Sunday, April 28, 2013

1910s Evening Gown: Mood Board

After seeing a beautiful Edwardian gown ca. 1910 the other during my work with the Powerhouse Museum I’ve decided to make one myself - depending on how I go I might even make two, an evening gown and a tea dress.
Below are a few photos that have sparked my interest. I might buy a basic pattern and alter it to fit what I want. I’ll have to start sketching a few designs over the next few days…


I love this sketch by Deborah Lynn Scott from Titanic. This dress is worn by Rose’s mother Ruth. I love the colours and the design.

Another picture is of the actress who played Madeleine Astor, again she is wearing similar colours.

I quite like the idea of a gold/cream coloured base with sheer black lace, point d’esprit or sheer beaded fabric over the top.

I went to Lincraft during my lunch break today and had a look. I found this beautiful creamy-gold satin fabric and some black lace. I thought the combination looked lovely together:


I love the design of Rose’s ‘jump’ dress from Titanic. The layers of beaded and sheer fabric over the top of the red under material is divine.

This dress from the V&A collection is also divine, and the love the draping of the skirt.

I also really like the design of this dress from Janet Arnold’s patterns of fashion, although there’s not enough going on at the front for me…

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Hidden Treasures of the Australian Dress Register

At the moment I currently volunteer in the curatorial department of the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney (which is Sydney’s equivalent of the V&A in London or the MET in New York).
As part of my role there I work on the Australian Dress Register which is an online project that aims to catalogue and research dress in Australian pre-1945 (mainly from regional museums, galleries and private collections that would otherwise have no way to make their artefacts available online).
Over the last couple of days we did two workshops in regional NSW, aimed at looking at their collections and giving them information on how to properly store and conserve their textiles.
Going to these workshops (one with a historical society and other with a regional museum) was like entering a gold mine - all of a sudden Victorian, Edwardian and flapper dresses were coming out of closets left, right and centre!
Here are some pictures of some of the gems we got to see:

Charleston style flapper dress from the 1920s

The Jacket from what I dated to be an Edwardian coat suit due to my general knowledge of the period and the full length skirt that accompanied the jacket. 

It's interesting to note that looking closer at this jacket, the underarms had special flaps of fabric that almost acted as sweat catchers. You could even see old stains from sweat marks on them and the store in which the coat was purchased in England.

A beautiful black lace Edwardian dress, probably ca. 1910-1915.

A wedding dress from 1889 made of cream silk satin and lace.

An orthopedic corset from the early 20th century (probably 1920-1940)

Monday, April 15, 2013

1880s Victorian Bustle Gown

After my cousin’s grandmother passed away I was given reams of old sewing material that she had owned. I was given this beautiful vintage material (from the 60s I think), that although one side had a quite obvious paisley pattern, on the inverse side (the one which I used) was a beautiful burgundy colour with just a slight hint of paisley. I had been wanting to make a Victorian gown for a while and thought the colour of this material would make an amazing gothic style Victorian gown.

My inspiration for the dress was Irene Adler’s pink gown from the recent ‘Sherlock Holmes’ films. I love the shape of the skirt and the shape of the collar on the bodice - I didn’t want something that button up high under my chin like most 19th century gowns.

I also loved the general shape and style of Winona Ryder’s gown from the 1992 film Dracula.

After searching multiple websites for late 1800s patterns, which is actually a bit of a challenge due to the fact that most mainstream 19th century patterns out there are all mid 19th century (probably due to all the Dickens/Civil War reenactments that are out there), I eventually stumbled across ‘Truly Victorian’. This website is great as it takes old patterns and fashion templates from the 19th century that are redrafted and drawn with traditional seam lines to fit the modern body.

It also has a huge selection of patterns, ranging from 1830-1910. I eventually settled on these two patterns from their ‘Late Bustle 1883-1889’ category: TV261-R 1885 Four Gore Underskirt and TV463 1884 French Vest Bodice.

I started with the skirt first and it didn’t really take me very long at all to finish. I’m pretty sure I finished it within a couple of days. The hardest part about the skirt was probably getting the bustle to sit just the way I wanted it to - it involved a lot of tulle netting underneath to get the volume and then manipulating the fabric and sewing it to layers of ribbon to get it just the way I wanted it.

This is a shot of the skirt before all the bustle had been sewn into place.

 Next I moved onto the bodice which, like my 18th century gown, was very involved.

The key to any historical look is the undergarments.  I decided not to bone the bodice (although they probably would have lightly in the past) as I knew after I’d cut it that it was already going to be extremely tight, and as I was wearing a Victorian-style corset underneath. This is the corset that I chose to wear underneath it:

As you can see it was just a cheap one bought from ebay. Even though it was obviously not a heavily boned as an historical corset would be it still gave my garments and my body that very rigid structure as you will later see.

The bodice requires multiple layers of material and can be a little tricky to assemble, especially the style of sleeves with the puffiness at the top. The ‘tail’ of the bodice (which blends into the bustle) is also a little confusing to work out. I’m not sure if I ended up doing it exactly as the instructions called for but it still worked.

I decided to get the buttons holes done by a tailor at my local alterations shop as I was terrified that I would so something wrong or the holes would just look a mess. I then sewed on the buttons by hand. I also altered the collar of the bodice. I wasn’t that happy about the way it turned out - I accidently cut off a bit too much material whilst altering it so it doesn’t quite look the way I wanted it to.

Anyway this is how the gown turned out:

And this is me wearing it to a party. Funnily enough our house was actually built in the mid 1880s, so my costume is very contemporary to the surrounds!

