Historical Costuming: 1840s day dress and bonnet

1840s Day Dress and Bonnet

After what seems like years I’ve finally finished my 1840s costume. I completed the dress months ago but the bonnet languished unfinished until recently.

1840s Day Dress and Bonnet

Underneath all of this, I’m wearing my Victorian undergarments (including four petticoats!), silk stockings and brown leather ballet flats (not exactly period accurate but close enough for now).

Let’s talk about this dress:

1840s Day Dress and Bonnet

The pattern is Laughing Moon Mercantile #114 with some minor adjustments. I made View B but with the flat back of View C. I added velvet ribbon on the sleeves based on some extant dress which I can no longer find online. The sleeves of View B are actually three layers (difficult to see in this print), the uppermost layer is pleated three times, hence three rows of ribbon.

1840s Day Dress and Bonnet

The rose print fabric came from Joann. Is it period accurate? Not exactly, but I have seen red and white cotton extant dresses from the time period.

1840s Day Dress and Bonnet

I also had to sew several more rows of gathers in the center “fan” front at the waist to rein in all that excess fabric. From other reviews I have read, this seems to be a common fix.

1840s Day Dress and Bonnet

Other than that, the dress fit me quite well out of the envelope with the exception of some ripples on the back. Not sure if that is due to my corset or if I simply need to slice off some of the length in the back.

1840s Day Dress and Bonnet

If I were to make this pattern again in View B I would choose a much thinner fabric. The fabric I used was too thick at the armhole seam (this style has very dropped shoulders). With added piping, that seam had 5 layers in it!

1840s Day Dress and Bonnet

The skirt is cartridge pleated. I did this so long ago now, back when I was a beginner at costuming. If I were to do it again, I’d make my pleats smaller and tighter.

1840s Day Dress and Bonnet

The dress closes in back with hooks and eyes so you need help to put it on.

1840s Day Dress and Bonnet

This “coal scuttle” bonnet is what kept me from finishing this costume. It seemed a daunting task to create an entire buckram and wire framed bonnet from scratch but it wasn’t that difficult to sew when I actually sat down to do it. The pattern is Timely Tresses’ Ada Gray mid 1840s bonnet. It’s mostly hand sewn.

1840s Day Dress and Bonnet

The main fabric is ivory silk taffeta from some website I don’t remember now. The ribbon is also from Timely Tresses. The feather and vintage velvet flowers are from Etsy. The body of the bonnet is lined with linen and gathered white lace. The bravolet (the little skirt in back) is lined in net.

1840s Day Dress and Bonnet

The date I was going for with this outfit is 1847 which is right around the time Texas joined the Union. These pics were taken on a short overnight trip to Leakey, Texas on the Frio River in the Texas Hill Country. I might be able to wear this outfit to some kind of Texas history event but for now, it’s just another fun costume to have.

1840s Day Dress and Bonnet

1880s Bustle Dress Costume

1880s Bustle Dress

This might be my most elaborate costume make to date. And I finished it justintime for my event at an art museum where these photos were taken (so ignore the buses and cars in the background).

To summarize, I’m wearing a cotton chemise under this Victorian corset, a steel lobster-tail bustle with ruffled petticoat, an underskirt, overskirt, bodice, bonnet, along with silk stockings and costume lace-up boots.

1880s Bustle Dress

Also, my mother-in-law was kind enough to let me borrow this vintage crochet handbag to house all my anachronistic necessities. Thanks MIL!

That’s quite a lot to talk about so to make this post easier on my I’m going to use the Historical Sew Monthly format for this outfit.

1880s Bustle Dress

The Challenge: After my last outing with the DFW Costumers Guild in November, my friend Susanna thought it would be a good idea to come back again for a Victorian themed event in February. “Sure,” I said, “that would be fun.” Next thing I knew she was ordering patterns and I had a new deadline to sew half a dozen pieces for a brand new costume in a little less than 2 months.

1880s Bustle Dress
(my friend Susanna and I)

Material: For the underlayers: cotton muslin. For the dress: gray with orange pinstripe wool – I thought it was wool but it’s actually a rayon poly blend and it’s too late now to fix it, silk velvet for the trim, cotton muslin for lining. For the bonnet: buckram and wire, leftover blue silk from my Regency bonnet, silk velvet, poly satin ribbon.

1880s Bustle Dress

Pattern:  Truly Victorian everything: bustle, petticoat, underskirt, overskirt, bodice. And a Lynn McMaster’s pattern for the bonnet.

However, I heavily altered my bodice to resemble this extant dress by shortening the hem, narrowing the sleeves, and creating a buttoned vest effect in front and changing the lapels. The skirts are mostly just like the patterns except I added big velvet chunks on one side of the underskirt mimicking the extant gown.

