A Plaid 1830 Dress!

A couple of years ago, I ordered in seven yards of silk taffeta for a dress for a customer.  It was a glorious blue and yellow plaid.  I whacked off a yard to send to them for a hat, only to be informed that they had wanted a different fabric.  Cue lots of furious rush-ordering to get the proper fabric in, and the taffeta languished on my shelf, bereft of meaning.  I offered it to several customers, with nary a taker.  None of them wanted such a loud fabric.

Then, I found this dress, made in 1830 and housed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

1971.47.1ab_F

Plaid Dress

1971.47.1ab_TQL

Dress Back

Suddenly, that silk had a purpose!  It would be six months between discovering that dress and making my own, but at least I had a plan.

Fast forward to the first week of August, 2014.  I just finished moving from Minnesota back to lovely Nebraska, and was in fact still unpacking the house and starting to get burnt out by boxes.  “Hey self,” I said to myself, “how about you make that dress you’ve been wanting to make?”  So I dug out my other 1830’s pattern, that I know fits me, and a bunch of paper and mock-up muslin, and got to work!

I took flat patterning in college.  Figuring out the pleats in the bodice was not difficult, but getting the neckline sorted was another story.  I checked, and counted, and there are nine pleats in the front, with only seven going into the shoulder, and there are five pleats in the back.  So far as I can tell, in the original the pleats are an overlay blindstitched down. Easy enough, right?  Well, for starters, I had about an hour of counting and recounting pleats on zoomed-in images before I was finally satisfied that there are different numbers of pleats on the front and back at the shoulder.  At least I don’t have to line them up, right?

Secondly, I put my brown dress on the dress form and used string to mark out a tentative neckline.  Thinking it looked good, I made markings on a copy of my pattern and started cutting.  I then made a mock-up.  WRONG.

Eeek.

Mock-up number one!

Well, my pleat technique was obviously right.  (I flat patterned that.  No draping for me!  Yes, I started taking draping in college too, but I dropped that class because my schedule was too full.  I should learn how some day…)  But the neckline was too narrow, and the pleats looked too narrow because of the angle.

So I started chopping and rotating on my pattern, til I came up with a mock-up that suited me.  I never did put it completely together, because really, what’s the point?

I have clipped a pattern piece for the lining to it for safekeeping.

Random View of my Sewing and Weaving Room with the Final Mock-up In It

(For the pleated overlay, I made pieces the shape of my finished piece, then slashed them where I wanted the pleat edges to be and spread them and taped them to a new piece of paper.  It was easy.)

(I also used my final mock-up for the lining.  Waste not, want not.)

So then it was on to cutting the fabric.  Yikes.  Cutting silk is always a little nervewracking.  Cutting plaid is plenty nervewracking, even though I can do it with the best of them.  Cutting a silk plaid that you can never get more of was worse.  But I made it through!

If you look closely at the original, the two front pieces of the bodice proper are cut, well, not on the bias, but not on grain either.  Just at a pretty angle.  Well, I can do that too!

Cutting out the Bodice

Cutting out the Bodice

I cut two of these.  Yay!

The rest of the bodice pieces went easily enough, then it was time for the sleeves!

Most of the fine ladies on The Historical Sew Fortnightly had agreed with me that the sleeves on the original dress were two pieces, but then, I found a pattern in “The Workwoman’s Guide” that looked pretty darn close. Like almost identical close.

Circle Sleeve

Circle Sleeve

The instructions in “The Workwoman’s Guide” are as follows:

THE CIRCULAR LONG SLEEVE

This takes rather more of the material than the other shapes, but it is so easily cut out, and looks so well when made up, that it is allowed a place here.

For the full size it is a perfect circle, in a square of about 15 nails.  (A nail is about 2.25 inches.)

After the circle is formed, double it in half (see Fig. 8); measure at A B a sufficient width to admit of the wrist, and slit up, in a slightly curving line, from B to C for about 4 nails, to form the arm of the sleeve.   A little of the circle, from E towards B, is then sloped off to form the hollowing.

When made up, this part E is all taken up and gathered into the shoulder strap.  It is considered to hang particularly well, falling over the tight part of the sleeve (see Fig. 7).  

This seems quite a bit easier than a two-piece sleeve to me.

