The Beginnings of an 1830’s Dress

A Lovely Dress from the 1830's

A Lovely Dress from the 1830’s

About a month and a half ago, in a moment of sheer madness, I decided I was going to sew another big costume.  A big costume, like my 1886 dress I made when I was 16, or my first Civil War Dress.  Maybe it was because I realized I was making far too many dresses for customers without making any for myself.  Maybe it was all the wonderful inspiration from the lovely people participating in the Historical Sew Fortnightly who were churning out lovely costumes left and right.  Maybe it was because I still have several eras I haven’t sewn dresses from.  (A friend in high school once suggested I sew a full costume for every decade of the 19th century.  I’ve still got a ways to go on that.)  Maybe it was because a friend of mine lent me a pattern for an 1830’s dress.

How’er it was, I reignited my secret love for the costumes of the 1830’s, watched “The Young Victoria” several times, read a lot of blog posts,  started doing a lot of research, and started collecting 1830’s pins on Pinterest like nobody’s business.

The first thing I had to do was pick out fabric (to keep me motivated) and make all of the undergarments.  Because, of course, you have to make all the undergarments so you can take measurements and make the dress to fit when you are done.  (Did I do this with most of my previous historical costumes?  No…  I just laced the corsets tight and hoped.  It worked most of the time.)

Does this look like old lady material to you?

Material and Pattern

My friend from the Scandinavian Sewing Group, Sarah, lent me this pattern, and I, after a lot of looking at original dresses and fabric swatches, chose a brown calico.  It was on the half-off rack at the quilt store.  I may have to go back and get more, though, since I realized when I got home the pattern calls for 7 yards of fabric, and I bought 5.  Ooops.  I’m going to be sewing the dress shown on the left, and am going for a late 1830’s look.

Of course, the 1830’s not being a popular time period to sew dresses for, paling beside the popularity of Civil War and the splendor of the bustle years, I had to search a bit for the proper corset pattern.  Past Patterns makes an 1830’s corset pattern, but I didn’t find it until after I ordered the 1800-1820 pattern from The Mantua Maker, figuring I would alter it.

Reluctant to spend money on yet another corset pattern, alter it I did.  I made the bust gussets longer and added hip gussets, and it ended up looking and fitting a lot like corsets from the 1830’s.  Also, I got rid of the shoulder straps.  The 1830’s were rather transitional as far as shoulder straps go, and I decided I just didn’t need them.  I found several examples of 1830’s corsets both with and without straps, and none of the corsets in “The Young Victoria” had straps, and they were very meticulous in recreating the costumes for that movie.

Here is an original 1830’s corset, to give you an idea of how they are supposed to look and fit:

With bonus sleeve puffs!

1830’s Corset

And here is mine all done, kindly modeled for me by the lovely Sally:

With a wooden busk!  (I thought I swore these off after the 1750's dress...)

My 1830’s Corset

Corsets never fit quite right on dress forms unless the form is made for it.  I guarantee it fits me better.  Now, this corset laces up the back, as is usual, and I learned two fun things while making the lacing!

First, metal corset eyelets were invented in 1828.  No hand-sewn eyelets!

Secondly, I knew spiral lacing was used for corsets prior to the invention of the opening front corset busk, but I had never made spiral lacing.  I always heard bad things about how hard it was to do, etc.  Well, let me tell you spiral lacing is amazing!

Dress forms don't squish.

1830’s Spiral Lacing

First of all, it is MUCH faster to lace up than cross-lacing.  Second of all, you only have to put in about half as many eyelets as usual.  I love it.  My husband did agree that having a bodkin (a large blunt needle) would help tremendously in threading the cording through the eyelets.  He might even make one for me!

I did make the corset first, but I didn’t get around to taking pictures of it until after I made the chemise.  The chemise fit nicely into project #15 of The Historical Sew Fortnightly, which was back at the end of July.  How time flies!  It took me five hours to sew, and I haven’t even added lace yet,.  That is the longest a chemise has ever taken me.  (And since I made a simpler chemise literally two days before this one that only took an hour and a half, it was really a stark contrast.)

I decided to use Simplicity 9769 for this chemise, since there is a similar one from the 1830’s in the Met.

Original 1830's Chemise

Original 1830’s Chemise

The one at the Met has a ruffle around the neckline, no lace, and does not have the center front buttons that the Simplicity pattern does, so I decided to leave out the buttons.  But I decided that lace pretty much equals ruffles, so I’m going to add lace, eventually.

My 1830's Chemise

My 1830’s Chemise

The next step was making the corded petticoat, which is done, and I will tell you all about in due time (later this evening, if I can help it.)  I am really liking this era of costuming, the pieces are all so interesting and fun to make!

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Published in: on September 3, 2013 at 11:16 am  Comments (1)  
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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. amazing artistry, Kelsey. I can sew on a button. That is it.


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