Saturday, December 26, 2020

...And Living and Learning

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.

UPDATE:



I've finished the refurbishment! As promised, I didn't fix everything that was wrong about this dress--that would be basically impossible. But as you can see here, there are a lot of improvements. The first is not the dress itself but the proportions. Because I adjusted the hoop skirt to be smaller and less A-line, the overall shape and proportion (in relation to my body) is much better. The problem with the shoulder seam isn't super evident in the photo above, and the improvement isn't evident in the "after" photos, but trust me, it's better. You also can't see that I added a placket to the skirt opening (previously, the vertical seam at the center front simply stopped a few inches short of the top of the skirt; I added a flap and finished off that seam). You can see that I added a ruffle. If you look closely, you can see I put on new cuffs, bound the neck line, replaced the plastic buttons with mother-of-pearl buttons. You can also see the belt, which is a different belt from the "before" picture. This belt is black with a rosette at the center front (I actually bought this online for a good price). The bonnet is something new I created earlier this year. The dark charcoal color of the bonnet and the beautiful red ribbon look great with the white dress. (The bonnet needs a little work--the ends of the ribbon need to be hemmed and the inside needs a lining.) I also have gloves that I'm not wearing in these pictures.



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