So, I made a tiny sleeve to test it.  It worked!  So I cut my silk.  I was pretty trusting of this pattern.

Circle Sleeves

Circle Sleeves

Close-up of the Curved Cut

Close-up of the Curved Cut

After cutting out the waistband and the skirt (one panel, full width of fabric, 90-some inches long) and TONS of bias tape in differing sizes, I was ready to sew!

First step: lots of piping.  I made piping in two sizes and it took a while.

For the back, I just basted the curved panel on, since there would be a bias strip covering the raw edge.

Back Piece Step One

Back Piece Step One

Then I hand-tacked the bias tape down on the back pieces, covering the seam.

Bias Tape on the Back

Bias Tape on the Back

Most dresses of this time frame seem to have piping on the back, but this one had a bias strip.  It makes sense, actually.

Then I pleated and tacked down the back pleats.

Back Pleats

Back Pleats

Then I sewed together the front pieces and made the pleated overlay for the front.  I sprayed my silk with a mixture of water and white vinegar to set the pleats and it worked like a charm!

Pleated Overlay

Pleated Overlay

Here you can see how well the front seam matches.  The front seam that will never be seen.

Matching Front Seam

Matching Front Seam

From this point on, I have only two construction photos, but I will still explain my process.

I sewed all bodice pieces together and did a preliminary fitting to check the neckline.  So far, so good.

Bodice Fitting

Bodice Fitting

I think I bound the top edge with piping and bias tape at this point, before I did the sleeves.  Of course, I also put piping around the armscyes.

Then I pleated and repleated and repleated the sleeves until they fit the armscyes.  Literally, I pleated them about six times.  And even though the sleeves were equal size and the armholes were equal sized and I was measuring pleats, one sleeve had to be tweaked a bit to make it fit right.  Not that you can tell from the outside.

Bodice with Sleeves

Bodice with Sleeves

See?  The bodice is all finished except for the ends of the sleeves and the hooks and eyes up the back.

After this, I hand-finished the cuffs with a narrow rolled hem and added hooks and thread eyes to close them.

Then, I made a wide waistband with large piping on each side.  I attached it to the bodice, then pleated the skirt to fit the waistband.  (I handfinished the placket and hand felled the skirt seam first.)

Then I gave the skirt a great deep hem.  I think it was 8″ .  No facing, just a deep hem.  That’s what the original seemed to have.

The last thing was the hooks and thread eyes all down the back.

Then I was done!

Of course, then I had to get all dressed up, and my husband and I went down to the park for some photos.  I brought my 1830’s shoes with me intending to wear them for the pictures, but it was pretty damp so I never did put them on,  I just held them while wearing my modern business heels.  Tee-hee.

 

1830's Dress

1830’s Dress

I really should have made the back closure a little tighter.  If I ever wear it again, I’ll add new thread eyes further in.  It kept slipping off my shoulders and slipping down.  Ooops.

1830's Dress

Back

1830's Dress

I’m holding my shoes!

Actually, holding my shoes gives a pretty good effect.

1830's Dress

Look, I have shoes that I’m not wearing!

1830's Dress

Droopy Hair

Fun fact:  I actually spent a great deal of time on my hair.  I had perfect ringlets, but as it was August in Nebraska, they fell out right away.  That was before I knew about curl papers.  Phooey.

1830's Dress

Back Detail. There is much piping!

 

1830's Dress

Happy That It’s Done!  Sad That My Hair Drooped!

The next day, after these photos were taken, I brought this dress to the Nebraska State Fair.  There I won Best in Division, Best in Show, and Best Sewn Garment!  (Lots of prizes!)  My 1830’s work dress which I have yet to show you won best garment of quilting cotton too!

Thanks for reading about my 1830’s dress, and please ask if you have any questions!

Published in: on December 4, 2014 at 10:21 pm  Comments (9)  
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The Making of a Pair of 1830’s Shoes

As you may know, I have been making an 1830’s dress, complete with all the undergarments, for the past few months.  I’ve had a few stalls and delays along the way, but it is all done!  I will tell you all about the dress once I have pictures of it in all it’s glory, along with the pictures of all the completed undergarments.  Wheee!!!

