For years I’ve wanted to make a gown using my family’s tartan. But I didn’t necessarily want it in wool. So that left a silk fabric. Yeah… expensive silk. From Scotland. hehe 😀 Also, I hadn’t sewn a plaid in years (and no, I don’t mean going back to when I was 14 and made my first real ruffley dress in a lovely Black Watch plaid).
I knew this project would be a challenge. And every few years or so we NEED that challenge project to bump up our skills and refresh old ones.
Here’s how I completed mine and forced my pricey plaid to yield to the Early Bustle Era fashions.
Not sure which came first – finding the silk tartan fabric or happening upon the fashion plate that I copied. I want to say the plate as I fell in love immediately and knew THAT was the design for my tartan.
The 3 oz. dupioni silk fabric was ordered from Scotweb.co.uk (which, for some reason, has hiccups in getting on their website). The tartan was woven by James Hare then shipped from Scotland (I was a happy girl that day).
The tartan is MacGregor (modern colours) and is the tartan from my grandmother’s grandmother’s line.
Wanting to stay true to the fashion plate, I agonized over what complementary colors to use with so obvious a Christmas color scheme of plaid. (Try as I did, it *still* looks too much like Christmas!)
A shopping trip to Downtown LA produced black twill for the underskirt foundation (much to my dismay later – discovering a 3% spandex stretch woven in – ugh!) and black silk dupioni for the underskirt ruffles and sleeves. Instead of pulling out the white woven stripe from the plaid I went with a light silver color – Scotch & Soda 🙂 The ball fringe in the plate was replaced with white rayon trim headed by 1″ green velvet ribbon.
People are always asking what patterns I used for various projects. Some are easy – cut & dried from the pattern as is; others – from my own testing & trials of repeated sewing. This dress used both.
The underskirt is Truly Victorian TV208 Trained Skirt, view A cut from the twill. No changes except a casing behind the knees to pull in the width of the train for a better 1875 silhouette.
I cut enough panel strips of the silk dupioni to start with 36 yards of flat fabric when all pieced together. I then ran one row of machine gathering breaking the stitches just past each piecing seam.
I initially was going to pin and machine mount the ruffles to the skirt base. Yeah…
As I started gathering up the sections I realized such a higher quality look would be produced if I hand tacked them all on. Yes. All.33.yards. (as was the final count) The skirt including the ruffles took about 55 hours total to make.
As I was setting on the ruffles I decided to fill it in full around the hem and train so I could use the skirt as a base for other mid-1870s gowns. (I see an all-black dress in my future!)
The plaid overskirt was made, about 80% exact, from the Truly Victorian TV304 1875 Square Overskirt. This overskirt shape was extremely popular in 1875-76. Even though I knew the general shape was what I wanted, the plate showed skewed back edges I wanted to duplicate.
I trimmed the hem a tiny bit and had to play with the center back pouf – it was HUGE!! I controlled it by shortening the pouf pattern by 4-plus inches and made the pouf base a bit wider and with a wider lower edge. I also lengthened the base by 2″.
The plaid was flatlined with silk organza for body then finished with 1.5″ wide silk dupioni bias.
I cheated and machined stitched the bias then pulled it out of the way so I could machine stitch the lace on at the edge. The bias was then turned inside and hand tacked down. The 1″ green velvet ribbon was hand tacked along both edges to cover the top of the lace and finish the trimming.
The sash was developed with long strips of muslin pinned at the left side back seam (just below the placket opening – another change I made from the TV pattern). The strips were then brought around to the front, pleated and pinned at the right side near the knee.
Because the fashion plate gives NO CLUE about how the front should look I had to make this up. I could see the sash sweeping down each side at an angle but then what? After researching original dresses on my Pinterest boards I decided on a bow. Not sure at that point what kind of bow, but a bow… loopy thing… you know.
Later I decided to cut wide strips on the cross of the fabric and sew the long seam making a tube. I also made a narrower tube for the bow loop. The tubes were gently folded at the top with the top raw edge about where the tie loop would be. They were pleated a bit for interest then I simply started tacking the folds and pleats together.
Using my hand bow technique, I finished the bow with the tie loop covering the tacking stitches. Finally, I pulled out the horizontal threads to create the fringe.
The final bit of the overskirt was the sash tail. Analyzing the fashion plate further I realized that the four rows of tiny trim would take the dress from “wow” to “amazing.” It really WAS the key to completing the look.
The only 1/4″ wide trim I could find quickly was a double sided velvet ribbon. Ugh… double.sided.velvet… Again, same as with the skirt ruffles, I knew this was a hand tacking project. A whole afternoon yielded 9 hours spent making tiny tacks to hold the four even rows of tiny ribbon onto the tail.
The tail was first flatlined with silk organza then the ribbon sewn on. To finish, I sewed a lining layer of the same silver silk to finish the raw edges and enclose the hand stitches.
Now that the skirts were done it was time for the bodice. Plaid matching… you do it just like matching stripes.
This is where I really can’t tell you what pattern I used. Well… ok. I used my bodice from the 1887 Summer Berry Trifle Dress which is like the fourth or fifth generation of some Truly Victorian pattern. The TV460 perhaps??
I had to slice and add fabric to get it to lie smoothly over my hips in that deep rounded side. I also spent time taking in the side seams to make it fit better. (See – don’t reinvent the wheel.) Oh, and for those of you with sharp eyes, yes my sleeve IS set in backwards. Ha! The curve is supposed to go on the back side for the elbow. Doh!
Next was oxygen deprivation time as I held my breath for three hours while I patiently matched the plaid at each seam. I almost cut it wrong for the overskirt was cut on the cross (see photo above) and so I needed to turn my bodice so it would also be cut on the cross to allow the green rectangles of the plaid to run in the same direction. (Yeah, they aren’t squares! Lucky catch!)
To keep with the Scottish theme I purchased beautiful 3/4″ pewter buttons from Three Feathers Pewter. The thistle design along with my thistle bodice brooch was perfect!
My hairstyle was composed of one piece of long sausage curls pinned on top of a high ponytail made from my own hair as a base. Then a second piece made from two smaller curly hairpieces was secured on top. (Both pieces were made by Tracy at The Historical Hairdresser.) The faux roses from Michaels were lightly arranged around the head mimicking styles we see so often in period plates.
The dress is about 97% done as I have bias strips cut to create cuff trim on the sleeves. The dress turned out fabulously, in my opinion, so we’ll see if I ever get around to adding that bias trim. 🙂
Have you tested your skills this year with a challenge project? Is it completed?