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Ball gown, 1839-1840, maker unknown. Gift of Mrs Whitehead, 1966. CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. Te Papa PC001362

Rate the Dress: Early Victorian neutrals

I’m very excited about this week’s Rate the Dress choice, because it’s a dress I’ve actually examined* in person.  It’s not often that I get to show one of those!  I may love it because I’ve seen it, but will you love it for what it looks like?

Last week: a late 1910s Lucile dress

Well, Lady Luck doesn’t wear green as far as Lucile is concerned, because a lot of you DID NOT like the dress – though the vivid green colour was one of the few elements that was almost universally popular.

There were a few people who did like the dress for the overall impression it created, but for most of you, it just wasn’t working.

The Total: 5.8 out of 10

Ouch.  Anything below a 6 is pretty unusually bad!

This week:

Last week’s Lucile dress may have been a little too heavy on the quirkiest details of 1910s fashions (though you may be surprised to find how many examples of dangling-bust-trim were made in the 1910s), so this week’s pick is an example pared back to the most classic elements of the fashion of its era:

This ball gown is pure late 1830s, from the pale pink-brown shade, to the gentle bell skirt, to the pleated bertha, wide neckline, and little sleeves.

In an era dominated by a small set of standard design elements, the exact application of those elements, and their finish, were what set a garment apart.

This dress is noteworthy for the tatted trim that edges the berthe and sleeves (possibly a later addition, but I saw no obvious indication of this when I saw it in person – though I wasn’t looking for that), and for the pointed band that frames the waistline, highlighting the tiny, beautifully worked cartridge pleats.

The only elements of contrast are the sleeve bows, which may also have been replaced, but most likely in-period, simply to update and change the look of the dress.

At some point one of the back skirt panels was damaged or removed (I have visions of the wearer standing too close to the fire and scorching her skirts, a la Jo March), so the skirt has been stabilised and conserved with an alternative panel.

The back view of the dress allows us a clear view of the mechanics of the dress.  If I recall correctly it hooked through hand-worked eyelet holes to close.

What do you think?  Is this classic ca. 1840s ballgown a classic beauty, or a basic bore?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10

A reminder about rating – feel free to be critical if you don’t like a thing, but make sure that your comments aren’t actually insulting to those who do like a garment.  Our different tastes are what make Rate the Dress so interesting.  It’s no fun when a comment implies that anyone who doesn’t agree with it, or who would wear a garment, is totally lacking in taste.

(as usual, nothing more complicated than a .5.  I also hugely appreciate it if you only do one rating, and set it on a line at the very end of your comment, so I can find it!  Thanks in advance!)

*albeit not in-depth, and I didn’t take notes.

1760 Frou Frou Francaise thedreamstress.com

Five years later – Frou Frou Francaise progress (finally!)

It’s had a five year hiatus, but the mostly-Queen-Charlotte-inspired Frou Frou Francaise is back on my sewing schedule.

It hit the shoals of inactivity back in 2013 for two reasons.  First, the fabric was really hard to sew, and was aggravating the chillblains and other arm problems I have in winter.  Second I realised that I had two meters less fabric than I had thought, and wouldn’t be able to finish it without significant piecing – and even then without all the trimming I’d hoped to have.  The two combined were just too demoralising, and I packed it away in the naughty bin.

I’m really trying to clear out my PHD (project half done) pile, so, inspired by all the people who were planning to make Robe a la Francaise based on the American Duchess 18th century costuming book, I pulled the Francaise back out after Costume College last year, and re-assessed it to see what I could do to finish it.

When I set the dress aside 5 years ago, the petticoat was completely finished, the back pleats were done, and I just needed to pleat the sides, and finish the front and then do sleeves.

Unfortunately in the last 5 years I’ve gotten a little wider, and the original linen under-bodice I’d made was a wee bit small.  I also decided the linen was too soft and lightweight.

So I cut a new linen under-bodice, with an entirely new front.  To save myself re-working the lacing eyelets by hand, I just sewed the new bodice over the old one, leaving the back lacing strip free:

1760 Frou Frou Francaise thedreamstress.com

It was the very end of last winter, so I did this by machine, to save my hands as much as possible.

1760 Frou Frou Francaise thedreamstress.com

It’s decidedly historically inaccurate in detail, but rather accurate in spirit: re-using what I already had, and adapting it to my new body shape.

I’d had to completely take apart the original back pleating to re-make the under bodice, so this gave me a chance to re-do it, because I’d never been quite happy with it.  I added in a hidden pieces panel on either side of the pleating, which means the new pleating is much lusher and fuller than the old pleating, despite taking barely any more fabric.

1760 Frou Frou Francaise thedreamstress.com

 

1760 Frou Frou Francaise thedreamstress.com

Unfortunately, although not big, my pieced addition really pushed my fabric to the limits of finish-ability.

I tried to find a similar fabric, sending off to Renaissance Fabrics (wonderful customer service) and other places in the US & UK for sample of any available ice blue silk taffeta, to no avail.  Nothing was a halfway reasonable match to mine.

