The other day, a memory popped up on Facebook. Two years ago, Facebook reminded me, I had just completed an 1860s dress made of white Swiss-dot cotton fabric. I knew the dress was flawed, but I was proud of having completed my very first dress and was overall pretty dang pleased with my effort. So I drove up to Gettysburg, to the Victorian Photography Studio, to get a real wet-plate photograph taken. This was the process used at the time of the Civil War and involves standing still for a few seconds as the prepared plate is exposed. Then the plate is dipped in a series of chemicals. The last bath turns the image from a negative to a positive, which is a fun process to watch. It really is like magic.
Anyway, I smiled to see this memory, because I happen to be working on that dress right now. I recently finished a Victorian paletot (I'm sure I will eventually blog about that), and I'd told myself (sternly) that I would go back and fix up a few of my older pieces that needed work before starting something new. This dress was top of the list.
Now, let's start with looking at the photo:
And let's talk about what I got right: firstly, the fabric is lovely. It's a soft, delicate cotton with cute little tufted dots all over ("Swiss dots"). It's period-appropriate. It was a little difficult to work with, but I did a decent job, considering my lack of experience. I also chose a good pattern, the Truly Victorian sheer bodice, and I chose the correct sizing (the beautiful thing about TV patterns is that it gives you instructions for choosing a front and back to better fit your size). So it fits quite well in the back and at the ribcage and waist. I altered the sleeves (they were *way* too long), and the length and puffiness are right. I'm wearing a corset and hoops, and my hair is okay.
Now, let's talk about the things that I improved over the last two years, aside from the dress itself. I altered my hoop skirts to be less A-line and more bell-shaped. I made myself a better, more accurate corset. I improved my hair game (and I now have both a hair net and a bonnet).
Now, let's talk about what was wrong with this dress.
Oh boy. The construction is...not good. I didn't know what to do with the front opening, where the two layers of the bodice and the skirt all come together. The stitching is a bit wonky, and I threw on some pre-bought bias tape here and there. For all that, from about two feet away you can't really tell (especially with a helpful belt hiding it). What you *could* tell, however, was that the shoulder seam was way too high. I ended up with fabric bunched up above my shoulders as if I were constantly shrugging. Also, the skirt was much too long since I'd altered the hoop skirt.
I decided that there was a limit to what work I would do to the dress. The whole thing really needs to be taken apart and put back together, but at that point I might as well make a new dress. I also wanted to preserve this as a "look how far I've come" kind of memento. But I also quite like the dress and wanted to make it wearable. So my efforts have been focused on that. I redid the shoulder seam, bound the neckline, and hemmed the skirt. I ended up taking 7" off the bottom of the skirt, and I decided to use that excess to make ruffles. One row of ruffles has been sewn onto the skirt, and I'm trying to decide whether to add another row (I think I will not). I am going to add a placket to the skirt opening for stability, redo the cuffs (which are a mess), and sew on not-plastic buttons. The rest will just be as it is. I will say that I tried it on after pinning up the hem, adding a belt and bonnet and gloves, and it looks pretty darn good.
When the whole thing is done, I will share the result here.