Saturday, December 5, 2015

The Completely Handsewn 1840's Dress - Done!

It's finished, it's actually completely, 100% done! It took hours upon hours, countless stitches, and lots of patience, but my completely handsewn, 1840's fan front, made from a sheet, dress is done!

The pattern was a combination of two of the patterns from Janet Arnold's Patterns of Fashion 1. I sized up the 1840's dress pattern and the 1850's fan front bodice pattern. After multiple mock ups, I had my pattern and was ready to sew the actual dress!

Whilst it was being sewn this dress came everywhere with me, the Heritage Festival, two different camping trips, to work, to friends houses, yep, literally everywhere. Heck, I even worked on it while sitting in traffic on couple different occasions. It was actually rather fun to have a sewing project I could work on any time any place. Hand sewing can be rather convenient!

When I first blogged about this dress I mentioned the plan was to have it done for October's Historical Sew Monthly challenge, unfortunately that didn't happen, but not for lack of trying! I sewed like crazy the last two days of October. at any given time I had 2-5 needles all threaded and ready to be used.

Well, even though it didn't get done for the sewing secrets challenge, this dress still has a few secrets.

This dress fastens up the front (so I can easily put it on by myself). Up at the top of the dress this is obvious, as it fastens with buttons, like my inspiration dress.

The lower bodice fastens with hooks and eyes, but how about the skirt? Well, it's called a dog-leg closure. The skirt fastens off-center and is fastened to the bodice with more hooks and eyes.

When the dress is worn this can't be seen, thus making it one of the dress's secrets.

The other secret is one that is extremely practical, that I'm very excited about. Yep, it's a pocket, hidden in one of the side seams. The perfect place for my phone and pocket knife. (also the pocket is made from a scrape of far from historical looking fabric, but shhh, that's a secret)

To keep the inside hem of the dress as clean as possible, the hem is finished the historically accurate way, with a hem facing. The perfect use for some thick cotton I had no idea what to do with!

The skirt is gathered to fit the bodice with cartridge pleats, they take a lot of time to make (five rows of even hand stitches), but I love the overall look when they're done!

In fact, I'm pretty in love with this entire dress now that's it's done. It's not perfect, it could fit a bit better in the upper back, the lower bodice closure could be a bit more hidden, but over all, I'm pretty proud of it. I set out to handsew a dress, and I managed to not use the sewing machine once!

What the item is:
1840's fan-front dress

The Challenge:
#12 Re-do

 What Challenge/s are you re-doing?:

#5 Practicality. This is a very practical, every-day style, dress of the era. Plus, the front opening makes it very practical to get on and off.

#6 Out of your comfort zone. Sizing up an actual pattern from the past? Definitely out of my comfort zone!

#8 Heirlooms and Heritage. Some of my ancestors immigrated to America in the mid 1840's, which is the era this dress is from.

#9 Brown. Well, it's tan, that counts as brown

#10 Sewing Secrets. The hidden dogleg closure, the hidden pocket, plus I'll count the fabric source, a queen sized sheet, as a secret.

#11 Silver Screen. I was inspired to make this dress because of the fan front dresses in Jane Eyre.

A queen sized flat sheet, found at Goodwill for $4
Cotton broadcloth for lining

My own from the 1840's and 1850's day dress patterns found in Patterns of Fashion 1.


Cotton Yarn, Cotton/poly cord, hooks and eyes, all-purpose thread, cotton thread, vintage porcelain buttons.

 How historically accurate is it?
The sheet is a poly/cotton blend, but everything else is accurate, so at least 90%

 Hours to complete:
A lot, an aweful lot. 1 month of sewing every chance I got, 2 of occasional sewing

 First worn:
11/23, the day I finished it!

Total cost:
$4 for the fabric, then $10-15 for the notions and lining. So in total, less than $20

Now, will I ever completely handsew a dress again? Probably, but not for a while! My next historical dress (hopefully a regency gown to go with my spencer jacket), will most likely have some rather unhistorical, machine sewn seams. I'm ok with that. 
Was it worth completely handsewing this dress? Yes. I'm happy with how it turned out, and now I know I can completely handsew a dress if I want to, all the way down to the button holes. (I'd never handsewn button holes before.) Also, thanks to the techniques I learned with this dress, my next, partially machine sewn, dress will be a bit more historically accurate than it other wise would have been!


  1. This is absolutely fantastic!! You look gorgeous!! Entirely hand sewn and for less than $20...I am just amazed!!
    Keep inspiring us, Anneliese :)

  2. Oh, good for you! Handsewing historical clothes is such a good way to learn about how they were really constructed, even if one does not do it all the time. Just beware, it can be addictive...
    The dress is very nice - the 1840's is one of my favourite periods, and the print adds to the look. Sheets can make very nice dresses, if one is lucky enough to stumble on a period-looking print. I love that you used another, completely different, print for the facing, very period.

    1. Thanks! This dress definitely made me realize hand sewing a dress isn't impossible, so I may very well do it again!

  3. This dress is amazing! And I think it's awesome you carry a pocketknife while wearing it. :)

    1. Thanks! Every time I don't have a pocket knife on me I somehow need it :)

  4. Beautiful. I've never seen sheets looking that awesome either.

  5. Beautiful. I've never seen sheets looking that awesome either.

  6. I've already admired it in the HSM group, so it's great to learn more about it and see more of the construction! One of these days, I want to make myself an 1840s dress, too, although I'm not sure I'll have the patience to handsew it... I've already done that with a Regency one. But Sarah W. is correct, handsewing IS addictive, so... good luck next time? :-)

    1. Yeah, I wasn't sure I would have the patience either, so through out the entire project I reminded myself I could use the sewing machine if I really wanted to, but since I started handsewing it, I might as well finish handsewing it!

  7. It looks like you did a wonderful job making this dress. I must admit it's also great seeing young ladies who like making things like this!

  8. Amazing! What width did you make the skirt?