1860s Black Plaid Ballgown

November 02, 2015

I have actually finished a thing! The universe aligned just right so that I didn't have any homework, so the hours that I had free after class and work could actually be dedicated to sewing.

I had started on this dress some time back in August, after CoCo and before the Fall semester started. I knew there was a Civil War ball at the end of October, so I wanted to get a head start.

I'd had this black and white plaid taffeta in my stash for a long, long, long time...probably running up on about 10 years. I originally intended it for a Lolita dress back when I was running around in that style all the time, but I never ended up making it. Because it was intended for that particular style, I didn't have a lot of it, just 7 yards, so I had to figure out some way to stretch it.


The first was to make the base of my skirt out of black taffeta. You'd think I'd had enough of black taffeta after finishing the court gown, but I can't seem to escape the stuff! To further stretch the fabric, I cut each flounce to be only 15" wide, and added a 5" band of black taffeta to the hem to lengthen each tier. I added another 1" band of black taffeta above that for decoration, inspired by the old Simplicity pattern.


Everything took much longer than I expect, and while I had expected to finish the entire skirt in one day, between 6pm and 2am I managed only to cut out and assemble the base skirt, cut out the plaid fabric for the tiers, and assemble and attach one tier. I was hoping to be much further along than that, but I was zombie-ish by 2 and could do no more.


Of course, it was only then that I had the brilliant idea to actually measure the circumference of my hoop skirt to find out whether or not my skirt would actually fit over it. Guess what. It didn't. It was short by at least 20 inches. So, I had to go back and cut out another skirt panel, add an extension to the bottom tier, and cut out more plaid for the other tiers.

I assembled the pieces of the other two tiers the next day and managed to attach the middle tier, and then I set the skirt aside for the next two months and didn't touch it again until last week.

At this point, I had only finished 3/4 of the skirt, and because I'd had to add on to the circumference I was left with less than a yard of fabric to make the bodice. With just a week until the Ball, I had to work quickly. Thankfully, the remaining skirt tier had been completely assembled, so all that was needed was to gather it and attach it before finishing the waist. 

I had thought that maybe I could fudge the bodice by purchasing a CW style pattern from one of the Big 3 pattern companies, but surprise, surprise, there are no CW patterns to be had! So, I had to drape something, after all. I'm actually really glad that I ended up doing it that way, because I now have a really great base pattern that I can alter for other Victorian ballgowns.


It took a substantial bit of finagling to cut out the bodice from the remaining plaid fabric. I had to piece one entire section of the back, as well as some bits on the shoulders. I was able to manage it, though!





I took the unfinished bodice with me to school, and between classes I sewed the boning channels into the lining and added all the hand-bound eyelets to the back.


Unfortunately, by this point, I had nothing left for the sleeves. I decided that I was going to use the black taffeta again, so I made a small puff sleeve in white cotton voile and set it into a black taffeta sleeve cap. And it looked totally weird. I planned to make a pleated bertha to help tie the sleeves in with the rest of the gown, but by the time I got to it it was 2AM the night before the Ball. Thankfully, I had a black pleated ruffle that I'd salvaged off an old skirt, so I tacked that to the neckline to create a fake-y bertha. Thankfully, it worked!




I didn't have a chance to do a final fitting, so when I actually got dressed for the Ball, I found that it was several inches too large! I had gained some weight, so I figured that I was probably bigger than my mannequin, even though, duh, she was wearing the corset that I was going to wear. ~facepalm~ Thankfully, I had brought my sewing supplies with me, so I was able to quickly alter the bodice so it would fit. And it did! It was perfect for the Ball, and now I finally have something 1860s in my closet again.


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