I went to Hobby Lobby in the spring of 2004 to look for a pattern for the Civil War dress I had in mind. It was as simple as that. I did no research ahead of time, I had no idea what would have been worn at what time, and my innocent little mind thought that almost no undergarments beyond a hoop-skirt were worn. I got a pattern for a dress and a separate pattern that had a pattern for what I thought was a hoop-skirt. (It wasn’t.) I had very little sewing experience, so I began to get concerned on the ride home when I learned from reading the directions that there was sixty steps to making this dress, and about as many pattern pieces. I was further concerned when I learned that this pattern called for fourteen yards of fabric.
So, before I began anything more, I began to do some research. I learned a lot about the Civil War. I learned a lot about what types of fabric were used. I learned how fashion changed as money grew tighter during the war. I learned almost nothing about how to sew the dress. I also learned that the simple hoop skirt I had in mind was not going to do the trick. I would need to make a really good one to support the weight of the dress, plus a chemise, bloomers, corset, and petticoat. By this point, it was April, and the only thing I had accomplished so far was buying a bolt of green calico for the dress– sixteen yards at two dollars a yard– a veritable miracle of cheapness!
I cut out the fabric and began to sew. Again, it was as simple as that. I don’t have a contract to advertise for Simplicity here, but I will tell you that they make amazing Civil War patterns. All I had to do was follow the directions, be willing to rip out seams when I had to, and not give up.
That summer, I babysat for a family in my hometown, so I didn’t have nearly as much time for sewing as I would have liked. At the end of May, I had purchased some more patterns for the undergarments, and as the summer progressed, I began to make timelines for how much to get done each day in order to finish by fair. This didn’t work so well. I was bound and determined to make everything historically accurate. That changed after I spent a week hand-sewing buttonholes. (They turned out really nice though, and much better than any machine buttonholes I have ever done!) I also crocheted lace for the collar and cuffs of the dress, and for the top edge of the inner lining of the bodice. Eventually, I finished the dress itself, and was ready to move on to the undergarments!
To be continued. . .