Wednesday, August 28, 2013

1912-1913 Purple Cotton Summer Day Dress

It all started with a few metres of purple cotton that had been sitting in my sewing pile for over two years. I was in the process of beading my 1920s flapper dress and needed a break from hand beading so I decided to create something else.

At the time (now a few months ago) I had been watching a lot of Downton Abbey, in fact I'm pretty sure I watched three seasons in 2 weeks.... :/ Anyway, when looking at the purple material and trying to work out what to do with it my mind went straight to this purple dress worn by Lady Sybil in season one.

Looking at Sybil's purple dress I think it's made with a cotton sateen, a silk blend or something similar, definitely not the daggy cheap, plain cotton like I have! However I wanted to make more of an 'everyday' person's dress, so cotton would work just fine.

I also drew further inspiration from other fashion plates from the era:

1912 Summer Dresses

1912 ?

Summer 1913

I also looked at extant examples:

Dress is from Steel Magnolias Vintage Clothing found here

And photographs:
Joseph Laroche and Juliette Lafargue in 1912 taken before they boarded the Titanic. Unfortunately Joseph didn't survive.
Paris around 1910
I drafted this pattern from scratch using the bodice of an 1880s gown and a 1912 evening gown as guides, as at this point I had no idea how to make patterns and I didn't have a dress form to drape. I also used the trained skirt from a 1912 evening gown to help draft this one. I was originally going to do the dress up from the back (like the one in Downton Abbey) but then I realised a) it was too hard to do fittings on a back fastening dress when you don't have a dress makers mannequin and have to try it on yourself, and b) who the hell would I get to do it up for me?

As a result the dress has a seam up the centre back which wouldn't be there if the pattern was spot on historically accurate.

The sailor collar that was very typical of day dresses from this era is made from white cotton sateen. 

Doing the initial fitting for the collar using scrap fabric

Like the dress that Lady Sybil wears I wanted a white panel down the front of the dress which I made from the same material as the collar. Rather than sewing this with white cotton I decided to use the same purple from the dress to add a bit of decorative detail. 


Initial fitting 
I had a few issues with fitting the bodice and the neckline as it didn't quite sit right but after a bit of fiddling with seams I got it to a place that I was happy with. However because of these fit issues the sailor collar doesn't sit as flat at the seam as I would have liked it to. So I may have to go back and reattached the collar at some point.

After the bodice fitting issues were sorted the rest of the dress went together like a dream. White cuffs were added to the sleeves and buttons were added all over the dress for decorative effect. The dress fastens with hooks and eyes that run all the way down the front seam to mid-thigh, making it quite easy to get in and out of.

Here are pictures of the finished dress on the dress form:

And here are some photos of me wearing it, thanks to my sister Jane for taking them!

My version and the inspiration
Of course to get the correct period silhouette you need the correct underpinnings. The dress was worn over my Edwardian combination underwear and my nearly complete 1910-1914 corset (I say nearly complete because at this point it doesn't have garters).

We decided to try and find some Edwardian buildings in my home town in rural New South Wales. The town was a mining town that was a tent settlement in the 1880s until the Edwardian era when permanent buildings were erected. So a lot of the main buildings in town are Edwardian or teens era but I wasn't quite ready to walk down a busy street in the dress, so the old mine was the next best option.

Being cotton, this dress is typical of what a middle class / working class person would have worn in my home town during the teen era so I felt the setting was rather fitting! The hat I made using a cheap $10 one I bought off eBay, some left over material and material flowers I bought from a two dollar shop. 

The shoes are actually a pair of leather ankle books I wear all the time during winter but they are very Edwardian looking which is partly the reason that I bought them.

The above photo reminds me of this one which poked fun at the hobble skirt fashion in the early teen era:

Although not a hobble skirt it wasn't exactly the easiest dress to take big strides in!

Fabric:  4 metres of plain purple cotton, 0.5 metre of white cotton sateen
Pattern: Self drafted with the help of 1880s bodice and 1912 evening dress
Year: Based on other examples in fashion plates, photographs and extant examples, it's around 1912-1913.
Notions: Purple thread, self-covering buttons, hooks and eyes.
How historically accurate is it? Fabric, design and silhouette is accurate. Construction and seam lines I have taken liberties with. 80%.
Hours to complete: Not quite sure! Basic dress probably 5-10 hours, all the notions which had to be hand sewn probably at least another 5.
First worn: When taking photos for this blog post!
Total cost: The purple cotton was from my stash but probably was $20 when I bought it, cotton sateen $5, buttons and hooks and eyes probably around $15. Total $40-50.


  1. How adorable! Downton Abbey has some of the best costumes. You matched the purple perfectly on yours. :)


  2. SO much fun to see your great period dress and wonderful local pictures. Bravo to you!

  3. This dress is so very wonderful!! Love it and the pictures!


  4. you are sooo talented and u look really lovely in that dress bravo! Thanks for sharing this adventure in sewing,, i love 1912 fashion myself ;)

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