Wednesday, December 23, 2009

1820's Christmas Dress

Today it has rained and rained, slowly and steadily and the rain has washed away nearly all of the snow we received a few days ago. The wind comes from the easterly direction and is warm. I don't think we shall have a white Christmas after all. Rather a brown and gray and silver sort of Christmas, with the wet and damp of the outdoors combated by a warm wood fire and smells of roast duck and cheesecake and cranberry-apple pie and a cut glass punchbowl simply swimming with ruby-red punch that David makes from ginger ale and frozen cranberry juice. (Assuming, of course, that the duck comes out well).

I finished the last of my Christmas gifts and have them all neatly packaged and wrapped. I was very proud of myself to have only to bake something for my grandparents before I was done with all my Christmas preparations. I whipped up a batch of cinnamon swirl bread and baked the two loaves as I have done countless times before. They came out terribly. The taste is excellent but it seems the loaves underwent some sort of writhing and twisting contortions while within the oven. The dough has burst open in some places revealing the brown and sugar crystaled interiors. I just cannot give these to my grandparents. It never fails that when I want to make something especially nice for someone dear to me that the thing I am making turns out wrong. Especially when it comes to cooking and baking. The fudge won't set, the cookies burn, the apples in the pie are still crunchy, the cake has a dip in the middle, you get the idea. Sigh. I will make a batch of my tried-and-true favorite blueberry muffin recipe tonight to give to my grandparents instead of the bread. If they don't turn out it is not my fault. I am under some sort of holiday-baking curse.

I finished my dress today - well, except for the hook and eyes - and am very happy with how it came out. I haven't had a new dress for Christmas for a long time and well, isn't every girl excited to have a pretty new frock to wear for a special occasion? :)
It took me a little while to figure out how I wanted to attach the ruffle. I debated over whether drawing it up over a cord or hemming the top side and attaching it directly to the skirt. At last I decided on a more practical solution that will hold up the best to every day wear and washing in a modern washing machine. I just gathered the ruffle and covered the top edge with a bias band and then turned under and hand stitched the top of the bias band to the skirt. This way I had way less handsewing to do (since I like to handstitch everything that can be seen from the outside) and it is very sturdy. I really like the ruffle. It gives a little added feminine flair and also helps the skirt obtain that characteristic 1820's triangular/gored shape.
The bias band also helps to hide the imperfections of the fabric I used. It was a $1.50 cotton from Wal Marts bargain table and the check is not woven, it is merely printed. The print was not exactly on grain so the lines of the print do not match the straight torn lines at the top and bottom of the skirt as well as the top and bottom of the ruffle. I chose to add the ruffle to hopefully help hide the lines of the print at the plain skirt hem and the bias band to hide the weirdly angling lines of the check where I attached the ruffle.

I decided to make just two bows for the bodice. They are placed slightly down on each shoulder and attached with a safety pin. The belt hooks closed in the back. A lot of fashion plates from the 1820's show gowns heavily trimmed but this is just a plain cotton day dress so I tried to think of something a girl from this area may have done, in a rustic backwoods community, to dress up a plain frock for a special event. The bows and belt seemed like a very simple and easy way to accomplish this and they can easily be removed and reattached whenever the need arises.

The necklace is a wood carved cross pendant on a black linen cord. The two items (cross and cord) were from David to put in my stocking. I decided to put them together and save him the trouble of having to figure it out for himself. :) I like the simplicity of it. And yes, the necklace is going back into his little "stocking goodie" bag so I can get it permanently on Christmas morning.
I am NOT looking forward to sewing on hook and eyes. You know when you reach that point of hand sewing where your fingers are rough and indented with millions of tiny pin and needle pricks and catch on everything you touch? I am at that point now. But I Must Get This Done. I suppose I will work on it while sitting directly in front of the oven watching my muffins with suspicion and passionate eagerness - "Oh, please come out right this time!"
I don't think I'll have time to post again until after Christmas, so I wish all you dear readers a most marvelous and wonderful God-filled day! Merry Christmas!!




  1. Your dress is SO beautiful! I have been reading your blog for a while now and I have to say you have inspired me to learn how to sew! Its something I have considered every now and again but never actually followed thru with. I have two boys and two little girls and want to be able to make them things, not to mention make me some things too =-} Thank you for the inspiration!

