A 1908 Evening Gown, Beginnings

A little while ago I decided to try a gown from a period I love but have never sewn for, the Edwardian Era.  I flipped through my “Costume in Detail” book, admiring the ridiculously complicated-looking gowns of the first decade of the 20th century, and landed on a dinner dress I thought could be converted to an evening gown by just removing the sleeves.

The book’s description, page 315:

“Soft mauve-blue silk crepe-de-chine dinner dress, high-waisted swathed bodice and fitting sleeves; back fastening.  Sewn to longer-waisted boned under-bodice, with mauve satin under-skirt sewn in at the waist.  Padded hem.”

The drawings in the book show the interior, back, front, and little details of the trims, hem, sleeves, and more, and so, being quite excited by all this, off I went to make my own version, in buttercream satin-stuff, creme-colored chiffonishness for the drapery, metallic trims, dangle beads, and a bit of creme taffeta.

I drafted the high-waisted skirt myself, and sewed it to a simple muslin under-bodice.  There is a muslin lining to the skirt, with some ruffles down at the bottom, to act as a dust ruffle.  The slight train seemed to be a good opportunity to use a trick I picked up from a friend – face the hem with a wide bit of canvas, to drag around on the ground.

My version doesn’t look much like the drawing in the book.  My skirt lacks volume.  Next time I will use a Truly Victorian pattern.

I put in this hem, about 5 yards of wide, bias-cut strips of very stiff canvas….and that’s about as far as I got, because the hem was far too stiff, needed to be come out completely, and to add to my frustration, the hook and eye closure in back was misbehaving too.

So I threw it aside.  It spent several months on my couch, then a month or two tossed over a chair in the bedroom, and then the last couple of weeks hung up in the closet, staring at me.

I’m quite happy with how this is looking so far.  Trim is just pinned on, of course.  The opening of the skirt is not off-center like in the original, so I’m going to have to adjust swag #1 here to meet there.

I thought I’d give it another go yesterday, so I voraciously ripped out the hem, cut the canvas down by half, and sewed it on again.  Lucky me, I didn’t finish the hand-sewing inside, because I think it’s *still* too stiff!  Yay, I get to tear it all out again and do what I should have done in the first place, face the hem with plain ole bias tape.  The canvas might have worked if the train of the skirt had been longer, but it’s only slightly  trainy, so the canvas just caused it to sit up in a funny way.

I also fiddled around with a start to the bodice, which consists of several panels and pieces layered atop one another.  It’s like dressmaking geology – what goes on top of what, and when, and where the hell does it attach!?  The first layer is a pleated panel of taffeta, which is then mostly covered by two swags of chiffon.  I was dreading the chiffon, but the key to using it is hand-sewing and tacking as needed.  It is very organic and needs coddling along.  My one panel, so far, is sewn to a muslin backing.

A little detail of the front two pieces, so far.  The chiffon needs tacking and tucking and securing.  The taffeta, though, is pretty solid.

More updates to come…well…later.  I should be doing all kinds of other things before working on this gown, but when motivation strikes, take advantage of it!


  • Lauren R

    October 25, 2011 at 4:34 AM

    Thank you! It's challenging, and is giving me a lot of trouble, mostly in the skirt, which I thought would be the easy part, but noooo. Hopefully I can get this thing wearable

  • Angela

    October 25, 2011 at 5:46 PM

    I think there may be a Titanic event next spring you could wear this to although not the correct period but close. Would be nice to make this up and have an event to wear it, right? Good luck. a

  • The Dreamstress

    October 25, 2011 at 10:21 PM

    Pretty! That's a gorgeous design: I must get myself a copy of Costume in Detail!

    Your slimmer skirt is making it look much more 1912 than 1908, and I don't think that is a bad thing at all. It falls so beautifully.

    The one thing that I would look at changing is your chiffon. It looks like quite a crisp, un-drapey chiffon, and it is trying to bubble out and away from the bodice. Evil as it sounds, I think you are going to have a much easier time working with a super clingy, drapey fabric.

    Can't wait to see how it turns out!

  • Joseph Hisey

    October 25, 2011 at 11:54 PM

    If you just want to create a bit of soft body in your hem, I use a polyester organza. Easy to shape, transparent, etc. check out my black lace Edwardian on my blog. I think it is under, "What a fine web we weave."

  • KittyKatt

    October 26, 2011 at 5:47 PM


    Lovely dress so far. With all the talk about the hem, I was curious to see it! (finished or unfinished would be fine). Your bodice looks less curvy than the drawing, and the skirt appears fuller, too. Are there underpinnings that are missing on the dress form? Can't wait to see how it all turns out!

  • Lauren R

    October 26, 2011 at 7:42 PM

    Dreamstress – would it help maybe to get the chiffon wet? It's pretty drapey but not so clingy. I had anticipated having to tack it down in discreet places, to make it stay in the right shape.

    Material World – GREAT idea! and beautiful gown too!

    KittyKatt – My dress form is wearing a Victorian corset, but should have on an Edwardian, for more fulness in the bust. The dress form isn't my exact shape, but also, I just don't have the tiny waist women did back then, so I don't expect it will look exactly the same. Hip and boob padding might help a lot, though 🙂

Leave a Reply

Discover more from American Duchess Blog

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading