Many of us, I think, use paintings, photographs and fashion plates as inspiration for our historical costumes. I mean, why not? They are beautiful and fully represent the time period of our choice.
So what happens when we approach the creation of a particularly (seemingly) difficult garment? It’s so easy to be trapped into inaction because we simply don’t know where to start.
I posted the above photo, The Blue Dress, 1872, by Auguste Toulmouche a few months ago and wanted to share how to break it down into workable parts and also offer a few pattern suggestions, per your requests.
Really, it’s not so much the design of this dress but the fabric that was used. Silk velvet and silk satin. Dreamy…
The foundation skirt is made from satin, the train/overskirt in velvet and the bodice also in velvet. Trims include yellow ribbon or piping around the neckline, armhole, sleeve hem/opening, bodice peplum, and a yellow sash on the train. The yellow accent is continued as lining for the skirt ruffles and the cord holding them in place.
Victorian ensembles are generally built from the bottom up and the skin out. This gown is no different. You want to start your reproduction with the foundation skirt. (For those of you cocking your eyebrow at me – you’ll, of course, need to build the silhouette first with chemise & drawers, corset, and bustle.
I’d recommend a good skirt pattern to start you off right and you can’t beat the Truly Victorian TV201. It’s a basic, but fantastic, skirt pattern with the full, early 1870s silhouette you need for this dress. Make it in a silk satin if you have the funds; or in a silk taffeta for elegance. Use a high-quality poly bridal satin if you’re on a budget.
The three skirt ruffles are cut from the same fabric so add a couple extra yards for those.
Next you want to sew up the train/overskirt piece. It looks simply like a wide panel that’s been bustled up a bit right above the knee area.
You can see a seam there on the lower half; that’s most likely because of the narrow silk material that was used. Eighteen inch wide silk fabric was a common width. With our wide 54″ and 60″ wide silks today, I’d suggest either one full width or a one & a half width with seams to the sides rather than at center back.
No pattern is really necessary here. Cut a panel of fabric the length of measure from your waist down over the bustle support and for as long out as you want the train. You’ll need to allow a few inches for bustling at the back. Remember to add hem and waist seam allowances.
Take a closer look. Does the top pouf look darker than the lower train part? Yeah, it does to me too. To save money, you could use the velvet for just the top pouf part of the back and seam it with the length of silk taffeta the rest of the skirt is made from. An idea, no?
Cut the full train or upper panel from velvet and flatline the upper portion with stiff organdy or netting. Put in a hem facing at the bottom for support too. Then finish with a thin lining in a habotai (China) silk, organza, or other light, lining fabric.
The train can be made up separately and either mounted to the skirt back and finished with one waistband; or finished with its own band and simply hooked on to the skirt waistband.
The bodice is our last main piece and it is spot on the Truly Victorian TV400. See that peplum tail? Uh-huh.
Sleeves are cut just about 7/8ths length with a slit up the back seam. The slit is filled in by a puffed bit of light fabric. For richness, choose a silk or cotton tulle. A smooth batiste or even lawn or voile would work too. Cover the gathering stitches with blue velvet ribbon then tack inside the finished sleeve.
To complete the look, cut a long length of yellow silk taffeta for the train sash. Even though silk taffeta is fairly stiff, I’d recommend two layers here, plus an organza or organdy underlining for body and support. Don’t forget the three points at the hem of each tail!
After you are dressed, stare mercilessly at the wall clock willing it to move faster for your friends to hurry their arrival.
Do you evaluate paintings to use for costume inspiration? Does this article of a dress breakdown help you to move forward? Let me know in the comments below.