Making a Mid Victorian Ball Gown

1860 Gown Orange (1)

In the previous tutorial we dealt with undergarments (drawers, chemise and a petticoat), and the crinoline cage is explained here). So, it is now time to tackle the gown itself!

Again, since this series is mostly dedicated to the guests of our Victorian ball who are making their own costumes,  I used a pattern that is widely available, from Truly Victorian. If you are in the UK, Sew Curvy are stocking a very limited amount at a very attractive price, as a special offer for the ball-goers. Get yours here!

I normaly draft my own patterns, although I have used commercial ones a few times, ( often customers bring one and insist that they want their stuff made up according to it), so I expected the usual faffing about, anything from various anticipated adjustments to recutting the entire thing, (I found the ‘Reconstructing History’ patterns particularly troublesome – like this one: WWI suit; Corset-wise I have tried a commercial pattern too, and the results and a review are here).

Well, I am happy to say thet Truly Victorian was one of the best patterns I have used – it worked a treat!

Anyway, let us go step by step.

 The pattern

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Materials

silk in lovley gold/orange tones, ( 1.5)

cotton lawn for lining- 1.5m

lace and velvet ribbon for decoration

synthetic whalebone

tubular tape for boning

eyelets ( optional)

Making:

  • Read  and follow the sizing instructions very carefully – they do differ from modern ones! Also, remember that you will be wearing the bodice on a corset, so take that into the consideration too.
  • Once you’ve sorted out which size actually applies to you ( in my case it was between sizes, since my corsetted form has quite a dramatic difference between the chest and waist. I opted to unlace my corset a bit and choose a slightly bigger size, since the dress will be a stock item for sale, a more generic sizing may make it easier to sell, I think. I followed the E pattern)
  • Trace your pattern onto paper and cut out ( I tend not to cut into patterns, as that way they last longer and I don’t have to worry that a part has been lost. If the cut-out version gets damaged or loses bits, I can always refer to the master copy!)
  • Trace and cut out the pattern in cheap fabric – this will be yout mock up. DO NOTskip this step!

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1 side cut out

  • Sew the pieces together as instructed. I usually add bones and make proper lacing at the back on a mock up too – itdoesn’t  take much time and enables you to really get the fit right! If you plan to use hooks and eyes instead, simply skip this step and follow the instructions supplied with the pattern.
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Preparing the back pieces for the lacing – folding as instructed and making a channel for the bone at the edge

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Marking the holes

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Holes made!

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Back panel sewn with the side panel

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Front panels sewn together

* Time to put on your corset and try the fit of the mock up… ( it helps if you hace someone to help you to lace up!)

…and a very pleasant surprise! My mockup fitted perfectly, with only very slight adjustments to be made!

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  • Make whatever adjustments you need, and copy them onto the paper pieces. Then it is time to get started on the proper stuff.
  •  Cut out the pieces in silk and your lining fabric (although the pattern recomends interlining and then lining, I decided to go  the way most extant clothing from the era is made – just flatlining the silk is usually enough. (You can see examples  of that on my pinterest board). Also, although the pattern recommends ‘sturdy and thick interlining’, I went light – again, from personal experience –  my corset is boned heavily, plus I didnt want to have yet another heavy layer to hold the heat in – and since we are talking a gown for a ball here, I wanted to make it as light as I could.

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*Pin each piece of the top fabric with the lining. You can baste them together, or just pin securely and sew –  since it is a stock item, I went the fast-and-cheap way and overlocked the edges. if you want to go  for an authentic finish, you will simply have to pink and stitch down the seam allowances (more on how the authentic inside would look in this article on making a 1860 day gown)

  • Follow the intructions for assembling the bodice.
  • I started by preparing the back pieces
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  •  You can use metal eyelets or stitch the eyelets by hand
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Assembling the bodice

Once you have the basic bits together, try it on. At this stage you can still fiddle with the seams and adjust the fit.

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  • Once the fit is where you want it to be, it is time to add the sleeves…
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    I gathered my sleeve using the 2:1 ratio on my overlocker

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    Sleeves gathered

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    Pinning in the lining

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    Sleeve ready, very funky!

