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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Ageless Patterns 1889 Cooking Apron

Ageless Patterns 1767

1899 Cooking Apron from Ageless Patterns

Last Christmas time, Kay at Stuhr Museum lent me this apron pattern.  I had just made a white apron from the National Garment cutter, and she thought I should make another apron for wear at Stuhr.

Who doesn’t need another apron?  Really.  Aprons are pretty necessary when you’re in the past.

So I held onto it for a while, waiting for the right fabric to show up, because cambric, much less figured cambric, isn’t really available anymore.  Around January, I bought some Civil War print calico from my friend Christine, and she included a two yard piece of some fantastic dark blue and white print that would be appropriate for the 1890’s.  I didn’t even think of putting the two together until late March.  Silly me.  As you can see, the description of the original apron says “Figured Cambric with a Navy Blue Ground is the material of which this apron is made.  The edges are piped with Red…”

Once I finally decided the fabric should become the apron, I had a bit of a problem.  The pattern calls for 3 1/2 yards of 32″ wide fabric, and I had two yards of 45″.  I decided the only way to make it work was to cut it on the cross grain, which is not recommended.  (That makes the garment less likely to wear well.)  But I did it.  And, it ended up about 6″ shorter than I would have liked.  I had to cut the flounce for the bottom mostly in extremely short sections, but I got it all!

Leftover Fabric Pieces

This is all the fabric that was left.

So, the front of the bib has a little section that is piped, which also makes the front a bit stiffer.  I learned that one should wait until you attach the shoulder straps to pipe the top edge.

1889 Cooking Apron

Piped Front Section

The pattern calls for this bit to be embroidered as well, but I decided this was really enough.

The rest of the apron went together fairly smoothly, but I’ll mention a few key bits:

Like most patterns from Ageless Patterns, there isn’t a lot of instructions. There’s just one size, not specified, which seems to be about mine. (34″ bust, 26″ waist. ) I made my apron shorter than I would have liked, due to fabric restrictions.

The amount of piping required is not specified either. I think I used about 8-9 yards, which is a lot. I had to make more several times because I kept underestimating how much I really needed.

The pattern pieces go together well, but judging by how they do, I think you could take off the 5/8″ seam allowance and sew the pieces together with a 1/2″ seam allowance and be fine. Coincidentally, this makes the pieces fit within the original specification for fabric width. (32″).

The front panel of the apron is gathered.  This is achieved by sewing a casing on the inside with two channels, and running tapes through and tying them at each end.  This makes the front very adjustable, so this apron might be a good bet for maternity or for wear by different people IF you also add extra buttonholes to the belt.  My belt is maxed out.  I gave it a buttonhole, but mostly because I was supposed to.

1889 Cooking Apron

Gathers on Inside

1889 Cooking Apron

Front of Belt. I really like little china buttons.

I used little china buttons with pie crust edges for my apron, because I like them, and a while back I got a pile of them for cheap on Etsy.  I need to look for some a little large though, for aprons and such.

The side seam, which you should align with the side middle of the belt, is the seam where the back panels of the skirt attach to the rest of the apron.  NOT the vertical darts which appear to be side seams on the main front piece.  If you sew the apron with the dart aligned as side seam, the whole thing pulls funny around the hips.  I had to take it apart and redo.

1889 Cooking Apron

The whole apron from the front, before buttons. Fun little gathered pocket!

1889 Cooking Apron Back

This was figuring out the straps before doing buttonholes and buttons.

1889 Cooking Apron Back Closure

Lots of china buttons.

Overall, this is a good apron pattern, even if all the piping is a bit fussy.  8/10, would make again.  (But would probably make the yet-unreviewed Garment Cutter apron first– it gets a 9.)

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

Published in: on April 23, 2016 at 12:58 pm  Comments (2)  
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Late 1880’s- Early 1890’s Corset from the Kingfisher Chisholm Trail Museum

This year, I am participating in The Historical Sew Monthly, formerly The Historical Sew Fortnightly.  I am going to do my best to finish each project on time and also actually blog about said projects.  So far, here is the post about the January Challenge, Foundations, still in January, the month the first challenge is due!  Huzzah!

The first challenge for the Historical Sew Monthly this year is Foundations.  I was at a bit of a loss as to what I wanted to do at first.  I mean, there are a lot of options, it’s hard to narrow one down.  Well, in the last week of December, the wonderful Marna Davis posted in the Historical Sew Fortnightly Facebook group that she had found a corded work corset at the Kingfisher Chisholm Trail Museum ( where she volunteers and had drafted a pattern from it.  She believed the corset to come from the time of the famous land rush, and was willing to make the pattern available to us for a corset sew-along.  As I am hoping to work at Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer this summer in the Railroad Towne, along with my husband, I jumped on it.  I thought a corded work corset would be just the thing!

