Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Finishing and Wearing the Black Wool 1840's Dress

I can now actually move my arms in the black wool 1840's dress I made over the summer! (Here's the blog post about the patterning and making of the bodice of this dress, here's the post about the skirt and "finishing" the dress)

Back in May, when I was figuring out the pattern for this dress, the sleeves were most definitely the trickiest part - no surprise there! 

While trying to get the slim sleeve silhouette I was going for, I over fitted the sleeves below the elbow. As a result, when I put on the finished dress I could barely move my arms. That was frustrating. 

Thankfully, I knew I could fix the problem, I just needed to let out the sleeve seam a touch at the forearm. The sleeve fit great through the bicep and I'd spent quite a bit of time perfecting the fit of the armscye and sleeve cap. So neither of those areas, which would have been harder issues to fix, were interfering with the fit. The only part of the sleeves I'd really screwed up was, at least, the easiest part to fix.

That said, when I originally finished the gown, I was in no mood to go back and re-do any part of it, so I set the project aside for a while. I pulled it out again earlier this month and set to fixing it so I could comfortably wear it to a Halloween party.

While watching TV in the evenings after dinner, I worked on fixing the dress. I let out the sleeve seam below the elbow, giving each sleeve an extra 1/2" of ease. It's not a whole lot of extra room in the sleeves, but it is just what I needed!

The sleeves now fit comfortably and I can actually move my arms above my shoulders!

While I had the dress out to resolve the sleeve issues, there were a couple other little things I had to fix. I stitched the pocket bags to the pocket openings in the skirt.

Originally I'd just attached the pockets at the waist seam so they were handing loose inside the skirt. They did not stay lined up with the pocket openings very well this way, and were always hard to find when I reached through the pocket slits in the skirt to put something in my pocket. This was very annoying.

Thus, I slip stitched the pocket opening to the pocket slit in the skirt and now the pockets are much more convenient to use!

The final thing I had to fix was the hooks and eyes up the back. Partially due to the way the too tight sleeves had been pulling at the bodice, partially due to rather weak the hooks and eyes I used, and partially due to my annoying wide shoulders, the first time I put the dress on after originally finishing it, some of the eyes on the back of the dress stretched out. 

One eye stretched so much it completely straightened out and slipped free of the stitching! Once I fixed the sleeves so they wouldn't be pulling and putting extra stress on my bodice fastenings, I sewed a couple new eyes on.

At the high stress points where the original eyes stretched out, I doubled up the eyes. Now those hooks have to hook through two eyes apiece, so hopefully there will be no more stretched out eyes!

Even with the extra security of the doubled eyes on the back of the dress however, I wasn't fully satisfied with the hooks and eyes I'd used. They just felt too loose, like the hooks could easily come unhooked at any time. I considered changing them out for higher quality hooks and eyes, like those on my Renaissance gown, which I knew would stay hooked, but I really, really, didn't want to have to sew on all those hooks and eyes down the back of this dress again. I don't particularly enjoy sewing on hooks and eyes, so instead, I fixed the issue another way. I went down the back of the dress and "squished" each hook closed a little bit with a pair of pliers. Now they feel like they are securely latched onto the eyes when the back of the dress is hooked up, and I'm much less worried about them coming undone!

If I run into any more issues with the hooks and eyes I used, I will probably go back and replace them, but for now, I'm satisfied!

I wore this dress all day on Saturday and had no issues with the hooks coming undone!! Amazing what squishing things with a pair of pliers can do!

I began the day by going out to the grounds of our local historical society with my brother to photograph the dress.

The dress stayed done up and comfortable for the entire duration of our photo shoot - even when I decided to climb up on top of a fence!

That afternoon I kept the dress on to go to my cousin's marching band competition. 

I got a few surprised looks, but it was all worth it when a short rain shower popped up. The water just rolled right off the worsted wool of my dress and I stayed warm, dry, and comfortable, while everyone else's jeans soaked up the water immediately. I highly recommend 1840's wool dresses for such occasions!

I finished out the day by going to a Halloween croquet party that evening, and the dress did not impede croquet playing at all - I actually did marginally better than I usually do! (But I'm still horrible at croquet)

So all that to say, my black wool 1840's dress is done!

The issues have been fixed!

It is wearable!

It is comfortable!

It has been worn!

Is it perfect? No.

There are definitely still little things here and there that I could stress out about fixing, but I'm not gonna do it.

I like the dress as is, and I will wear it as is.

Even if it's not perfect.

Historical Sew Monthly October - Details

What the item is: 1840's wool dress

How it fits the challenge: It's the details which make this "plain" black dress special, The short over sleeves, the shaped sleeve openings, the piping, the "princess seams" which go up into the shoulders (seaming distinctive to this decade), the piped sleeves, the cartridge pleats, the striped polished cotton lining, the lining and padding in the skirt.

Material: Light weight worsted wool outer with polished cotton lining.

Pattern: Early 1840's bodice pattern in Cut of Women's Clothes, by Norah Waugh.

Year: Early 1840's

Notions: Thread, cotton cording for piping, cotton batting for the skirt hem and back, hooks and eyes, cotton tape for bone casings, spiral steel boning.

How historically accurate is it? It's 90% hand sewn (only the pockets and skirt lining are machine sewn), using what I know of period construction techniques. The pattern is accurate. The main fabric is accurate. Polished cotton is an accurate lining choice, however my polished cotton is striped, which I don't think is accurate. The notions serve their purpose, but are not all completely accurate. All in all, I'd say 80-85%

Hours to complete: I have no idea. A lot.

First worn: October 19th

Total cost: The wool was $30 for 5 yards, the lining was gifted to me, all notions were from stash. So I'll add $10 for the notions I used and say $40 total.


  1. It's beautiful! And I admit to cheating and using hook and eye tape as much as possible!

    1. Thank you! I have yet to actually buy any hook and eye tape, but it does sound like a wonderful thing!

  2. Doubling up the eyes is clever and I hope for your sake everything holds up, sewing hooks and eyes is tedious!
    Your dress looks very nice, and I love the neck ribbon and lace color, they are perfect accents.
    Also your brother photography is amazing. I was impressed with the pics in this post.

    1. Thank you! I will pass on the compliments to my brother :)
      As the current hook and eye arrangement held up to an entire day of wear, I'm hopeful it will hold up well!

  3. Looks great! All those little details paid off to make a gorgeous dress. And you got great photos at the historical society. :)