But first, shoes!  You can’t have a full historical costume without shoes, and quite frankly, 1830’s shoes are really darn hard to find.  I looked high and low for some shoes that would work, but all the flats available right now are either pointy-toed or extremely expensive for a shoe that still isn’t what I’m looking for.  So, last fall, I got some lightweight dark brown lambskin, since I couldn’t find kid leather at my local Tandy Leather.  It sat in my sewing room, with my fabric stash, for many months, because I just wasn’t quite brave enough to cut into it, and didn’t have a pattern.

Enter this wonderful little book:

Every Lady Her Own Shoemaker

Every Lady Her Own Shoemaker

“Every Lady Her Own Shoemaker” was written in 1856 by an anonymous lady, and details how to make your own shoes.  It contains several different styles– high boots, gaiters, and low cloth shoes.  None of them have heels, and all are made as “turn shoes”, or shoes that are sewn together inside out and turned right side out– rather like medieval shoes.  I had made a couple of pairs of Viking Shoes before, so I thought, “How hard can this be?”

The first step was to fit the pattern to my foot.  Yes, the book has a variety of sizes of patterns, but none were exactly the right size for me.

First Shoe Pattern Attempt

First Shoe Pattern Attempt

The first attempt fit, kinda, but had a few issues.  The sole was too narrow, and the upper had to be folded into pleats at the toe to fit.

Second Shoe Pattern Attempt

Second Shoe Pattern Attempt

The second one, the upper was still just a bit too large (apparently a 1/4″ seam allowance is given in the patterns in the book), but the sole was the right side, and there was no need to gather in the toe.  Yay!  I had a workable pattern!

So it was on to cutting the lining!

The Lining is Cut Out

The Lining is Cut Out

 

I cut the lining out of teal linen, and the interlining out of unbleached linen canvas.  I treated them as one layer when sewing them together.  So far, so good!

The Uppers are Cut Out

The Uppers are Cut Out

 

I then cut the lambskin uppers out.   The leather was a bit wrinkly and wavy– so it was difficult to cut out nice pieces without being wasteful.  But I did it!

Uppers Together!

Uppers Together!

 

I then stitched the uppers together (with my sewing machine and a leather needle), and bound the top edges with a grosgrain ribbon.  The book asks for galloon, but quite frankly, I don’t know what that is.  The dictionary describes it as a type of woven trim or edging, but isn’t specific.  I suppose grosgrain counts as a woven edge and trim?  As a side note, you will need at least 1/2″ grosgrain for this.  3/8″ simply will not do.  Also, if I had to do it over, I would definitely take the time to handstitch the grosgrain all around, as the machine stitching was messy, and it was difficult to keep all the layers corralled and lined up correctly.  Don’t make my mistakes!

Soles and Heel Stiffening Cut Out!

Soles and Heel Stiffening Cut Out!

The next step was to cut out the sole.  I used some lightweight veggie tanned leather, but it beats me what weight it was.  My dear husband got it for me at Tandy while I was working on the uppers.  (Then he came home and made me Swedish Pancakes for brunch!  Best Saturday EVER!)  It’s sturdy enough it will work for my soles, but not so stiff it would be impossible to work with.  These are not left or right specific soles.  Lefts and rights were known by the time this book was written in the 1830’s, but because of the way lasts were made in the 1830’s, shoes were non-specific to left or right.  However, because leather stretches, shoes would become left and right specific after they were worn.  In addition, some shoes had lacing or other decoration on one side or another, they would of course be made symmetrically and thus be specific left-rights.  Confused yet?  Good.

After all that, I was ready to punch all the holes for sewing the soles to the uppers!  But wait!  My dear husband actually punch all those tiny little holes for me with my awl, because I was helping a friend of his to cut out a Viking tunic.  Win-win.  Basically, I wet each sole down, and scored a line where I wanted the holes punched on the flesh side of the leather, then Philip laid the soles on an old board punched all the holes for me!  With a hammer!  Yay!    I also took a skiver to the edges of the heel stiffenings, so I wouldn’t have ridges that might rub against my foot.  That part wasn’t called for in the book, but it was mentioned in another shoe tutorial I read, and seemed like a good idea.

