Sunday, 1 December 2013

1860s Ballgown Bodice

So I have been a bit lazy with my blog posts lately and there are lots of things I haven't written about. One of my favourite pieces of clothing I own is my 1860s Ballgown bodice ... I put some serious effort into it and it really payed off (at least in my opinion :-P )

I should appologise in advance, I have no pictures from the "making of", my mind was so imerged in the sew sew sew of getting things finished that I didn't remember till it was finished.


Truly Victorian 1860s Ballgown Bodice TV442

Another of Truly Victorians fabulous patterns and I really like that they take the width of the back as a central measurement for their pattern ... everything else just seems to fall into place so much easier!


2.5m burgundy and cream herringbone twill suiting
1m each cotton lining and herringbone coutil (interlining)
6 metal bones (there should be 8 but I only had 6 lying around that fit)
3m trim
24 hooks and eyes
threat etc
old sheet (material for mock up)


How to:

As always accurate measurement is the first step (no, don't try and lie about your measurements), you might need a 2nd person to measure your back and don't forget you need to wear the correct undergarments.

~ Afternoon Tea with other fabulous people ~

Note: With most corsets it's easy to change the waist measurement an inch or 2 one way or the other, especially if you have the famous 'squish' factor. Make sure you note the cm / inch of your waist and use this measurement for future fittings and ultimate wearing of the bodice so you don't try and adjust your project to a different silhouette every time.

Due to a lack of my personal chamber maid I decided to change the pattern and place the closure in the front, following that I made a quick mock up. The back fitted perfectly and the front and sides were easily adjusted with the 4 darts in the front. After reading many horror stories of  gaping necklines I was determined to take extra care in fitting this part and avoid the dreaded 'tucker' option. With a bit of to and fro along the shoulder seams I was quite happy and I moved on to the real deal.

Following the instructions sewing the 3 layers, including the boning, proved not very difficult if a little tedious. The 'problems' started when it came to the Bertha ... I pinned the the recommended version and really wasn't happy with the look ... it just looked sloppy! That's when I decided I wanted pleats, sometimes I just seem to want make my life hell.

Pleating will mean doubling the length of the material for the bertha outlined in the pattern (at least for the larger sizes, perhaps 1.5x for the smaller). Not only, of course, did I want pleats they had to follow the neckline, wider in the front and narrowing over the shoulders. I have pleated material before but mostly the accuracy of the pleats was of no great importance e.g. skirt waistbands. However this time I wanted every pleat to be the same width and I found a little cardboard stick at the correct width really useful as I just inserted it, folded the material around it and pinned it in place (the fabric, remove the cardbord!) ... still it took ages to get it right! Just a note, I started in the centre back and worked myself around each side.

Sewing through fashion fabric, coutil, 2 more layers of pleated fashion fabric (bertha) and the trim all at once was a bit of a struggle ... my poor sewing machine struggled on valiantly but I would advice to go very slowly!

The bertha alone was a days work! So you have been warned but oh I love it so much!

The rest wasn't a big deal the puffy sleeves are easy to make if you follow the instruction only the sewing in was a bit of a struggle mainly because of the bertha but I wouldn't have been able to but the bertha in as I did if I had sewn in the sleeves first as instructed.

After securing the lining I decided to sew 2 straight lines 1cm of the centre front to stabilise the hooks and eyes and avoid gaping. Then it was just a manner of inserting 24 hooks and eyes (wipe sweaty brow) .... and it was finished! ... wait ... no.... there is something missing ... perhaps I need these bows on top of the sleeves after all!

Generally I followed the instructions but I made the individual strips a little shorter and when placing them together I had one side a little longer, forming a cross shape rather then equal length ... a little black velvet to bind the middle ... tacked to the sleeves and finally finally done !

I would love to hear from you ... thoughts, tips etc so please feel free to leave a comment!
~ Victorian Field Day, Enniskerry, 2013 ~

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Chemise for 'off shoulder' dresses (Civil War / Victorian Ball Gowns etc.)

