Tuesday, November 20, 2018

1865 Pink and Lace Ball Gown - The Bodice

I love it when things turn out easier than expected, don't you? Like when you discover you already have the perfect pattern for a project in your stash, so drafting, draping, or adapting your own pattern isn't needed? And it's a pattern you've used before so you already know how it fits so a mock-up really isn't necessary?

Two weeks into October, after years of dreaming, and hours of searching for the original dress online, I finally began actually making the pink and lace ball gown of my dreams. I started with the bodice.

Balkänning. Detail. Midian. HWY Gr.XXII: In: A.03.

To figure out how the bodice was patterned, I first looked at pictures of the original dress to get an idea of the seam lines. Then I pulled out my copy of Patterns of Fashion I, by Janet Arnold, and looked at how the 1860's ball gown featured in there was patterned. The bodice seam lines on the dress in the book matched up with the seam lines on the dress I was replicating. So the book gave me a good idea of what shapes my bodice pattern pieces needed to be.  After that, I went diving into my pattern stash and pulled out Simplicity 2881, the pattern I was given 4 years ago with the pieces of my purple beaded 1860's ball gown. Amazingly, the bodice pattern pieces in Simplicity 2881 were almost the exact same shapes as the bodice pattern pieces shown in Patterns of Fashion I. Thus, I could use the Simplicity pattern to make my bodice and be confident the pattern was reasonably historically accurate - no pattern drafting, draping, or altering required (for the basic bodice at least).

I was pretty sure the pattern would fit me with no alterations. After all, the purple ball gown, made with this pattern fits me well and I didn't even construct that bodice myself! However, just to be certain, I made a quick mockup to check the fit. It fit. No major changes necessary (just a slight alteration to the angle of the shoulder straps), so I took the mock-up apart to use as my bodice flatlining, and cut into my pretty pink moire. The dress was actually happening!

With the pieces cut out, I sewed up all the bodice seams first thing, one morning before work. This was done by machine, for two reasons. First, I absolutely did not have time to construct the entire dress by hand. So no matter what, it was going to have to be primarily constructed by machine. Second, by the 1860's, sewing machines were in existence. And, according to the museum description I found, the original dress was made with a mixture of hand and machine sewing. Thus, it was perfectly historically accurate for me to use the sewing machine for this project.

I also used the sewing machine to apply boning channels (made from cotton ribbon) to the front and side seam allowances. Then I whip stitched all the seam allowances down by hand to finish them. Machine constructed does not necessarily mean finished. I decided, despite time constraints, I wanted this dress to be as historically accurate as possible, so the seam finishes, hems, and closures would be done by hand.

I boned the bodice with long, wide, plastic zip ties. I'd planned on using spiral steel boning, but I've read large plastic zip ties behave similarly to whale bone when used to bone bodices and even corsets. So, as I had large zip ties on hand, I decided I might as well use them. Time will tell how they hold up and behave compared to steel, but they are definitely easier to cut! (And they're cheap and easy to obtain.)

Once the boning was done, it was time to finish the top and bottom edges of the bodice. I finished the top edge with a standard single row of piping. For the bottom edge, I made double piping, as that's what I saw the original had (based on the picture at the top of this post). 

Double piping is a little more time consuming to make than single piping, but just as easy to apply.

Next up were the sleeves. The original dress has little puffed net sleeves trimmed with strips of pink moire and a lace ruffle at the bottom. Simplicity 2881 includes a pattern for double puffed sleeves, which I was able to easily adapt for single puffed sleeves.

The sleeves are made with a fitted lining of cream colored cotton sateen, and the netting is gathered on top of that. The fitted lining keeps the netting perfectly puffed at all times! (Without the lining, the netting would look droopy and sad.)

Bias-cut stripes of moire fabric were then placed over the net to match the original dress, and the bottom of the sleeve was bound in bias tape I made from the moire fabric. To finished the sleeves I add some lace trim found in my stash.

I attached the sleeves to the bodice, and then it was ready for closures to be added - hooks and eyes.

Now, an awful lot of mid-19th century ball gowns are fastened with lacing up the back. So, originally, that is what I'd planned to do with this one. Then I read the museum description if the dress I was replicating and learned it closed up the back with hooks and eyes. Now that suited me just fine. Lacing is a bit of a pain to do, and I personally find hooks and eyes an easier closure option. Thus, once I knew the original "hooked up", rather than "laced up", it was a no-brainer that mine would do the same.

