Progress on the 1860s “Purple People Eater” Gown

I have a million things going at the moment, and two major projects on the table, with all their various bits and bobs and parts and bodices and trims and underpinnings – IT’S MADNESS!

…but I AM making progress, which is what matters…right?

Looking at the calendar, it’s Costume Triage right now. I have four Victorian Christmas Events coming up back-to-back, so I’m in a rush to get my new purple outfits done in time.

I’ve been hard at work on the day bodice. Here are my original reference points (you can see more here):

photo from eBay, but listing no longer available. I liked the trim and sleeves on this dress.
My sketches – the one on the left is what I went with.

Truly Victorian TV 443 – 1861 day bodice.  This is the pattern I’m using, but with some alterations, which I’ll talk about below.

I did the mock up, altered the pattern, and set to work. My fabric is a super thin silk taffet-ioni…that’s what I’m going to call it, because it’s not quite taffeta and it’s not quite dupioni. It needed backing, so I mounted it to a bottomweight mystery fabric I’ve had good results with on a prior project.

Then it was fit – buttonholes – fit – alter – fit…you know the drill. I’ve ended up with a very tight bodice on the dressform, but the bodacious curves of the corset are causing pulling across the chest, which I can’t really fix. Solution is to make a new corset that doesn’t require bust pads to fill out the cups … but that’s another blog post, another day.

I had two main trouble spots.

The first was the back. I deviated from the pattern, changing the three points in back to a smooth-fitting, squared-off tail. This required an 18th century trick of putting tiny godets at the top of where the tail starts to flair out. I also needed to tighten up the lower back through the side back seams, to get that nice smooth fit, and to bring the tail in to where it wasn’t buckling.

The back before re-working it – pulling in the excess on the side-back seams, and bringing in the seams on the tail, to get it to fit tightly and lay smoothly over the voluminous skirts.
The back after fitting – nice, tight fit at lower back, and a trim tail laying smoothly.

My second trouble area was with the sleeves. I found them to be *huge.* Baggy sleeves were the style at this time, but these were just way too big, especially in the sleeve head, which would have required gathering even under the arm. That’s a no-no, in my book, so I started cutting the sleeves down starting with the sleeve head, which I took about 6 inches out of. I followed that by slimming the sleeve down, again by about 6 inches. I’m really happy with the result – they’re still 1860s baggy, but are proportioned to my frame much better.

That’s where I am today – trim’s been put on (imperfectly, of course). I’m awaiting jet buttons in the mail, and I need to finish the hems and add the little white collar, but otherwise this bodice is very near done.

Thank goodness.

Then it’s on to the ballgown bodice and the skirt!


    • Lauren Stowell

      November 12, 2014 at 10:25 PM

      Hi Jen – sorry that picture is misleading. The bum pad is used to balance the hoop skirt, and keep it from swinging forward. It's not instead of, but in addition to. My lower-half underpinnings are:

      Two bump pads (different shapes)
      Steel hoop skirt
      Organdy petticoat w/ ruffle
      Cotton petticoat
      Top petticoat in the purple silk.

  • AuntieNan

    November 12, 2014 at 9:42 PM

    The sculpting of this bodice, and there really is no other word for it!!! Is just spectacular. I love how the tail fits, as I scrolled down, I thought I wonder if she should slip a line of rigileneBoning in the seam allowance?

    • Lauren Stowell

      November 12, 2014 at 10:26 PM

      Thanks! yes, some very light boning would be a good idea, but it's looking like the tail is laying alright without it. We'll see if it distorts when the whole skirt fluff is on – may still need some boning.

  • Esther

    November 13, 2014 at 3:48 AM

    Beautiful!!! Not to sound weird, but I am happy to see that I'm not the only one who runs into trouble!! 😉
    I am about to start a ruffle-icious 1860s gown as soon as I get my corset done. (Yikes yikes).
    I love your choice of fabric, and the overall design of the dress! It is very detailed and yet simply elegant. I am excited to see the end result!!

  • bauhausfrau

    November 13, 2014 at 5:36 PM

    Great fit on the bodice! I love that TV pattern.

    Shantung is the fabric I think of as a combination of taffeta and dupioni. It's usually more crisp than dupioni and what slubs it has are fewer and finer.

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