Making My Victorian Wedding Dress, part 1

1. finished outfit, evening version

In a few days’ time  it will be our third wedding anniversary – and to celebrate we decided to make these articles available for free – enjoy!

 

 

To be wed in Victorian finery! What can a bride-to-be want more? Well, probably a costumier who would do all the fiddly work for her.  Alas I wasn’t that lucky – and the tight budget meant that if I wanted a fancy frock for my wedding, I had to make my own.

Victorian was a fairly new period for me at that time – so in order to allow the time to learn the secrets of Victorian costuming, I decided to make the bridal party frocks first – 4 different styles of Victorian outfits. The reasoning behind that was that by the time I start work on my own outfit, if I was to make any mistakes, I would have made them, and learnt from them before I cut into the hideously expensive bridal satin.  The cunning plan worked, and the results will be presented to you in this article, so that, if you wish, you can duplicate the look without having to negotiate such a steep learning curve.

I am going to discuss the layers briefly, and then provide instructions how to make the following: a steel boned bustle, a soft bustle pad and a flounced petticoat, a foundation skirt, apron overskirt and a detachable train; an afternoon and a ball bodice and a veil.  Most of the garments have been presented in the individual articles (apart from the bodices); this one deals with all the garments in once place so that it is easier to use it if you wish to replicate any –or all of the items.

 

Background information and research

The style I wanted for my outfit was around 1883, so just after the Natural Form when the second Bustle style comes into fashion.

I had to consider a few factors: the dress would be worn not only for the ceremony, but for a hack on a side saddle, and then, with the evening bodice, for dancing.  The two factors, riding and dancing had a huge impact on the underwear I chose to make.

I already managed to acquire a few antique items I planned to wear – a lovely camisole, a pair of drawers (in the earlier style, but I decided to wear them anyway, since time to prepare the whole bridal trousseaux was short) and a bodiced petticoat.

2. camisole

A corset cover in cotton

3. drawers

Split drawers

4. bodiced petticoat

A bodiced petticoat

I needed a corset, a bustle pad – to support the skirts for riding, a full, long, steel boned bustle, ideal for supporting the skirts for dancing, and a flounced petticoat to provide the volume.

The corset

To take some weight off my shoulders and save me some time – and possibly mistakes, as well, I engaged Cathy Hay from Harman Hay to draft the pattern of the corset and create the mock up. Once that was ready, I was presented with ready pattern pieces and could make the corset myself – a great solution as a perfect compromise, saving me both time and money.

Since I wanted to be using the corset for all kinds of activities, it was essential that I made sure the corset did not restrict my movement. Cathy’s mock up was fully boned and behaving just like the real thing, so I was able to test it in a variety of situations. The mock up fitted almost perfectly while standing and moving around – but it was a different story when I used it for more energetic activities!

I tried it on horseback, and it was evident almost from the start that it needed it to be much shorter than I originally thought as the front busk kept digging in my thigh, and a jump resulted in a spectacular bruise.

6.close up of the mock up showing the busk - too long for riding

Testing the mock up in the saddle- busk is visibly too long

 

7. side view of the mock up - back just a bit too high

8. mock up in action - sides half an inch too high, and digging into armipts when riding - mark the arms position

You can also see that the sides and back were just slightly too high for riding – mark my awkward arm position at the jump.

Since it was just a mock up, the alternations were not difficult to reflect on the pattern, and as a result I ended up with a corset that not only fits well, but that also works well for all kinds of activities.

9. corset amended, with a shorter busk, here still before  binding and finishing touches

Corset in cotton coutil and taffeta, fully boned – here just testing before adapting the sides, binding and decorating

Almost ready – just flossing to do (done 18months after the wedding! )

 10. finished corset ( just flossing to do...)

