Tag Archives: 1860s

Finished Project: The Plaid 1869 Dress

Last year, several of us were shopping in the LA garment district and we happened across a fantastic silk taffeta at a fantastic price.  Katherine (The Fashionable Past) had already purchased the fabric a prior year, but when the other three of us (Ginger of Scene in the Past, Stephanie of Girl with the Star-Spangled Heart, and I) found it and fell in love with it, a group project with the four of us was born!  We would all choose a different era, keep the making of the dress itself a secret (though we did talk of the “plaid project”), and then show up at Costume College on Sunday in our dresses made of the fabric!

Katherine did 1820s, Ginger did Civil War, Stephanie did 1950s, and I did very late 1860s. It’s kind of fun to see this one fabric is so appropriate for all these time periods.

Here is a group shot so you can see the finished effect, and I have more photos of my friend’s completed dresses in an upcoming post.

This post is mostly about my dress for this group project, but I’m excited to share the other girls’ projects in an upcoming post because they all did such an incredible job!

I tend to be really drawn to transitional periods of dress, so for this project I wanted to try my hand at a late 1860’s dress.  I love 1868-1869, and for this project I prepared by making a new corset and using a small elliptical hoop with a bustle pad as my undergarments.

I love how the late 1860s and early 1870s were really inspired by 18th century fashion.  Since I was doing two 18th century dresses for Costume College this year, I loved playing with the 19th century idea of 18th century fashion.

I originally wanted to use a 1868 bodice pattern from Harper’s Bazar called the Marie Therese Waist (republished in Reconstruction Era Fashions by Frances Grimble) and mocked it up, but in the end used the bodice pattern from Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion as it was closer to my size and I had already enlarged it several years before.  Both had almost the exact same lines, but Janet Arnold dated the dress from the Gallery of English Costume as 1870-1871.  For the underskirt I used the 1869 Grand Parlor Skirt from Truly Victorian.  I have made this skirt many times and it’s one of my favorite patterns for early bustle, as it’s a fantastic foundation for trimmings.  I made up the overskirt by just using two large rectangles of fabric (a larger one for the back piece) and using the seams as a casing for drawstrings to gather up the sides of the skirt to swag.

For my contrast trimmings I used a fabric that was a checkerboard of the exact colors of the dress that was a lucky find to use as bias strips to bind my ruffles. I also purchased a contrast peach silk taffeta to use for my belt, neck ruffle, and bows.

I made a little attached modesty pannel from a strip of vintage cotton net to which I added lace beading and edging.  I finished the bottom with bias binding and whipped it into the bodice.  It snugs to the décolleté with a black silk ribbon.  Keeping with the 18th century inspiration, I used scalloped scissors that I purchased on Ebay to cut the edges of my neckline trim.

The hat I used was a vintage 1930s hat that I pinned leftover trims to.  I used a vintage brooch as an accent for the rosette. I used the same hat last year with my green plaid bustle dress.  For the sash, I used an antique buckle pin.

I used vintage (or antique) plaid buttons on the bodice that I had found at an estate sale.

I loved making this dress!  Like a lot of my projects, I loved sewing it and then didn’t like it… until I put the trim on.  Then I loved it! :)

The fabric was an absolute dream to work with.  I really hope I find a good deal on silk taffeta of this quality again, as I’d LOVE to work with it.  I think I have a thing for plaid dresses of this era.


Finished Project: Blue Corset from 1868

I just put the finishing touches on this today, and I’m so glad to finally have it done!  I started the mock up for this sometime last year.  I really wanted a corset I could wear to get a decent silhouette for late 1860s/early 1870s gowns.  I have one Victorian corset I made myself, but it’s more appropriate for the 1880s and didn’t give me much form.  I started reading up about how women who weren’t endowed got their shapes, and talked to other costumers about it.  Jen of Festive Attyre was especially helpful in figuring out what to do.  This corset has sort of revolutionized my thinking about making them, and I’m glad to say that I’m no longer paranoid about making corsets.  It was revolutionary to me to realize that I could make myself fit a corset shape, and fit a corset to fit *me*, when my shape is so not what was the period ideal for the Victorian era.

When I started thinking about this project I knew I wanted a blue corset, like in Edouard Manet’s painting Nana, from 1877.  Although later than this corset by nearly ten years, I have always loved this painting and knew I wanted to mirror this color scheme when I made mine.

The pattern for this corset came from Francis Grimble’s Reconstruction Era Fashions book.  It was reproduced from an original Harper’s Bazar pattern from 1868 and then scaled down by half.  I re-enlarged the pattern and did my mock up. I found in the mock up stage that the original sizing of the corset pattern was several  inches too big for me, so I did some adjustments at the side seams, and some smaller adjustments to the hip and bust gussets, but made sure to leave enough room and not over fit it, so that I had room to pad out to achieve close to a period shape.

