Sunday, November 16, 2008

1820's Dress Details

As promised, here are the construction details/notes/pictures for my 1820's dress. I was pretty happy with how it turned out for my first try at recreating clothing from this decade. I *really* love the overall style, the flexibility of overlapping styles and the complete wearability of this style for every day. Now that my dress is done, I can't wait to go to New Salem and pretend I really live there as I walk around. Our trip there will probably have to wait until next spring :( but by then hopefully all five of us will have appropriate attire from this era!
Dress, Overall View:

I wanted to make my dress in a style that was representative of the gowns worn between 1825-1830. I chose the later in the decade date since that is the time a lot of settlers were coming into Illinois in the counties near us. Most towns near us were established in the early 1830's, but in order for there to be a town, there must be early settlers, right? :)
The overall style has the transitional sillhouette I fell in love with. The bodice is slightly shorter than the natural waist, but longer than the very high waistlines of the early 1800's. The sleeves are moving to the big sleeve styles of the 1830's but are still graceful and not too enormous for everyday wear. The skirts are plenty long enough and full enough to be modest and feminine yet not so full as the later skirts of the 1830's and 1840's and not as slim in the front earlier in the 1800's. My dress took 5 yards of fabric, which is a modest amount for a historical style dress.

In looking at original dresses when coming up with ideas for mine, I was shocked at how many options there were for different features like neckline shapes, sleeves and decoration! On my dress, I used the machine for hidden seams but any seam that could be seen from the outsdie I did by hand.
The Bodice:

The bodice of my dress was based on the pelisse-robe bodice in Janet Arnold's Patterns of Fashion. I chose this style because the pieces looked basic and easy to work with and the bodice had a front opening - something important to me since I breastfeed my babies and need access! :) I used the lining pieces of the pelisse robe as my basic pattern, and altered my fitted Civil War bodice pattern to approximate the look. All I had to do was shorten the bodice by a few inches, and move some seams to be in the appropriate places and add some seams at the back bodice. I also trimmed the shoulder line so that instead of an 1860's dropped shoulder, I had an armscye that sat right at the point between my shoulder and arm.

To construct the bodice, I cut the pieces out of my fashion fabric and white cotton for lining. I cut the back bodice in four pieces; two side pieces and two center back pieces. I put the seam down the back as an accident. I forgot to put the pattern piece on the fold when cutting out my fabric so it was a necessity! The lining does not have the center back seam, however. I treated the fabric and lining as one and sewed them together at the back seams, the side seams and shoulder seams.
After studying pictures of some original gowns, I decided to pipe the slanted back seams and the shoulder seams. I didn't pipe the side seams since I couldn't actually see the side seams on most gowns I looked at and I figured piping at the side seams would add visible bulk to my sides. The neckline was cut in a shallow V shape and piped, and the bodice was piped at the center front opening. The seam allowance of the piping strips were folded under and slip stitched to the white cotton lining.
Finally, I added a waistband. I did not pipe the waistband since I couldn't find pictures of original gowns with piped waistbands and there were no descriptions of piped waistbands from this period in Janet Arnold's book. Since I wanted to make my bodice with a dog leg closure (front opening bodice but side opening skirt) I measured around my "waistline" (where the edge of the bodice hit) and added a few extra inches so the waistband could wrap around me to the side, where it would later fasten. I cut another waistband of white cotton and it was secured to the fashion waistband by topstitching on all sides. The bodice fastens with hook and eyes and is darted on each side in the front.

The Sleeves:

I originally planned to make sleeves from the pattern for the pelisse-robe. I measured and cut and - the sleeves were too short and the puff at the top was non-existent! I had some temptations of just cutting the sleeve to 3/4 length and calling it good but at last decided I really had to try to make the sleeve work. I ended up cutting an upper sleeve and gathering it to the original sleeve. That worked really well for the puff at the top of the sleeve but it also made my sleeves too long. Since I had already piped my cuffs and sleeve seam I didn't want to cut off the hem and redo all that so I tuck up a diagonal tuck in each each sleeve.

They are still a bit too long so I plan on securing the excess sleeve length with a few pieces of twill tape so the sleeve will hang at the right length. In the meantime, just pushing the sleeve up so the lower portion fits my arm tightly works very well. The sleeve has a lining of white cotton and is piped and finished like the bodice. The cuff closes with hook and eyes.

The Skirt:

The skirt was rather problematic at first. I found many pictures and fashion plates of 1820's gowns but they all seemed to have a common feature and that was a smooth, plain front skirt. Since I'm pregnant I had to compromise a little and figure out how to add extra fabric to go across my tummy. At last I settled on cutting the skirt front in 3 gores so I had maximum fullness at the hem and minimal fullness at the waist, but I did have enough extra at the waist to lightly gather the skirt to the front of the bodice. The back skirt is a rectangular panel of fabric, cut to length.

The pieces are seamed together and the opening for the bodice is at the seam between the side-front gore and the center front gore. The hem is quite deep but the skirt was still too long since I used the very scientific method of measuring by holding my tape at my waist, draping it down across my tummy and trying to peer at the number that hit around the right length without distorting the tape - which is hard to do! I had to put two tucks in the skirt to take up the extra length. It could use another tuck, even, but right now I don't think I'll do that since I like the look of just the two tucks.
The Collar:

I don't know if collars were universally worn in the 1820's or not, but my mind has been so indoctrinated in 1860's rules and regulations of proper attire that I felt the dress looked unfinished without one. I used the top collar from the double collar in Patterns of Fashion. The collar was mostly made on the machine, including the hem, so it is not period correct in that regard but I like the finished shape and the ruffle around the edges. Instead of attaching the collar to a chemisette, I just bound off the neckline with bias cut strips of white cotton and that is basted into the neck of my dress, just like my 1860's dresses. I don't know if this is P.C. or not, but it works for me and was a lot less work than having to make a whole chemisette to wear beneath my bodice.

For these pictures the gown was happily modeled by my brand-new home-made dressform, which I can't wait to share with you all in my next post!

Hope all are having a lovely Sunday!



  1. Thanks for sharing the details Sarah! I'm always so impressed by your do such lovely work:-) I've never made anything historical, but would love to do so some day. I do have Mrs. Chancey's Regency pattern and one other...but haven't done that yet:-) You inspire me.

    I am so looking forward to your post about the dress form!

    Hope you are having a very blessed Sunday!

    Lots of love,

  2. This is a beautiful dress! Thank you for posting all the details about it.
    -Mrs. Humphrey

  3. Wow, you are SO talented! I'm *green* with envy! I hope to be as talented some day too.


  4. Thanks so much for the details. It's beautiful. It was wonterful talking with you yesterday. God Bless!!!


  5. Wow! What a work of art! I am challenged and inspired (not to mention jealous) by your seamstress abilities. Thanks for sharing.

    I also wanted to share a new site that may be of interest to you and your readers. Modest clothing!

  6. *AMAZING*!!! Thank you for sharing all the details!

  7. The dress has turned out beautiful! You did a remarkable job; you definitely have a gift there. Not long before you new little "bairnie" is in your arms! Yay!

  8. the dress is beautiful i love the detail. thanks for sharing

  9. I'm not sure why my comments aren't showing up on your posts....? I had posted yesterday on your dress making and one today on your wreath, but I don't see either.


Thank you for your lovely thoughts!