Day Dress, ca. 1840

Posted by muhammad nasrudin

I have had this dress in the works for a very long time. One time when I was in Walmart for ... buttons, I think, I came across this gold/brown quilting cotton with a very small leaf and floral print for $2 or $3/yard. I bought several yards of it, and set it aside until I had a reason to make an early Victorian dress.

Finally, after four or five years with not many Victorian events, I decided just to start it and wait for something to turn up. And something did! The Empire State Costumers decided to go to the Troy Victorian Stroll again (last year I went in mufti as I needed to leave fairly soon to attend Linda Baumgarten's talk on quilts at the Albany Institute), and I finished it ... a little too quickly, and there are problems, but as I always do things wrong the first time I'm just sort of glad I have the rough draft out of the way and can redo the bodice.

The leaders of the ESC trimming a tree.
Early Victorian is officially my favorite period, because it's the only one with a hairstyle that I can do. Literally the only one.

I started out with the sleeves, leaving them unlined as the originals I've seen have a very thin printed fabric with a sturdy lining, and this fabric stands up fairly well on its own. (There's an in-progress picture somewhere but I can't seem to find it.) You can't see in these photos, but the upper arm is pleated down and held with two rows of chain stitches in green DMC cotton. The bottom of the sleeve should be partially done in the same way, but due to time constraints I just pleated them into the cuff and resolved to come back later. (See example.)

When I finally gave in and decided to just make the dress already, with a pattern I'd taken at the Albany Institute, it was going to be quick and dirty. So I did the whole skirt on the machine, with some shoddy piecing and even a little "darning" near the hem, although I did also cartridge pleat it to the waistband and eventually hem it by hand. The bodice I did entirely by hand, because I didn't really start it until I moved into a place where I couldn't set up my machine. But I really think I'm faster when hand-sewing, for the most part, anyway, and very few seams really need the strength of a lock-stitch. But despite my historical authenticity, it ended up 2" too big, as do literally all of my rough drafts. Why is that?

That is a Tiffany window behind us, as they're proud to tell you.
You can see that I made a little drawstring bag to carry my phone, etc. around in. In addition to that, I've got on a grey wool Banana Republic cape I got secondhand for $60, my tan leather gloves, Fugawee Annas, and a relatively accurate bonnet of my own making. (It has issues but is a pretty color.) Overall, I was not as prettily turned out as I have been at other times, but I did feel very Victorian!