I decided that if I unpicked the petticoat, I could cut out a panel from each side and reduce the hem circumference by a full 40cm, and still be within the acceptable bound of petticoat-fullness for an 18th century gown.  This would give me two big strips to use for trim: putting finishing within reach.

Of course, this meant undoing almost every carefully hand-stitched seam in the petticoat, and completely re-doing the waistband and pleats.  But, a few days of solid work and it was done, reconstructed, and I had my extra fabric.

1760 Frou Frou Francaise thedreamstress.com

(I forgot to photograph the petticoat, so this shows the dress as it is today, not the proper sequence of making).

I then attached the front skirt panels (already cut) to the Francaise, which is when I discovered a cutting error from my original attempt that meant I had to do a nasty, conspicuous bit of piecing right on the hem of the front skirt panel.

Piecing is period, but there is a limit!

But I pieced, and I pleated the front skirt, and had it all basted together, but ergh, that piecing was OBVIOUS.  And my remaining fabric bits were so scant.

I was feeling quite discouraged about the dress, when the costuming gods decided to simultaneously bless and mock me.

I’ve had a search on ‘blue silk taffeta’ on TradeMe (the NZ version of eBay, previously much better but now significantly crappier) since 2013, in the mad hope that someone who bought the same silk taffeta as I would decide they didn’t want it in their stash.  It had been so long with no results that I’d almost forgotten about it.

In mid-June, just after I’d done all my piecing and sewn my skirt panels, I got a hit.  Two meters of blue silk taffeta!  The photo was terrible, but it included the selvedge – and it was a rather distinctive selvedge, and matched mine exactly.  The listing was auction only, and the seller declined my request for a ‘buy now’.  Oh wailey wailey!  What if someone outbid me?  Luckily no one else did, and I got the fabric – and it’s an exact match!

Of course, no blessing comes without a curse, so I had to unpick the seams attaching the skirt front panels, re-cut the panels (I’ll use the old ones for trim), and re-sew them all on.

By hand.

I did a calculation, and I’ve sewn every single seam in this darn thing by hand at least twice.

1760 Frou Frou Francaise thedreamstress.com

As the Francaise is now, I just needs the sleeves constructed and attached, hemming, and trimming.  I’m hoping to get at least the first two done this weekend.

1760 Frou Frou Francaise thedreamstress.com

And in case you’re wondering, Felicity loves the Francaise just as much as she did when I started it.

1760 Frou Frou Francaise thedreamstress.com

She’s just sad that I packed it away for so long:

1760 Frou Frou Francaise thedreamstress.com

And a little mad that I denied her the pleasure of so many years of lying on it:

1760 Frou Frou Francaise thedreamstress.com

But all is forgiven now:

1760 Frou Frou Francaise thedreamstress.com

Evening dress, Lucile Ltd, Paris, France, c.1918-1920, Silk, gold-embroidered net, satin binding, silk flowers, National Museums of Scotland

Rate the Dress: Hope personified by Lucile, c. 1918-20

Last week’s Rate the Dress looked towards autumn, so this week I’m balancing the globe and showing a dress that evokes springtime.  Last week’s dress also beat the rating of the dress of the week before.  Can this one do even better?

Last week: a pleated polonaise gown in rust brown

I hadn’t realised how much people loved this dress until I started tallying the ratings, where it quickly became evident that almost all of you thought it was wonderful.  It was just such a flattering, elegant, universal dress, that it received almost universal acclaim.  I’m sure I can’t be the only person who is now on the lookout for rust coloured silk…

The Total: 9.6 out of 10

Even better than the 18th century not-a-polonaise!  AND it got 10 scores of 10/10 in a row!

This week: a late 1910s Lucile dress

This time of year is usually the darkest, grimmest bit of a New Zealand winter (although it’s been eerily non-dark and grim this year), and, from what I hear, it’s the hottest, driest part of a what has been an eerily and horribly hot and dry summer in most of the Northern Hemisphere.  I thought all of us could use a Rate the Dress that spoke of cool woods, and bubbling brooks, and spring flowers.

So here is a Lucile frock in shot green taffeta, overlaid with gold-embroidered net, like sunlight filtering through a leaf canopy, and trimmed with bright yellow binding, with dangling strings of delicate flowers, like the first buds of spring.

According to the National Museums of Scotland, the green shade of this dress is a deliberate choice on the part of Lucile, Lady Duff Gordon, to evoke hope and wisdom:

The colour choice was particularly symbolic in France, and particularly relevant in the aftermath of World War One, which people hoped would be ‘the war to end all wars’.

Symbolism aside, what do you think of this vibrant take on late 1910s fashion, in all its quirky glory?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10

A reminder about rating – feel free to be critical if you don’t like a thing, but make sure that your comments aren’t actually insulting to those who do like a garment.  Our different tastes are what make Rate the Dress so interesting.  It’s no fun when a comment implies that anyone who doesn’t agree with it, or who would wear a garment, is totally lacking in taste.

(as usual, nothing more complicated than a .5.  I also hugely appreciate it if you only do one rating, and set it on a line at the very end of your comment, so I can find it!  Thanks in advance!)