Original 1890's Corded Corset

Original 1890’s Corded Corset

The original corset is made of a fine tan cotton twill and had measurements of 30″-24″-29″, without the two inch lacing gap, or spring, in the back.  Thus it would fit someone with measurements of about 32″-26″-31″.  This was not a corset designed for tight lacing and making a super fashionable silhouette.  This was a corset designed for comfort and ease of wearing while doing one’s daily work.  Also, amazingly, I only had to slightly enlarge the bust and slightly take in the waist for the pattern to fit me.  Otherwise, I made everything to the same dimensions.  The original corset only has two steel bones, one on either side of the back by the lacing, and a steel busk.  Otherwise, all stiffening in the corset is done with rows of sewn-in cording.  When I made my corset, I used the same number of rows of cording in each section as the original, since I was almost the same size.

The first step was finding the fabric.  I managed to find a fine tan herringbone twill that fit the bill almost perfectly.  It was sturdy and had almost no stretch.  I also ordered in a separating busk and corset lacing.  (I was out of both items.)  I had some cotton yarn that was relegated for the cording, and I ordered in some safety buckles for the shoulder straps.

Then I cut it out and got to work!

Inserting the Busk

Inserting the Busk

The first step is always inserting the busk.  Awesome little antique bone awl given to me by my friend Cyndi.

Then it was on to the first set of cording.  I stitched it in with a zipper foot, one row at a time.

First Set of Cording

First Set of Cording

You can see I had a little bit of shrinkage and some fabric from the inner layer to cut off.  You can also see the waist tape I put in to avoid stretching out the waist.

Side Panel and Its Cording

Side Panel and Its Cording

I sewed the side panels on, each layer individually so the seam would be enclosed and neatly finished.  I then sewed in the eight rows of cording in the side front panel, not forgetting the stay tape.

Front Half

Front Half

Front Half is Done!

Then I started on the back.

Back Panels with Lacing Eyes

Back Panels with Lacing Eyes

First I sewed the boning channels, then inserted the grommets and the bones, and sewed in the four rows of cording on each back piece.  There was not a lot of cording shrinkage with only four rows of cording– at least not nearly as much as with eight rows.

Back Half

Back Half

I then sewed the side backs to the backs the same as with the front half.  Time for cording!

Back Half, with Cording

Back Half, with Cording

It was at this point that I realize I had forgotten the waist tape in the back half.  Phooey.  There was no way I was ripping things out at this point, so I just decided to soldier on!

Halves Together

Halves Together

I then made a flat-felled seam to sew the halves (quarters?) together, felling to the front to allow these tabs to lie flat towards the back.  “But wait!” you ask, “What are those tabs for?”  Well, the original corset has them, and they are a bit of a mystery.  I am going to use them to buckle on a skirt-supporting bum roll or very small bustle.  Even working ladies like to be somewhat fashionable!

Strap Placement Binding and Strap

Strap Placement Binding and Strap

The next step was to bind the edge of the corset where the strap attached and attach the strap.  The next step was positively evil.  I had to bind the corset with twill tape.  Now you might think you could just sew the tape on all in one fell swoop by machine, but you would think wrong.  I couldn’t manage to catch both layers of the twill tape while also catching the corset layer.  It was always just two of three.  Not always the same two of three.  If I ever do this again, I am going to stitch the twill tape onto just one side of the corset edge, and then handtack it down on the other side.



But in the end, it all looked pretty good!

Completed Corset Sans Buckles

Completed Corset Sans Buckles

In the meantime, I had received a notification that the company I had ordered the buckles from did not have those buckles anymore.  So I ordered new ones in.  It took a little longer to get them in, but I was finally able to attach them last night and put the last final touch, a narrow lace edging, on.  Yay!

But the proof is in the pudding, and no matter how good a corset looks on a sewing table, you don’t know how good it is until you have tried it on.  So this evening, we had a mini photo shoot to show how it fits and looks on a body!

Finished 1890's Work Corset

Finished 1890’s Work Corset

Front View 1890's Work Corset

Front View 1890’s Work Corset

(Um yeah, that photo is a bit dorky.)

Strap Detail

Strap Detail

Fun fact: I made that chemise in high school.  Really.  And it fits just as badly now as it did then.  The arm holes are cut way too high. I need to make a new one.

So here are my pertinent Historical Sew Monthly details!

1890’s Corded Work Corset:  A Study in Tan and Cream

The Challenge: Challenge Number 1, Foundations

Fabric: 100% cotton twill.

Pattern: Pattern drafted from original corded work corset, supplied by Marna Davis.

Year: Late 1880’s to Early 1890’s.

Notions: Steel Bones, separating busk, cotton yarn, cotton twill tape, cotton corset lacing, #00 grommets, thread, lace.

How historically accurate is it?  I’d say 98%.  I used historical sewing techniques, a pattern taken from an original, and historical fabrics.  The only majorly wrong thing is that the lace is polyester.  I could have sworn it was cotton, and it feels like cotton, but there on the spool it says “100% polyester”.

Hours to complete:  It would have been 8 if I had gotten the binding right on the first try.  As it was, 12-14.

First worn:  For photos.

Total cost:  $30, counting the value of the bones and twill tape I had in stash.


Questions?  Comments?  I’d love to answer them!  Just drop me a note below!  Happy sewing!

Published in: on January 29, 2015 at 9:48 pm  Comments (6)  
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