Translated from Swedish (?) the description reads; "Buttons in the back with hooks and eyes of white metal." I found some what hooks and eyes at Joann's, but last minute I decided to use some vintage hooks and eyes I had on hand instead. 

As I had two different sizes of vintage hooks and eyes, I used the larger ones (size 3) for the high-stress points (the top edge and the waistline.) and the smaller ones (size 1) for the rest of the bodice.

I inserted a drawstring of rayon ribbon through the neckline, just for a bit of extra security to prevent any gaping when the dress is worn by my sister (who is smaller-busted than I). Then the bodice itself was done.

It still needed the neckline embellishment, called a bertha, but that would be a seperate piece, just tacked in place at a later date.

So, like I said, the bodice itself was finished and wearable. It fit both myself and my sister just as it should, and I could move on to the rest of the dress. 

The bodice came together easily, no pattern drafting or experimentation required of me, but the bertha and the skirt would be a bit more complicated!

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

A Velvet Shirt Break

So, clearly, I enjoy making historical clothing. I enjoy the challenge of puzzling out how a garment was actually made, then taking that information and making my own garment. I enjoy learning new techniques and tidbits of information. I enjoy the process of making historical garments, from planning to completion. And if course I enjoy having the finished garment to wear at the end. However, in the middle of a big project it's easy to get bogged down, discouraged, and burnt out.  For me these feelings often come from working on a project for a while, and having nothing finished to show for it. Or, they come from staring at and working with the same fabric hour after hour, day after day.
Sometimes, I just need a bit of a break from the big project to work on something else. A palate cleanser, if you will. A project that only takes a couple hours from start to finish, not weeks or months. A project I can pretty much sew on auto pilot, rather than thinking through every step and construction decision I'm making. A project just to prove to myself I can actually finish a project, rather than just trudging along in the middle of one for what feels like forever.

My 1865 pink and lace ball gown is progressing nicely, but last week I hit that point. I just had to take a break, work with a different material, make something else. Thus, my little sister got a new velvet shirt.

Two years ago, I made my sister a stretch velvet raglan shirt. She loved it and wore it a ton. Then she outgrew it. A month or so ago, she requested a replacement. And, during my short break from sewing the ballgown, I obliged.

In preparation for this project, I snagged a slightly-less-than-one-yard remnant of stretch velvet from the remnant bin at Hobby Lobby a week or two ago.

That slightly-less-than-a-yard, was just barely enough fabric for this shirt. As you can see, it was not enough fabric for a long sleeved shirt. So, instead I cut the sleeves as long as I possibly could, then pieced together my fabric scraps to make sleeve ruffles. My sister seems pleased with the result, but has requested long sleeves on her next velvet shirt. Yes, apparently I'm making her another, soon. 

The pattern I used is a free one from Dixie DIY - The Hot Cocoa Sweater. It's a basic raglan shirt, with just the right amount of swing to it - perfect for stretch velvet! It only comes in once size, and thankfully that size happens to be the size my sister currently wears.

The pattern is pretty great; it's well drafted, all the pieces fit together as they should, it's easy to assemble (the pages don't require trimming!) and it even includes pattern pieces for the neckband and sleeve cuffs (which I didn't use because I was unable to make the long sleeves). Most PDF patterns just included measurements for bands and such, no actual pattern pieces, so I found actual pattern pieces a pleasant change!  

This shirt was just what I needed it to be - a quick, pleasant sew. A short break from the big project, and not related to costuming at all. 

My sister seems pretty pleased with her new shirt - and the weather gave us the most beautiful background to photograph it against! 

Fall and winter collided last week when we got our first snow of the season before all the pretty leaves fell. Who could ask for a better background against which to photograph a gorgeous girl in her pretty new shirt?

Now, after that pleasant break, it's back to costuming for me, and line memorization for my siblings. The play is only three weeks away!

Monday, November 12, 2018

I Know it Exists, but Where? (Finding the Original 1865 Pink and Lace Ball Gown)

Finally, I had all my materials gathered and I had my excuse to make this pink and lace dream of an 1865 ball gown. I could actually get started on it! I could really, truly, begin making it!

