I have always wanted to create an authentic Victorian dress and when my hometown university announced it would be celebrating its 125th birthday, I knew I had to celebrate in my own way by making a dress from the year of 1887, when the university was established.
After roughly six months of planning, gathering materials, drafting patterns, and making a new corset and folding bustle, my 1887 walking dress was complete. Everything for this dress was handcrafted save for the shoes, gloves, stockings, and parasol. I used patterns from Truly Victorian and also drafted my own. I cannot say how wonderful and easy Truly Victorian patterns are. The corset and bustle patterns were phenomenal to work with and fit beautifully. The lovely crochet bag was created by my Mom and based on an authentic pattern – I only added the lining and button embellishments. All of the fabric I was thankfully able to find at Joann Fabrics. It is good stuff – the satin has a nice drape to it without being heavy and was easy to work with, and the drapery fabric for the skirting was thick and heavy, the perfect weight for what I envisioned. What you don’t see is the heavy cotton I used for the underskirt and bustle, nor the cotton twill I used for my corset. I used a light muslin for my corset cover and embellished it with some hand embroidered. Too bad it can’t be seen.
Everything sewed together remarkably well with only a few challenges. The hardest part was deciding on the bodice. French style, solid, buttoned, hook and eye. Did I want a center seam? I had originally decided on a French style bodice front but as I was putting it together, I realized it seemed rather plain and too uninteresting. So I drafted a new concept, using the French style but taking the center placket out so that the bodice had a clean front and attached with hooks and eyes down one side, and buttons marching up each curved seam. In concept, it was good, even the drafted pattern worked well, but it was still to blah and I did not like how the hooks and eyes pulled and did not give the smooth, seamless look I desired along the side. Scratch plan B – move on to plan C which ended up being a concept I had initially entertained before I really dug into this project. Thankfully, I was able to use my original bodice and only had to tweak the front. Using the center front, I covered it with matching blue chiffon, gathering and strategically covering the center placket so once closed it looked like a seamless front. Then I drafted a false vest for the bottom front with workable button closers. The whole bodice has the wonderful look of two pieces, complements the rest of the outfit, and satisfied my need for an interesting and esthetically pleasing bodice. Plus, it was perfect for a daywear-walking dress look, not to mention, smart and sophisticated looking, as well as historically correct.
The hat I designed and created myself after cannibalizing two ordinary straw sun hats found at Michael’s Craft Store. Even the earring were made by me and the gorgeous cameo was made by my great-uncle eons ago. And to be completely honest, the whole color scheme was based on the fabulous pagoda parasol I found at a local antique shop. I walked around that entire shop cradling that parasol and my next trip in the following weeks supplied me with the softest brown leather gloves. I love Eighth and Main Antiques. Amazing shop, fabulous people, and the best retail therapy available for antique enthusiasts.
The sad thing about this dress is I was unable to wear it to the one celebration event where people were going to be dressed up due to an illness :(. However, I did get to wear it for Halloween to the total surprise of my co-workers 🙂
Below are a few pictures of the dress in action. They were taken at the historical Stansbury House and on campus by members of my family. Too bad I’m not the best model – sorry.