An 1869-1870 Work Dress

Some time ago, I was asked to help at Rock Creek Station for the Oregon Trail Day that is put on for 4th graders studying Nebraska History.  Rock Creek Station is a place where there was a bridge over a river for travelers on the Oregon trail, was a Pony Express Station for a time, a stage coach station for a while, and of course, where Wild Bill Hickok killed his first man.

I did not have a dress both appropriate to the era of the Oregon Trail and suitable for working outside demonstrating spinning and weaving, so I decided to make one.  (Both of the dresses I have appropriate for the range of years the Oregon Trail was in use are fancy.)  My friend Marna very kindly drafted a pattern for me off an original dress she had, and I proceeded to scale it up to my size (the original wearer was very short– maybe 4’8″), and adjust it to fit.  I also ordered in a dark calico with a bright paisley pattern appropriate to the 1860’s.  I decided to go with a more 1860’s aesthetic over all, rather than 1870’s, so I would be able to wear it at Stuhr Museum in the 1860’s cabin as well.

Basically, I sewed it with Victorian speed sewing techniques– which you’ll have to take my word for, because I didn’t really take pictures as I went.  The neck, sleeves, and cuffs are piped, and the cuffs are sewn in such a way that the facing flips to the outside, finishing the edge and making a decorative band all at once.  The flounce on the skirt is sewn with a bias band on the outside, machine stitched down, finishing the seam and creating reinforcement all at once.  The hem is machine done– pretty much everything but the neckline facing and hooks and eyes are done by machine.  This is how the original was done– as soon as our ancestors had sewing machines, they used them as much as they could!

1860's Dress Collar

The Collar

Oh yeah– I made a bonnet too.  It’s appropriately historically awful, but a real wonderful thing to have on your head in the sun.  Verdict: these may look rather horrible, but they need to come back.  This one is corded in bands, and then starched within an inch of its life.  Starch is an absolute must.

The Ugly 1860's Corded Bonnet

The Ugly Bonnet

I didn’t get many pictures when I was at Rock Creek Station back in September, but I did go out with my husband later and get some really good photos at the park.

All Ready for Work, 1860's Dress

All Ready for Work

But I'm Reading Tennyson Instead

But I’m Reading Tennyson Instead

I wore my sontag too, for pictures, and a plain pleated apron.  The apron has a good deal of grime already worn into the bottom of the hem.

I picked Tennyson’s Poems to carry as a prop because I read a book in high school about a pioneer girl in Nebraska, and she memorized a poem by Tennyson– “The Eagle”.  It seemed appropriate.

Oh, Tennyson. . . 1860's Work Dress

Oh, Tennyson. . .

I'm reading about Lady Claire, I think. 1860's Work Dress

I’m reading about Lady Claire, I think.

A Good Close Shot to Show the Pleats

A Good Close Shot to Show the Pleats

Relaxing in the Leaves

Relaxing in the Leaves

Side View, 1860's Work Dress

Side View

Back View, 1860's Work Dress

Back View

This is where I pause to enumerate my historical undies, because almost none of them are correct for this time, but I made it work.  1860’s Chemise and Drawers, 1890’s Corded Corset, 1840’s Bustle Pad, 1840’s starched petticoats.  I really long for a small hoop, after my day at Rock Creek.

The Park is Alive, With the Sound of Music!

The Park is Alive, With the Sound of Music!

Running Through the Greenwood

Running Through the Greenwood

My dear husband had me running and running all over to get a good shot of me running.  I usually look ridiculous when I run.  I am just not a runner.  But I like this shot.  It shows how much mobility you do have in a corset and long skirt.

It just so happened that this fit into the Heirlooms and Heritage Challenge for The Historical Sew Monthly, so here are the details!

What the item is: Late 1860’s Work Dress

The Challenge: Heirlooms and Heritage

Pattern: Drafted off an original in the collection of Marna Davis, greatly enlarged because the original was for a tiny lady.

Year: 1868-ish.

Fabric: 7 yards of cotton calico.