The original pattern called for boning across the back, but I decided I would rather have cording as I thought it would be both more comfortable and more decorative.  My husband was a darling and did the grommets up the back for me.  That’s one thing I really don’t like to do!  The chemise I am wearing is an antique in my collection.  Although I wouldn’t really wear it under clothing for fear of damaging it (although it is quite sturdy), it was fun to wear for pictures.  I need to make one along similar lines someday.

I should also mention that when I went to do my boning channels I realized I missed a tuck that was called for that went from the bottom of the front bust gusset to the bottom of the corset.  Oops?  Since I had already done all my fittings without this tuck I just decided to leave it be, but that accounts for one of the bust gores having a squared off shape at the bottom rather than a point.  Doesn’t bother me, but in case others wanted to try this pattern I thought it should be mentioned.  And as with all period patterns of this age, no seam allowances were included in the original pattern.

The fabric I used was white cotton coutil, to which I flat lined blue cotton sateen.  I was sick for quite a few days last week, so I used the opportunity to do something I don’t usually do- and embroider a little motif up the front of the busk and add some flossing.  I don’t have much skill at this sort of handwork, but it was fun to do and I think it looks kind of pretty!  My initial thought was to do flossing and add a contrast binding and wide lace at the top, but I really like the simplicity of these accents and I’m glad I didn’t go with my first plan.

Just like today, women would pad out what nature didn’t give them naturally.  As I mentioned previously, I was on a quest to get a bit more of a Victorian shape than I had naturally or with my previous corset.  When I took my mock up of this corset to work with me, I had some help from a theatre perspective and found that they still use this trick. One of the “tricks of the trade” are to use men’s tailoring shoulder pads and place them strategically at the sides, both at top of the corset, and at the bottom, to create more of an hourglass shape.  Then you can use little pads in the front for extra support- to create a bit of a shelf.  I tried this, and lo and behold, I actually had a decent shape for the era! Much better than I had had previously.

Since this project was done in conjunction with the Dreamstress’ great group, The Historical Sew Fortnightly, here’s the info required.

The Challenge: Under it All

Fabric: Cotton coutil, cotton sateen

Pattern: Reproduced Harper’s Bazar pattern from Frances Grimble’s Reconstruction Era Fashions Book.

Year: 1868

Notions: Metal spiral and flat steel boning, corset busk, grommets, corset lacing, cotton embroidery floss, stay tape, thread, set of pre-made shoulder pads, cotton quilt batting to make two more pads, white muslin to cover shoulder pads.

How historically accurate is it?  Looks accurate on the outside (embroidery inspired by, rather than reproduced authentically from, period examples), but the inside and construction are done with modern methods.  The gussets were flat lined then serged, and applied with  lapped seams rather than flat felling.

Hours to complete: Several.  From start to finish, perhaps around 10 hours, including several mock ups and time to enlarge and alter the pattern.

First worn:  Not worn yet other than for photos

Total cost: Didn’t keep track but I’m guessing $35-40ish, not including the book cost.

A Little of This, a Little of That- What I’ve Been Up To

I don’t know about you, but sometimes inspiration comes so in force that I get scattered.  I dabble a bit here… dabble a bit there…. and nothing quite seems to get done.  There’s just too many fun things to do!

I’ve been slowly making progress on my tatting.  Thanks to some facebook users I found out I am tatting a hat- not a belt.  It would have been good to look up the term “fanchon” before I started the project.  Ah, we can only laugh at ourselves ;)


I’ve also been procrastinating on making my 1868 corset I started.  I have to finish this before I can start the historical costumes I’ve got my mind on.  Both this and the project above are from Frances Grimble’s Reconstruction Era Fashions.  My corset mock up looks scarily like my first bustier I ever draped in fashion school. Was it really over ten years ago since I was in that class?  My, how time flies…

1868 corset

I’ve finally finished sewing a western shirt I started making for my husband well over a year ago.  Why are men’s clothes such a pain to sew?  He’s got the job of adding the snaps.  And now, of course, I need to make a matching dress…

western shirt

And other than that, I’ve been listing a few vintage dresses from my collection on Ebay.  Time to pass these on to new homes…

One is a Horrockses dress with matching jacket


And the other a studded late 1930s crepe dress


Plus, I’ve been adding more vintage patterns to Ebay and Etsy.

Of course, the creative mind goes much faster than our abilities to complete projects and I’m already daydreaming of things to make after all these projects are done!