1880s Bustle Dress

Year: about 1888.

Notions: metal buttons, feathers for the bonnet, steel boning for the dress and the bustle.

My inspiration dress had gigantic buttons on it. These bronze buttons were the closest thing I could find that would match the style although they aren’t as large.

1880s Bustle Dress

How historically accurate is it? Well, the materials aren’t entirely accurate but I did so much hand sewing on this thing: buttonholes! Hooks and eyes! All that velvet!

I give it 3 out of 5 Typhoid Fevers…

Hours to complete: All of them. All the hours. Ok, really, I worked on this whole get-up for around a couple hours every day for three weeks. Nearing the end, I was feeling burnt out and my interiors look quite sloppy. I wanted to be finished with this monster.

First worn: Last week at the Caillebotte exhibit at the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, TX with the DFW Costumers Guild.

Total cost: Ugh, the not-actually-wool alone cost about $100. Velvet was $32… all together this thing was at least $250. Le sigh. I can’t complain. I did decide on my own to pursue this hobby…

The only thing I don’t like about this dress is that the white lining peeks out from behind the vest panel and inside the sleeves. I didn’t think about that possibility as I was sewing, I should have used the self-fabric instead. Oh, and I should really redraft the collar because it didn’t quite work out the way I had envisioned and on the day of the event I had to sew it closed. While wearing it. Can you imagine a needle that close to your neck!?

1880s Bustle Dress

Even though I am incredibly proud of myself for completing this costume I am quite happy to be done with it. I’m ready for a few months of normal, modern garment sewing. I miss finishing a project in a day!

Mid-Victorian underthings

Early Victorian Undies

Warning: this post is long. I’m sharing six (!!!) pieces I’ve made. All for costumes.

I’m working on several historical costumes right now but this group of garments is for my 1840s costume.

Early Victorian Undies

Some of these items are more 1860s/Civil War era, others much earlier, but they can still be used for the 1840s.

Early Victorian Undies

Let’s start from the innermost layer and work our way out…

Chemise:
Victorian Chemise and Corset

Made of white muslin, the chemise was like a big oversized 18th century t-shirt. It keeps sweat from getting on your corset (which cannot be as easily washed). Women would have had a bunch of these in their wardrobes, way more than dresses themselves.

I used Simplicity 2890. Had to remind myself that Big 4 costume patterns like to double down on the ease factor. Originally it was way too big at the shoulders so I cut a size smaller yoke pieces and re-sewed it.

In this era women would also wear “drawers” which are like big, poofy , open crotched bloomers, however I haven’t made any yet.

Corset:
Victorian Chemise and Corset

Made with plain white coutil and steel boning. The Silverado version of Laughing Moon Merchantile’s #100 pattern, which is the longer style with the bust gussets. Only, not knowing how to properly pick size, the bust ended up too big and I had to hand sew the gussets smaller. If only I had seen this adjusted size chart earlier.

Victorian Chemise and Corset

It’s not the best, but it’ll do for now. It’s still decorated for my Elizabeth Comstock cosplay.

Bum Roll:

Victorian Roll

I used random cotton stash fabric and 1″ wide cotton twill tape. Originally from Simplicity 3727 but it ended up HUGE. Like, obnoxiously big, so I made it about half the size by cutting out the whole back seam and sewing it up again.

Victorian Roll

Much better. With all the petticoats and the final dress weighing it down it does actually look pretty nice.

Corded petticoat:

Corded Petticoat

White muslin and yards and yards of 1/6″ cotton cording. This was a common item in the days before metal cage hoop skirts. Rows of cording plus lots of starch helped the skirt stand away from the body, accentuating the bell shape that was popular at the time.

I based the petticoat on a bunch of extant examples found online and modern versions made by costumers. Originally I used the width of two lengths of fabric (90″) but that made the skirt so wide that it would fold in on itself. I lopped off about 10″ of width to compensate.

Corded Petticoat

I sewed a total of 40 rows of cording in 5 row groups spaced about 2″ apart. I would have done more but frankly I was sick of it and gave up. I then pleated the fabric into a waistband made of twill tape with a side opening.

Middle Petticoat:

Hand sewn petticoat

White muslin, 1″ wide cotton twill tape, all hand sewn! Yep, that’s right. I sewed this entire petticoat by hand! So accurate! BASK IN MY ACCURACY!!!1!

This is technically an 18th century style petticoat which is fine, because it works well in several eras.

I followed this basic tutorial. It’s 36″ long because I used 36″ wide fabric and put it lengthwise around me.

It’s basically two pieces, seamed partially up the sides, hemmed at the bottom, and pleated to two separate lengths of twill tape ties. The twill tape folds over the raw edge, encasing it like a binding. You end up tying it on kind of like an apron.