 The bustle cage (lobster tail) and the petticoat

I have already written an article on making the bustle cage – here, and the petticoat tutorial is here

Testing the layers in the saddle…

48. back view - note the unbuttoned petticoat

back view – note the unbuttoned petticoat

46. Stocking, drawers, corset and the petticoat, worn on the bustle pad,  at trial riding

Stockings, chemise,drawers, corset and the petticoat, worn on the bustle pad, at trial riding

 The pad or the bustle?

Some skirts can be worn on either, depending on the style and dating.   The pad is great for walking and, in my case, I made one for walking down the aisle. I was riding side saddle just after the ceremony and there would be no time to change – so the pad worked very well.

The long bustle was simply amazing for dancing. My wedding gown had a long train which bustled for dancing, but the weight was substantial, and it was still trailing on the ground. The bustle kept the excess fabric away from my legs, making waltzing much less difficult!  Despite the steels, the bustle is very comfortable to sit in too – it simply collapses flat!

31. side view of the  day bodice

Victorian wedding gown – skirts and train worn over a pad.

 41. train bustled

The same gown, though with an evening bodice, worn over the steel boned bustle.

 

 

The Skirts

We will discuss the construction and decoration of the skirt, apron skirt and a detachable train suitable for the Victorian fashions of the Second Bustle period – although with small changes the items will also work for the Natural Form era.

My wedding gown is used here as an example – but the items can be rendered  in any  suitable fabric and used for travelling, visiting, promenading or ball gowns – or Steampunk versions of thereof!

The pattern

For my wedding attire, simplicity was the main concern. I needed the skirt to be versatile: wide enough to dance and ride in, but without  a bulk; also, I wanted it to be worn with a later outfit, late 80ies, maybe even 90ies so  any excessive decoration was really not an option.

1. 9Gore Skirt pattern with notes

In the end, and with some help from another costumier, Gini Newton, we decided on a 9 gore skirt, with a slight train.  We based our pattern on the skirt discussed in Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion 2 –  1882 dinner dress from The London Museum and adapted it accordingly arriving at a pattern very similar to the one of gallery of English Costume C1895, also in Janet Arnold. We did try a number of skirts to see which one would sit best on the bustle and the last one did the job just fine!

The London Museum skirt consists of front panel, front side panels, back sides panels and a back panel. We have added a side side panel as well – it provides a good fit at the upper part of the skirt in front and flares beautifully at the bottom; it can be worn with a bustle or, for later styles, without.

A similar pattern is available from Vena Cava designs:

http://www.venacavadesign.co.uk/Products/Ladies’_Nine-Gored_Skirt%3A_Circa_1900.html

 

Fabric:

All the components of the whole wedding outfit were made out of silk Duchesse satin. I bought mine from the Silk Society, and although absolutely stunning, it was also very expensive, retailing at £70 per metre. In the hindsight, I know now I could have obtained a fabric of similar quality but at half the price from James Hare.  James Hare’s duchesse satin has also the advantage of coming in a non-curl version – and for anybody who has ever had to deal with the curly satin, the advantages would be obvious!

The skirt took 3.5 metres of the 140cm wide top fabric and the same amount of lining (in lawn). If you plan to decorate your skirt in more complex and bigger ruffles, add at least 2 metres.

5 metres of crin tape for the hem

The same skirt can be made in plain wools, silk taffetas or satins as well.

Method

Since the satin I had was of the curly variety, I decided to flat line the skirts to stabilise the top fabric – a method commonly used in the period.

  1. Cut your pieces in lining first, labelling each one as you do so.
  2. Place the lining pieces on the left side of the top fabric, working one by one and starting from the front

–          Place the centre front lining panel on the fabric. Pin the two layers together, than cut out the top fabric. You now have a piece consisting of two layers, securely pinned. Make sure your labelling is visible – best place it next to the seam on the lining – it will be very helpful when assembling the skirt! If your fabric is very slippery, it is worth your time to baste the two layers together.

–          Repeat for all the other pieces; it really helps if, after cutting out you place them in the order they will be sewn.

