Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Making Felicity's Birthday Dress

*note: This is a post I wrote 6 months ago but have held off sharing because it shares some personal stuff. I've considered scrapping it entirely and re-writing the story of this dress differently, but, I've decided to share it. So, I've updated it a touch, and here goes:

 I was not looking forward to my birthday this year. In fact I was rather dreading it.

It was a milestone birthday, and yes, age is just a number. For the most part I don’t think much about my age, I have no fear of getting older. But.

I thought I would be a mother by this birthday. For sure. This was definitely the age I would be a mother by. And yet, after over 2 years of hoping and praying for a child, my arms were still empty. Are still empty.


I know they won’t be empty forever. We have hopes and plans for moving forward. 

But hitting this particular birthday without a baby still hurt.

So, about 2 weeks before my birthday I decided I was going to do what I could to make my birthday the best it could be. 

I decided to make my self the American Girl Felicity’s Birthday Dress.

If I can’t have a child right now, atleast I can live out my childhood dream of having Felicity’s dresses for myself.

I’d actually already started on Felicity’s birthday apron when I needed a hand sewing project to work on at work a few weeks earlier, so that portion of the project was underway. (I'll share about the apron in another post to keep this one from getting too long) 

It was time to really commit to this thing and begin the dress.

Thus, I pulled out the bolt of pink linen I bought on sale at Joann’s several years ago, specifically for this project, and got to work.

I decided I would used the Larkin and Smith English Gown pattern, making a few adjustments so it would be a slightly different style from Felicity’s work dress (which I made for myself almost 3 years ago)

With the work dress I made the bodice with a stomacher, as the pattern was written, but changed up the skirt to make it a round gown since I didn't have time to make a separate petticoat. This time I planned to basically flip that around. I would make the skirt open, as the pattern was designed, and make that separate petticoat, but, I would make the bodice close center front - a new design choice that was becoming popular right around the time Felicity would have turned 10 in 1775, when "Happy Birthday Felicity" is set.

One more thing I was flipping around? The back pleats! But I'll get into those details later. First I had to make my pattern alterations for the closed front bodice.

Then I cut out my bodice lining from a cotton/linen blend I snagged at Joann's at some point in the past.

I basted my lining pieces together and tried them on for a fit check. I needed to lower the neckline a bit and I'd definitely added too much to the center front - but hey, too much is better than too little, right?

I marked where I would need to trim off the excess fabric, then turned my attention to the sleeves. As I discovered with my Golden Rose Pet en L'air, the Larkin and Smith sleeves are just a bit too small for me. So for this dress I slightly enlarged them and fussed with the fit until I was satisfied. (and yes, this altered pattern is the sleeve pattern I eventually used for my Strawberry Sacque)

Once I decided the fit was as good as it was going to get, I took off the lining, took out my basting stitches, and trimmed off the excess fabric. Then, I began sewing it together again - this time by hand with sturdy back stitches.

Once the center back seam of the bodice lining was sewn, I had to abandon my comfy hand sewing station outside under the shade trees and retreat to the house, I needed a table for the next step.

I cut out the center back, neck to floor, panel from my pink linen, according to the directions and dimensions in the Larkin and Smith sewing instructions, and I sewed the middle bodice seam, from neckline to waistline, also according to the directions.

Once that was done, I pressed the seam open as instructed and was ready to start pleating the back. Now most English gowns have the back pleats facing out, away from the center back seam. But there are a few English gowns with the pleats facing in, toward the center back seam. And I decided I wanted to try the pleats like that on this gown.

I started by using the Larkin and Smith pleat template and just reversing the pleats. Then I studied the pictures of gowns with these pleats in Costume in Detail by Nancy Bradfield and in 18th Century Fashion in Detail by Susan North. The pleats on those dresses were very narrow, and mine weren't.

So I finagled the pleats a bit more until they better resembled those on the extant gowns in the books.

 Once I liked the way the pleats lay, I sewed them down to the bodice lining with a prick stitch.

Once that was done I trimmed the back panel above the waistline to match the shape of the bodice lining, then attached the bodice fronts at the side seams, and did the same with the front skirt panels.

I cut and hemmed the pocket slits on the skirt panels, then it was time to pleat the skirt onto the bodice.

I started at the center back. 

The inverted center back pleats made it a little complicated to keep all the raw edges contained properly, but I think I managed it alright.

After the first few pleats it certainly got easier! 

When the pleats were all pinned down, I sewed them to the bodice with a slip-stitch.

After that I finished sewing the bodice and making the sleeves while I planned a little birthday party for myself. 
A new dress to cheer myself up was all well and good, but I thought having some company would also help me dread my birthday less, and hopefully not cry on the actual day. So I invited a few friends and  female members of my family over for a birthday picnic at my house. I told them to dress up in something fun - I would be wearing my Felicity Birthday Dress!

Life got busy then, and I slowed down a bit on gown construction. Two days before my birthday I trimmed up the hem, then got busy hemming the gown and attaching the sleeves and shoulder straps. 
I would have this gown wearable for my birthday!

And it was. The day before my birthday the gown was basically done, there were a few more details I wanted to add, but it was wearable. The apron was also done. The matching petticoat? Was not done. But it would be ok, I could just wear my cotton metalasse petticoat, it would be mostly covered by the gown skirt and apron anyway!

The night before my birthday my two best friends, my sister-in-law, and my niece, came over to stay. The morning of my birthday the group of us went out to explore the local thrift shops together. My husband waved us off and said not to worry about hurrying back - he'd get everything set up for our picnic that afternoon. He wanted my birthday to be perfect and for me to enjoy the time with my friends.
Several hours later, we returned with some thrifted treasures and a very tired toddler. We pulled into my driveway, and there were a lot more cars there than just the other guests I'd invited for the picnic!

My husband had thrown me a surprise party! He had everybody there! My parents, my siblings, my grandma, aunts, uncles, cousins, the family I used the nanny for, the family I currently nanny for, old friends, new friends - everybody!
It was the most amazing thing and made me feel so loved! I'm in awe of what my husband pulled off with the assistance of my mom and best friends! Never did I expect this!
The only time I cried that day was tears of joy when I got to see someone I'd been missing greatly and hadn't been able to see in over a year. It was an amazing afternoon!

That said, in all the joy and busy-ness of enjoying my birthday party, I didn't get a chance to put on my new gown! Instead I wore my watermelon sundress, since that's the cheerful dress I'd put on that morning to go thrifting in.

And not wearing my dress that day was ok. But, since I'd made it, a local friend and I planned an afternoon at a tea shop for later that month. Tea would be an acceptable time to debut my new gown - and this would give me a bit more time to add the finishing details to the gown and make the matching petticoat!


  1. Happy (VERY) belated birthday, Alyssa!! What a sweet party you had... it's always wonderful to be surrounded by friends and family, making memories. And the dress turned out so beautifully! Don't be afraid to share your personal struggles and hopes and dreams; it helps those of us who care about you to know what to pray for, and I will definitely be praying! :)

    1. Thank you Anna! I really, really, appreciate the prayers!

  2. Wow, Alyssa. The Felicity dress is beautiful. Great job. And yes the BD party was awesome. Mat did a great job pulling it all together.

  3. What a lovely dress. Your husband earns the "Best Husband Award" that's for sure. And finally, I wish you all the best for the future. May your wishes and hopes come true! Regula

  4. What a beautiful birthday, Alyssa! I will be praying for you and all your struggles, may God grant you peace and joy!

  5. This is coming very late, Alyssa, but know that I will be praying for you as well! Happy Easter!