There’s no denying that I love the fashions of the 1880s, and I haven’t always been a huge fan of the 1890s. Until my parents gave me a couple of 1890s patterns for Christmas.
The next thing I knew, I was buying new books about the fashion of this new decade (The Keystone Cutter and Victorian Fashions: A Complete Lady’s Wardrobe), paging through other books I already owned, and trawling the world wide web for inspiration.
The shirtwaist was pretty straight forward even though it was a little weird to not use any boning. I didn’t want to use the sleeves from the Truly Victorian pattern so I tried my hand at drafting some patterns out of my books. This was completely new territory for me, but I managed to figure out how to use the apportioning scale and started to draft different sleeve patterns, looking for the one I wanted to use.
Once I decided on which pattern I wanted I made up those sleeves and attached those to the shirtwaist. I flatlined the puff parts with organdy to try and add some extra volume to them. Because of the sheer size of the sleeves, I decided not to add any extra trims to the shirtwaist because I thought that would probably be a bit too over the top. I decided that I would add some trim to the skirt when I got on to that instead. But what sort of trim?
From all the fashion plates that I looked at, a few of them caught my attention more than others:
The trims weren’t all lacey or overcomplicated, yet the soutache designs struck me as being striking, sophisticated, and somewhat simple and straightforward (ha, I learned later that was not the case).
But which design did I want to choose? Should I copy one of the patterns on the skirts above, or go looking for another design? I found numerous designs on Pinterest from various sources and, even though some looked absolutely incredible….they also looked extremely complicated and I couldn’t even figure a few of them out. The one I kept going back to and looking at was from an 1862 Godey’s Magazine (Volume 65, Jul-Dec)
I saved the image and enlarged it to the size that I wanted (which was actually pure guesswork. Or dumb luck) and printed it out. I then copied the design several times over onto a roll of baking paper so that I could then, when the skirt was ready, be stitched onto it.
The skirt was made from cotton broadcloth, flatlined with cotton lawn. The earlier skirt that I had made (you can see that here) was made from two layers of broadcloth and I found that to be too heavy and I didn’t completely like the way that it moved. Assembling the pieces once the flatlining process was finished was quite straightforward and then I faced a dilemma – do I apply the soutache before the hem facing, or after it? I thought about it for a couple of days and then decided that if I applied the soutache first, then the stitching from that would end up being hidden by the hem facing. Plus, it was less fabric to try and handle while using the sewing machine.
I carefully measured the distance between the bottom of the skirt and the pattern so that I wouldn’t accidentally end up with a wonky trim and pinned the baking paper to the hem. As luck would have it, I had traced the pattern enough times to fit all the way around the skirt and end up with two spare pattern templates left (I hope to use one of those for a reticule).
As usual, I underestimated how long it would take to stitch my pattern guidelines and spent three afternoons working away, hoping that the next repeat was the last. I can tell you – 1890s skirts have massive circumferences at their hems! It was quite fun to then tear the paper away from the stitches to reveal the map for my braid.
Pinning the braid onto the skirt before sewing was a no go so I began sewing it on with my sewing machine, guiding the skirt and the braid where it was meant to go. It was a tricky endeavour because of how many turns that I had to make and how often I had to pull the rest of the skirt through to the other side of the machine. It might have been easier to sew it by hand but after how much time I had spent on the guide stitches I was wanting to do as much by machine as possible.
It took me a whole day to sew the braid onto the skirt. The whole day. Fortunately, I didn’t get as frustrated with the never ending process as I did when sewing flowers onto my ball skirt last year (I could barely look at that for a week after finishing). Only when I finished, did I realise that 18.5m of braid had been sewn on. Eighteen and a half metres! And here I was, earlier in the year, thinking that a purchase of 20m was ridiculous and a gross exaggeration of how much I would use.
I really liked the effect of the white braid against the antique rose and I definitely did not regret it. Sure, if it had taken less time to do then that would have been fantastic, but I actually think because I spent so much time on it I appreciate it more.
Once that was done, I cut the organdy and more broadcloth for the hem facing. I sewed the broadcloth pieces together and did the same with the organdy. Then, with the seams facing each other I sewed the two facings together and then added some horsehair braid. That ready, I sewed the facing to the skirt, turned it inward and pinned the top of the facing in place.
All that was left to do was to hand sew the facing to the skirt – to the lawn layer of the skirt only so that the stitches weren’t visible on the outside. Easy enough, yes, and quite straightforward once again, but with the hem being as wide as it is….it was yet another time-consuming task. One that would take me a whole afternoon and an evening to complete.
And then…just like that…it was finished! All of those long hours had paid off and I now own (and can proudly wear) an 1890s skirt that I am so happy with. Compared to my first attempt, this one is much better and I cannot wait to find excuses to wear it out and about. I’m now planning a jacket to match so this skirt will be able to pull double – maybe even triple – duty.
Thanks so much for reading! I really need to work on my in-progress photo recording…hopefully I’ll get better at that as time goes on.