Monday, February 10, 2020

Planning an 1890's Dress

I finished my pants last week! So now it's on to the 1890's petticoats, as soon as I get the little things I need to do out of the way. Since my mom offered me my great-great grandmas sewing machine last fall, I've been dealing with a strong desire to make an 1890's outfit even though I have no need for one (there are definitely a few places I could wear such an outfit to, though - we have some great local historic sites!) 

Since it's been an insanely long time since I started in a new-to-me era, I thought it would be helpful to me to make a planning post, to get my thoughts sorted. 

~ Undergarments ~

1. Chemise - for this I plan to use my 1883 sleeveless chemise. I think it's close enough to later styles that it will work - plus no one will see it anyhow, and plus it's about time it's used for something. 

2. Drawers - if I really must wear drawers, I will use my 1860's drawers. They are not very different from later styles and are slim enough in the waist to work with the fitted hips and waist of 1890's fashion. 

3. Corset - I will use my current generic Victorian style corset. I don't have a lot of squishable flesh so I'm hoping the shape I get is ok enough to work for 1890's stuff. Why make something new when what I have can work sufficiently? :D 

4. Petticoats - I will definitely need new petticoats. The rectangular, full gathered petticoats of mid 19th century will not work for 1890's. I plan to make 2 petticoats. 

First, a heavy cotton petticoat with a corded flounce, based on this one from Costume in Detail.

Second, a white cotton petticoat with tucks and lace trimmed flounce, based on this extant one from eBay.

5. A  bum pad/bustle pad. I need to do more research on this to see what kind of shape I need, but I think a small bustle pad will help a lot with getting a graceful silhouette. 

~ Dress ~

I plan to make a 2 piece dress consisting of a matching bodice and skirt. I was actually researching 1870's bustle dresses when I came across this 1890's gown on Augusta Auctions. The dress caught my eye because the fabric is so similar to some yardage I've been kinda eyeing at a local antique/second hand shop for over a year. As soon as I saw this dress I went back and bought every bit of it - 10 yards! - and I think it will make into a very cool 1890's dress. :D

1. The bodice. For the bodice, I plan to drape a basic late Victorian bodice pattern. This is different from mid-19th bodices since the back has a center back piece, a side back piece, and a side piece as well as a front piece. I found Marna Jean Davis blog post on bodices extremely helpful. Then, today, Ms. B from Flying V S Farm messaged me on Instagram and told me about a wonderful resource for 1890's patterns - the Keystone Jacket and Dress Cutter. This book is available in hard copy from several sources, but also online at I looked through it while waiting at the dr's office this morning and was so excited to see so many great fitting tips and patterns for a variety of garments. 

2. Skirt - for the skirt, I have the Fantail Skirt pattern by Scroop Patterns. I think I might need to add some fullness around the hem for the proper shape, but perhaps petticoats will do well enough to extend the skirt hem. I will have to see! The skirt on the original dress from Augusta Auctions appears to have a narrow ruffle set a few inches above the hem. I plan to fully line the skirt with lightweight cotton and insert a interlining at the skirt hem, about 8" wide or so, of stiff cotton.  

~  Outer Garments ~

Outer garments are not a huge priority for me right now, but I would like to at least make a modest hat. Nothing fancy, but something small and pretty. Possibly a short cape. But right now I think I'll be doing well if I get the dress and petticoats situated anytime soon. 

So, that's where I'm at right now with this project. I still haven't made the drive to Illinois yet to pick up the machine, but I hope to get it sometime this summer at least. Perhaps by then, my dress will be done! (I really would like it done by the end of the month though, so that's my tentative goal). 

And here's my pants! 



  1. Dear Sarah,
    2019 and 2020 are seeing a number of 1890s projects! That's neat. Glad you have two petticoats, and one corded. I have been researching and posting about 1890s skirt supports for gee, four or five months now. Having covered just petticoats and interlinking, am at the point of reviewing cords and wires in skirts themselves (generally for heavier ones). You might have a read and see if some of the methods will work for you. Note that cotton will need to be really stiff to work well as interlining...
    I still need to finish some removable trimmings on my cotton bodice and skirt combination, and make a hat...
    Very best, and looking forward to reading about your experiences,
    Natalie in Ky

    1. Natalie, your posts have been an invaluable help! I have gone back to them over and over as I hash this out in my mind and I have especially enjoyed the quotes from period publications talking about petticoats. Eventually I want a silk petticoat that rustles - no matter what proper society may think about such a thing. :D

  2. Oh I can't wait to see this come together! 1890's is one of my favorite eras, as far as costuming goes. (Probably due to Anne Shirley's puffed sleeves, honestly. lol) You should be perfectly fine with your existing corset. I wear the same corset for all Victorian stuff, 1830's-1890's (yeah, I know corset shapes changed quite a bit decade to decade, but it works!)

    1. I'm so happy to hear you also wear a general Victorian corset! :D I have admired your 1890's projects for so long, and you always looked perfect in your silhouette. I especially love the outfit you made for your sister a few months ago. It is SO beautiful!


Thank you for your lovely thoughts!