There are very, very few sewing projects that I can truly say I’m completely satisfied with. I’m sure other sewers can understand: there are usually one or two details or aspects you’d do differently next time. Sewing is a learning process, and as such I find it is rare for a project to be a total success from start to finish. I’m quite alright with this, of course, but when something does come along where a lot of work pays off, I can’t help but be a tiny bit satisfied!
More images of this dress can be found here.
This 1912/1913 evening gown is one of those unusual pieces. It took a ton of work, I’m not going to lie. If it weren’t for my sister in law visiting for a week on spring break, I’m not sure I could have had the time to devote to this. I wasn’t completely sure I had what it took to just jump back into historic sewing either–it had been at least 5 years since I had attempted something even remotely like this. But this is an era I adore and have spent a lot of time studying, so I think the skills were there–they were just dormant! lol.
I talk a lot about how I constructed the dress beneath the cut, but will save those of you not as geeky as myself the tedium of reading it all. So aside from the fact that this is a “pretty dress”, I can’t even begin to say how much fun it was to wear! Well, aside from having laced my corset way too tight for a 13 course dinner (my fault–I hadn’t eaten much earlier in the day, so my idea of “lacing loosely” when getting dressed wasn’t loose enough for my belly to expand!). But it was quite an elegant gown that I hope I’ll have an excuse to wear again one day.
Let’s talk about hair and accessories, shall we? I did a test run of my hair prior to the event, but I’m not quite as happy with how the style turned out the day of the party. I think it’s because I didn’t leave my hair in curls as long–but it still works! I did what I love to do best with my hair: just pin and arrange things until they “look right”. For some embellishment, I added a strand of doubled pearls and a feather pinned in place. My other accessories were a mish-mash of many things I had accumulated over time: a vintage beaded handbag, vintage earrings (which I also wore on my wedding day), 1990s Nine West pumps I thrifted years ago, and vintage kid gloves I dug up at a rummage sale. The necklace was the only real “new” thing I bought: it’s from Forever 21 and I took some rather gaudy clear beads off the necklace and replaced them with some loose glass pearls. I think it looks really nice!
The dinner event itself was very beautiful and tastefully done in evoking the feel of the early 1910s period. While the party was tagged as “Titanic”, it could have just as well been Downton Abbey! The hosts, whose parties I have enjoyed being a guest of in the past, really outdid themselves with a multi-course dinner using recipes of the era. It was neat to step back in time for a few hours and not only wear the fashions of the era, but taste dishes that were popular (granted, of a completely different nature than my ancestors of the era would have eaten!). These sorts of experiences delight my history nerd-self. It was a very special night of meeting new friends and catching up with ones I hadn’t seen in years; one that I shall not soon forget.
Now on to some details about the gown construction! I warn you: it’s very long!
The gown, like many of the designs of the period, consists of a lot of layers. I explained a bit about this in last week’s post, but I’ll go into a bit more detail here. The foundation for this gown is a boned, strapless-like foundation bodice. This was based on a extant gown from the period in Patterns of Fashion and a few detailed schematics in Costume in Detail. The foundation is made from a single layer of muslin-weight cotton, seams serged (not period correct! But my mantra is: what people can’t see, won’t hurt ‘em!), the top and bottom edges bound in store-bought bias binding, and the back fastened with hooks and eyes. I would have liked to add a grosgrain waist stay, but forgot to!
The next layer is the under gown. The bodice portion is modified from the Sense and Sensibility 1910s Tea Gown pattern, which I’ve had in my pattern stash for the past ten years and never have made! The biggest adjustment was to reshape the back (redo the neckline shape and lower the waistline a bit) and make the separate center front panel and bodice one piece. (Which also messed with the grainline of the bodice, but didn’t affect things at all.) The bodice was cut out of a synthetic cream satin, underlined with cotton muslin and the neckline edges finished with bias binding and catchstitched to the underlining. I draped a skirt pattern on my dressform; creating a slim, hobble-style skirt that was the height of fashion during the period. It measures only about 20″ larger than my hip at the hem! Not a lot of room to walk in, let me assure you. I cut that out of silk charmuese I had in my stash from my NYC trip last fall, since I wanted something very flowing and not as stiff as the satin. The seam edges were once again serged and then the waistline of the bodice and skirt joined before being mounted to the foundation bodice by hand. (Easier said than done.)