This was the very first garment I ever made some time back, however at the time I found it unsuitable for the regency clothes I was making as it fits off the shoulder. I 'recycled' it into a more regency one but now, with the dawn of my 1860s ballgown, I needed a chemise just like this that wouldn't show.

Materials used:

Cotton lawn (voile) 150cm / 60'' wide (114cm / 45'' works too)
Bias Binding

In general the pattern follows the Sewing Academies free Chemise patter and is really simple and easy to follow.

However, I made several changes that make it even easier and faster.

 Measure around your widest part, add a min of 50cm ... this is how much fabric you will need. Cut the fabric in half (from selvage to selvage not lenght wise) then fold each piece in half  (see picture).

Use the pattern from the sewing academy to draw your chemise body, making sure you measure the desired length UP from the selvage so you won't need to hem you chemise (cut 2, front and back).

Proceed to draw the sleeve pattern as directed, however, place the sleeve opening (line 4 to 5) along the selvage (see picture). Unless your fabric is very narrow  there should have been enough fabric left from above the chemise body to use for your sleeves.

Measure your desired neckline as outlined in the pattern or, if you already own the dress, measure it's neckline and add 3''/ 7cm. Add a seam allowance, cut the Bias binding to this length and sew into a loop.

After all the pattern drafting and cutting in this way you only have  to sew 7 seams!

A) Attach the sleeves to the chemise body (4 seams)

B)  Sew the 2 long side seams

C) Attach the bias binding to the neckline gathering the centre front and back (no gathers over the shoulders)  to fit the lenght of the loop.


Thursday, 17 October 2013

Victorian Beaded Bag Update

Oh dear ... what did I get myself into?! The beading takes forever so realistically the bag should be finished sometime in 2015.


 3 hours of work between the image 
above and the one to the right ...

The 5 square inch finished took about 15 hours (or as I measure them 2 1/2 time the complete Pride and Prejudice with Colin Firth).

Despite the slow progress I'm very pleased in how it looks so it's worthwhile the effort. I decided to go for different size beads as it gives the design more texture.

Monday, 30 September 2013

Accessorise Challenge October - Bag

So it seems I'm insane ... not that I haven't always thought so anyway but I have now found conclusive proof!

I decided that for the Accessorise Head to Toe Challange in October I make a Victorian Beaded Bag ... and no, not just a bit of a pattern ... a fully covered bag like the historic examples shown!

Although to preserve my sanity the pattern will be somewhat simpler.

Monday, 16 September 2013

1860s Bonnet - Accessorise Head to Toe Challenge

With a Victorian Field day coming up in mid September I set out to make my very own 'Gone with the Wind' outfit. As no respectable woman would have left the house without a hat I obviously had to make one too! Better still this project fitted in with the Accessorise Head to Toe Challenge I'm taking part in.


After looking at extant examples from the period online I found 2 fashion plates that I liked and that I decided to base my design on.

Godey's Lady's Book, October 1865

Peterson's Magazine, May 1862

The bonnet is to go with a crinoline dress made from burgundy tweed suiting trimmed in black so the colour scheme of the bonnet will be in similar colours (Image with completed bonnet below).


  • Dupioni Silk in black and gold
  • Buckram
  • Millinery wire
  • Cotton flannel
  • various ribbons, lace & silk flowers

  • packing paper 
  • scissors, stabler, needle & threat
  • glue

The Making of ...

As I didn't have a pattern or template I started off by cutting a rough shape from paper and tried my 'bonnet'. I cut, stabled and adjusted it until it looked roughly like the bonnet shape I was after and took it in stride from there. I have never been afraid about improvising and usually go by the premise 'as long as it looks good it doesn't matter how you got there'

Once I achieved the desired look I cut the shape from the buckram and covered one side with cotton flannel (the buckram has a 'iron fabric on' side). I basted the back centre seam together and then sewed millinery wire along all edges to give it shape and stability.


Following this I covered the outside with cotton flannel, the only time I used glue along the edges to secure the overlapping fabric.The flannel creates a smooth surface and a certain softness allowing the covering fabric to lay smoothly across the buckram body.