–          Cut out the waistband and the placket

  1. Baste or pin the front and side pieces together. It is not necessary to baste all the way down, at the moment you only want to see if the skirts lies correctly on your belly and hips. The back panels will be pleated into the waistband, so the snugness is not necessary there.
  2. Try putting the basted pieces around your waist, while wearing your undergarments. This is essential – when you wear your corset the shape of your body changes – even if you do not go for tight lacing, the shape of your waist and belly will be different and that will be reflected in the fit of the skirt. If your skirt is to be always worn under an apron skirt or other drapery, a mistake here will go unnoticed. For later period however, a perfect fit is required.
  3. If the fit is to your satisfaction, you can sew the pieces. Again start from the front centre panel and add the side centre panels.
  4. After each panel press the seam flat (or you can do it once all the seams are sewn). You can also finish the raw edges with pinking shears to limit fraying, or  finish the stitches by hand.

Flat lined seams from the left side

 2. flatlining the skirt

If your skirts are in wool, or you wish them to be light, without any lining, simply sew the pieces right sides together, press the seam flat and either pink it or finish the edges by hand.

 

  1. Remember to leave an opening in the back seam for the placket (or a side seam if your skirt closes at the side instead).
  2. Arrange the back panels into pleats and pin the skirt to the waistband.
  3. Try it on, on all your undergarments.
  4. Tweak any problem areas and if everything is as you desire, sew the waistband to the skirt, placing the two layers right sides together. Fold the waistband  over, covering the edges, and hand stitch in place
3. waistband

3. waistband

 

  1. Prepare your placket and attach it to the opening on one side. Fold the edges of the opening over and hand stitch, securing them.
5. back pleats

5. back pleats

4. the placket

  1. Add a button and a button hole – or hooks and eyes.
  2. Time to look at the bottom hem now.  Try the skirt on, or put it on the stand, worn on all your undergarments and check the line of the hem. Make sure the length is appropriate to the shoes you will be wearing and make necessary adjustments.
  3. Take the skirt off; flip it on the left side.  Pin your crin. There are two ways  of working with that, you can either fold the hem and hand stitch it to the lining of the skirt  and then place the crin on top , covering the folded hem. Or, hand stitch the crin band to the lining, a little above the hem. Then fold the hem over it and stitch in place.  Press. The second method works much better on curly or flimsy fabrics, producing a nice finish to the hem.

6. skirt without the ruffle

Finished skirt without the ruffle

 

  1. You can add a short dust ruffle at the bottom as well. I added mine after I have finished all the garments as I wasn’t sure how much fabric I would have left!
  2. Cut the desired length of the ruffle in top fabric and lining. I realised that for every metre of the finished ruffle I need about 3 metres of fabric.
  3. Place the top layer and the lining right sides together, and sew. Once sewn, unfold and press the seam, then fold again making sure the top fabric extends a bit on the left side at the bottom hem of the ruffle. Press.
  4. The upper edge of the ruffle – you can either fold the top part over and stitch o4 fold both layers inside and stitch at the hem.
  5. You should now have quite a long, narrow strip of fabric. Since it is narrow, you can use a ruffle attachment on the machine to pleat it – it takes minutes instead of hours!
8. ruffle pleated and awaiting application

ruffle pleated and awaiting application

 

  1. Once pleated, press the ruffle carefully and pin to the hem – I placed mine over the crinoline strip, completely covering it.

9. ruffle being pinned to the skirt

Ruffle being pinned to the skirt

11. inside the ruffle

Close up of the ruffle

Stitch the ruffle in place – make the stitches in strong thread but remember that do not need to be tiny – after all you will be taking off the ruffle to be cleaned!  

The inside of the skirt showing the ruffle

10. the inside of the skirt showing the flatlining and the ruffleYour skirt is now ready.

