Monday, August 22, 2016

1860s Victorian Ball Gowns

I live a little over an hour away from Virginia City, Montana, an historic mining town that is now somewhat of a living-history site that holds events throughout the year. The Virginia City Historical Preservation Alliance hosts two Grand Victorian Balls, one in June (set in 1864 before the Civil War ends), and one in August (set in 1865 to celebrate the end of the war). In previous years, only a ball in June was held, and it was always the same weekend as Uprising, my SCA kingdom's biggest event, so I haven't been able to attend before. This year, the June ball was the same weekend as SCA 50 Year, but the August ball was on a weekend I could manage! 


I started planning for the event back in April, knowing that my husband would also attend with me, and that we would both need outfits. In May, my mom expressed interest in coming too, so I had to start planning to make her a gown as well. My plan of attack was to start my undergarments first, then her gown, and then mine- I wanted to make hers first in case I came up with better techniques to try on the second gown, knowing that the likelihood would be that my gown will probably get worn more in the future than hers will.

My planning always starts on Pinterest. I ended up with four Victorian boards (dresses, underpinnings, men's, and bodice details). If I already have a fabric in mind, I make sure I can find similar example of the color and type of fabric in period examples before I use it. I had six yards of light sage green duchess silk satin in my stash that I bought about 7 years ago, planning for an SCA dress. But, after seeing so many extant examples of satin for 1860s gowns, I decided to use it. I also knew I wanted a ton of lace on the gown, as I am drawn to the fluffy, cupcake-looking Victorian gowns.
 An 1856 gown of sage green silk.
A gown of sage green silk satin, trimmed in green velvet, which was my main inspiration for the color/fabric/trim combination.

My first item was to be my corset. I have made a few Elizabethan corsets, but a Victorian corset would be beyond my time limits and, I felt, my sewing ability. Could I have made something usable? Probably, but I hope to continue doing Victorian-era costuming, so I decided to have a custom corset made for me by an Ebay seller in Colorado. I went with the style most commonly seen in the 1860s, with hip and bust gussets, flossing, embroidery, and lace. I picked lavender silk satin for a touch of opulence, plus the garments that go over the corset don't grip on the silk, which makes getting dressed easier.
 My main inspiration corset, held at the FIDM Museum.
 The corset maker did some extra decorative embroidery with the flossing.

The chemise is made from a 50/50 blend of silk and cotton from Dharma Trading. I used a pattern I found online here. I decided to do pintucks on the front and back as I don't like a lot of fabric in my undergarments. The front pintucks go to my bust, the back ones to just above my waist. I found one historic garment that had the long pintucks, but I'm not claiming accuracy- I just wanted it more fitted to not add bulk. I added some eyelet lace along the neckband, with some narrow lace at the edge that shows around the neckline of the gown.

The drawers are white cotton with an eyelet lace edging on the legs and tucks at the bottom. I made them according to the Simplicity Civil War undergarments pattern, and I don't think I'd use that pattern again. It uses a lot of fabric that makes what I call a "Victorian diaper". They are comfy enough but just plain huge. I cut the smallest size (about 4 sizes smaller than my meausrements called for on the sizing, cause it looked huge) and they were still enormous!


The petticoat is cotton organdy, ordered from Puresilks.biz over in India, in a wide width, so I could put in the tucks without piecing any panels. The petticoat is all one piece of organdy, gathered into the waistband. The six tucks lay right around the six bones of the hoop skirt. The eyelet lace is added to the hem for extra prettiness. The petticoat is super lightweight but gives a lot of pouf as it has 4 yards in the skirt.


 Two extant late 1850s tucked petticoats with a broderie anglaise hem.

After I had all the undergarments finished, I started work on the gowns. I used Truly Victorian 442, the evening gown bodice pattern, for both mine and my mom's gowns. I only altered them a smidge, to lower the neckline in front and raise it in back, taking in the waist a bit, plus I made the shoulder straps narrower. Both gowns have light cotton lining, with twill tape holding in boning (tiny zip ties) on the front seams. The corsets provide all the structure; the light bodice boning is to keep the fabric from wrinkling. 

My mom's skirt is two rectangles and two gores, knife pleated to a waist band. Mine is almost 4 yards, all one piece, with rolled pleats onto a waistband. I found the rolled pleats made the satin look the best, plus they gather up a lot of fabric into not a ton of pleats, so I didn't need to do cartridge pleats at the back.
 My mock up is cotton duck cloth, and I sewed a zipper in the back to get the fit just right. Final bodice has hand-done eyelets.
 Before I added sleeves, it looked remarkably modern!
 The sleeves are gathered to the armscye and the larger fashion fabric sleeve is mounted onto a smaller cotton organdy base. They are very poufy and hold their shape. I think it looks like an 80s prom dress without the trimmings! Must be the satin.
 And here is how the bodice looks once its been trimmed. First, several yards of lace, then box-pleated chiffon, then narrow green velvet ribbon onto the chiffon. The cameo pin was a gift from my mother years ago, and looks perfect with the gown. The hem of the skirt has a row of wide lace, plus chiffon, plus the velvet ribbon.

For my mom's gown, she requested all black. My main inspiration images that I sent to her for approval were these gowns, both from 1861. Both are made from black moire (watered) silk and lightly trimmed on the bodices.


 And here is how hers turned out. I deliberately chose not to use black lace on her bodice as I wanted the contrast between our gowns to be significant, and my gown uses a lot of lace. We purchased yardage of a cotton blend moire fabric that is pretty easy to find in a lot of fabric shops- in fact, I have an 18th century anglaise from it in blue and curtains in pink! I found some nice ruffled chiffon trim and layered beaded trim and some ruffled organza with velvet ribbon. We both have three kinds of trim on our bodices. I added a beaded brooch off Ebay to complete the look. Her sleeves also have the organza/velvet trim. I left the skirt untrimmed, like the extant examples. She borrowed my other Victorian corset and a mid-size hoop I had for her undergarments.
 And here are some (not fantastic quality, better to follow) pictures of us at the ball! We purchased nearly all of my husband's outfit, but I made his silk cravat. I bought the white silk gloves for me and my mom, which weren't easy to find in real silk, but they were worth the price as the quality is fantastic, and you feel very fancy in them!







1 comment:

  1. Heeey nice to see you! ;D (Love, your corsetmaker). I'm making a Victorian ball-gown bodice now and was just scouring the internet for anyone who had made them to see what everyone's experience is. Great job, this looks awesome!

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