  2. Lovely dress! The bias band at the top of the ruffle did a lot to dress it up. I'm filing away that idea for future use :)

    And I know exactly what you mean by fingers marked and rough from sewing... it's really , really annoying, and still you can't keep from sewing by hand...

    Merry Christmas, to you and your family!

  3. Oh Sarah! The dress turned out SO pretty!
    Can't wait to see a pic of it on you. I'm sure you will look great in it!

  4. I know what you mean about stuff not turning out right, I too have holiday baker's anxiety!
    The gown looks so *you*, just perfect and very festive! I like the ruffle and bows, what a nice touch. I can't remember if you mentioned what kind of sleeves you were doing, I need something smaller for the gown I want to remake.
    Have a very Merry Christmas from all of us!
    Paris & family

  5. The dress is just beautiful! I love the ruffle! Isn't Walmart fabric so wonderful!?! I always love their sales and $1.00 fabric! lol

    I wish you and your lovely family a wonderful Christmas!

  6. The dress turned out so beautifully! I like the bias band above the ruffle (and I sympathise about oddly-printed Wal-mart fabric! I've dealt with my share.)

    I'm sorry about the bread not turning out! I sympathise there, too, though - it seems whenever I try to bake a special birthday cake, or something to give as a gift, it turns out lumpy or misshapen. Probably it just is perverse to spite me! But it's not just you :-)

    Have a wonderful, peaceful, blessed Christmas, Sarah!

  7. I love how your dress came out, Sarah. The bias band above the ruffle is a very nice touch, as are the bows. The cross goes well with it, too.

    I too have the baking curse when it is for other people. Cheescakes crack, cookies burn, and my last attempt was cinnamon rolls for Anthony's coworkers that were brown on top but turned out doughy inside. Yuck. Anyway, you have my sympathy because I've been there too.

    Our weather is following the same pattern. We are to have a warm and rainy Christmas.

    I understand your frustration with the hooks and eyes. Sometimes it is so hard for me to force myself to do one final thing like that. Esp. when your fingers are all prick-y. I just got finished doctoring my right middle finger through an infection in a perforated spot caused by using it unthimbled to shove a needle through leather. (I eventually resorted to wrapping tape around it, but not before the damage was done...and now I have bought some thimbles).

    Have a blessed Christmas!

  8. Your dress is beautiful! I love the simplicity. Have a very Merry Christmas!

  9. It's so pretty! I love the bows and the sash and the ruffle...everything, really! It's simple and elegant, kind of like you. ;) It will look lovely on you!

    Merry Christmas!

  10. Aw, I can sympathize with you on the cooking for others stuff. The bow and belt look nice with the dress. I love ruffles on the bottom!

  11. That is all kinds of lovely! It turned out beautiful. The ruffle and bows and just about everything!

    Have a very, very Merry Christmas with your family! And, may God Bless your new year!

  12. It's wonderful, Sarah! Absolutely lovely. I love the ruffle and the bows on the shoulders. :-)

    I understand about sewing hooks-and-eyes and getting all pricked! :-) Ouch. But you can do it. ;-)

    Merry, merry Christmas to you and your family! :-)

  13. Dress: gorgeous!

    Cinnamon rolls: it's the yum inside that counts!

    Christmas: Have the best ever with your precious babies!

  14. I'm sorry your cinnamon bread did not turn out...I so know how you feel as I seem to find things failing when it is a must have or a gift and I am strapped for time ;-) I hope the blueberry muffins turned out splendidly!

    The dress is beautiful! I love it...simple yet so feminine and pretty. I also can totally feel you on the fingers after large amounts of hand sewing(which I prefer to do). You can do it! And you'll look so pretty for Christmas :-)

    Merry Christmas my dear!

    Lots of love,

  15. Do you ever sit down to comment on a dear friend's post, and finish it some eight hours later?? Such it is today, but even so, a very Merry and blessed CHRISTmas to you and your sweet family!

  16. The dress turned out beautiful!! I made one for my niece for Christmas!
    It is nice to have a nice dress for special occasions!
    Faith G.

  17. Your dress is gorgeous! I love the bows and the fabric. Now we need to see you in it. I hope you had a wonderful Christmas, dear friend. God Bless!

  18. Oh this dress is just so beautiful. You did a wonderful job. the cross is so precious.

  19. LOVE that ruffle and that clever bias band!

  20. Oh Sarah! That dress is GORGEOUS!!! You've done an amazing job (as always) and it is such a delightfully pretty Christmas dress!


Thank you for your lovely thoughts!