 

12. the skirt in action - note the delicate edging of the ruffle

the skirt in action – note the delicate edging of the ruffle

 

 

 

Optional decoration

If you want you can add ruffles , flounces and other decorations to  the bottom of your skirts , simply repeat the steps  with a ruffle of your choice sewn to the outside of the skirt. A variety of options are possible here – one wider ruffle, few narrower ones, a flounce – the possibilities are endless!

For a simple, unlined ruffle, cut the desired length of the fabric – min 3 times the length of the finished ruffle . Hem on both sides and pleat – using a pleater, or a ruffler, or traditionally, with pins…

Press the finished ruffle with starch – or vinegar solution and sew onto the skirt.

13. skirt decoration - 2 rows of pleats

Finished skirt with 2 rows of pleating

You can experiment with the direction, sizes and shape of the pleats too – here’s an example of that!

14. 1 row of knife and box pleats

Alternative knife and box pleats, with the top being shaped as well

14. gathered flounces on the skirt

And an example of gathered flounces on a Natural Form era skirt, here on one of my bridesmaids

15. ruching panel and 1 row of pleats

And a combination of a ruffle and a ruching panel on a narrower skirt

The apron skirt

Fabric – 2.5 satin duchesse; again, wool, taffeta, satin etc will work just as well. If you want your skirt lined, the same amount of lining fabric will be needed.

2m of calico for mock up and experimenting

3m of decorative silk fringe

Pattern:

There are several patterns available online  – mine was based on  this one: http://www.venacavadesign.co.uk/Products/1883_August_Overskirt.html

 

Since I didn’t actually buy the pattern (a pity since I have no doubt it would shorten the whole process considerably!), I decided to make mine first in calico and experiment.

Method

Experimental  method : worth trying if you have never done this skirt before, or simply want to see the possibilities, in particular if you are working with a new fabric. Skip this step if you have a readymade pattern!

Cut two pieces in calico – front and back, both in trapezoid shape, with the back longer. Stitch the sides together and put it on the dummy. Try different kinds of pinning the folds:

16. calico mock up 1 - fail!

calico mock up 1 – fail!

Folds pinned facing downwards first. Epic fail

17. calico mock up2 - not too good either

calico mock up2 – not too good either

Folds pinned upwards. Better, but not what I was after.

 

At that point, I took the thing off, re-cut  the pieces in calico, this time placing them on the bias.  Stitched them together, put the skirt on the dummy.

18. calico mock up 3. bettter but not much

calico mock up 3. bettter but not much

Folds downwards: not very good, though better than before

19. calico mock up 4. bingo!

calico mock up 4. bingo!

Pinned upwards – result!

 

Just to be on the safe side, I took a length of the satin and pinned it as the front on the dummy, to see it the satin would behave like the calico. It did. Pinned the fringe on, to see if it would work with the heavy trim as well. It did!

 

 The making of the apron skirt proper.

  1. Cut out the pieces in your fabric (some fabric will require bias cut, some won’t – crispy taffeta looks good both ways!)
  2. Mark and sew the darts in the upper part
  3. Sew the pieces together, leaving the top of one seam open. Press the seams open and pink them.
  4. Cut out the waistband.
  5. Pleat the back part to fit into the waistband. You can add cotton tapes to the inside – they would control the folds at the back

 

  1. Sew the waistband in the same way you did with the skirt, add buttons/hooks and eyes)
  2. Fold the hem over and secure it with small stitches. Add fringe or any other decoration
  3. Put the skirt on the dummy and pin the folds carefully.

 

  1. Take the skirt off, and secure the folds with stitching – either by hand or by machine.

10 Attach the decoration (optional).

22. apron skirt, with the folds pinned

apron skirt, with the folds pinned

24. apron skirt - trying the decoration band

apron skirt – trying the decoration band

 

Your apron skirt is now ready – decorated the sides of mine with removable flower bands – more information on making them later!)