Hand sewn petticoat

The box pleat in front keeps it nice and flat at the waist and the knife pleats go all away around to the back.

Outer petticoat:

Early Victorian Undies

And the final petticoat! White muslin, two hooks and eyes. This petticoat is huge! It’s from Butterick 5831 but the original pattern called for an 8″ wide eyelet trim. Ha! Like I could find 8″ wide trim, and even if I did those things are like $20 a yard.

Early Victorian Undies

So instead I went with a long gathered strip of fabric. But I had a hard time getting the gathers spaced evenly on such a long line (this skirt is like, 5 yards wide) that eventually I thought “You know, maybe pleats would be easier?”

They were not. But at that point I was committed. Committed to 15 freaking yards of pleated fabric. Yet it is complete so I am happy now.

Early Victorian Undies

All together it forms the basis of the early Victorian era silhouette – slopes shoulders, nipped in waist, and big wide bell-shaped skirts with some emphasis in the back.

I even tried to do my hair in the standard – middle part, pressed down over the ears style but my hair isn’t long enough to stay in place.

And after all this work to look “accurate” for these pics, I completely forgot about my bright blue toenails. Oh, well, can’t fix it now.

All I need at this point is to finish my bonnet and hem my dress and I’ll be ready to show off my full outfit.

Full Regency Era Costume

Regency Costume

At last I have taken proper pictures of this costume!

Regency Costume

I’m wearing my Regency underthings along with a bodiced petticoat (which is exactly what it sounds like – a petticoat with a sleeveless bodice attached to it).

Regency Costume

The Dress first: Some soft blue cotton I bought locally at a store that no longer exists :(

If you’ve read my previous post on sewing Regency you’ll know that I’ve had such a hard time with Big 4 company costume designs. For this go around I went with Laughing Moon #126. I knew I wanted to be able to dress myself so I chose the “apron front” or “bib front” gown design.

Regency Costume

The way it works is pretty neat – the dress has two long slits down the front sides and this is attached to the gathered rectangle portion of the bodice. You put the dress on, then pull up the front of the dress, tie it around in the back (like you would an apron) and pin (yes pin, with little straight pins) the gathered bodice to the shoulder area of the dress (kind of like you would with a pin on apron.

No, you don’t get stabbed by the pins. You’ve got lots of extra layers underneath the dress. And you can barely see the pins once they’re attached.

Regency Costume

This style was only popular from around the late 1790s to 1810 but I like it much better than the back buttoning dresses (those are difficult for me to put on alone).

Regency Costume

Some cool features of this pattern which I liked and felt were more authentic than the Big 4 patterns I used – extra long sleeves that cover half your hands, a back bodice seam that raises up higher than the front, sleeve caps that extend far in on the back shoulders, a ton of back pleats, and a nicely curved and wide front neckline. All of these details are accurate to the time period.

I made a straight size 12 and it fit perfectly right out of the envelope (I seriously love this company, they’re now my go-to for all historical patterns).

Regency Costume

Prior patterns I’ve used ended up looking too frumpy or too juvenile but this pattern looks elegant even though it’s only a day dress and nothing fancy.

The only thing I changed was making the neckline lower by about 2 inches.

Unfortunately my bodiced petticoat’s neckline isn’t as wide as the dress’ but that’s ok because the open neck area was usually covered by a chemisette/tucker (like a 19th century dickie) or a fichu (a square of fabric wrapped around and tucked into the dress, kind of a fashion leftover from the late 18th century) which is was this is. It’s just an unhemmed piece of chiffon.

Regency Costume

The bonnet I’m quite proud of. It’s the Lucia pattern and kit from Timely Tresses. I chose this “jockey” style because I’d never made a hat before and wanted to start simple. The big gold feather came from them, too.

The ribbon is just some satin poly. I bought it and the fancy velvet trim at Joann.

The fabric is some silk crepe de chine which I’m not entirely sure is accurate to the time but I liked the color and it made for a nice, lightweight bonnet. The lining is handkerchief weight linen.

For my first try at a bonnet it went pretty well. The only thing I didn’t like was that it seemed that the last section of “poof” in the back of the bonnet was way poofier than other areas. Maybe I messed something up, I don’t know. So in the end I tacked some portions down in back to reel in the poof.

I also got a tiny 1/2″ barrel curling iron to curl my bangs and hair around my face. However the humidity made my curls all go flat after only about 5 minutes. Oh, well.

The curly style was quite popular at the time. Here’s a good Pinterest board with tons of portrait examples.

Regency Costume

And finally, I bought some ivory flocked silk stockings from this site and some ballet flats that I decorated with ribbon (inspired by this extant pair) to complete the look.

Regency CostumeI have these and a bunch of extra photos in my flickr costumes album if you want to see more or see anything up close.