Monday, May 7, 2018

The Yellow 1893 "Misses' Empire Gown"

My entire Christmas list last year was sewing books. Modern sewing books, historical sewing books, pattern drafting books, all sorts of sewing books. My friends and family were quite obliging, and my sewing library grew a bit in December. Now, at this point (4 months after Christmas) many of those books have been referred to and put to good use, but the first book I used was 59 Authentic Turn-of-the-Century Fashion Patterns.

I wanted to make my sister a new 1890's dress (She's outgrown her last one), and this book is all patterns from the 1890's! It mostly contains women's patterns, but there are also several patterns for boys', girls', and young ladies' (called Misses') clothing too.

Yes, patterns for young ladies' dresses!! Designs for that awkward age where you are no longer a little girl, but not yet a grown woman either. The age group modern sewing patterns are never made for. (No longer fit in a girls' size 8, but don't yet fit in a women's size small? Too old for "little girl" designs, too young for more mature women's styles? Too bad, modern sewing patterns have nearly nothing for you.) This book of patterns from 1890-96 has patterns for that age group of girls!  And not just one or two patterns either, but several, in all sorts of designs for all sorts of occasions!

As you may have guessed by all the exclamation points in the previous paragraph, I was pretty ecstatic about this discovery when I received the book for Christmas. I could make my sister a dress, in her size, in an age appropriate style, without having to mash together and adapt half a dozen patterns. All I had to do was pick one dress from the book, draft the pattern according to the diagrams given, and then sew it up!

After some deliberation, and consulting with my sister who would actually be wearing the dress, I decided to make the "Misses' Empire Gown", from 1893. Diagrams and measurements are given for each dress. To draft the pattern, you follow these while adjusting the measurements as needed to fit your intended recipient, and basically make a dot-to-dot. Connect the dots, and you have a workable pattern. 

Honestly, I was amazed by how easy this was to do! I made the pattern in a couple hours one afternoon, then sewed a mock-up that evening. The bodice mock-up fit my sister perfectly on the first try! I did have to adjust the sleeves a couple times before they fit properly; but sleeves, what do you expect? Sleeves are never easy.

Once the pattern was made, sewing up the dress was no problem at all! The main body of the dress is made from a yellow quilters cotton, acquired on a day trip I took with my friends back in January. It's accented with a tiny blue, green, and mustard colored plaid shirting I found at the Mennonite fabric store. I trimmed the dress with some pink vintage velvet ribbon and a scrap of lace from my stash.

When all was said and done, my sister was thrilled with her new dress, and it's been worn many times since completion! She's worn it to church, to homeschool co-op, and even to afternoon tea (in a house built in the 1850s!). 

It's a dress that fits her, is beautiful, comfortable, and completely age-appropriate for the era. What more could you ask for?



  1. I love that book. I used some of the patterns for 'stout' women to make skirts for the teachers in year 6 when they went to a historical site with the children when they studied Victorians. The ladies were not 'stout' at all, but with them not wearing the underpinnings, it worked very well.
    I never had a little girl/young lady to make clothes for. But who knows, one might come along sometime! and now I know the age specific dresses work.
    Well done!
    Sandy in the UK

    1. Oh that sounds fabulous! I'm quite impressed with how easy the book is to use.