Well, the San Francisco Dickens Festival was on the horizon, and I wanted a couple of new ensembles to wear! I was leaning towards an 1850 era gown, as well as an 1870 era gown, but not only that, I wanted them both to be Christmas colors! I will break these down into two different posts, one for each gown.
This post will focus on my 1870 ensemble. I pulled a couple patterns from the stash: Truly Victorian TV208 1870 Trained Skirt (view B) and Butterick 6694 (view B) for the bodice with modifications.
The invention of the first cameras, which only photographed in Black & White with shades of grey, lots of folks over the years arrived at an incorrect impression that Victorians were kind of dark and stodgy. However, the opposite was very much the truth! With the internet we are now able to view vintage gowns and ensembles from all over the world, and Victorians loved color, vibrancy, and fashion as much as we do today! During the 1840s there was a trend of "Mad for Plaid". Here is a little bit of history:
The word “Tartan” is often called “Plaid” in North America, but in
, a plaid is a tartan cloth
slung over the shoulder as a kilt accessory, or a plain ordinary blanket, such
as you might have on your bed. The word
“Plaid” is believed to have come from the Scottish Gaelic word “Plaide”, which
means “blanket”. (Thank you, Wikipedia!) Scotland
There was a resurgence of Plaid Popularity when Queen Victorian and
purchased Balmoral in
1848. Prince Albert
“Twenty years after her uncle's visit to
Scotland, Queen Victoria and
her husband Prince Albert made their first trip to the Scottish Highlands. The
Queen and prince bought Balmoral Castle in
1848 and hired a local architect to re-model the estate in "Scots Baronial" style. personally took care of the interior design,
where he made great use of tartan. He utilized the red Royal Stewart and the green Hunting Stewart tartans for carpets, while using the Dress Stewart for curtains and upholstery. The Queen
designed the Prince
Albert tartan, and Prince Albert the Balmoral, still used as a royal
tartan today. (Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tartan)” Victoria
The actual Merriam-Webster dictionary describes plaid as: A pattern on cloth of stripes with different widths that cross each other to form squares.
So, with all this new found knowledge, I felt very comfortable in deciding on a plaid fabric, but could I take it to the next level and make it a Christmas Plaid in reds and greens? In searching around on the internet, I found a lot of Victorian Christmas Plaid gowns, and here is just a small sampling:
These are all extant items, but I could not figure out how to add the actual links for each one. I love the plaid boots and I would absolutely wear those today! So, Christmas plaid was certainly a fabric option!
After perusing the internet for several days, I finally decided on a quilting fabric called "Christmas in the Ozarks". This printed plaid is 100% cotton, and a wonderful drape, and uses true-reds, emerald greens, and a subtle gold accent. It was perfect! Once the fabric was selected, I was on to the pattern!
The TV 208 pattern calls for 6 2/3 yards of fabric, but it feels like a lot more than that. I did have one issue with the pattern. It breaks the instructions down into the two skirt designs with instructions for each. No where that I could find in Skirt B instructions, nor any markings on the side skirt pattern piece, does it address the issue of pleating the side seams of the skirt sides. It talks about side pleating on the apron with clearly indicated markings on the pattern piece, but not the back side pieces. I figured it out when I sewed the two pieces together and ended up with a twelve inch gap of extra fabric on the skirt side back pieces, ripped it all out, put in three big horizontal pleats to match-up with the ones on the apron, and viola – everything matched up.
But, that was not the end of the challenges with this skirt, oh no far, far, far from it! Next challenge to hit was that I was running out of fabric! I had wanted to place 10” pleated ruffles, two rows, all around the bottom of the skirt. However, with only four yards of fabric left, I had to make some quick calculations. One yard of 45” width will easily yield six yards of 7” wide strips for ruffles and pleats. I used just over two yards for pleating on the apron edge, and another yard of pleating for the sleeves. From there it was miles of ruffles all around the hem.
Now, we are into the next challenge, while running my ruffler foot, I think it broke my sewing machine! I shall not entertain you with paragraphs of the horror of this accident, suffice it to say that there was metal on metal where no metal should be. So, that left the entire back hem of the skirt without a ruffle! It looked awful, it looked unfinished, it was not what I wanted it to be after all this work. I had some hard options to decide on at that point. Being that if I wanted ruffles, it was going to have to be done by hand. Those of you that know me are probably laughing right now knowing how much I hate hand sewing. Picture if you can, hand sewing the entire hem of the skirt first, hemming the top edge of twelve yards of the 7” fabric strips, then hemming the bottom edge of that same twelve yard strip, then hand-gathering this twelve yards into a three yard length, and then finally sewing (okay “tacking” would be more accurate) that same twelve yards, now three yards of squirrely ruffles, onto the hem! That was my life for several days. In the end, everything was attached and was looking so pretty that I had to just stand there and appreciate the fact that I had just completed over forty-six yards of hand sewing!
Oh, but it does not end there, no! I had forgotten about the sawdust all over the floors at the San Francisco Dickens Festival, thereby making a four foot train truly inadvisable to wear. So, in final, abject defeat, the night before found me pinning, tacking, and cursing the back of the skirt into a shorten bustled up format without a train. I still plan on purchasing more fabric to finish out the pleated ruffle, but that will be for another blog story in the future.
Next up was the bodice. It was made using a very cute little pattern by Butterick, with a few changes of course, because I like a challenge! (Maybe one of these days I will like “easy”?) I mixed and matched the pattern pieces to get the look I was after, which was that I wanted the bodice to look like I was wearing a vest, this was my inspiration piece:
I used my beautiful true-red, baby pin-wall corduroy (not HA, but it was so close to velvet people actually asked me what it was) for the vest section, and I used the plaid for everything else. For the faux-vest sleeve caps, I used a matching red feather trim. The pattern calls for loop and button closures, but I went with fourteen buttonholes. I just moved all the buttons over to help center everything. Also, I wanted 1870 sleeves at the 3/4 length, not the ones on this pattern. Some of the sleeves of the 1870 were still showing a nice flare at the end, finished off with pleating, trims, and bows. I incorporated all those details into my version. I also used a garnet-colored beaded trim to help further suggest the illusion of a vest, in that the beaded trims goes from front to back over the shoulder, as well as all around the bottom hem of only the vest section. One of the reasons I like this pattern are the double points at the bottom of the bodice, and that was still kind of popular around the late 1860s and on into the 1870s, and was just a nice extra detail. Start to finish on the bodice was
probably a week, again sewing after work a couple of hours a day and on days off. I was happy with the way everything came together in the end, and I was able to achieve the vision of the gown I had in my head – so I will call this one a “win”!