 

The train

Materials:

Fabric: silk duchesse satin, 4.5m (including the pleated section)

Lining – silk taffeta for the train, 2.5m

Lining for the pleats: 2m of cotton lawn

10 metres of cotton lace

12m of grosgrain ribbon

4 m of cotton tape

9 ivory roses for decoration

The train I had in mind had to serve several functions.  It had to be pretty (obvious, really!) and for that I chose the finish I saw on the Worth Evening dress (1881) at the V&A – scallops, pleats and lace.

http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O13849/evening-dress/

I also wanted to make it long enough to look spectacular as I walked down the aisle; it also had to be easy to bustle up for dancing or to remove for riding.

Pattern:

That was the easiest part.  I cut a rectangle of fabric (220 x 1.35cm) and simply rounded the bottom corners of the train.

Method:

  1. Cut the train in your top fabric and lining.
  2. Spread the top fabric left side up  and draw the scallops
  3. Cut out the scallops.
  4. Hem the train by folding the edges in and securing with small stitches; alternatively leave it as it is for the time being – you can do it later by machine as well!
  5. Place the top fabric on the lining, pin it and cut the scallops in the lining. You can now stitch the lining in by hand. It is possible to do it with a machine, though with scallops it tends to be a bit tricky. I opted for the hand method as it gave the scallops a nice finish.
  6. Pleat the top of the train and secure the pleats with pins.
  7. Cut 3 lengths of cotton tape – they will keep the train bustled up.  The length of the tapes will depend on how you want to bustle the train, mine end at about a foot off the ground.
  8. Pin in the tapes to the left side of the pleats – two at about 2 inches from each edge and one in the centre.
  9. Attach to a waistband.  The waistband can go all around the torso, or it can be a short one with tapes for tying it around your waist.
27.

train pleats in the waistband

Train pleated to the waistband

28. the tapes for the train

Inside of the train showing the placement of the tapes.

 

 

The basic shape of the train is now ready, time to add all the embellishments

 

  1. Take the lace and the grosgrain ribbon. The ribbon should be long enough to go around all the scallops
  2. Attach the lace to the ribbon, gathering it slightly as you go.  Machine ruffler would be no good here as the lace was too delicate, so the process took some time, but it as an easy and nice job.
  3. Pin the finished  lace frill to the hem of the train and hand sew in place

      29. ataching the lace 30. train with the scallops and lace attached

Train with the lace layer sewn on

 

 

 

The pleated layer

 

  1. Cut out the length of fabric in your top fabric. Again the ration of 3:1 works fairly accurately here.  The finished length should be the length of the bottom hem of the train, without the scallops, times 3 – or more if you have enough fabric! The width of the piece should be enough to cover the whole scallop and extend beyond it for other few inches. Mine was 14 inches wide (36cm).
  2. Cut the same piece in lining, but make it 2 inches narrower.
  3. Place the two layers right sides together and sew along the length of the upper and lower part. Leave the short sides open.
  4. Flip the piece right sides out and press carefully, making sure the edges are even. Secure the ends by folding the fabric inside and stitching the layers together.
  5. The next step requires a great deal of patience and even a greater deal of pins. Decide on the size of the pleats –  ( mine were just over an inch) and pleat the strip,  securing each pleat at both ends

31. pleating ....

 

Pleated piece

 

  1. Once pleated, sew near the top of the pleats, securing them – you can stitch over a grosgrain ribbon as I did. Keep the pins in the bottom part as they are
  2. Press carefully.
  3. Put your pleated ruffle left side up, spread it slightly to reflect the curve of the train and place another length of the ribbon in the centre. Stitch it on by hand; it will make sure that the pleats will stay together and the ruffle won’t lose shape.

32. adding the support ribbon

Adding the support ribbon

33. finished ruffle, ready to be added to the train

Finished ruffle, right side view.

