Tuesday, January 22, 2013

1830's Christmas Dress

Or the Remember-the-Alamo dress. A dear friend of mine, Kevin Young, who loved the era of history the Alamo took place in, passed away last spring. I can never think of this era of history without thinking of him and I know I will always remember him when I wear this dress. He loved the Texas Revolution, he loved the 30's and the 40's and was an all around great guy. We miss him so. I have always loved the dress pictured below and decided to use that as my inspiration image for my Christmas frock.
Late 1830's Dress

Because, of course, I intended to make this dress for Christmas. The fabric was an early Christmas present from David. Besides draping a pattern and fitting the mock up and cutting it out, though, I didn't get much done. I finally decided to speed sew it 5 days before Christmas but that afternoon our power went out. I spent much of that day getting out the kerosene heater, filling the oil lamps, finding candles and matches, making food and converting our long, narrow living room into a kind of one-room cabin where we could hang out and keep warm. Obviously, the dress did not get made.

It's getting made now, though. I am sick of regency stuff at present (even though I do have a 1790's-ish gown I want to make soon) and I need to get back to *me*. This dress is not for any challenge or sew along, but it's what I want to make, so, by gosh, I'm gonna make it! (although, technically, it could work for the UFO challenge for the Historical Sew Fortnightly. It might be a stretch, but it *could* work!)

The basic design is fairly simple. I really like the late 30's silhouette. I like the round, elongated waist. It is slimming. I like the sleeves that are tight at the top and still fluffy at the bottom. I like the necklines and I like the skirt fullness. I like the full hips. I like almost everything about the late 30's. It's a very feminine era, without looking ridiculous!

The dress I am using for my inspiration image has a crossover, or surplice, bodice. I debated a while about whether or not to make the crossover actually part of the main bodice or to just cut separate strips of fabric to mimic the crossover look. For a long time I was actually going to do a front opening, crossover bodice dress but at the last minute I remembered Jessamyn's early 1840's dress that has a front opening and a back opening and has separate drapey crossover panels. This clicked for me, and I decided to go with it.

After I knew how I was going to cut the bodice I dove in and got started. The basic "foundation bodice" was easy. It is very similar to many of the dresses I have made before. It has a fitted back with curved seams between the center back and side back pieces. Since I have a large difference between bust and waist I had to fit the front bodice with 2 darts per side, rather than the 1 dart per side that is more common. The waistline is slightly high, to allow for a wide waistband. All the seams are piped with self fabric piping. The shoulders are slightly dropped and the neckline is finished with piping. The front bodice opening was piped and sewn shut about half way to the neckline. This gives me double piping along the front seam which is seen in several examples from Nancy Bradfield's Costume in Detail. The part of the front seam that I left open is for nursing access. It will close edge-to-edge with hook and eyes once the bodice is complete. Here you can see the darted bodice:
sorry for the poor quality of the pics. . .yet again. . .I am lazy and did the infamous "mirror shot"

I hemmed and pleated two strips of fabric to become the drapey crossover bits. I sewed one pleated end into the shoulder seam. While wearing the bodice, I pinned and pleated the other ends of the fabric strips to the darted bodice. Here you can see one side crossed over and pinned into place:

And here it is with both crossover pieces pinned into place:

After that, I trimmed off the excess fabric at the waist and sewed the waistband to the bodice. The waistband is slightly wide as the waistline was in transition at this point in history from the higher waistline of earlier years and the very long, pointed, low waistline of the 1840's.
There will be piped tabs lower on the shoulder, holding the pleated panel in  to make a sort of sweetheart neckline shape.

I am as pleased as anything with how it is coming out so far! I do love this style so much. I can't wait to see what it will look like with sleeves!



  1. It sounds and looks like a wonderful project. I will wait in anticipation for the glorious sleeves that will be attached soon I am sure!
    This sounds so silly, but I have noticed your sketches in many of the projects you post. I think they are sketches you have done, with your own hand. If that is so, I am so very envious of your talent. What an eye for drawing and art you have! They have all been so beautiful to me, although they are probably just doodles to you. What a gift and talent you have! I am glad you use it, and share it.

  2. Thanks Rachel! haha, no, the sketches in this post are from the Costume in Detail book I mentioned. . .I do often do quick design sketches but they aren't nearly as nice as Nancy Bradfield's. I don't go into as much detail because I already know what details I want to include, usually. The ones in Costume in Detail are sketches of real, original, antique gowns. . .sooooo very, very helpful when designing your own historically inspired dress!! It's a great book!

  3. Beautiful dress! The Costume in Detail book is great, I used it extensively for the Regency Era dress that I almost have finished for Rebekah. It's well worth the money.

  4. Hello,
    I just came across your lovely blog and was especially admiring your hobbit costume. Some elements of it---the shift most of all--are exactly what I've been trying to figure out how to sew. I tried to find an email to contact you by but couldn't find it. Do you think yu could give me some advice on where to start for patterns? Than you so much!!

  5. I'm getting caught up, finally! after being so lazy lately...I love everything about the 1830s style dresses except the sleeves...I feel like it makes a woman look like some steroided up bodybuilder LOL! The rest is lovely and so feminine, but those sleeves...it's also my biggest dislike for the 1880s-1890s styles...Those ginormous puffy sleeves just don't do much for me personally. I do love the dress, it is so pretty! :)

  6. I am making my own, "Remember the Alamo" gown. I'm from San Antonio but live in Virginia now and the kids and I are preparing an Alamo history presentation for next weekend (we homeschool). I know so very little about draping but I hope to glean some ideas to help me with my gown. I so admire your gift. Thank you for sharing!

  7. I just recently found your blog and so enjoy reading about your various projects! I am new to garment sewing and it's nice to see the photos and hear your step by step. I'm starting simply but blogs like yours are so encouraging for the little seamstress inside who hopes to make historical pieces someday. You are very talented!


Thank you for your lovely thoughts!