1860s-ish Day Dress

Dateline: June 2009

One of my dad’s friends is a big fan of the movie Gettysburg, and said friend was finally getting the chance to go to Pennsylvania and visit the National Military Park.  Since we’ve been there before, my dad offered to be chauffeur and companion while there.  My dad asked me if I wanted to come along, and of course I said yes.  This was about eight or nine days before we would be scheduled to start driving down there.

Being uncannily drawn by looming deadlines, I decided to see if I could make some sort of dress to wear for some pictures in the authentic-type scenery.  I’m still not quite sure how I pulled it off, but I managed to come up with something decent in about a week, only four days of which was actual working time on the costume.  Actually, that likely has something to do with the fact that I already had serviceable underpinnings in the form of a corset and cage crinoline I had made for previous projects.

“Unknown Lady at the Angle.”  Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. c.1863

The dress was challenging in a good way.  I decided not to work from a pattern, and researched era photographs online to check for seam placement and such.   So, this was my first time for something scarily Victorian-fitted that I was essentially going into blind (say what you may about the big three pattern companies, usually dealing with their historical section gives you a headstart on what shapes you need).

Although you can’t tell from that picture up above, I decided to indulge in some good old-fashioned eye-blinding color coordination that the people of the era could be so fond of.  The background of the fabric is sort of a cross between mint green and a grayish light blue, and that is printed with little orange-y pink flowers.  The piping present at the cuffs, collar, and armscye, as well as some simple bias tape trim near the bottom of the skirt, both match the brightest hue present in the flower print.

The bodice went together about as smoothly as could be expected considering I was working on this by myself.  I decided not to hassle too much with the skirt, and made full-width panels that pleated down to the bodice waist (which I need to fix, because I dropped one of the pleats during sewing, and had to compensate by moving another one, and also the fact that the waistline is not straight).  The sleeves I sort of guessed at, gathered, and set in.

Then I stopped working for three whole days.

The rest of the work (cuffs, opening) didn’t actually manage to get done until we were in the car driving towards Pennsylvania.  Which, yes, worked well in the long run, but was kind of obnoxious at the time.  Part of the reason for the delay was the fact that I couldn’t find hook and eye tape anywhere locally, and there wasn’t enough time to order it online.  Part of it was essentially laziness on my part.

I did cheat a little bit.  Since I couldn’t get hook and eye tape, the front of the dress snaps up, with non functional buttons sewn to the overlap (which should become real buttons whenever I find the time to redo parts of this dress).  I kinda forgot to put buttons and plackets on the cuffs, so getting into the dress and making sure the undersleeves show is… tricky.

And, I’m really tired for some unfathomable reason, so I think I might end it there for tonight.  More pictures, and notes regarding the actual wearing of the dress, will be forthcoming sometime in the next few days.