Tuesday, October 25, 2022

An 1880's Wash Dress

I made this dress about a month ago to wear to a local Sorghum festival, held at a wonderful historic farm and celebrating Appalachian crafts, culture and, of course, sorghum! The first weekend of October saw plenty of visitors to the farm where they could observe the processing of sorghum and enjoy food items made with the resulting sweet syrup. Different heritage artisans and crafters had demonstrations throughout the days. I went on Sunday, since Saturdays weather was less than ideal and I didn't want to risk damaging the cabinet to my treadle machine. 

The festival focuses on the mid 1860's - 1940 period. My demonstration was that of using the treadle machine and as I researched more into the history of sewing machines and their use in more rural and less affluent areas I got really excited about talking about this topic. I brought three dresses with me to show the evolution of the use of the sewing machine in the construction of home-sewn clothing; an 1860's dress that has a little machine sewing with a lot of hand finishing; an 1890's two piece dress that shows a more equal division of machine and hand sewing, and finally a 1930's dress that is mostly all machine sewn. 

I intended to wear my 1890's dress to this event since I had not yet had an opportunity to wear it but decided I would rather have it available for people to see its interior construction, as that is the most interesting part! So, I made this dress to wear instead and whipped it up quickly over a three day period. It helps that I've had a dress like this planned for a few years - I already had the sketched design, bodice pattern and fabric folded and set aside - so in the end it was just a matter of cutting it out and sewing it together. Which I did, of course, using my treadle sewing machine. 😅

Over the past few years since I got my great great great grandmothers machine I have used it very often. At this point, I use it the majority of the time. I still have my electric one that I will sometimes use but the treadle seems to offer far better control, makes a better stitch and is much easier to clean and maintain. 

By the 1880's, the use of a sewing machine for clothing was common across all classes. There are some things that necessarily have to be done by  hand, like buttonholes, but nearly everything else can be, and often was, sewn on the machine, especially for everyday clothing that was washed frequently. 

My bodice is cut in the late Victorian style, with the center back, side back, undearm and front pieces. The shoulder join is just at the top of the shoulder and the sleeve head is fitted with very little ease into the armscye. I used the 1880's sleeve pattern from Kay's Housekeeping Dress for my sleeves and they worked very well. These sleeves have a few pleats at the back of the arm, just at the elbow, to allow for flexibility of movement. Despite being slim fitting sleeves they are easy to wear and quite comfortable.

The skirt is cut with a front gore, two side gores and a straight rectangular back panel, as per an 1883 diagram in Frances Grimbles wonderful book Fashions of the Gilded Age, Volume 1. The skirt has an offset, or dogleg, closure and fastens with a hook at the side waist.  The skirt is hemmed with a separate bias cut facing of scrap fabric that is about 5" wide. The bodice closes down the center front with white china buttons. The skirt is gathered along the raw top edge by machine and hand stitched with a back stitch with heavy thread to the bodice. 

Marna Jean Davis blog post on wash dresses was an invaluable aid to me as I made this dress. I also found her publication No Lady of Leisure extremely interesting and very helpful as this book examines the everyday styles of working class ladies and how their clothing combined the basic fashionable silhouettes of the era with practical fabric, construction and styles. 

I used a mid weight cotton for my dress. This was a piece I picked up from an antique shop awhile ago and unfortunately there are some fade lines where the fabric was folded for so long. I put the worst of these sections in the back of the skirt so hopefully it isn't as noticeable. The bodice is flat lined in white cotton and the rest of the dress is unlined. 

I had so much fun at the festival and I really enjoyed wearing this dress. I wore it with my 1880's chemise, my generic Victorian corset and the petticoats I made to go with my 1890s dress (as the cut really doesn't change over these decades, I figured the petticoats would work fine for a little earlier than the 90s). I also wore my black shoes from NJ Sekela. They are a little early in style for 1880's but I love these shoes so much and they go with everything! It was really chilly that day so I also wore my yellow quilted Victorian hood and a shawl I crocheted a few years ago. They aren't specifically 1880s but they worked. 

If ever a Victorian style is wearable for everyday life, I think the 1880's and this wash dress style would be. I felt exactly how I always imagined I'd feel in the world of Laura Ingalls and I rode that high feeling of childish joy with great delight. 😂

Much love,


Thursday, August 18, 2022

Spring Civil War Weekend

 We attended a small 1860's event in mid May. We day tripped and only stayed a few hours but it was fun and it was good to see friends again! Here are a few pictures from the day. I made a new 1860's dress for this event out of some black cotton poplin and I made Anne (who does not like to wear dresses) some side buttoning trousers that she paired with a white shirt and jacket I originally made for Judah quite a few years ago. I also made my oldest son, David, a new waistcoat out of black cotton denim. That was the only new sewing required but I think Benjamin will need a new outfit before next time, whenever that may be. Judah and Malachi did not attend with us as they had other plans at the time. 

These next pictures are from my phone and so they are lower quality. I do tend to pull out my phone far more frequently than my big camera as it is so much more convenient! 

Now, this weekend a few of us will be attending another 1860's day event at the boyhood home of Ulysses Grant. I hope to get some good pictures of the events of the day, including the reenactment of the surrender between Ulysses Grant and Robert E. Lee.


Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Fort Harrison Soldiers Thru Time 2022

 This past weekend Malachi, his friend K and myself traveled to Fort Harrison to participate in their annual timeline event, Soldiers Thru Time. Our friend Dennis also came although he portrayed a federal American Civil War impression and the rest of us portrayed Vietnam era military. We are hoping he will be doing Vietnam with us later this fall!

This was my first time doing a Vietcong impression. As I have mentioned in my most recent posts, much of my research and my ongoing experiements in putting together clothing and kit is on my Instagram page. For this blog post, I will share some of pictures and a video from that day. For more about all that went into this and more of my thoughts and reasons about where I'm currently at in my ongoing VC impression journey, do check out my Instagram!

Much love,