1930s Evening Gown

In 2011 I had an upcoming formal event for university and I didn’t really want to spend a lot of money or wear one of the dresses I already owned. I love, love, love the evening dresses from the 1930s - the sleek lines, flowing fabrics and figure hugging silhouettes are so flattering and I really wanted to have a dress like that for my upcoming event.

After falling in love with the green dress that Keira Knightly wears in Atonement, but being unable to find any patterns that didn’t require huge alterations to make a replica I decided to go with something else.

I loved the deep red colour of the 1930s inspired dress that Keira Knightly wore in her Coco Mademoiselle commercial for Chanel, as well as the cut of the back.

As well as the dress on the left in this picture from the 1930s:

So drawing inspiration from those examples I found this pattern on the Vintage Pattern Lending Library. If you haven’t been to this site yet it truly is a gem. All of its patterns are reproductions of original patterns from the 1840s-1950s. On the website the pattern is described as “1930 Evening Gown With Deep Back For Petite Woman”.

All in all I found this pattern pretty easy to use even with the original instructions from the 1930s. The only real problems I had with it were working with stretch satin, as I’d never used it before (I found a great tip about sewing the seams using baking paper as a backing to stop the material from pulling which worked wonders), and the V insets of the skirt as again I’d never done those before and the pieces can be quite hard to fit together! Here is a back view from my first fitting:

 All together the gown took me about 2 days to make (as usual I left it until the last minute!). I love the way the dress worked out. Apart from a bit of puckering at some of the seams due to the stretch satin, it looks really good. I’ve worn it on a number of occasions and the best thing about this dress is that if you pull it up to below the knee/mid calf and fasten it with a brooch it looks like a 1920s flapper dress.

Here are some photos of the finished product:

When I wore it for the first time in 2011:

And when I wore it recently in 2013!


I finished off the art deco look by styling it with my antique 1930s green glass and marcasite ring:

White and Floral 18th Century 'Marie Antoinette' Gown

This was the second ever costume that I made. Whilst I can say that I really do love it and I’m so proud of all the work that went into it considering how little sewing experience I had at the time, it is not historically accurate AT ALL in construction.

Since making this gown clothing of the early modern period (1500-1800) has become a somewhat of a specialty of mine in my academic work, and compared to the gowns that I have since studied and those which I come into contact with weekly during my volunteering with the fashion and textile department at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, this is, well, disappointing.

The whole reason for this is probably because I chose to work from the Simplicity pattern # 4092. I think the pattern was released when Pirates of the Caribbean came out, as the image on the front suggests that it’s for an Elizabeth Swan Costume.

By appearance the design of the dress is supposed to be Robe à la Française without the traditional watteau pleating at the back, and the separate stomacher in the front. The gown fastens with lacing up the back - something which none of these gowns ever did in the past (they always were put on like a jacket and attached to the stomacher in the front, which was in turn attached to the stays/corset underneath).

With all that said, once you get over the historical inaccuracies this is actually quite a nice dress for anyone who wants to easily make an 18th century-looking costume.

In terms of the colour palette, I wanted this to be a day dress, so I opted to use a white/cream cotton material with a floral print. I look inspiration from some of the garden dresses that are worn in the film Marie Antoinette shown below.

After searching around for materials I actually decided to use some old bed sheets that my mother had sitting in our linen cupboard at home. It saved my wallet a lot of money and makes for an interesting story when I wear the costume! The plus with using old bed sheets was that because they had already been used multiple times the cotton was nice and soft. The downside was that I only just had enough material and working our how to cut the fabric without wasting heaps of it was like doing a jigsaw puzzle!

Although this pattern isn’t very historically accurate it is still quite involved, mainly because the bodice of the dress has to be boned. Whilst ladies in the 18th century worn separate undergarments called ‘stays’ which were heavily boned and gave the body that 18th century conical shape this pattern does not call for that. Although this does have boning, it is still not quite rigid enough to really achieve that look, but its good enough.

I think the bodice took me a few weeks on and off to make. I’m pretty sure I did it in my mid-semester break at university which is 4 weeks so I probably took me about that long due to all the boning and trimmings that were required.

For the lace on the sleeves I again raided my mother’s cupboard and found some lace that had been left over from a bridemaid’s dress that she had made for her in the early 80s. I think she said the lace was quite expensive French or Belgium lace… any who I thought it would look great and she let me use it which was awesome.

The patterned over skirt was relatively easy to attach to the bodice, however you really have to be careful with all the pleating that is required at the seam of attachment - be careful to make sure it’s even!

The underskirt is actually really easy to make and really effective - I’ve made another one for an Elizabeth Swan / 18th century peasant Halloween costume that I quickly constructed for a party and has been worn by my friend’s a few times. It only takes about a day to make, and this underskirt it actually relatively historically accurate.

I never got around to making the pannier hoops that are included in this pattern even though the dress really does require them. However when I make my next 18th century gown I may use them to see how it goes.

Here are some pictures of the finished product


I have since made 1760s-1780s Paniers to put underneath the gown which you can see fills it out a bit and makes it look more period accurate:

If you want to make something really historically accurate to the eighteenth century (which I hope to get around to one day) you really need to a) construct the correct undergarments, and b) find an historical pattern.

The best patterns and guides for this I think are:

  • Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion v. 1 - if you have no experience in pattern making this could be quite hard to use, however if you have a basic pattern to work off, looking at Arnold’s sketches and pattern details of historical gowns that she has studied in detail can help you to alter what you are working with to make it more historically accurate.
  • I’ve read some reviews for Simplicity’s 18th century undergarments (#3635) and the consensus is that they are actually pretty good. I think they are out of print now but you can always find heaps of eBay.
  • Reconstructing History has some good 18th century patterns
  • As does Recollections of JP Ryan (these are probably the patterns that I will eventually work from)