Almost one year after completing my pink Natural Form ballgown, I completed a new ballgown for a new event. I tried to go the quick and easy route with this one, so I purchased a pattern rather than draft one, and kept it simple to let the silk fabric speak for itself.
The idea for this gown came about because I heard that the local historical society was giving what I originally heard described as an “1830s costume ball.” After finding out more, the idea for the ball was inspired by a newspaper article that a staff member found about a fancy dress ball given at a local hotel in 1830. The ball later ended up being opened up a bit more in theme to being a masquerade where people were encouraged to wear any 19th century clothing, but I decided to stick with the 1830s theme, since it was an era I haven’t tried previously, and by then I had my heart set on big poofy sleeves.
The pattern I used was Truly Victorian TV455, the Romantic Era dress. I chose the pointed-front bodice with gathered sections around the neckline and purchased “bottle green” silk taffeta from Pure Silks to make the dress up in. After finishing my 1830s petticoats I made a mockup of the bodice out of muslin and did a quick test run over my underpinnings.
Once I confirmed the pattern fit, it was time to cut the good fabric.
I chose to interline the bodice pieces in cotton twill for strength and structure. The instructions said to gather the tops of the front and back pieces to the lining, so I used stroked gathers to try to get neat little gathers at each edge. At first I used too long of a stitch and it didn’t seem neat enough, so I ended up going back and using a shorter stitch to try to make it look better. The gathering around the neckline would end up being a running source of mild dissatisfaction for me with this dress, so if I were going to make another I might end up trying the gathers on the machine, just to see what difference that would make. But at the time, I had to keep plowing ahead on the dress, so I settled for the shorter stitch length stroked gathers.
After working out the gathers, I basted the silk to the twill interlining.
I assembled the bodice following the instruction sheet, but I ran into another issue with the gathering. The instructions said to sew up the front of the bodice after gathering the section near the top of the center front pieces. When I did so, the gathering on the fashion fabric of course got flattened out in the sewing machine, and I was then unable to manipulate the gathering because it was all sewn down with the interlining. I wasn’t happy with how this made the gathers look. I ended up ripping out the center front seam and undoing the basting stitches holding the fashion fabric to the interlining. I then sewed the fashion fabric together at center front and put stroked gathers into both layers of the seam allowance. I then sewed the interlining center front together, separate from the fashion fabric. The gathering at the center front became easier to manipulate, at least. I’m still not sure if redoing all that work was worth it for such a minimal difference, but it did at least make a small visual difference. In the images below the image on the left shows the center front gathers sewn down with the interlining per the instructions. The image on the right shows the center front gathers independent of the interlining, my “fixed” version.
Once that was done it was time for sleeves.
The pattern called for interlining each sleeve with 2 layers of net. I happened to have enough cheap net laying around from a project from years ago, so I used that rather than trying to find anything more historical.
I gathered the hell out of the sleeve circumference, and made narrow piping that I inserted between the bodice and sleeve for a polished look.
In order to keep the rough edges of the net from chafing around the arm holes I covered the armscye and arm opening seam allowances with strips of cotton twill. After that I finished the neckline and the bottom of the bodice with narrow piping, and put light bones (made of zip ties) along the front darts and in the side seams.
Then it was time for the skirt. It’s cut in three panels, with a slight angle in the center front to accommodate the center front point in the bodice. I decided I wanted to try to wear my 18th century pocket to make it easier to carry my phone and ID at the ball, so I left pocket slits in the two front seams, which stay invisible when the dress is worn. I then pleated the skirt to fit the waist.
After sewing the skirt to the bottom of the bodice, I whip stitched the seam allowance of both the skirt and bodice to the inside of the bodice, and did the same with the seam allowance at the bodice neckline. For some reason I decided to use white thread for this, and for the most part it was fine and I only caught the interlining in my whip stitches, but in one spot near the bottom of the bodice there is a little tiny bit of white thread peeking out of the green silk. Luckily it’s only noticeable if you look close, but I need to remember in the future to only use thread that matches the fashion fabric.
Once the skirt was on Dan helped me do a final fitting where he pinned back the seam allowance at the center back to indicate where the closures should go. I inserted hook & eye closures as per the directions, and thought about adding bones on either side of the back opening, but I ended up forgetting about them, and the back stays flat and closes just fine without.
The last thing to do was hem the skirt! I did not add any hem interfacing and decided to just fold back all of the extra fabric to add structure. This seemed to work moderately well, though it did collapse a little bit. I also think I could have gone an inch or two shorter with the hem, but I am so used to making Victorian gowns that brush the floor that making a skirt that exposed my feet felt weird.
But then I was done, a whole week before the ball! After working on the dress for three months the ball itself felt so quick, but I had friends to share it with, and it landed on a gorgeous day, so the whole effort was worth it. Below I will wrap up with some finished photos of the gown, as well as a few photos from the ball, courtesy of one of the Brookside Museum board members. I hope this historical society keeps doing annual balls, because it is nice to have historical events so close. I just hope I hear about the themes far enough in advance that I can keep making new theme-appropriate frocks if I want to.