Saturday, October 17, 2015

Fast forward 100 years . . .

Last you left me, I had written about my 1783 Chemise a la Reine.  My new project skips forward about 100 years.  I was asked to portray Ellen Hardin Walworth at our Maryland State DAR Founders Day Tea.  October 11 marked the 125th anniversary of the founding of the DAR and I was proud to be asked to play Mrs. Walworth who was a fascinating woman.  She lived from 1832 to 1915.  The DAR was founded in 1890.  I had these portraits to get an idea of how Mrs. Walworth might have dressed:

 The top portrait looks to be a natural form gown from about 1878 - 1882.  These gowns were called natural form gowns because they were not worn with bustles.  That period was followed by the bustle period.  The sleeves look to be of that period.  The second portrait looks to be possibly in the 1890's due to the big sleeves.  Really large sleeves were popular during that period.  The big leg of mutton sleeves were typical of that era.  Bustles were not worn during that period either.  I bought patterns from both of these eras and decided ultimately to go with the natural form one.  I greatly dislike those huge sleeves of the 1890s.  I like the shape of the natural form skirts better as well.  They are flat in the front and don't flare much.  There is a lot of fullness in the back.    I settled on Truly Victorian Patterns:  TV125 for the 1879 Petticoat, TV221 for the  1878Tie Back Underskirt, and TV420 for the 1878 Cuirass Bodice with evening options.  Research revealed that older women typically wore darker colors so I found a glorious Sienna silk taffeta at Renaissance fabrics.  It's one of those silks that changes colors in the light as the warp and weft are different colors.

 I made the petticoat first.  It was the most labor intensive of the three pieces.  I did not make the train.  This era is quite a departure from the 18th century and Regency garments I'm used to making.  The skirts of this era have all of their fullness in the back.  The back of the petticoat has an inner and outer back with tiered net ruffles between them--yards and yards and yards of net!  Fortunately I was able to get 10 yards of cotton netting on Ebay for a reasonable price.  The back of the outer back piece has a piece of cotton twill tape sewn on the inside about 8 inches above the ruffles with buttons sewn across.  This is where you would attach the train.  I added an extra ruffle figuring I can put the buttons on the lace trim if I ever want to make a train.

The petticoat closes in the center front with a hook and eye on the waistband.  It is made out of bleached muslin.  I used my ruffler attachment set to a 2:1 ratio to do the tiny pleats on the ruffles. There was just no way I was going to gather that much fabric. I concealed the raw edges of the top of the ruffles with cotton beading lace and blue ribbon.  Once that was completed I could work on fitting the other garments.

The skirt was very straight forward.  Just sew the front to the side fronts then the side backs and a large back piece.  There is an opening left between one side back and the back.  I chose to actually made a placket so my petticoat wouldn't show.  I pleated the back piece to fit the waistband then attached hooks and eyes.  There are ties attached to the inside seams where the side backs join the back.  These are tied pulling the front tighter and making the back fullness protrude more in the back, not allowing it to move around to the sides.

 The instructions for fitting the bodice were quite interesting.  You had to do several different calculations that you don't do with modern patterns.  However, upon making the muslin, it fit perfectly with a few alterations.  I refashioned the neckline so that it was a square in the front but with a high back--unlike the version on the pattern.  I also raised the neckline about 3/4 of an inch and it was still quite low.  I don't have proper Victorian underpinnings and a corset really is necessary to achieve the correct silhouette so I fitted the bodice using my modern waspie corset then I ordered one with a little more coverage and a larger hip spring.  Corsets of that time actually went halfway up the bust but I was able to achieve the right look using the modern corset.  I wore the outfit with American Duchess Tavistock button boots.  They really button with a button hook!

 I remembered that I had that little antique Victorian or Edwardian camisole.  It's a lovely little thing--completely hand made with the tiniest pintucks and feather stitching.  There are patches sewn on where the cami had worn.

The bodice went together without issue.  I did have to use plastic boning which I dislike as I didn't have any sprung steel bones in the correct lengths and time was of the essence.  Typically bodices were underlined (called flatlining) to give them more structure so I did this using unbleached muslin which allowed me to make my dart markings easily. Bodices were typically not lined.  Seams were just finished and typically a waist stay was stitched in.  Edges were faced with self fabric bias strips. Truly Victorian patterns have you make a bagged lining.  Given the ravely nature of the silk taffeta, I decided that I would go ahead and do a bagged lining using lightweight black silk.

I was able to find some nice wide vintage lace on Etsy in a sufficient quantity for this.  I have a huge lace stash but most of it is either narrow or Swiss embroidery, neither of which was the look I wanted.  I just hand whipped the lace in place making little pleats as I went along.

I went ahead and made machine buttonholes but at a later time, I'll go over them by hand.  I had gotten some 1890ish vegetable ivory buttons from someone in the Vintage Fabric Buy and Sell Facebook group which were the perfect shade.

I ended up with almost 4 yards of extra silk taffeta!  The yardage chart didn't list anything wider than 45 inches and my silk was 56 inches wide.  So I purchased an overskirt pattern to make up at a later date.  Ladies could change the look of their outfits by putting different overskirts on!

Our beautiful Maryland State Society DAR Chapter House where our Founders Day Tea was held was the perfect setting for a photo shoot.