The next step is the production of the bonnet cover with black silk on the outside and gold fabric pleated on the inside and a black trim along the sedge (see image). I attached the black silk over the outside, leaving the inner fabric unattached to allow me to sew on the trimmings and hiding the threat under the inner lining.

I experimented a little with various trims until I felt happy with the look.Finally I attached the lining fabric and the basic bonnet was finished. I sewed 2 tied from the black silk with fringing at the end to match the dress, and attached these.

All in all the work was done in about 9 hours over 2 days. Everything is hand sown except the long seams on the ties.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Truly Victorian Round Cage Crinoline

No 1860s outfit without a crinoline...
and after all the Petticoat in the last post was obviously supported by this 'contraption'

Once again I use a pattern by Truly Victorian, apart from being available from UK supplier they also give the fabric and notion requirements on their page so I can order everything together.

 I followed the pattern for the most part however I wanted the crinoline a little longer as given in the pattern. While the possibilities for shortening or lengthening the pattern were mentioned in the directions, no instructions on 'how to' were given.

After some deliberation I decided to sew the bag at the bottom as normal, using a old bedsheet for the fabric. I then cut a new template for the straps made out of grosgrain ribbon, adding 1cm between each hoop and 1cm to the loop at the top. This resulted in an extra 8cm total, a length I felt was sufficient.

Don't forget to take into consideration the shoes you intend to wear with your outfit and whether they have heals to detriment he correct length for you. I'm 1.74m (5'8'') and wear shoes with small 5cm / 2'' heals and have to lengthen most dress / skirt patterns.

The construction...

Cutting the wire was a little challenge and if you have a second person at hand I would advise you get them to help ... the wire does tend to spring and snap in every direction.

Finishing of the bag with the 4 hoops was no problem and I used a combination of extra strong glue and metal clamps to connect the wire.

After inserting the wire into the bone casing it was a little difficult to clamp/glue the wire together, cover the connection with the bone casing and then sew the bone casing together. It just looked a bit messy so I decided to add a 'cover' of grosgrain ribbon over the connections.

I furthermore decided against the woven band used as belting and rather used an actual belt I had lying around at home. It has the added advantage the if I use the same belt hole I have an immediate measure of my waist and know that all my upper garments will fit as they are cut to that waist measurement.

All in all the construction was easy and any difficulties were more due to the unwieldiness of steel boning than the instructions / construction plan.

Last but not least I have to say that I love the swinging motion the crinoline creates when walking or dancing and even sitting down is no problem in it.

Monday, 2 September 2013

Truly Victorian - Free Hoop Petticoat Pattern Review

As I discovered throughout my journey of making a 1860s outfit from scratch, the underpinnings take almost more time then the dress itself. After all there are may layers to consider and make and one of the essential ones is of course the petticoat!

Thankfully Truly Victorian have a great Hoop Petticoat pattern that is absolutely FREE! Even better they promised that no hemming was required and which seamstress doesn't like that!


8m of fabric
2 buttons

When my (male and non sewing) friend heard of the fabric requirement he was utterly puzzled on how I could possibly use that much fabric on a single 'skirt' ... his logic ... it would wrap about 5 times around me ... well lo and behold!


While the volume of fabric to deal with complicates things somewhat, the pattern and instructions itself are very simple and I would even recommend them to absolute beginners.

 .... piles and piles of fabric ....

I choose some white cotton fabric with a pattern of small white dots, mostly as it was cheap and at this quantities that's a definite consideration. I would have loved to use the suggested Eyelet fabric but at 22 euro a meter I had to draw the line!

I deviated slightly from the instructions by taking the fabric for the waistband from the side rather then the top of section C. As I'm rather tall I need the petticoat to be as long as possible and 15cm less in the circumference make very little difference.

Well I pinned and gathered like there is no tomorrow and the petticoat was done in a few hours. I also decided to use a button closure at the back rather then a drawstring as it looks neater ... and *drumroll* a great looking petticoat finished.


 I love the white on white pattern as it adds to the look and the length turned out just right as well.