Click on the picture to go to the museum database listing of the dress
Hallwyl House

Before I cut into my fabric, however, there was one thing I wanted to do. I knew this dress was in a museum somewhere, so I wanted to find it in that museum database, look at all the available pictures of the dress, and read the description of it. There's always something to be learned from reading museum or auction house descriptions of historical clothing! Before I began my recreation of this dress, I wanted to learn as much as possible about the original. 
Also, there are an awful lot of pictures of pretty dresses out there on the internet labeled as "Original 1800's" (or whatever) that are actually modern-made movie costumes or something similar. By finding the dress I wanted to recreate in a museum database (or on an action site, or this blog, or another similar site), I could be sure I was recreating an actual period piece, primary source material, not someone else's historically-themed artistic work.

There are millions of pins of the pink and lace ball gown on Pinterest - I know I've personally pinned multiple different pictures of it myself. Every time I've come across a picture of it from another angle, or a close-up picture of it I've saved that picture to my "Historical Clothing to Re-Create" board. Then, when I was ready to make the dress, I realized that none of my several pins actually linked back to a museum database or an auction listing. They all linked to random sites commenting on how pretty the dress was - and none of those sites linked back to a museum database, or auction listing, or any reputable website about extant historical clothing.  Gahhhhhh!

In an ideal world, all pictures of historical clothing on Pinterest would link back to museum or auction sites, like this 1880's dress pin does:

If you click on this pin, you can go right to the Met Museum's page about this bustle dress. It's fabulous! Unfortunately, we do not live in an ideal world. Pinterest is full of pins that do not link back to their primary source. And my beloved 1865 pink and lace ball gown appeared to have missed the memo that I needed to know where it came from. Thus, I had to take matters into my own hands to find out where the pink dress resided.

I started by reverse google searching for the image.

For just about any picture on the internet, you can right-click on the image and this menu will come up. Click on "Search Google for image" and another tab will open in your internet browser listing almost all the places on the internet you can find the picture. (Unfortunately I do not know how to do this on a smartphone or tablet, only a computer.)

When the results come up, a ton of them will link right back to Pinterest, but the goal here is to find a source that's not Pinterest. So I begin by ignoring those results and just look for results that link elsewhere. In the past, when I've been tracking down extant historical garments this way, I've only had to scroll through a page or two of results before I find a museum or auction listing of the item. This dress, however, was playing hardball. Page after page of results, and not one linked to the museum database I was hoping to find.

Eventually, on page 5 or 6, I found this blog post, featuring a picture of the dress. In the blog post, I not only found pictures of the dress, I also learned all about the woman who wore the dress, Countess Wilhelmina Von Hallwyland I discovered where the dress was - the Hallwyl House Museum in Sweden.

Thus, much to my relief, it was ascertained the dress was an extant 1860's piece, not a modern make. However, helpful as the blog post was, it did not link to the museum database. I still wanted to find that and read the museum's description of the dress to (hopefully) learn some key information about the construction of the original dress.

Even knowing the name of the museum, the database was hard to find. I found a webpage for the museum, but it had no database. I was almost ready to give up, thinking that perhaps this small Swedish museum just might not have an online public database. Then I stumbled across another pin of the dress - and this one linked to a site called "E Museum Plus" - and it looked promising.

So I followed the link, and found myself here:

The website explained it was the database for the Royal Armory, Skokloster Castle and the Hallwyl Museum Collections. Finally I had found the database I'd been searching for. Now I just had to find the dress. 

The database actually has a decent search feature, allowing you to search through all three collections at once, or each collection individually. You can do a keyword search, or search a specific year span. It took a few tries, with different year spans and keywords, before I finally found the pink and lace ball gown I'd been looking for.

And the description accompanying the pictures of the dress was well worth finding! At the bottom of the page, under the "Description" tab, there are two paragraphs of information about the dress and it's construction! By reading the description, I discovered things about the dress I couldn't have learned by just looking at it - such as the exact skirt dimensions and back closure method. (Unfortunately, there were no pictures of the back of the dress as I'd hoped there would be, but the lengthy description pretty much made up for that.

Once I found the dress, of course I wanted to save it so I could come back and reference the description later. That's when I discovered that if I just copied the url from the address box at the top of the window, and saved that link for later, it wouldn't actually get me back to the dress listing. If I used that link later it would take me to a page saying "your session has timed out" then redirect me to the database home page, and I'd have to search the entire database again to find the dress - rather inconvenient.

