Saturday, March 13, 2010

Remaking a Frock - 1860's Black Wool Day Dress

Two posts in one day? Rather excessive, is it not? :) However, I think some cheeriness and pleasantry is in order after the somber post below. The Lord will take care of that situation, and all I can do is content myself with prayer. And now - onto the dress!
This dress was originally made about a year and a half ago from some silver and black striped wool I got from in their $1.99/yard clearance section. The original dress you can see here: Black Wool Dress

It was made with a common pleated skirt, whipped to a seperate waistband and the bodice had a pointed front, postillion back and was trimmed up with green silk ruching and green silk covered buttons. I liked the dress, but it was a little too "fussy" for me. So when after Malachi was born I realized I really needed to refit or remake the bodice I figured I would redo the trim at that time as well.

I put off redoing the dress for a while since we moved and I had a lot of little boy clothes to make. I didn't know if I would have enough fabric left to make a whole new bodice or if I would have to redo, as best I could, the one I originally made. At last, last week, after going through four muslins to get as best a fit I could, I took the plunge.
I had just enough of the wool left to make a whole new bodice. I did have to piece in a little bit under the armscye on the back bodice piece but it is not very noticable unless you look closely. I used the same sleeves off of the old bodice and kept the sleeve trim intact. Instead of making a pointed front, I made this dress with a plain round waist and attached the skirt directly to the bodice to make a one piece dress with a dog leg opening.
I debated whether I wanted trim on the bodice at all. On the original old bodice I had ruched trimming at the armscyes which I had removed when I took the sleeves off. I decided that would look pretty across the front, and tie in the sleeves to the whole dress a bit better. When I sewed the ruching to the bodice front, there was a section of about 2-3" of untrimmed bodice between the line of sleeve ruching and the line of bodice ruching, right at the back shoulders. To fill in that area, I took the curved "false jacket" trim off the old bodice and used those strips to make some sewn flat bows, which I sewed a matching covered button to. I then tacked these to that untrimmed area to fill it in.
When I originally made the dress I was a little shocked at the vibrancy of the blue-green color. It was a little bright. Mrs. Clark at the Sewing Academy suggested that I put a line of black trim down the center of the ruching to tone it down a bit, so I did that with this trim. I used narrow black velvet ribbon and tacked it on the ruching with a large running stitch, short on the outside and long on the inside. Now that I have worn this dress for a while, I see the fit isn't perfect, but it's a lot better than the dresses I've made the last few years, which were usually made quickly without much time taken for adjusting the fit. For some reason this fabric is shiny and seems to accentuate any flaw since it reflects light. I assure you, in humble cotton, the fit looks much better. :) I think if I fine tune the darts and maybe bone them, it will look passably well.

Not the characteristic "little black dress", but I think this will be a wardrobe staple. I like this better fitting, plainer dress so much better and it will be suitable for almost any occasion. Oh, and the book is Walden by Henry David Thoreau. I am getting through it bit by bit. What a lot of food for thought it is! I am enjoying it very much.




  1. Walden is required reading for our High Schoolers, a lot of gems of wisdom in that book!

  2. Dear Sarah,
    The renovation turned out very well, I think. It does suit you better, this quieter trimming, and Elizabeth's idea to add black to the ruching worked its charm and quieted the blue while tying it in.

    Wool drapes so well: really I prefer it to most silks; it's more elegant. No wonder black alpaca dresses were such standbys.

    As foe your other post today, it was disturbing and I sent a prayer up for healing and peace.


  3. I absolutely love it! So pretty :-)

    Lots of love,

  4. Beautiful! I love wool dresses (I better, that's pretty much the only tolerable thing when doing 14th century), the texture and look is so pretty.

  5. Thank you!

    Mrs. G, I have really been loving Walden, although some of the ideas presented seem to be a bit. . .well, outlandish. :) For one thing, I am not sure if I understand him correctly, but it seems as if he has an aversion to much physical labor so as to allow himself time for labor of the mind. . .which seems to contradict the Biblical principle that "in all labor there is profit". I find that physical labor and mental labor/stimulus can be combined. Often when I do homely chores, my mind is engaged in other things and I learn and grow through meditations (while I am working) or experiences I gain WHILE I work. Still, there is a lot of greatness in what is said. I wish we all could have a simpler life and try to conform less to the standards of society. To an extent, you yourself are doing that and I so appreciate the example that is for the rest of us who long for that simplicity as well.

    Sarah, I love wool too. :) Was linen used at all in the 14th century? Or if used, was it mainly for undergarments instead of an outer gown? I just wish wool was more available around here in a wider variety of textures/weaves and weights and colors. Sigh.

    Natalie and Sommer, thank you so much for your sweet words!

  6. Yes, linen was around, but as you say, mainly for underwear, veils and such. A kirtle would not have been made in linen. Silk was around too, but that's a bit above my station in 14th century life :)

    There's a sad lack of good, pure wools in the right weights and colours here as well.... Luckily there are a few companies specializing in drygoods, household utensils etc. for reenactors, who have some good wools - but not enough by far. They usually just offer solid colours, I wish they had some plaids, checks and stripes as well.

  7. Sarah,
    What a lovely remake of your dress! The poses for the pictures are just perfect, too. The lace on the undersleeves looks so pretty.

    I've been keeping the situation in your last post in prayer.

  8. What a great idea to add the black trim...I likely would never have thought of something so simple, yet effective!
    Blessings, Kathy

  9. Sarah I am praying for you and your family! May God get the glory.

    Also I love your wool dress! The trim is such a gorgeous color and looks wonderful against the black wool! beautiful! I can't wait till my sister Beth makes my wool dress. The fabric is actually a wool and silk blend and it is a white and navy plaid. I love it! Your dress is very inspiring to help her get it done soon. :)

  10. Your sewing skills amaze me. You could be taken straight from a fashion plate of days gone by. Wonderful work!


Thank you for your lovely thoughts!