  1. Place the ruffle on the left side of the train ( right side of the ruffle to the left side of the train), pin and hand stitch – make sure the stitches catch only the lining and the tiniest bit of the top fabric between the scallops, and that the stitches at the deepest  part of the scallop are the strongest – they won’t be visible since there will be roses on top of them, and they will be the ones responsible of holding the ruffle in place.

34. pinning the ruffle into the train

Ruffle pinned to the train

35. the ruffle added to the train

Pleated layer stitched to the body of the train

  1. Sew in the roses or any other decorations.

 

36. the train decoration finished

The train is almost finished – all it needs now is a balayeuse.

Fabric:

Cotton twill, lawn or silk – here silk was used – 3m. Cotton would be a much more practical version, but for the wedding dress silk just looked better. Plus, having washed the silk in the machine on low temperature setting it looked as if the washing didn’t do much harm, and indeed I have washed my balayeuse since then and it did survive the experience

Broderie anglaise lace trim. –   10 m

Buttons – 14

 

 Pattern:

Determine the size and shape of your balayeuse by noticing how much train will be lying on the floor. Mine is a semicircle, with the straight line reaching across the train from the first scallop on both sides.

Method:

  1. Cut the base out, hem the edges.
  2. Cut the flounces – there will be a lot of them!
  3. Make the flounces just as you did the ruffles for the skirts: hem the fabric (hemming foot was a blessing here), add the broderie anglaise or any other lace, then pleat the ruffles (again the ruffle saved tons of time!)
  4. Attach the ruffles to the base.

 

37.  Balayeuse ready

 

  1. Make buttonholes on the straight line and along the bottom.
  2. Mark the position of the buttonholes on the train proper. Sew small buttons onto the train.
  3. Button up the balayeuse to the train.

38. Balayeuse buttoned into the train

Balayeuse attached to the train

 

All that need to be done is putting hooks and eyes (or buttons – in the hindsight, buttons work better, as hooks tend to unhook!) onto the bustling tapes and onto the train. Do experiment with it, making sure the placement of the hooks creates the effect you want.

I also used bands with flowers to keep the train bustled up – the same band were used to decorate the apron skirt and, later on, the evening bodice.

 


Decoration

Components:

fabric roses  – 30

bunches of small paper roses -25

Strips of fabric to attach the flowers to

Method

  1. Prepare 5 strips of silk – two to go on the sides of the apron skirt, 2 to be used for the train.
  2. I used  4 inch strips, which I folded in half stitched on the left sides, turned,  finished the edges and pressed.
  3. Attach the decoration. Pin the big roses in first, sewing them to the strip to ensure they faced the right direction and then place the small bunches around, securing their wiry stems around the big rose. Stitch them all down carefully.
  4. Once ready, stitch the bands on their appropriate places – the apron skirts ones went just over the side seams of the apron skirt.
  5. The train bands were given loops at each side and decorative buttons were sewn onto the apron skirt next to the decoration – the bands simply button in place

 

The train in its full glory: unbustled:

40. the train's full lenght shown while walking

 

And showing the train bustled up for dancing.

 1. finished outfit, evening version

 

In the part 2t I will talk about making the two bodices – and all the accessories:-)

 

6 thoughts on “Making My Victorian Wedding Dress, part 1

  1. Just exquisite! Thank you so much for this blog. I have just made my first Victorian gown for a photo shoot to launch our wedding design business. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and am already making plans for the next. So it was really good for me to read of another persons creative process and the techniques employed. I still have so much to learn but that first gown was a real eye opener 🙂

  2. Pingback: Making My Victorian Wedding Dress, Part 2 | A Damsel in This Dress

  3. Pingback: My Big Fat Victorian Wedding – St. Audries Park, West Quantoxhead, Somerset. 17th October 2011 | A Damsel in This Dress

  4. Pingback: 2017 plans | Atelier Nostalgia

  5. Pingback: Of ballgowns and trains | Atelier Nostalgia

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