1833 Plaid Dickens Dress - Progress!

Dec 4, 2018 10 comments
Abby and I think these gowns look rather like 1950s evening gowns before the sleeves go on and ruin everything!
More 1830s goodness! All the other Gigot Girl Gang members were working diligently on their ensembles while I was in Europe. By the time I got back, the design was all marinated in my brainbox and ready for the grill, so I jumped right in!

The top of the skirt is turned over, then stroke gathered (cartridge pleated) and whipped to the waistband.

Yummy finished stroke gathers of the skirt. With more experience, next time I'll just whip the skirt to the bottom edge of the bodice waistband instead. I did it this way because the original late '20s dress we have has a separate waistband.
I wanted a front-closing surplice bodice. Workwoman's Guide describes this type of bodice for older women (lol), used with a drop-front skirt. Initially I thought I could keep the skirt and bodice separate, so I whipped the stroked gathers of the skirt to two waistbands, 18th century style.

First bodice toile - looking alright, but I straightened out the neckline at top for the second version.
Bodice fitting was a bit tricky. I did a few toiles (me? toiles...inconceivable!), and fit these tricky darts on my own body. The darts are rather extreme, but the nice thing is that darts in this period could be fit from the outside, then just top-stitched down. Abby's original late 1820s gown has darts sewn this way, which really does make it easy to fit each side of the body specifically. So that's what I did too.

Wacky pattern! Look at that mega dart! We've discovered that grain lines are *very* important for these bodices.

First fitting! Not bad!
With bodice fitted and trying the whole thing on over all the underpinnings and skirt, I applied the waistband, just a straight-cut strip about 2 inches wide. I quickly found that the skirt was not going to stay put under the bodice, so I stitched it all together, leaving a sortof overlap placket zig-zag opening thing with a series of hooks and bars to keep everything in place.

This seems to be the dress of doing-everything-twice. It's a new period for me, and I haven't sewn really anything other than 18th c. in such a long time that I did a lot of stupid things. For example, I knew I ought to face the hem...then didn't...then had to go back and do it after the fact, eegads! I also made the waistband ever so slightly too wide so I got to go back and turn it under another 1/8" in the round...fun! Did sleeves twice. Did skirt panel twice. Did darts twice, lol! (oh dear!)

11 inches of organdy facing the hem. You see hem facings in original gowns and noticeably drawn in fashion illustrations from the period. Because the skirts were held aloft by starched petticoats, etc., my theory is that the skirts of gowns needed to be stiffened as well, but couldn't be starched (starched silk? no...), so stiff fabrics were employed to keep the hems from collapsing below the bottom of the underpetticoats.
Little by little the gown has come together. The polished cotton lining has been a great structural lining fabric for the bodice and waistband. The skirt is unlined except for the stiff organdy facing. Next...onto the sleeves.

Sleeves are a whole post of their own (and a video coming soon too), so we'll cover those next 'cuz they're CRAZY!....stay tuned!


  1. It looks stunning and you don't even have the sleeves on yet! Can't wait to see the finished dress.

    1. thank you! the sleeves are like WHOA - can't wait to share about them!

  2. This plaid is just the coolest, sexiest (no, I'm serious) choice! Is it silk? Looks great! An interesting thing I found this summer doing a crossover surplice front is the necessity of a straight of grain so the edges there don't bow out. I see from the bold plaid you are almost on the straight of grain, which is good. (I was doing 1630s). Love that you are note taking all along as you go and reporting to us. The hem facing after the fact is something I def would have done!! Can't WAIT to see sleeves!

    1. Thanks! Yes, the front edges are mostly on the straight - I curved it out at the neck. This area is also stay stitched and piped so it doesn't stretch. I'm glad you're enjoying the posts!

  3. This is super interesting, thanks for sharing!

    Could you explain the darts a little further? I'm still relatively new to sewing and am familiar with the concept of darts, but I'm not sure what it means that they would be constructed from the outside and topstitched down. Do you mean you'd pinch away the excess fabric, and then simply stitch it down and cut away the excess? or do it with the raw edges folded under?

    1. I think it means that instead of the dart fabric being "pushed" in towards the inside of the bodice, they will be "pulled" out and folded to the side, then topstitched in place. I think!

      Manchester, UK

    2. That's how I picture it, I'm just wondering what happens to the excess fabric. Is it it just left attached? I could imagine that for patterned fabrics that could look quite unsightly, since the pattern would go differently from its surroundings.

    3. That's what I meant by "folded to the side". As long as the fabric isn't too thick it could work well. One benefit I see if this is the case is the ease of resizing. Any unsightliness would depend on the type and size of the pattern as well as how busy the print is, I think. It would be obvious on a large, sparse-ish print, but not so much with a small, busy print. I think stripes and plaids would be quite striking.

    4. So in modern sewing, you fit the darts with the garment inside out. The "triangle" of fabric is left on the inside and is usually pressed to one side or the other.

      In this time period, the darts were fit exactly the same way but with the garment on the body, right-side-out. You are left with a triangle of fabric, folded over to one side or the other, and top-stitched down.

      If you take a look at this post you can see the darts on this original gown sewn this way (there are a few photos of both the inside and outside) - http://blog.americanduchess.com/2017/04/1820s-green-dress-construction-details.html

  4. Outstanding gown and construction. May I ask what type of fabric the main body of the gown is sewn from?


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