An 1880s Wool Ensemble – Beginnings

Last week I shared with you the beautiful “Russian Seasons” coat from, paired with an 1880s wool skirt I threw together for the occasion.

The skirt was made from my favorite Truly Victorian pattern, one I’ve used over and over again – TV261 1885 Four Gore Underskirt. In all of the original pattern books I have, this simple skirt design plays a role in a great many of the outfits.

Initially I thought a plain skirt best, but once I had it made I felt it was too plain, so I added the box pleated ruffle. Ruffles are time consuming and take up loads of fabric (I’ll have to go back to the fabric store for more of this wool if I want to make an apron for a full three piece ensemble), but the effect is quite grand. I’m glad I added it.

The skirt without the ruffle and with.

For particulars, the skirt is faced in organza about 15 inches wide at the bottom, and then faced again in cotton flannel about 8 inches wide. This was a note from Directoire Revival Fashions 1888-1889 by Frances Grimble, and I do recommend doing some kind of hem facing, to give the skirt weight and durability at the hem, and also keep it from tucking in between your feet as you walk.

Now it’s on to the bodice! Here’s my inspiration, also from Directoire Revival Fashions:

Bodice from “Directoire Revival Fashions 1888-1889” by Frances Grimble

I started with another Truly Victorian pattern, TV420, but this bodice is from 1879 rather than the mid 1880s, and quite a lot of bustle happened in those years. My pattern was also too small for me, so I made alterations for fitting over the bustle, and also across the bust.

Slicing, spreading, adding, subtracting, pinning, marking, taping

According to my inspiration image, I redrew the hem, and added a small box pleat at center back. Fearing I had precious little wool to complete the bodice, I added in some black velvet elements to my design, and patterned the velvet front of the bodice by creating kindof a weird-shaped princess seam merging the shape of the velvet portion with one of the waist darts.

A scribble with ideas for soutache braid as well

Final alterations were made to the armscye, and sleeves come later.

Second pattern draft with more alterations

I’ve now cut and flat-lined all the bodice pieces, but I don’t have the 20 buttons needed to complete the CF closure, so that’s it for now!


  • Ann

    December 28, 2015 at 11:16 PM

    My grandmother (1885-1985) told us that these skirts were faced with horsehair at the hem, which allowed them to be sponged clean often, as they were always at risk of horse pollution in the street. Woolens were fully cleaned spring and fall in a bucket of kerosene in the back yard, and spot-cleaned between times.

    • Lauren Stowell

      December 28, 2015 at 11:49 PM

      Yup, woven horsehair, very wide, especially in the 1890s and 1900s skirts. Wide horsehair can be hard to find these days, so anything lightweight and stiff will do.

      I think I'll skip the kerosene-soaking though 🙂

  • Gina

    December 29, 2015 at 2:12 AM

    Ooooh…warm looking and delightfully Russian/Victorian! I cannot wait to see the finished ensemble! The color of that wool is quite awesome.

    • Lauren Stowell

      January 1, 2016 at 3:04 AM

      Thank you! I was able to get extra wool for the apron (hooray!) so it'll be a full three piece set. And heavy. But warm!

  • AuntieNan

    January 1, 2016 at 11:49 PM

    Gorgeous, and I love the detailed pattern work out!
    I have a black silk skirt with a horsehair stiffening inside the skirt facing. Dates from 1890, I think. I always wondered why, and now I know!

  • Leiflynn Jeffery

    January 3, 2016 at 1:00 AM

    Lauren, I love your work! Could you show the inside of your skirt please. I would really like to see how the facing looks/is attached to the skirt bottom. Thank you for sharing how you are making the bodice that really helps when I am going to do mine. I totally love the Russian coat it is gorgeous. From Saskatchewan

  • Bianca Esposito

    January 7, 2016 at 6:00 AM

    This ensemble sounds gorgeous! The skirt turned out great, it's very pretty but also very tailored looking, like the military or menswear inspired suits from the time. The velvet princess bodice sounds super dreamy, I can't wait to see it!


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