I wish I had photos of all these steps, but I was too busy sewing and trying to get this done in time for the event to remember to take photos! So just bear with me as I explain this. Up next I added the lace bodice panel. Theoretically I could have just added a panel to the center front and back sections, since those were the only fully exposed portions. But since there was the very sheer chiffon going over top this, I wanted the lace to wrap the bodice in a continual strip, so there were no broken lines between the lace and satin around the bustline. There was a lot of “fancy” pattern fudging going on at this point, as I sliced and diced the under bodice pattern to create a front and back panel pattern that was straight along the top edge so to allow for use of the lace’s scalloped edge. I had to join the lace to make it wide enough, and then dart the panels to fit them to the contours of the bust. But it went together really well, and was then hand stitched to the satin under bodice. I also engineered the back panel so it split not at the center back (which would be seen and look bulky), but at the side-back where it’d be hidden under the chiffon.
At this point, the dress looked hilariously bridal-like, since it was all cream! But soon the black, striped chiffon I had found at Hancock’s (on the clearance table no less!) joined the chaos. Once again I used the Tea Gown bodice pattern and modified the necklines, converted the darts to ease, and laid it on the chiffon so the stripes ran paralell to the neckline-shoulder edges. The seams were joined with narrow French seams, and the neckline and armhole edges finished with hand rolled hems. I then mounted this over the satin bodice at the waistline. Up next was the chiffon skirt, which was just some rectangles I French seamed and assymetrically gathered to the waistline. The hem was once again hand rolled, and at this point I mounted that to the waistline as well. The beauty of gowns from this era is that the finishing isn’t as fiddly as it is now; all those waistline edges didn’t have to be finished since they’d be covered by a sash at the end!
I also added beading to the neckline, sleeves and skirt hem edges of the chiffon. The first round was using small bugle beads, which helped weight things down. I eventually added some larger, round beads to the neckline and sleeves to add some more sparkle and texture. This again, was all done by hand, but wasn’t too time consuming. I think because I love doing handwork it made the job a bit quicker!
The end was in sight by the time I finished the chiffon layer. Next was the draped over skirt using the burn out velvet. This material came from a skirt I thrifted awhile ago and had plans to remake into a skirt that would fit me. I’m glad I wasn’t in a rush to do it and still had it in one piece when this project came along! It is a gorgeous silk velvet, and cost me a whopping $0.99 at the thrift store. I essentially just draped these panels (front and back) on the dressform, eyeing the edges as I cut and adding some pleats at the waistline. I then removed the panels, stitched down the pleats and hemmed the cut edges by hand. Then (you guessed it!), the panels were mounted to the waistline of the gown. I also stitched together the two panels on the right-back and added a little bobble (really a vintage shoe clip, also thrifted) for decoration.
The sash was insanely easy: just a strip of 4″ wide velvet (also culled from another thrifted skirt–though this one was $2.99), underlined with muslin and finished with seam binding and catchstitched to the muslin. It is stitched to the dress, through all the layers, at the left side front and around to where the lace panel opens on the back. After that, it’s completely free of the dress, snapping at strategic points and finally hooking to the left front and a bobble (the other shoe clip) added for decoration. My original sketch showed a bow, but I dropped that because it added far too much bulk and I had run out of time (it was Thursday evening at this point, and we had plans for Friday that meant I couldn’t sew).
Pattern: Bodice based on the Sense and Sensibility 1910s Tea Gown pattern. Everything else draped/drafted by me.
Fabric: Cotton muslin, synthetic satin, silk charmeuse, synthetic chiffon, velvet, burnout velvet, lace.
Alterations: On the bodice: redid the neckline and closure methods.
Techniques: Draping patterns, adding boning to the lining, hand rolled hemming, hand beading, period sewing construction methods.
Make Again? Most likely not–I think one is enough for awhile!