Late Victorian / Early Edwardian Ball Gown

About 1 week before attending Costume College 2014, I decided I needed a more historically accurate costume, so I decided to make Simplicity 4078.

This was an insane idea. Just putting that out there up front, in case you were tempted to tell me something along those lines.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, here’s the front of the pattern envelope so you know just what I got myself into:

Simplicity 4078

No sweat!  Just blood and tears…and more blood…and more tears…but I get ahead of myself.

I started, of course, on the bodice.  Because I wasn’t about to make a corset on such short notice, I decided to add an extra layer of interlining and tons and tons of boning – 31 pieces in all.  Here’s shot of the front panel:

Simplicity 4078 bodice 01

For each bodice piece, I started by basting the lining (black cotton duck), inner interlining (white muslin) and outer interlining (navy denim).  Then I sewed boning channels where appropriate, seam ripped across the ends and slipped 1/4 inch featherlite boning into the channels (after rounding the ends with my dull scissors). Finally I sewed across the open ends and basted the facing (poly satin) to the other layers.

This is when I discovered that sewing boning channels is one of the most relaxing activities I’ve ever done, other than meditating, sleeping and napping. I’m sure that makes me even more of a weirdo, but whatever.

After each bodice piece was fully boned and basted, I started putting them together. Here’s a shot of the front and front sides:

Simplicity 4078 bodice 02

Once all the side seams were sewn I put in hook & eye tape for the back closure. Here I am taking a look at the huge gape in back. Apparently I can’t just sew the tape along the inner edge and expect the outer fabric to lie down flat along its outer edge.

ISimplicity 4078 bodice 03

Oh well, live & learn right? I ended up sewing very short horizontal stitches between each hook and each eye on either side, and this helped the outer fabric lie flatter.

Then I basted the armholes and neckline, not taking too much care because the sleeves would go into the armholes and there wold be lace covering up the neckline. Then I used hem tape to finish the bottom of the bodice, since that would be completely exposed and thus needed to look very nice.  Here I am sewing the folded edge of the hem tape to the right side of the fabric. I then folded the hem tape under so it was completely invisible and finished the entire bottom length of the bodice.

Simplicity 4078 bodice 04

Next I sewed a pretty lace trim to the neckline, because my neckline looked horrible and I needed to hide it. Here’s a shot of the lace:

Simplicity 4078 lace trim

I tucked the short side inside the neckline and sewed through the middle ribbon to attach it, then folded the longer side over the outside of the neckline and pressed it lightly. Here I am doing the sewing:

Simplicity 4078 bodice 05

Lastly, I ditched the big leg o’ mutton sleeves in the original pattern and made some pretty layered lace ones inspired by a late 19th century Charles Frederick Worth gown.  I used two different styles of lace in slightly different colors, one for the outer and innermost sleeve layer and the other for the middle layer.  Here’s one sleeve, layers sewn together and ready to be basted into the armhole:

Simplicity 4078 lace sleeves

And here’s the finished bodice:

Simplicity 4078 bodice 06

One sleeve is slightly longer than the other, but that can be easily fixed in post-production…right? Right?

Then there’s the skirt – 7 gores all sewn together, with gathering in the back to fit the waist. In case you are wondering, this is a metric crap-ton of fabric. To make things worse, the right side of my poly satin facing looks almost identical to the wrong side, so I ended up underlining two of the biggest pieces incorrectly and had to seam rip the whole dang thing, flip the facing and re-baste. I did not sound like a Victorian lady that day.

After finally correctly underlining each piece with the same white muslin used for the bodice to add a bit of heft (and to be PC) and then sewed them all together with a placket between the back two pieces that I secured with a very un-PC metal snap. Sorry, no pics, I forgot to take them. Maybe someday I’ll edit this post and add one.

Here’s a pic of the mostly finished bodice and the skirt:

Simplicity 4078 bodice skirt

The skirt is slightly longer in back because it’s designed to be worn with a bustle pad, traditional for the 1890s.  I didn’t make one, and instead I took a cheap short crinoline and pinned it back to create more fullness on top of my butt. It worked out ok, but as you can see the skirt is still a little too long in back:

Simplicity 4078 fake bustle padSimplicity 4078 skirt 01

I think what I really need is a full-length petticoat to fill out the entire skirt from top to bottom. I will probably make Truly Victorian 170 next.

Well, that’s pretty much it!  Here are a few shots of the finished outfit, accessorized with a somewhat PC hairstyle, not so PC   jewelry and vintage gloves:

Simplicity 4078 finished 01  Simplicity 4078 finished 02


Pendragon Desree Dress – Part 1

I went to the LA Renaissance Faire two weekends ago and while I was there I took the time to browse the costume stalls, as I usually do. The fanciest and priciest outfits belong to a vendor called Pendragon Costumes. I’ve been looking for a relatively easy costume for a while, and I noticed a particular outfit called the Desree Dress that looked pretty simple:

It’s basically a bodice sewn to an open front skirt with an underskirt. How hard could that be? I noticed theirs had no lining and boning only alongside the front grommets. That’s ok, I’m not so bad at doing lined bodices and adding boning to seam allowances.

I started with Butterick 5757 for the skirt, which I’ve worked with 3 times thus far with great results, allowing for an extra 6 inches of width along the fold so that the piece would wrap around partways in front like the Desiree picture. I cut two pieces so that one could be used as lining.

photo 1

Next I used McCall’s 4107 for the bodice, opting for the simplest option with front laces, and eliminating the back laces. I cut outer fabric to match the skirt above, as well as interfacing and lining (dark color to hide sweat stains better).

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Next I ironed the interfacing to the outer fabric:

photo 1 (1)

And then I began to sew the outer bodice, clipping around curves and praying to the sewing gods:

photo 4 (1)photo 3 (1)photo 2 (1)

Here’s the first two pieces, and then the finished outer bodice:

photo 1 (3)photo 3 (3)

I did the same to the inner bodice lining:

photo 4 (2)photo 5

Next up: tackling the boning!

Another Fabric Windfall

Recently a friend of mine was cleaning out her deceased aunt’s house and came across the remainder of a bolt of old fabric and a length of aged white lace, both of which she offered to me since she does not sew regularly and I was the closest crazy sewing addict she knew. The fabric is a thin red, white and blue striped 50/50 cotton/poly blend, 44″ wide, and the lace is about 1.5 in wide and nice enough to be decorative for a day gown.

Normally this wouldn’t  be categorized as a windfall, but I measured the fabric and it’s roughly 17 yards long.  I haven’t measured the lace, but I’ve guesstimated that there are at least 10 yards of that too.

Guess who won’t be buying muslin for a while?

photo 1 (1) photo 2 (2)


Also, it’s kind of cool that the colors match my blog’s current color scheme. 🙂