To save a link that would take me back to the dress listing, I actually needed to copy and save the "Bookmarkable URL" found on the page itself. So that is the URL I've copied, and saved, and used every time I've needed to link back to the dress on this blog, Pinterest, and Facebook. After as long as it took me to find the darned dress in a museum database, I am not sharing anymore pictures of it without sharing that link as well! (That means whenever I share a picture of the of the original dress, as I did at the beginning of this post, you can click on the picture or photo caption, and it will take you right to the database listing.)

Thus, after hours online, I finally found exactly what I was looking for - the Museum database listing of my dream 1865 ball gown. And I pinned the dress to my Pinterest board yet again - and this pin links to the museum database listing, just as it should.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

My Dream 1865 Pink and Lace Ball Gown - Obstacles

I don't remember exactly when I saw this dress, but I do remember I fell in love with it immediately.

1865 Countess Wilhelmina Von Hallwyl Dress 
(Click on photo to go to museum listing)
Instantly I wanted to recreate it, but there were a few obstacles in my way. 
  • First, when I saw this dress I was quite new to making historical clothing and had no idea how to go about making it.
  • Second, where would I find the materials for the dress at a reasonable price? Silk Moire is expensive and not readily available! Same with nice lace.
  • Third, I really had no reason to make an 1865 ball gown.
In the past few years, that first obstacle has completely fallen away. Over time, several historical dress projects have given me the skills needed to make the dress.

The second obstacle mostly stayed the same, but began to fall away two years ago.

And, as for having no reason to make the dress, that actually become a bigger obstacle in the past couple years. You see, I made an 1860's ball gown. And I've never had anything to wear it to (though I have loaned it out a time or two for highschool girls to wear to school history events.) I could see no reason to make a second 1860's ball gown, when I already had one I didn't wear.

Despite my concerns for the, umm, practicality, (for lack of a better word?) of making another 1860's ball gown, two years ago I sealed my fate when it came to this dress. By spending $12, I declared I would be making this dress! Eventually.

While at a fabulous little fabric store in the middle of a Mennonite community in rural Missouri, I happened across a bolt of Moire fabric, in the exact same shade of pink as that ball gown of my dreams. For only $1.50 a yard. No, it wasn't silk, it was a blend of either rayon or cotton, and something else, but it was still just what I needed. I could overlook the less than historically accurate fiber content for the perfect color and texture of this fabric. 8 yards came home with me, for a grand total of $12. 

There was now only one and a half obstacles in the way on making this dress - lace, and an excuse to make the dress.

The lack of excuse was the next obstacle to fall away. My siblings decided to take part in a Jr. High and High school production of "A Christmas Carol". My sister got cast as Mrs. Fezziwig, the host of a ball. Clearly, she would need a ball gown to wear. 

Once the play was cast, it was quickly decided that my existing ball gown would be worn in the ball scene by the girl playing "Belle", Scrooge's lost love. Thus, my sister would need a different dress to wear, and here my excuse to make my dream pink and lace ball gown was found. 

My sister and I are about the same size now. She can wear my historical dresses, no problem. So, I would make the ball gown according to my corseted measurements, and my sister could wear it in the play. 

I presented said little sister with this idea, and the picture of the ball gown I wanted to recreate. She heartily agreed to the plan, falling in love with the dress, just as I had done.

The skills were developed, main fabric was acquired, excuse was found. There was only one last partial obstacle left to overcome - the lace.


As much as I would have loved to find historically accurate silk or cotton lace, that just wasn't feasible. I didn't have the budget for it. A more modern, synthetic, alternative would have to be used. So, I went to Joann's, armed with a 60% off coupon, and set about picking something out from their bridal laces.  I wanted a net lace, with an identical wide scalloped border on each selvage edge, no beading, and no random appliqued-on 3D flowers. I found the lace you see above. Unfortunately, it does have sequins, which I really didn't want, but it ticked all the other boxes - and non-sequined lace meeting my requirements just wasn't to be had! With my cupon, the lace came out to $12 per yard - as much as the entire 8 yards of moire cost me - definitely the most expensive part of this dress, but also the most eye catching part.

The wide bridal lace would be used to trim the ball gown skirt, but I needed a narrower lace and an unadorned net to trim the bodice. 
In the Joann's special occasion fabrics I found a nylon net. While it's not silk, it does have a better drape, and is much nicer, than polyester tulle. So a yard of that came home with me for the bodice adornments.
The lace for trimming the bodice came from Hobby Lobby - it's a net lace with cotton embroidery on a nylon base - still not perfectly historically accurate, but much closer than my other trimmings!

