an 1870's gown with full skirts. Unfortunately I felt compelled to stick to a pattern because I was scared. That limited my options because I needed a pdf available. I started hunting for late bustle period inspiration (1880's). I decided on a light cotton seersucker with pink cotton accents. In the end I envisioned a Tim Burton-esque cupcake inspired daydress with velvet and lace trim.
Inspiration thanks to Pinterest!
I was lucky that I had a corset thanks to @thelacedangel and a bustle cage from @tmoore_vintagesewcialist.
Bustle petticoat in one that saved me a lot of work!
I used a pattern from Truly Victorian, the Alexandra bodice. I did a mock up, taking into consideration I hadn't yet made my skirts and therefore may need more room. I graded out the hips since I have a bigger waist to hip ratio. Surprisingly there was no hip measurement included on the pattern sizing so I just guessed! I had some issues cutting out the pattern because all the sizes were on the same pattern piece. As a result, at certain points the sizes all melded together into one thick line, making it impossible to determine where to cut. For someone looking for an exact pattern piece this can be extremely frustrating. I don't have a dressform yet so I put on my corset and bustle cage and did a quick try on.
Yay for a semi successful mock up
I went ahead and cut my cotton seersucker (from Joanns) and interlined with a nice cotton twill. I serged my interlining to my bodice pieces and sewed up the main bodice, minus the pink cotton center piece. I quickly made up the pink underskirt using the TV 1885 underskirt pattern. And then things went a bit wonky.
This was the point of project I was excited because things looked ok so I tossed seersucker fabric over for pretend overskirt. You can see already that my center bodice pieces weren't long enough. I had no more twill so I decided to just keep them shorter rather than cut out new ones.
I would say the problems that ensued were 50% my fault and 50% this pattern was not right for me at all (I would've been better off using an actual 1880's pattern or creating my own). I wasn't focusing enough on the fit issues, which would later haunt me, beat me over the the head and then make me cry. There was pulling at the shoulders. I had taken them up so much I thought surely I couldn't do anymore. And then it was tight under my arms so I carved some fabric out to accommodate. The neck was too high (easy fix) and the hips still were just on verge of being too snug. And then the real blow- the sleevils.
I did a sleeve mock up and then cut out the sleeves. The pattern sleeve was all wrong for me so I basically redrafted. The elbow curve was in wrong spot and it was much too wide and then not big enough sleeve cap.The left side went in so easily. The right took 11 tries. No matter what I did it wouldn't set right, I had horrible dragging and it was too tight under my arm. Because I ripped it out so many times my fabric in the back started to stretch out (more on this later). I redid and created new mock up after disaster set 5. Mock up went fine and I recut a new sleeve. Still took another 6 times!
Finally it seemed ok. And by ok I really do mean ok. Not great, not smooth, just wearable. I deeply regretted this later on.
Mock up and the "good" set
The right sleeve of doom. See that deep crease? It definitely hurt under my arm.
You can see the pulling at shoulders, even with a bigger and better set sleeve
I took a break and made a simple white petticoat and then trimmed my pink underskirt by hand pleating to get around 150 inches of fabric trim. I used the vinegar and water trick to set them, which really works! I did a very deep hem facing out of the same pink and sandwiched in a 4 inch strip of crinoline to give the skirt some oomph. It definitely helped with the shape.
You can buy a pleating board but they have gone up in price. You can also make one but I was short on time. My pleats are not exact and perfect but I like them just the same.
Next was doing my hook and eyes, which always scares me. Closures always scare me. Its so FINAL. I then tried everything on to realize that my center bodice was too small, especially at center bust. What? How? Why? I had even laced down a half inch smaller in my corset. I still have no idea what happened. I created a placket on both sides, figuring it could just be a design feature. Thankfully I had purchased 18 velvet covered buttons and they did a nice job of hiding most of the placket anyway. I did too many hook and bars to count (bars seem to be more secure for me) and the bodice bareeeeeely fit. BUT IT FIT. Kind of. It was wearable, that was what mattered.
Panel and yet another try on. It is so much fun not having a dressform, let me tell you.
I made a hat. I'd like to do separate blog post but I will probably run out of steam. I took a dollar tree straw hat and molded and cut and sewed to get my shape then threw on as many faux flowers as I could find. It is truthfully my favorite part of my outfit! I also made myself a baby yoda brooch and ordered earrings from Lady Detalle. I wore my American Duchess Thedas because they have some height and are very comfortable (which is important when one is in costume for 8 hours). And off I went to the event!
Fun accessories make an outfit!
A few more construction notes before the photo extravaganza. The pulling at the shoulders created a not attractive pulling through to front of bodice. Despite me finding actual period photographs of this, I did not like it. I wanted a very smooth bodice and did not achieve it. There was rippling at the shoulder seam as well. Due to resetting my sleeve so many times, my right side back had a large crease/bubble that was prominent. The bodice could've been shortened in the waist by 1/4 inch for smoother fit. I learned a valuable lesson in trusting my gut and having more confidence in my drafting skills. This pattern was not made custom for me so I didn't expect perfect but it was definitely a bad fit for my body type. The line soup,as I call it, did not help when cutting out the pattern but I suppose that is what mock ups are for. I probably needed four mock ups to get this one to where I wanted it.
The seersucker was very loosely woven and tore in several places. In order to get that truly smooth high bust shelf bodice front I should have put small pads above my bust and next to underarms (this is period!). I did not do a good enough job securing my boning channels and some popped out and tore through my fabric. I should have added a flounce to my petticoat as it kept wrapping itself around my legs. My overskirt was draped on me and then sewn. I should have interlined and sewn it in places to my pink underskirt, because it ended up twisting and moving in the wind. As a result the bustle bit was on my side rather than center back. This list is more for me than anything but hopefully it may help you if you venture into the era.
And finally (if you have made it this far), I want to say that I am still happy I made this outfit. It is not my most favorite thing to wear and was extremely frustrating but as always it is something I created and so I am still proud I did it. Not all costumes will be a huge success and that is ok too. I learned many things and am hopeful the next time will be a bit smoother to do. I had a wonderful time at the events and that is truly the most important thing of all!
The event was a costumers guild meet up at the museum exhibit on James Tissot that I attended with my best friend and then a bunch of us got together to attend a lovely tea at a local hotel. Seeing everyone in their gowns was fantastic. What an amazing group of talented people! I was lucky enough to be captured by John Carey Photography and have credited him in my photos below. All other pictures taken by @rainbowpixiedust @makethishistoricallook, @madamedestroyer,@freshfrippery and @frolicking_frocks (all on instagram). You can see video and more on my facebook page, La Dauphine Costuming.
photos above by John Carey Photography