Sunday, February 5, 2017

The Red 1890's Aesthetic Dress

I'm still in Colombia for a few days, and still missing sewing! So, since I can't sew, and I have a bit of free time, I might as well write about sewing. As I shared before I left, I finished my mom's red 1890's dress, and since I've left she's gotten to wear it for the Church Christmas play that finally happened!

I started sewing historical clothing because I wanted a sewing challenge, and I got it. With each project I've learned something and become a better seamstress. I've reached this wonderful place where historical dresses aren't typically daunting, but still usually enough of a challenge to be interesting. At least, my mom's 1890's dress hit that sweet spot.

I was excited when my mom picked the dress she wanted re-created, because it was a very different style than anything I've done before. Loose, and flowy, and smocked.

c. 1895 Liberty & co. dress. V&A Museum

Now, I don't know how to smock. I'd love to learn sometime, but I was under a bit of a time crunch to get this dress done, so I improvised. On the sleeves, at the neckline, and at waistband, where the original was smocked, I cartridge pleated. (Like I did with my 1840's fan front dress

This worked! The cartridge pleats gave the dress the right look and shape. I do wish I'd positioned the cartridge pleats a bit lower on the sleeve, however, as the top puff is a little droopy-er than I prefer.

The dress is fully lined in an incredibly soft cotton sateen (harvested from sheets I found at the thrift store). The skirt is flat-lined and has a twill tape hem facing to give it plenty of body. The bodice and sleeve linings are fitted, which helps this soft, flowy dress keep its shape.

All the cartridge pleating was the most time consuming part of making this dress (though I enjoy hand sewing, so that wasn't a problem), but figuring out a pattern and draping this dress was probably the hardest part. It took a few mock-ups to get the bodice lining to fit right, and then I had to drape the outer part of the dress. 

While I'm satisfied with the result (and I absolutely love seeing my mom wear the finished dress), my draping and pattern making abilities need to be developed a bit more. The neckline gaped a bit once I attached the outer layer of the bodice to the inner layer, so I fixed that in a rather unhistorical way, I added a casing at the neckline and sent elastic through it. This keeps the neckline in place, just as I'd hoped, and from the outside you can't tell there's any elastic!

The dress fastens up the back with hooks and bars, just like the original. The closure didn't wind up as invisible as I wanted, but it works.

Now, my absolute favorite part of this dress is the lace I tea dyed for the sleeves! I have no complaints what so ever about those lace ruffles!

So, this dress isn't perfect, but it was fun to make, and I learned a lot from it. I definitely had to get out of my comfort zone, but the end result was worth it! 

I was happy to get to make one more historical dress before I left home, and my sewing machine, for a year, and I was thrilled to get to make a historical dress for my mom!

There was one more exciting part to making this dress. I made it in December and the Historical Sew Monthly challenge was to make something for a special occasion. Well, I'd call the play a special occasion, so this dress qualifies as my last HSM entry for the year! (even though it has taken me over a month to post about it.)

What the item is: 1890's Aesthetic Dress

The Challenge: Special Occasion

Fabric/Materials: A red linen/rayon blend, with cotton sateen for the lining

Pattern: my own, the lining was an adaption of Simplicity 9025

Year: 1895

Notions: thread, vintage cotton lace, cotton/poly net lace

How historically accurate is it? I took a few modern shortcuts in the construction, and to be completely accurate the fabric should be silk, so I'd say 60% 

Hours to complete: Lots! I really have no idea how many

First worn: December 11th, for dress rehearsal

Total cost: probably about $50


  1. Love this post and that you wanted to make me this beautiful dress! The photo shoot was so much fun! :)

    1. It was so much fun to look through the pictures again as I wrote this post!

  2. I love the red that you ladies chose. Very rich and complimentary!

  3. Grrr, frustration...I'm the unknown that likes your choice of red. :) Aunt Karen

    1. Lol! Our choices of red fabric with the right drape were limited, so I'm really glad we found this one!