Notions: Thread, hooks and eyes.

How historically accurate is it? I did everything the way the original was made. This is probably 95%, accounting for fabric made in a modern way.

Hours to complete: 20

First worn: For an Oregon Trail day at Rock Creek Station, doing spinning and weaving demos for fourth graders.

Total cost: $36 for fabric, $5 for hooks and eyes. $41 total.

This is a heritage piece because Rock Creek Station and the Oregon Trail are a big part of my state’s (Nebraska) history. Also, my dad’s ancestors came to Nebraska in the 1850’s, so it is possible one of them might have worn such a dress.

And for the bonnet, which fit under the Brown Challenge:

What the item is: Corded Bonnet

The Challenge: Brown

Fabric: 100% cotton fabric, 1 yard

Pattern: The Godey’s 1850’s corded bonnet pattern, plus tips from the Sewing Academy and my own alterations from pictures of originals of the 1860’s.

Year: 1860’s

Notions: Thread, twill tape, starch.

How historically accurate is it? 85% I don’t know. It’s the right shape, but the fabric is a little iffy. But it was $3 a yard at Walmart so. . .

Hours to complete: Five. There is lots of cording. Then it took 7 hours to dry after starching.

First worn: For an Oregon Trail day at Rock Creek Station, at which I taught fourth graders about spinning and weaving.

Total cost: $6, if I bought it all for project. Some was stash.

Running Towards the Camera

Running Towards the Camera

Thanks for reading, and as always, let me know if you have any questions!


A Sontag, or a Historical Shawl

For the second challenge of the Historical Sew Monthly, “Blue”, I decided to knit a blue Sontag, or shawl.

Actually, I decided to knit a blue sontag, then realized it fit perfectly into the February challenge!  That’s the way it went.  Really, I had no idea what to make otherwise, other than a fuzzy idea about a blue work shirt for my husband.  I’m still working on the shirt.  (Yep, making a shirt too.  He is going to need one for blacksmithing at Stuhr Museum this summer.)



There is not really a definition of “Sontag” anywhere to be found, but they are generally known as a long slim shawl that overlaps in front and ties in back.  This prevents the struggle of dealing with the ends of a shawl, and keeps it in place while one is working.  Sontags are somewhat related to bosom friends but a bit more aesthetically pleasing, at least to my eye.

I of course knit mine, and chose a pattern that was no-frills and no-fuss, but still feminine and pretty.  I did not use a historical pattern, but one the same shape.  I knit my sontag from the Marianne Dashwood Shawl from Jane Austen Knits Magazine, with three skeins of Elsebeth Lavold Silky Wool.  (Not the most accurate choice, but it was that or buy new yarn.  I own a yarn shop.  I shouldn’t have to buy new yarn.  At least it has the right hand and look.)

Sontag Back

Sontag Back

So without further ado, here are the challenge details!

Historical Sew Monthly Challenge Blue

What the item is: A Blue Sontag

The Challenge: Blue!

Fabric: Knit from three skeins of Elsebeth Lavold Silky Wool in Woad. (45% wool, 35% silk, 20% nylon)

Pattern: Marianne Dashwood Shawl from Jane Austen Knits

Year: 19th Century in general.

Notions: None.

How historically accurate is it? A Sontag is a historically correct type of shawl for much of the 19th century, but this is not a specific pattern from any historical time frame, rather just a pattern designed in the style of. The yarn is not right by content, but the look is just right. It looks like a homespun yarn and has the right body when knit up, and I didn’t have to order something special in. I’d say maybe 50% accuracy, giving myself points for the right shape. I hope to wear this on chilly days when I’m working at Stuhr Museum this spring and summer, and also with my brown 1830’s dress.

Hours to complete: Yikes. 30? All I know is that I spent an entire event working on it trying to finish it and couldn’t.

First worn: As a modern piece in my yarn shop. It works well with a fitted modern shirt too!



Please comment below if you have any questions!

Published in: on February 16, 2015 at 7:00 pm  Comments (8)  
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