Calico Dress, 1880s

This dress is a copy of an extant 1880s dress. The original was described as being of calico with silk velvet ribbon trimmings. My dress is made of very similar white-on-white printed floral cotton “calico,” lined in cotton, and trimmed with black velvet ribbons. The bodice presently closes with hooks and eyes, and has decorative buttons, but I plan to switch it to a working button closer (as the original had), using antique glass buttons and buttonholes done in black silk buttonhole twist. I used Truly Victorian patterns for this ensemble, #261 for the skirt and #463 for the bodice, but made some significant alterations to the sleeve. A combination of machine and hand sewing was used in assembling this dress.
Dress Diary
Today I went to Wal-Mart and found a suitable calico for my dress. I bought eight yards, which I think will be more than enough. Now, to pre-wash that fabric so I can get started!
I found myself with some quiet time to myself this past Saturday, and so I set about ironing the fabric for this ensemble. Somehow, I wasn't completely exhausted after that, and so thought I would get a start on the skirt. . . Well, it went together like a dream, and all I've left to do is sew the tapes where they are pinned, hem the skirt, and add closures!
I also located the bodice mock-up I had done a while ago, and bought some antique black glass buttons on eBay. So, my next step is to start fitting that bodice mock-up, and keep my eye out for some narrow black velvet ribbon to trim this bodice with. The skirt of the original ensemble I am copying doesn't have any trimmings, but I am thinking of adding a double band of the black velvet around the bottom of the skirt, because it looks very plain indeed as is. . . But I will wait until I have a finished bodice, and see how it looks all put together, including with black stockings and boots. . .
The first thing I did on this today was fix the pouffings on the skirt. I just kept trying again and again until I found something I liked, and here it is:
That done, I started work on the bodice. The bodice was a bit too long in back for me so I shortened it as directed by the pattern instructions. That fixed the back, but the front pieces I chose are one size too small.
So, since the front pieces were too small, I replaced them with the next size up, and then added the sleeves and collar pieces. Please ignore the fact that I accidentally made two of the same sleeve, and didn't realize that until after I'd set the sleeves in (so ignore my left arm!)
All I can say is. . . Holy sleeves, Batman!!! Oh my goodness!!! They're so huge!!! I hate them!!! So, more re-drafting for me. . . *sigh* And, I'm really hoping that wrinkliness is because of the fabric or stitch length or something, and not a problem with the pattern. I really hate messing with sleeves, and fixing that ginormous puff at the shoulder is going to be enough of a pain, I totally don't want to mess with trying to adjust the lines of the curved sleeve pieces too! *crosses fingers that all will magically go well*
Over the long weekend, I took out the left sleeve (the one I had set in backwards anyhow) and made some changes, which can be seen in the pictures below. Over all, I think I'm very close with the sleeve. It needs to be lengthened, and I have a little issue to fix with the underarm, but other than that, it works, and has just a tiny bit of gathering at the top, which I like much better than the giant pouf! Also, I paid more attention to the waistline markings this time, and as a result I had to shorten the entire bodice all the way around. I have no idea the proper way to do this, so I just sort of made a tuck where it looked good, all the way around, and so have some challenges to face when it comes time to transfer these alterations to my pattern pieces! So that's my next step. Fix the pattern pieces, and then make another mock-up just to be sure it's as perfect as I can get it. . .
I made a little more progress over the weekend, including putting together a new mock-up of the bodice with all the fitting changes I have made:
I know it still looks like there is extra fullness across the back, but gently pulling down on the bodice removes that, as well as puts the waist down to the correct location. I think it has much to do with the fact that my corset ends right there, and the chemise bulges out. I'll wear the less bulky chemise under the finished bodice, and the final bodice will also have boning in it which I think will prevent the finished bodice from creeping up in this way.

So, seeing as how I am happy with that mock-up, I went ahead and cut out all the "real" fabrics for the final bodice. I have four evenings to put all of that together, and to hem the skirt. It's cutting it close, but I think I can do it! The only real drama I think will be in regards to the bodice closures. I bought some lovely black glass faceted vintage/antique buttons on eBay that are simply perfect for this ensemble. The only problem is, they are still on their cards, after all these years, and I just can't bring myself to remove them! I've been looking around in various shops for something similar to use, with no luck, until last night, when I stumbled upon what appears to be a total replica of these buttons in my local JoAnn's store. I'd have snapped them up and been totally content, except that they didn't have enough of them! They only had three cards, for a total of nine buttons, and I have already figured out that I need between 12 - 14 buttons of this size to look right. So this week will involve some last-minute shopping at stores that are further away from me, and hopefully I can find something that will work, and the antique buttons will be spared!
I'm very pleased to say that I had this dress wearable in time for the 11/12 tea dance! Of course, it lacks a few pieces of trimmings, and I had to use hooks and eyes instead of making all those buttonholes as I simply didn't have time, but those are things I'll fix in time for the next wearing. I'm very happy that I found modern buttons that are a dead ringer for the antique buttons I was considering, so they were spared from being ripped off their cards!
This page © 2010 by Jennifer E. Lithgow