Guest Contributor: Alyson
Before I can properly introduce the project, I do need to say a few words about myself. I am a mother, college student, and part time worker at the bookstore of my school. In my spare time, I like to geek out and work on other projects that interest me. When I become impassioned about a project I can work on it until my mind turns to mush!
I am absolutely in love with the Victorian Era. I have been dying to own my own authentic gowns, but I’ve never had the money to buy them. They are very expensive and rightly so. I discovered a love for sewing and conquered my fear of the sewing machine, so I’m putting together this project so I can finally own a Victorian Era gown.
Influences and Goals
Other than the fact that I love the Victorian Era, the other major influence for choosing a Victorian gown is the fact that it can be broken down into these six smaller projects. As a beginning seamstress, it’s very important not to rush anything and bite off more than you can chew. This allows for skills to be built slowly over the course of the entire project. That comes out to be one fine achievement!
In my personal opinion, this is also a great way to build the skills you need to create other dresses, regardless of if they’re from past eras or the modern era. Before selecting this project, I was very set on sewing a wedding dress by hand, but had no idea where to start and I realized a wedding dress may not be the best project to start out on. The Victorian Gown, in theory, would help me build the skills I need to be able to tackle the wedding gown later.
Decisions, decisions, decisions…
For this first project, I have decided to make a basic walking dress. A walking dress, as the name implies, was designed for walking around town mostly to run errands. Because I also have a daughter, I have decided that I will center my decisions around that. My dress must be hardy and resistant to children above all. If you do not have children, the only factor I do advise to take into account is the weather and practicality. If this is going to be a Halloween Costume or something to wear once a year, you’ll want to tailor your choices to that. For example, if it’s really hot even in the fall you’ll want to choose lighter fabrics, perhaps an off-the-shoulder bodice and skip the apron. That’s totally fine. Just keep in mind that my project is designed around the fact that I will need to wash the gown somewhat regularly. I’ll give much more information about what I officially decided in terms of fabric in my next post, “All About the Undies.”
The Project Steps
This project mostly likely will not be completed in time for Halloween. For that reason, this entire project is being designed with every day wear in mind. By that I mean that, should I fancy it, I would be comfortable wearing this out to the grocery store. Because I’m just starting to learn how to sew, I’m breaking this project down into smaller projects. Those projects are:
Undergarments: This phase consists of a chemise and drawers. They are modest and are designed to be worn under any kind of dress, even with bodice sleeves that are off the shoulder.
Corset: The corset will most likely be completed last as it will take the most time. Corsets are notoriously difficult to make for many different reasons, mostly pertaining to the shape of the corset and the boning used.
Petticoat: This is worn under the skirt and is used to give the skirt its distinct shape. It can be made with or without the bustle, depending on the style of the dress and the desired shape.
Skirt: One of the most important parts of the entire outfit. There are many different styles of skirts that were commonplace in the Victorian Era. Again, it depends on what shape you desire and what you feel comfortable in.
Bodice: The bodice is the top of the dress. It can be designed in many different ways, as well. The important thing to remember about the style of the bodice is the weather and climate you may be in.
Apron: This is entirely optional especially if you’re making an evening dress. Aprons were typically worn while working around the house or going to the market to protect the skirt from damage. It was improper to wear an apron while having company over. If you plan on wearing your skirt around children, this will be especially handy.
Hand Sewing vs. Machine Sewing
For the first project, the undergarments, I do plan to sew the chemise and the drawers by hand and by machine respectively. The reason for this is that I do not own my own sewing machine. Having access to one is difficult and since I only have one day each week that is really available for machine sewing, it would make the project take much longer than I would like.
Hand sewing is very convenient because I can take advantage of any and all other down time, like when my daughter is napping or off to bed. Yes, it will technically take longer, but since I have a lot more time available for hand sewing, I can save the machine for parts that would be more difficult or time consuming.
I will say right now that the patterns I’ll be using come from a great website called Truly Victorian. They reproduce patterns found in magazines in the 1800’s and give them new life. They aren’t scaled to bigger sizes, they are sized by hand (unless they state otherwise) which is why I love them so much.
I also have two books that I will be referencing that were written in the 1800’s as well. “The Ladies Book of Etiquette and Manual of Politeness” by Florence Hartley is a very detailed manual that, of course, teaches about the etiquette and manners of the day. That includes fashion. The second book is “The Book of Household Management” by Mrs. Isabella Beeton. Though it does talk about fashion for the Mistress of the house, it isn’t very much. Both of these books can be found at www.gutenberg.org free of charge as well as at Amazon.