Close up of the bodice of the original gown.
Click on the photo to go to the museum listing.

Once that net lace for trimming the bodice was purchased, I had all my materials. I could finally begin constructing this dress I'd admired for years.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

A Last Minute Refashioned Slytherin Uniform

On Sunday evening the brother requested a Halloween costume. Earlier in October he'd stated his intention not to dress up this year, and I tried to talk him out of that boring decision.  So honestly, his Halloween costume request was rather a pleasant surprise, and one I couldn't turn down.

He wanted a Hogwarts uniform. A Slytherin uniform. According to the Pottermore house quiz, my brother has been sorted into Slytherin House, and he is quite thrilled about this. Apparently Slytherin suits him. After all, the Slytherin House colors are green and silver, and green has been this boy's favorite color ever since he could talk!

Now, onto the sewing. Sunday evening my brother requested the Slytherin robe, and I agreed to make it. Almost immediately, I went "shopping" in my fabric stash. I came up with a queen sized black sheet and an elastic waist polyester skirt in just the right shade of green. The sheet had already been cut into for another project (and I have no memory of what this project was), but it looked like there would be just enough fabric left in it to make a robe. Who knows where the green skirt came from, or how it wound up in my refashion bin, but it would work perfectly for the hood lining and facings!

In my pattern stash I had Simplicity 8723, the official Harry Potter robe pattern, seridipidosly grabbed last time Simplicity patterns were on sale at Hobby Lobby.

Fabrics and pattern assembled, I was only missing one key element for the basic robe costume - the house patch, to be sewn to the front of the robe. There was nowhere in town I could buy a slytherin patch (I checked), and I didn't have time to order a patch. So, I improvised. Sunday evening, less than an hour before they closed, I dashed into Joann's and bought a quarter yard of Slytherin quilting cotton. It was covered in Slytherin house badges, perfect!

I carefully cut out a badge and fray checked the edges. It worked. The Slytherin badge had been obtained, and I could now begin making the robe.

Monday was my day off work, so first thing in the morning I began the robe construction. It took a bit of finagling, but I just managed to squeeze all the robe pieces out of the "fabric" I had. The robe front, back, sleeves, hood, and inseam pockets were cut from the partial black sheet. Nothing but scraps was left when I was done.

The front facing, back facing, and hood lining were cut from the green skirt, along with sleeve hem facings - which had not been included in the pattern, but I decided the robe needed. The sleeve hem facings are only about 2" wide, but the provide a clean finish and a pop of green whenever the inside of the large flared sleeves is visible. A much nicer finish than just a plain turned hem would have been. Once again, by the time I was done cutting out the facings and hood lining, nothing but scraps was left of the skirt.


After a quick trip into town to visit a thrift store late Monday morning (more on that later), the robe was sewn up easily Monday afternoon. There was nothing particularly complicated in the construction at all, and I never even pulled the pattern instructions out of the envelope. They simply weren't needed.  The hardest part of this project was definitely just fitting all the pattern pieces onto my limited amount of fabric when cutting!

Once the robe was assembled, the final step was attaching that Slytherin badge. I appliqued it to the front of the robe using a tight zig-zag on my sewing machine.

Then the robe was ready. I presented it to my brother once he got home from play rehearsal Monday night, and he was thrilled!

The costume was completed with basic black dress pants and shoes and a white button down my brother already had in his closet. The finishing touch was a green and gray striped silk tie I found at the thrift store Monday morning.

I'd gone to the thrift store hoping to find a solid green tie we could paint stripes on with silver fabric paint. But such a tie was not to be found. Instead I found a tie that was already striped, resembling the official Slytherin uniform tie. Nothing at all had to be done to it to be costume suitable, and that was just fine with me!

On all Hallows Eve, as soon as he was released from Muggle school, my brother transformed into a young wizard, ready to hand out candy (and eat a few pieces himself) at my parents' church's Trunk-or-Treat event.

At trunk-or-treat, he ran into a couple small Gryffindors who groaned when they saw him and complained "Ugg, a Slytherin." The brother replied by snarling "Gryffindor" Yes, house pride was alive and well in that church parking lot. Thankfully, all students remained respectful of the Gryffindor head of house, Professor McGonagall.

Even the Slytherin!