  • Pin the sleeves into the armholes and sew. Bind the seam with a tape (the period correct version) or overlock it.  You can add shields too, if you want, (tese are pieces of heavier fabric in the armhole, to absorb sweat and protect the silk from staining)
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sSeeve pinned in

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Sleeve in, overlock finish

* Time to finish the edges. I dealt with the hem first – you can pipe it, use a facing or a binding. I cut a bias binding and bound the edges with it.

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Finish on the inside

*Bertha next.  There are two options available in the pattern, I chose the flat one – it simply goes better with the lace decoration that I planned to use. TBH i would probably go wiht a model that is not discussed on the pattern, one that closes over the shoulder,  but decded to stick to the pattern in the end. Cut the pieces in silk and lining fabric, put together according to the instructions, sew, flip onto the right side and press.

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*Decorate with lace, ribbons etc (I added mine later, but both ways will work)

*Pin into the bodice and sew, then bind the edge

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Once in place, I decorated mine with lace and ribbon

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  • Add  bows etc as needed
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  • Boning  – again the instructions for adding boning are clear and easy to follow. To save on time and on making the channels I went for a more expensive tubular tape – it simply saves time. Cut the bones (synthetic whalebone here), insert into the channels and secure the edges. Original bodices have their bones flossed, and it is worth doing so too, as it not only prolongs the life of the channels, it also secures the bones more firmly – and as a bonus, looks rather nice, too!
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The bodice is finished!

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…and the inside

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  The skirts.

No pattern here, as the skirt was rather simple. 4 gores and a waistband!

Materials – 6m of silk ( plus lining if ou plan to line yours. MIne isint lines, wanted to keep it light!

Lace, etc, to decorate

Dress hooks, etc, to close

Making

Cut out your pieces of fabric. In my case, a completely basic skirt – no train, as that would impede dancing, so all of the pieces are the same.

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The first piece cut out (here shown folded). Remember to measure the length on your crinoline!

* Overlock the edges of flatlining, deal with the pieces in exactly the same way as the bodice.

*Stitch together. Leave an opening for a placard at one side.

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Cut and insert the plackard

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Hem it – on a machine or by hand. Add decoration.

 *  Pleat the skirt to fit into the waistband. you can use knife pleats, box pleats, or cartridge pleats – all were used!. I opted for knife pleats. Once the pleats are pinned, put the skirt onto the crinoline cage to see if you like the distribution of the fabric – and arrange accordingly.

  • If all looks OK, sew the waistband in place.

IMG_3218 IMG_3219* Secure the waistband, add closure – hooks and eyes, button, dress hooks; your choice – I went for dress hooks and pop studs on the plackard

It is ready!

I even made a little headdresss with the same lace and bows 🙂

1860 Gown Orange (15) 1860 Gown Orange (13) 1860 Gown Orange (9) 1860 Gown Orange (7) 1860 Gown Orange (3)

 For auditory bonus, the whole thing rustles amazingly – a short video of it  in movement here

 The dress is now for sale too – the listing can be seen in our online shop

7 thoughts on “Making a Mid Victorian Ball Gown

  1. Holy cow! I am simply gobsmacked by your handiwork, dedication and the final product! I thought I was “all accomplished” because I made my own Roman blinds but–wow. That is truly a magnificent work of art! I can’t wait to find your corset tutorial. Hope you have a fabulous ball! PS — where are these photos taken? Where is this magnificent hall?

  2. Pingback: Making a round Crinoline Cage | A Damsel in This Dress

  3. Pingback: Mid Victorian Undergarments: chemise, drawers and a petticoat | A Damsel in This Dress

  4. I am so glad you are as much a fan of Truly Victorian as I am. Your workmanship is utterly stunning. I confess, I’m terrified of making this dress–although I’ll turn out Victorian undies with delight and have the help of two expert seamstresses. What little I know about making Victorian clothing was learned from Jennifer Rosbrugh on her website Historical Sewing (historicalsewing.com). Your tutorial gives me inspiration.

    I’m coming to Great Britain from the US for the first time. Your ball will be the last,best event of our trip. I can’t tell you how excited I am.

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