A dress, shawl and bonnet from c. 1815

Made in 2006

The dress is based on a dress, or rather the bodice of a dress, seen on page 172 in Jane Ashelford's The Art of Dress. A dress with a similar wrap over front, but without the frill could also be seen at the Manchester City Museum's web site, which is unfortunately down now, due their need to upgrade their web site.

The fabric used is linen with a printed stripe in cream, light chocolate brown and pink. Cotton would have been a more fashinable choice in the time, but it was cheap and pretty. And easy to sew, as opposed to the tightly woven cotton used for the petticoat. The dress and actually all parts of this costume, except the stays, were sewn by hand. The dress opens at one side in the front and is closed with two small mother-of-pearl buttons and thread loops. There are buttons on the inside too, to keep the other part of the wrap over bodice in place.

The stays are my first early 19th century stays and therefore, since they're really a trial version they're sewn on machine (except the lacing holes) and made from an old linen table cloth.

 Apart from the wooden busk the only "boning" is hemp cord. One row on each side of the busk, two rows on each side of the lacing holes and three rows in a line under the bust. And I'm very happy with it. It looks quite a lot like the "naughty" drawings from the 1820s, which though a little late show the same type of stays as preserved examples from 1810-1820.

The petticoat is mainly based on descriptions in Jean Hunnisett's Period Costume for Stage and Screen and from Katherine's dress site. It's made from cotton and entirerly hand sewn; I even made the thread buttons myself. Information on period construction and sewing technique was aquired from Pernilla Rasmussen's and Britta Hammar's Kvinnligt mode under två sekel (Female fashion through two centuries).

The petticoat has an apron front opening and is closed with two ribbons, one on each side of the "apron" part, that tie in the back. The width of the skirt is gathered with cartridge pleating to the back of the bodice. The hem is decorated with one pin tuck and cotton lace.

I made the bonnet from an old child's straw hats made with straw braid that was chain stitched in place by machine. The chain stitch made it very easy to unravel. I unravelled the whole hat except some of the crown and then started to shape a bonnet; all the time being careful to keep the straw braid damp. 

It was rather easy. I was, however, not totally happy with the shape of it, the brim went down too far on the sides. So, since unpicking my stitches would be far more work than the original unravelling, and damaging to the braid too, I decided to cut off pieces of the brim and bind the edges of the bonnet with something. "Something" turned out to be blue silk taffeta, which I also used for the ties. Since straw snags your hair I also lined the bonnet with white silk. Both the ties and the roses, which are made from silk dupioni, come from an earlier attempt to make a regency hat; not very succesful, so the bonnet was finished in less than two days. 

 Final words Nothing of this costume would have been made without the help I got from studying Katherine's dress site and reading her LiveJournal where she writes about her sewing. Empire dresses may seem simple, but they're not and I must admit I felt a little afraid when I first looked at the construction in Janet Arnold's Patterns of fashion.

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