Friday, June 5, 2015

HSM '15: #6: Out of Your Comfort Zone: The 1840s (Part 1)

I was pretty excited for this challenge when it was announced. There is a lot of things in historical costuming that are out of my comfort zone! Where would I begin? The challenge description indicates a range of things to consider – a new era, new technique or skill. I had a range of options. My main era is the bustle years, but even within that there is a lot of things I've never done. My gowns are so very very plain, since I don't really think in terms of decorations. I could make a new gown and deck it out, or decorate something I've already made (which I do have plans for). The easiest would be to pick a new era – I thought maybe the 1830s, an era I have little interest in and quite frankly find intimidating, or maybe working on a proper 1893 outfit (looking at you, Doctor Who), and even now that I've started sewing for the late 1700s, there's still things in there that terrify me (like robe francaise, also on the "someday" list).

But rather than waffle forever, I'd decided relatively early before the challenge started, that I would make an 1840s day dress. There was a number of things about it that would be out of my comfort zone – a new era (inspired by the 2011 Jane Eyre, such lovely gowns!), new things to make (January's corded petticoat would be needed to go under this gown), and most importantly, a new technique, which was going to be my focus for this challenge. I plan to gauge the skirt by hand. The only other time I needed to gauge a skirt, I cheated and used some pre-threaded curtain tape, and it's really best if we just don't talk about that skirt for now. The other new-to-me technique will be using piping on the dress. I used piping for two other costumes in the last 10 years, with mediocre results. On one of them I gave up trying to feed the seams awkwardly through my machine with no adjustable zipper foot or a piping foot to help me, and set the piped sleeves in by hand (so much easier and less stressful!). I'm also considering potentially hand-sewing large portions of this dress, though I will likely construct some of the interior seams by machine.

Just adore this silhouette! (Image from Somewhere on the Internet)

My free time these days is very limited. I took on some shifts at my belly dance studio, and for the rest of June I'm dancing once a week too. That leaves me 2 evenings and 1.5 days to work on whatever it is I'm working on, including housework and other odds and ends. So I'm really quite pleased that on one of those free evenings I was full of desire to work on the dress!

I started by pulling out all of my related patterns – Butterick 5832, which is based off an extant dress. The line drawing shows a lovely shape but you can tell that the pattern picture's model is not wearing the right sorts of undergarments. (Burda's early-mid-century pattern picture is even more questionable. Cone-shaped hoops had been out of style for over 200 years!) I really liked the sleeves but I wasn't sure about the front drapery, and some people on a Facebook group I'm in opined than the bodice is cut too low (more on that in a bit). Here's where I started to waffle a bit. I looked at the diagrams in Period Costumes for Stage and Screen, The Cut of Women's Clothes, and Patterns of Fashion. I toyed with the idea of modifying a Truly Victorian bodice pattern. I compared line drawings from the books to Butterick's pattern. I googled "1840s day dress" and found some lovely examples, which led me to trawling Pinterest for an hour, and then looking at the Met's online collection for another hour, pinning more pretty dresses. I didn't even get through the whole collection, maybe the first 700 items or so (not all of them from the same time period, of course, just the same century). So much prettiness! I also went fabric-diving in my stash to see if a particular length of fabric I knew was in there was going to work for this dress, but even if it is, I don't have enough of it (4m). I did find another length (6m) that I had earmarked for this decade and forgotten about. Excellent!

My fabric looks a lot like the dress on the right.

In the end I decided to just stop waffling and use the Butterick pattern. I'd pulled the pieces for the lining out on Sunday so I already had the pattern for the mock-up ready. I cut it out and quickly sewed it up. The dress is back-opening, but for the purposes of fitting it on myself, I sewed the back closed along the seam-line and left the front open. As expected, I need to take length out of the shoulders. It fits great from bust-point to waist, where I will need to let out the darts a bit. By pulling the shoulders up 3/4", the neckline fits smooth and doesn't appear to be as low as it shows on the pattern envelope. I might need to move them back a little though, in memory they sit right on top of my shoulder. I also need open the armholes a bit; they were digging in at the front a little too much. Other than that, it's perfect. The neckline doesn't seem too low to me, either, though I didn't try it on with a shift. Even without one, this will be a cleavage-free gown.

Now I have more decisions to make, such as what to use as piping, (solid or self-fabric? If solid, what colour? Matching or contrast? What should I put in as the cord?), how much length I need in the skirt, how many petticoats I need to make, what kind of shift and chemisette to make, how much hand-sewing I want to do… So many things to decide!


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  2. I love the 1840's and that screen shot from Jane Eyre, so i am sure I'll love your dress! Can't wait to see it!

    1. I hope it doesn't disappoint :) I'm eager to get started!

  3. Whoo hoo!!! I LOVE the 1840s and Jane Eyre!! I have a mourning dress planned so can't wait to see your dress come to life!!! Huzzah!!!

    1. Oh, I can't wait to see your mourning gown too! I'm sure it will be stunning!


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