1876 February ensemble
It all started innocently enough – ‘Historical Sewing’ posted a fashion plate on their timeline – February 1876, from Englishwomen’s Domestic Magazine
I liked it, and pinned it to my Pinterest board, stored away on a wish list of items to make one day – there were already too many other things to be worked on. Over the last few months I got the fabrics bit by bit, so that everything would be ready for when I eventually decided to go for it – no hurry, no pressure.
But then, due to a sudden change of plans it turned out that we would be attending a Victorian Christmas Market at Stoke Rochford Hall, near Grantham. In itself, noting extraordinary here, until it was pointed out to me that there would be a skating rink on site! That was all I needed to get my imagination going and I immediately saw myself gliding effortlessly across the ice, swathed in that lovely February attire.
The timing was tricky – I had commissions to work on first of all, but I reckoned if I got them sorted out and could have a day to get most of the work done with the machine, then I could spend Saturday at the market hand finishing the last bits, and Sunday would see me wearing the completed outfit. Just about doable…
As a matter of fact, I managed to finish the commissions early enough, so had half of Thursday at my disposal – it almost seemed too good to be true, so I embarked upon the project. And it was indeed too good to be true – my new machine threw a wobbler, and as a result it was sent back for servicing/repairs… meaning that I ended up with a brand new semi industrial machine in its place! So don’t be surprised if you see different machines in the pictures.
I did manage to do all of the machine work on the Friday and took the lot to be hand finished at the event.
Anyway – a step by step account below, should you wish to recreate the outfit for yourself!
Wool (with nap, so limits the direction of cutting) – 6m (5-5.5 would probably do the trick if using plain fabric with no nap)
Black silk for the bodice front insert – 0.5m
Lining – cotton, 5m, two varieties (I used up left over bits)
Fur trim – 12 yards (an Etsy find)
Velvet ribbon, narrow – 25 m
Double sided velvet ribbon, wide – 15m
Bits of black silk velvet for binding,
Buttons, covered with black velvet – 20
Waist stay – cotton tape
Hooks and eyes for the waist stay,
Boning for the bodice and tape to form boning channels
Total cost of the materials – Fabrics ( wool and lining) £115, trims, notions etc – £ 130 ( fur trim was a bit pricey… )
The skirt and the overskirt.
In the original the skirt is trained, but since I wanted to use the ensemble for winter sports, a train would probably be a bit of a hindrance– so a walking skirt length was required instead. As such, I simply used one of the patterns that I have been using for my walking bustle-skirts.
The overskirt pattern was a bit of an adventure – given the limited time allowance, I sketched the shape more or less, cut it out, and it sort of worked. On second thoughts I think I should have made the hem more curved – a suggested improvement is marked on the drawing. Mind you, keeping the shape rectangular makes sewing the ribbon trim rather easier than following curved lines – if you plan the trim, it is easier to change the upper part of the piece – (also marked on the drawing)
- Cut out your pieces in top fabric and lining. The skirt will be flatlined, so pin or baste each piece together (front top fabric to front lining) before assembly.
- Mark and pin the darts in the front piece. Sew the darts
- Assemble – sew the side pieces to the front piece.
- Decide where you want the opening to be – centre back, if you are not cutting the back piece on fold, or side back, as I did.
- Stitch the back piece(s) at the side panels. Press the seams open, if you can (not advisable on my napped wool – heat flattens the nap and leaves marks )
- Pleat the pack of the skirt so that it matches the length of the waistband.
- Place the waistband on the skirt (right sides together), pin and stitch.
- Grade the seam, reducing the bulk of the pleats, then flip the waistband over and secure it with small stitches (or run the stich on the sewing machine). Since my fabric was quite bulky, I cut the waistband with the selvage – so that I didn’t have to turn it under and create another layer of volume
- Add a button hole and a button.
- Place the skirt on the dummy, over the undergarments that you plan to wear. Adjust the hem, marking any corrections. Just to be absolutely sure, try the skirt on – again with the undergarments on, and the boots you will be wearing.
- Once you are satisfied with the length all around, finish the hem. You have a few options here – you can bind it; you can fold the hem over, secure it with stitching and then add a tape-over to straighten it (see my previous article on how to make a walking dress ). You can use a facing too. Here, I simply folded the allowance under, basted it and then, on the right side, sewed on the velvet ribbon. A tape stitched to the inside hides the machine stitches and protects the hem too.
- Finish the interior seams – trim them, making sure the lining seams are shorter. Secure the seam allowances with small stitches, sewing them open, to the lining
- The skirt is now ready.
The front part.
- Cut out the piece in top fabric and lining. Assembly will depend upon the amount of time and the kind of fur available. With ready trim, either hem the piece, stitch the trim on and then add the lining, or, do it all in one go, treating the fur trim like a piping. This can be tricky, but saves time . If you are working using fur trim cut out from a plate, baste the two layers first and then bind them using the fur strip as binding.
- Mark and sew the darts
and the front is ready!
The back piece.
- Mark the position of the ribbon trims, (or use your machine’s guidelines). Sew the 3 rows of ribbon trim.
- Hem the piece
- Stitch the fur trim onto the hem. Pin the lining and sew it alongside the fur trim.
- Again, if using fur strips from plates, binding the piece will be easier and less time-consuming.
Pleat the panel and to the desired width and pin it onto the waistband. Pin the front piece onto the waistband – it should overlap at the sides. Try it on a dummy to see if the overlap is sufficient.
