Apparently blog posts are like buses– you wait months for one and then they all come along at once!
Long ago, PBE (pre-blog era) I made an 1878 bodice and skirt set and wore it to a PEERS Sherlock Holmes ball. It looked like this:
(This is one of ~3 pictures I have of this set, and it is long gone, donated to Lacis. I wonder if anyone ever bought it? If so, I’m really sorry, I had actually no idea what I was doing)
For this I made a petticoat, a skirt, and a bodice. I wore a modern underbust corset and a white t-shirt underneath, and figured that was fine.
Fast-forward to last fall, when we had our first packing and handling practice at the CTC. My friend and I were given a lovely but completely disintegrating tea gown to wrangle into a box, very, very carefully and with much acid-free tissue. This dress was Classic™ Wacky Victorian color scheme, with chartreuse green wool and trim in a black and fuschia silk faille. They were not joking around with their novel aniline dyes my friends.
Well spending 45 minutes carefully lifting, folding, padding, and generally wrangling that dress made me want to start doing Victorian costuming again, and specifically a tea gown. I started looking for Wacky Victorian fabrics and just…. couldn’t find anything that quite spoke to me. I also kinda wanted to lean into the late Victorian obsessing with trims and ruffles and nonsense, which doesn’t really fit into a tea gown, as they tend to be simple.
And then I found….. this.
Yes, that is a Turkey-red cotton with beetles printed on it. And yes, it is ridiculous. And I love it. It gives me such Penny Dreadful vibes. It also is completely not period as a fabric, but you know what, I have decided I Do Not Care. It is awesome, and the Victorians were kind of obsessed with natural history, so I choose to think that if they did have digital prints they would totally wear dresses with beetles on.
I decided that I would make an 1878 polonaise out of the beetle fabric, and after much waffling, that a chocolate-brown skirt would look nice with it. About the one thing I had been pleased with from that white set was the TV Fan-tail skirt, so I figured I’d make another one of those and trim it to death this time. So in sum total for this outfit I would need:
Actual Historic Ish Corset
Probably Some Kind Of Padding Because I Do Not Come With It Naturally
I was originally planning on not making a new petticoat for this project, as I was pretty sure I had kept the old one c. 2017, but I could not find it anywhere. It might be in one of my bins in storage, which I technically wasn’t supposed to access during ShIP. Oops. So I do have to make a new one of those, as well as all the other undergarments.
I’ve spoken about my adventures in corsetry here before, so let’s back up the list one and talk about chemises. You actually can buy antique ones relatively easily, as there were a hecking ton of them around, but for some reason I decided to make one.
I started with Agnes Walker’s Manual of Needlework, which contains a diagram for patterning a chemise. I don’t think it’s a scaled/proportional pattern (at least not as far as I could tell) but it was for a bust size relatively similar to mine so I just used it as is. It came out a little big, but you know what, it’s underwear.
The chemise is a lovely pima cotton lawn from my local fabric store, and all the seams are French seams because if you’re going to wash something you want it to be neat on the inside. Then I took a piece of antique lace that I got on eBay, made a ruffle the same length as it, and attached it to the bottom of the chemise. Done. Excellent.
I JUST FINISHED the petticoat, which is giving my antique sewing machine’s rolled hem foot quite a workout. If you were wondering how they got all those tiny perfect hems on antique whites….. yeah, there are special feet that make them for you. There are also, apparently, feet for making tucks that sew a tuck WHILE ALSO marking the location of the next one so they are evenly spaced. I really want one.
I started with Truly Victorian’s Victorian Petticoat pattern (which I already had because I literally already made one of these but with no seam finishes as far as I remember….eeeeek….) but honestly at this point it’s just a hodgepodge that doesn’t really bear any resemblance to the original pattern. The ruffle at the bottom got changed, the flounce got changed, both had lace added, and I had cut the pattern to what is now the wrong size since my hip measurement is bigger with the new hip pad, so I pretty much ignored the details of the top panels as well. Yet somehow I feel so much better knowing I have a pattern? And then I ignore it? The psychology of sewing is a strange world.
Oh, and it’s made out of Ikea sheets, because I had them and I now have a different sized bed so they are not of any use to me and therefore are just large pieces of cotton sateen, basically.
So now all of our undergarments are finally done, and I can move on to the fun stuff! The skirt is going to be the same basic skirt from that white ensemble (TV’s fantail skirt pattern) but in chocolate brown with way more trimmings. I also have a lot of trim prepped for the polonaise and I’ve bought a reproduction 1880s bonnet, so I am super excited to keep working on this set. In fact I am strongly resisting starting the skirt now and am instead going to force myself to actually do the buttonholes on my Regency petticoat.
Look cutting into something almost done is scary, ok?