Wednesday, March 25, 2020

1895 Red and White Plaid Dress


Man did I wrestle with this project! I first started the skirt back in September, when I was trying to put together a new outfit for the DFWCG's outing to the Kimbell's Monet exhibit. I started and abandoned a half-dozen ideas for that outing, before ditching all of them completely. The skirt for this dress was one of those abandoned projects. I thought I could do something neat with the way the plaid joined up, but it never really worked how I wanted it to, and I ended up hating it. I put the skirt away on the naughty pile, and wore something I already had to the outing.

Patterning the skirt
 I tried on and off for months to get inspired enough to finish the skirt, but no matter what I came up with, I had an overwhelming sense of "meh" about it. On it's own, the skirt is just not that spectacular.

Then Liz found a Victorian Christmas luncheon and tour of homes for us to go to, and I decided that the red plaid needed to be finished, once and for all. 

I tried again to get inspired - I borrowed some patterns, I looked at Pinterest, but nope. I could not find anything I loved. Then I flipped through my copy of Authentic Victorian Fashion Patterns, and there, on page 115, it had been waiting for me. That big sleeved beauty got my juices flowing, and I was finally able to get to work on something that excited me.

I decided to use a red sateen for the contrasting yoke and sleeves, which makes the dress sort of Christmas-adjacent without being so festive that I can't wear it for other events. It would sort of be inverse of the dress illustration, which shows plaid sleeves on a solid skirt and body.

I draped the underlayer of the bodice quickly and easily - I took it as a sign that this was the right way to go with the dress. With only a week until the event, though, I had to buckle down and really get to work. I draped the rest of the bodice the next night and cut out the fashion fabrics.

The quickest way to tackle the yoke was to have it be decorative, stitched down to the finished bodice, so I draped the yoke directly onto the bodice on the form. In the interest of time, I would stitch the yoke edge down with a zigzag, and hide the stitching with some trim.

Wednesday night, I made a quick trip to the fabric store to find trim. I didn't find anything I loved at first, but I finally came across this little cotton beading lace that was just perfect. I purchased some black ribbon to thread through it since I couldn't find a red that matched the sateen. Threading the ribbon into the trim took way longer than I expected, but I still managed to get the bodice assembled that same night.

Thursday, I drafted and cut out the sleeves and their organdy interlining. I wanted the sleeves to still be sort of drapey, but to still have support so they'd keep their shape.

In hindsight, I made the upper sleeve puff a bit too small. I drafted it directly from the book without sizing it up at all, and it's not quite as dramatic as the sleeve in the book. But, if I had drafted it up, I definitely wouldn't have had enough fabric for the entire sleeve, so I suppose it all worked out in the end!

With the yoke and sleeve drafted, I cut them out of their fashion fabrics. The yoke was stitched in place first, and the trim applied to the edges, before the sleeve was sewn in.

The lower sleeve part ended up slightly too short because I was running out of fabric, so I added on an inch of plaid fabric to add a little contrast, and to make it seem like it was a design choice and not a mistake. 

Friday night I was sewing like mad to finish things - the skirt still needed to be hemmed, I had to install the waistband and placket, the bodice needed its waistband, the front opening needed a facing, I had to draft and cut out the collar, and I still had to sew on all the trim by hand. Yikes! It was 2:30AM before I threw in the towel, abandoned the plans to add a collar, and said "good enough, I can pin myself in."

When everything was said and done, I loved this dress! It went from my ugly duckling to one of my favorites, and even though there are some unfinished bits here and there, and the hem certainly isn't the greatest thing ever, I felt so, so pretty while I was wearing this dress. The 1890s are such a flattering decade! It hides all my jiggly parts and accentuates the good things, and I love it.

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