Sewing the Sole to the Upper

Sewing the Sole to the Upper

The next step was to sew the soles to the uppers.  Really, this was a lot bigger ordeal than I anticipated.  It easily took me two hours per shoe, and I could only do one shoe at a time.  I sew a lot.  I had the right glover’s needles with the sharp points that prick right through leather.  I had pre-punched holes.  It still took a lot of oomph and a lot of time.  Oh, what I wouldn’t do for my leather sewing machine to be in the same place as I am!  (I can sew through kid, lamb, or buckskin with my regular sewing machine, but not through sole leather!)

Almost Around the Shoe

Almost Around the Shoe

I do have to say, though– these little clips were just the thing for sewing leather.  I was able to completely match up the shoe all around, at least once I had stitched the back with the heel stiffening, and make sure I didn’t end up with a crooked shoe or anything weird like that.  I couldn’t use these clips in the back by the heel stiffener, but I treated that like a collar, and matched up the center, then sewed from the center out on both sides.  Easy as pie.

This was also about the point I realized that my lining seemed to have grown, and was larger than the lamb!  No fix for that now– onwards and upwards!

It's Together!

It’s Together!

Now the next step, I don’t have any pictures of.  I just don’t trust myself with Philip’s camera near water.  His camera costs much more than my first car.  Basically, you have to wet down the sole, and then turn the shoe right side out.  It’s important to get the leather wet, or it can crack as you turn it.  So I took a sponge, and started to paint water on with my sponge until my hand inside the shoe was wet.  Then it was turning time!

Hammering the Seam Flat

Hammering the Seam Flat

But wait!  First, you should hammer the seam flat, all around, in the direction the seam will be folded when the shoe is turned.  This is best done wet, and makes the shoe a lot more comfortable.

It's a Finished Shoe!  --Almost.

It’s a Finished Shoe! –Almost.

Here you see my first shoe, which later became my right shoe, all turned right side out.  But it is not done yet!  First, I had to repeat that whole sewing and turning process with the second sole.  Then I fixed the grosgrain ribbon around the top edge, and sewed on two little ties at the little front slit.  It looked weird just open, and didn’t fit as well as with it closed.   I also glued in an insole of the same teal linen with rubber cement– such insoles are important according to the shoemaking book to prevent the sweat and oils of your foot from showing through to the outside of your sole!

Finished Shoes!

Finished Shoes!

This picture was taken by my husband.  Here we have my 1830’s shoes, next to my little Swedish girl and my husband’s York Viking Chess Piece.  I’m really not sure why they were included, but it looks like they are considering conquering my shoes.

The little shoemaking book recommends blacking the edges of your soles with ink, which I may do.  It would make a nicer appearance and not show the edges of the sole.  However, I don’t have any black ink right now, and I’m a little worried of it bleeding and coming off on things in damp weather.

In conclusion, by the time I bought all the materials and book and spent 10 hours making a pair of shoes, I don’t think I saved any money at all over, say, buying a pair of shoes from American Duchess.  However, I still have enough material for about… 6 more pairs of shoes.  At least.  Especially if I make the uppers of different materials.  (They can be made of silk and heavy canvas, or linen, or cotton, or all sorts of things, and sewn to a leather sole!)  Also, I got to make them all by myself, all for myself, and being as I am, all about the process, I greatly enjoyed it.

This project was partially inspired by The Historical Sew Fortnightly Challenge “Tops and Toes”.  (But I got it done almost a week late.)  Here’s the challenge details:

The Challenge: Tops and Toes!
Fabric: Lambskin, shoe sole leather, linen, and polyester ribbon.
Pattern: The cloth shoe pattern from “Every Lady Her Own Shoemaker”, altered and adjusted to fit my own feet.
Year: Mid-late 1830’s
Notions: Heavy-duty waxed thread, rubber cement.
How historically accurate is it? I would say about 80%. The style is right, they look right, they should be made of kidskin instead, probably. Lambskin was a mistake. Don’t think you can use it like I did and be fine!
Hours to complete: 11.
First worn: Haven’t been worn to an event yet.
Total cost: Well, the lamb skin was $20 and the sole leather was “I’m-not-sure”. (Hubby picked it up for me.) Plus I had to buy the book. BUT, I probably have enough left over for about 4-6 more pairs of shoes. I probably actually used about $20 worth of materials, tops. 

 

If you have questions, put them in the comments, and I’ll do my best to answer!

 

Published in: on April 24, 2014 at 7:58 pm  Comments (3)  
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