Adventures in the 1830s – For Real This Time

The Met, 1835

I’ve been wanting to make an 1830s dress for a long time now, but haven’t actually, y’know, done it.

Until now.

I can’t really account for how the sewing bee got in my bonnet, but last Wednesday I just got that bug. I raided The Stash for some red spotted fabric Debbie had given me ages ago, and pulled out an old Simplicity pattern, and decided to work up something that would go with my “Gettysburg” Victorian Side-Lace Boots.

The pattern is Simplicity 4551, one of the Martha McCain “Civil War” patterns that is now out of print.  At first glance it’s a rather generic mid-19th c. century frock that’s kindof-1830s-kindof-1840s-kindof-1850s-kindof-1860s, but upon closer inspection, and in trying to decide just what decade my new dress would be, I noticed that one of the sleeve options (B) was a gigot sleeve. With the right support, that sleeve would be huge and fabulous, and that gave me my time period – the 1830s.

A gigot sleeve – that upper curve could actually be bigger, a full half-circle, but this arc made a lovely pouf

The neckline was too high for the ’30s, so I simply cut it down in front and back. The only other change I made was to tighten the sleeves over the forearm just a tad, and line the upper part of the sleeves in very stiff organdy that is bloused up a bit to create the poufs.

Neckline cut down and piped.
Trying on the bodice without a corset, just to see how the sleeve looked.

There are a few accessories needed to complete the look. The first were bust pads, which fill out that awkward space around the armpits, created by drop-shoulder bodices. I made mine out of layers of fleece, and tacked them into the bodice, as seen on some original bodices.

Adding bust pads into the bodice, to help smooth the line over the corset, and fill out the space created by dropped shoulder seams.

Another accessory is an organdy petticoat, something I’ve been meaning to make forever (and will work with all periods that need oomph in the skirt), to help get that huge skirt shape. I don’t have time or inclination to make a corded petticoat, so I’m using two types of bum rolls, The Ugly Puffer, the organdy petticoat, with one more petticoat over the top.

The organdy petticoat adds tons of lightweight volume, especially with the ruffled hem. It was a b*tch to put together, but worth it.
The gown petticoat over just the organdy petticoat. The gown petticoat is 5 yards of cotton.

The other accessory on my to-do list is a chemisette with a double flounced collar (I’m looking at Patterns of Fashion 1
, pg 51, style D). This will be made in cotton voile, with the two collars trimmed in starched and fluted ruffles. I haven’t had an opportunity to use my fluting iron for eons, so I’m quite looking forward to this part.

The dress is *almost* done. I have the cuffs to hem and add closures to, and also the front closure to do. I opted to keep the front-closure for ease of dressing solo, even though all the 1830s dress I studied close in the back. It’ll be hooks n’ eyes, to keep the front closure as “invisible” as possible.

The gown nearly complete. I added another cotton petticoat over the organdy one (it’s sticking out at the bottom, needs shortening) and it really helped with that ’30s silhouette. The contrast belt will be finished with an antique brass buckle.
The back profile is quite fun. The finished look with the chemisette collars laying over the shoulders should complete that inverted triangle silhouette of the ’30s in a flattering way.

I’m planning to wear this dress to an event July 20th, so I better stick to the finishing (boo, so boring)! Stay tuned for on-a-person photos. 🙂


  • Mistress of Disguise

    July 8, 2014 at 4:00 AM

    I'm so glad to see the 1830s getting some love this year! I adore the period, and it never seems to get much attention in costuming circles. I can't wait to see pics of you in the dress!

    • Lauren Stowell

      July 9, 2014 at 12:51 AM

      It does seems to be extra popular this year, which is awesome. There have been some really gorgeous creations so far. I couldn't help but jump on the bandwagon 🙂

  • AuntieNan

    July 9, 2014 at 12:29 AM

    Very lovely! Love the dropped shoulder seam in the back — was that in the pattern, or did you have to wrangle that? The organdy petit takes me back to the dress my mom built for me in 19-hmmmm with a little over-apron of white organdy. Never occurred to me it might have been a b****** to sew!
    I hope to see pics soon of you, seated on a little low chair with your ankles XXXED in front, showing off the boots!

    • Lauren Stowell

      July 9, 2014 at 12:52 AM

      Auntie – everything on the bodice except the lower neckline was with the original Simplicity pattern. I was really surprised how correct it was, in terms of seamlines, and it went together really simply.

  • Anonymous

    July 9, 2014 at 12:42 AM

    I'm excited to see what you end up doing wig-wise. 30s was some crazy hair. (Romantic era is my usual historical research era – about 1825 to 1833, so just as things start getting really weird but before the "let's put the gigot part of the sleeve on the lower arm!" wtf of c. 1836.)

    The organdy petticoat looks like a great idea – let us know how it holds up for actual wear. I am indebted to you for the puffer idea and am apparently copying everything you do for underpinnings if I can.

  • Gina

    July 10, 2014 at 10:44 PM

    Aaaaawesome sauce!!! I love how you took the pattern and made it 1830s….perfection! Yeah for that era….I can't wait to see it on you! Your organdy petti is fabulous and I love the ruffle….nice and fluffy!!

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