An 1890’s Housedress, Workdress, Frontier Town Dress… Thing

You can’t just wear a prairie dress in town on the 1890’s frontier!  So I made a dress to wear in town, or at least in one of the houses in town.

I originally had the idea that I would make a work dress.  A plain, no-frills work dress that someone might wear to do housework, cook, and clean.  I  bought a piece of appropriately historic calico at, of all places, Walmart– and it was a vermiculated pink floral!  So I had to work with it, and make whatever dress design I came up with from that!

Patterns and Fabric

Patterns and Fabric

I’ve put off finishing this post for a very long time.  Mainly, because I don’t love the finished dress.  I finished it in early June for 2015, and could never quite write this post.  Partially, I was really busy that summer, painting our house.  Partially, I wasn’t very pleased with the finished dress.  Oh, it fits, and it looks nice, and I enjoy wearing it, but I have never had a dress fight me the way this one did before.  Every step of construction, I had to fix things, change things, or I made really stupid mistakes.

First off, I put off learning how to draft my own historical slopers (pattern bases made to your measurements) in favor of the Past Patterns Day Dress Pattern shown above.  While I usually love Past Patterns, I must say I do not recommend this pattern.  I do not.  There is a lot wrong with it, in terms of seams, and I had to change a lot.

Then, I looked and looked and couldn’t find a single original one-piece day dress with a point in the center front waist.  So that had to be whacked off straight.  Then the darts were not in the right place.  Also, the armscyes were weird (never fixed that, because I didn’t realize just how weird they were until the sleeves were on), and the neckline was too high in front and too low in back.  (So now after finishing the dress, I had to recut the neckline in front and make a new collar, and isn’t that just a fantastic thing to have to do?)  Then, the skirt should not be a gathered skirt in the 1890’s (or really in the 1880’s either), so I had to draft my own gored skirt to use instead.  It really looks lovely on the envelope, but it’s a bad choice.

That was basically the cutting out bit.  When I was sewing it together, pieces didn’t match quite right, and then I put my back skirt panels in wrong, and wondered why I had so much extra fabric… and cut the excess off.  Oooops.  I didn’t have enough to cut two more back panels out, so I had to piece things in at the top of the back panels, hoping most of the piecing would be hidden by the pleats.  Le sigh.  I did put in a dog-leg closure for the skirt, and it lays very nicely, and the hem has a facing of the same fabric as the dress.  I didn’t have any cotton in an acceptable print for a contrast facing, as was most common.


But, I persevered and got it done, and I’ve worn it at Stuhr Museum quite a few times!  (And it has two huge pockets right under the back skirt panels, so at least that is a win!)

In the Milisen House at Stuhr Museum

In the Milisen House at Stuhr Museum

Better Photo, at Costume College

Better Photo, at Costume College

Back of 1890's Dress

Back of 1890’s Dress

I should note that I actually hand-sewed all of the buttonholes on the bodice.  In one evening.  I feel so accomplished still.

So there’s my 1890’s Day Dress.  Very simple looking, very horrible to put together, but very fun to wear, at least now I’ve fixed the collar.

As usual, questions are welcome!

Published in: on October 1, 2016 at 7:21 pm  Comments (6)  
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