Adjust as necessary, and sew the waistband on in the same way as you did the skirt’s waistband
All you need to do now is to finish your overskirt is to add the decoration – but that can wait until you have bodice made, as it is then easier to judge the best position for the bows. Here shown already decorated
Pattern – again, I simply adapted my template bodice pattern by making it slightly longer in front, and adding a bit of fullness at panel 2 to mirror the shape on the fashion plate. The back pieces are substantially longer and flare quite dramatically . Neckline was adapted too.
Normally I would have made a mock up, but with the time constraint I decided to risk it – after all I know the pattern fits me well as I have made a few bodices based on it – so in theory it would be fine! Still, if you have time – do make a mock up…..
- Cut out the pieces in top fabric and lining. Pin or baste the wool and lining pieces together – if authenticity is not a priority, you can overlock (serge) the pieces – much easier to work with and will save you hours of hand finishing the seams.
- Pin and sew the front darts
- Assemble to bodice – sew the front piece to the side, then add side back (leave the seam from the waist to the hem open between the side-front and side-back panels) and back. Repeat on the other side and lastly, sew the two halves together at the back-centre seam.
- Sew the shoulder seams. The mini bodice is now assembled
- Try it on. There is still time to check the fit, and make adjustments. In my case it was evident that the front darts were too short – and the shoulder seam needed taking in.
- Once that was sorted I only needed to reduce the flare in the front panels at the hem – just half an inch less did the trick
- Once satisfied with the fit, press the seams open (if your fabric allows for it!) and you can start working on the sleeve. I did cut mine with a loose fitted cuff and pinned it on my arm to make sure that it looked correct
- Sew the sleeve parts together along the back seam. Before you sew it to the front one, sew the ribbon decoration onto the cuff – this is much easier than dealing with a closed sleeve!
- Decoration on, complete assembling the sleeve. Pin it into the arms, matching the back seams, and ease it in. (you can do that after decorating the bodice itself – easier to manoeuvre the bodice without the sleeves!)
- Bodice decoration – apply the ribbon trim to the required parts of the bodice.The original here didn’t have any ribbon on the front part – since I had some left over ribbon at that point, I added it there too. Next, add the fur trim.
- The front part – I simply bound the front edge in silk velvet strip.
- The mock vest – this step can be skipped if you plan to wear a blouse or a chemisette underneath. I had just about sufficient scraps of silk taffeta and decided to go for it.
- Trace the shape of the piece onto a scrap of calico and adapt it until you get a result you are happy with – I used 2 calico mock ups to arrive at the piece with a collar pointing downwards.
- Cut your pieces in silk – you will need 4. Sew them with right sides together, alongside the collar edge. Trim seams allowances, turn inside out, and press. Apply ribbon to your liking
- Before you mount the piece onto the bodice, finish the neckline of the bodice – hem it, and apply the fur trim. Add fur onto the cuffs too.
- Pin the insert in and stitch it in place. Try it on to see if the position is satisfactory, and whether you need to put in hooks and eyes. Trying to emulate the original, I also added a wide ribbon trim going from the shoulder to the centre front, with a bow conveniently hiding the hook and eye closure.
- Add lace frill if desired.
- Next step – add buttons and buttonholes, or settle for hook and eye closures. I admit I did neither – since the straight stitch machine doesn’t do buttonholes and I had no time to stitch them by hand, I settled for buttons and hidden loops – once I have my proper machine back, (or more time on my hands to fiddle with hand stitched buttonholes), I will remove the loops. It will also make the jacket a little better fitted)
- Finishing the seams – unless you have overlocked them, you now need to deal with the insides of the jacket – as I bet it is looking pretty messy! Trim the lining seam allowances, as you did with the skirt, and then shape the top fabric allowances to reduce bulk, then finish the seams by hand. Armholes – trim and bind in cotton tape
- Make boning channels out of tape ( or, if your seam allowances are big enough, you can actually place your bones inside the seam allowance and stitch it closed – (a good post of that by Historical sewing – http://historicalsewing.com/boning-in-bustle-bodices), insert the bones and secure the boning to their corresponding seams
- Stitch your waist tape to the centre back, and to the seams, over the boning – it will reduce pull on the buttons.
Last thing to do – decorations!
Put the whole ensemble onto a dummy and plan the decoration placement.
I had sufficient buttons to go on the apron front and lots of bows made out of double-sided ribbon to go on the bodice and overskirt
How to make bows – beautifully explained here (http://historicalsewing.com/how-to-make-ribbon-bows-for-victorian-costumes).
Stitch on the decoration , and you are done!
Now, only a muff, hat, gloves – and we are ready for a winter outing. Alas, no skating – the ice rink at the event turned out to be a tiny affair with plastic ice. I tried it out on Saturday with a friend, and my skates did manage a bit of a glide, but the ones for hire there were hopeless – plus, the plastic ice was sticky.
We just took a few pictures and decided to have a proper skating photo-shoot later on in the winter, on real ice. So instead, it was promenading on the lovely grounds -:-)
Things to change – make a better hat, for once. I have also learnt that the ready made fur trim is stiff and that stiffness translates onto the garment. Next time, I will save for a few high quality plates and work with them to achieve a wider and softer trim.
The skirts – looking at the pictures the lines are not exactly right – the original’s overskirt is a bit more slanted. Easy to remedy though – will fiddle with the length of the pieces at the waistband as indicated on the pattern.
Working with wool – sheer pleasure. It is the second Victorian outfit I have done in wool and I love it. It doesn’t fray, has just a little tiny bit of stretch in it to make fitting easy and wrinkle – free, and is a pleasure to wear too.
hope you enjoyed the post:-)
and a few more pictures from the day – the place was a heaven for photographers!