Admire, Sewing

My CoCo evening dress 2016: A ‘Cobweb’ evening gown of 1914-15

A 1914 Cobwebs evening gown,

While it was tempting to just wear old things for Costume College, and not stress about making new items, it was also tempting to try to make all the things. I compromised by only making one new gown: a 1914-15 evening gown for the Gala Ball.

I couldn’t really not make this gown. I have an amazing 1910s metallic lace with a spiderweb and roses pattern* that I wore as my wedding veil, and it’s been sitting in my stash ever since, waiting for the perfect opportunity to be made into a dress. With the theme of the Gala being ‘A Midsummer Nights Dream’, using it for a cobweb fairy dress was practically mandatory!

1914-15 was also a shoe-in for a time period. The mid-1910s (1914-19)  is pretty much my all-time favourite era, and, having done the Fortnight in 1916 project, a dress of that era seemed more than appropriate. Rather than making a 1916 gown, I decided that something summer-before-the-war, or from the first months of the war, when fancy going-away balls were still the thing (at least in NZ), best suited my fabric, and the feeling I was going for.

I made the dress in less than four days. Let’s just say that it really helped to have a 1910s under-bodice pattern already fitted and sorted: everything else was just draped over that.

I’d originally planned to pair the gold lace with a green silk taffeta, but the lace ‘died’ over it, so I went rummaging around in my stash, and unearthed a dark grape silk velvet that I found for a song at an op-shop (and which I have very good reason to suspect is ex the costume shop of a certain well-known fantasy trilogy that was filmed in my neighbourhood…).  Unfortunately there was only enough velvet for the skirt of the dress, so a mad-dash to my lovely local fabric stores three days before I left for California yielded a gorgeous piece of pale gold silk-cotton in the Fabric Warehouse $5 bin (I LOVE that bin!) and a meter of significantly-more-expensive grape purple silk crepe at The Fabric Store.

I didn’t use an exact garment or fashion plate for my source, but did what the fabric wanted to do, and used a number of fashion plates and extent garments of the era for inspiration.  You can see my pinterest inspiration board here (though there are also inspiration pieces for another dress, so it’s slightly confusing but makes sense to me).

My main inspiration pieces were two gowns featured in New Zealand newspapers in early 1915.

First, the third gown from the left  here:

And second, this evening gown:

I realised at the very last minute that airline lost-luggage insurance wouldn’t cover the lace, so had to unpick it, carry it in my carry-on, and sew it on once I arrived in California.

I paired the dress with my Nana shoes, white kid gloves, gold and silver drop earrings, a bronze rose in my hair, an amazing vintage amethyst necklace that Emily insisted on lending me, and an amazing-in-a-different way crown that I found in the CoCo marketplace.

Formal photos are courtesy of Lauren of Wearing History.  You can see her edits of the photos on her CoCo round-up post:

A 1914 Cobwebs evening gown,

A 1914 Cobwebs evening gown,

A 1914 Cobwebs evening gown,

A 1914 Cobwebs evening gown,

The back of the gown fastens with an elaborate collection of hooks, and a vintage buckle.  I had a dreadful time finding suitable ribbons for straps, and finally settled on BRIGHT silver braid, painted gold with a fabric pen.

I wasn’t the only one thinking Cobwebs for the Gala: I met at least two others!

A Regency Cobwebs:

A 1914 Cobwebs evening gown, thedreamstress.comAnd a fantasy Cobweb (with an even better crown than me!):

A 1914 Cobwebs evening gown, And not a Cobweb, but how could I miss a spiders and bees photo:

A 1914 Cobwebs evening gown,

And finally, though it’s just the lace, this definitely counts for the Historical Sew Fortnightly ‘patterns’ challenge!

What the item is: a 1914-1915 evening dress

The Challenge:  #8 Pattern

Fabric/Materials: 1.5m of  silk-rayon velvet ($4), antique gold lace (a gift, many years ago), 1.5m of silk-cotton blend ($5), .4m white cotton twill for the under-bodice ($1), 1m silk crepe ($24), 1m silk net (to line and support the train) ($20).

Pattern: My own, based on period examples.  The under-bodice is primarily based on the Laurel Dress as patterned in Janet Arnold’s Patterns of fashion 1860-1930.

Year: May 1914-May 1915

Notions: silk and cotton thread, hooks and eyes, plastic whalebone boning, metal lace sleeve straps, metal lace train trim, vintage buckle.

How historically accurate is it? The construction is based on instruction given in Jane Fales’ 1917 Dressmaking, and is consistent with period examples. The straps aren’t the right material, and I’m not 100% happy with how the back fastenings worked out, so can only give it 70%.

Hours to complete:  At least 23.

First worn: For the Costume College Gala Ball, Sat 30 July

Total cost: Under $60

* I spent a lot of time singing ‘small spider weave, on silver sleeve…’ as I draped and sewed this, though this dress really doesn’t have sleeves to speak of, and my crown ended up being silver, not gold!


  1. Lynne says

    What a stunning way to display your wonderful lace!

  2. Grace Darling says

    The colours put me in mind of a box of Ferrero Rocher chokkies and that
    black/silver Valentine dress Julia Roberts wore to the 73rd Oscars.

    Very classy and looks comfy.

  3. That is a beautiful gown! You combined so many elements together in a beautiful way. I like how the elements came together in the back.


    • Thank you! Lots of elements is really a key feature that I’ve noticed in 1910s dresses: they are layer upon layers of texture and design details. I’m so pleased that people like the back, because I really struggled to get it to feel right to me.

  4. You looked so incredible! I was so excited by your gown- it’s a period I LOVE and we don’t see enough eveningwear made! And your gown was a perfect showcase for your gorgeous lace! So yummy!

  5. Lyndle says

    That is absolutely gorgeous and suits you perfectly. Fabulous. Ongratulations! I hope you have(or can manufacture) future occasions to wear it.

    • Thank you! Yes, I’m going to have to manufacture future occasions! I do have an alternative very nice but modern lace to replace the vintage stuff with if I want to be able to wear it without being so careful.

  6. Your dress is so beautiful from the front and then BAM!, you show the back, which just leaves me breathless! It’s absolutely stunning and I love that you removed the lace to carry on the plane with you. I never would’ve thought of the consequences of it going missing in my luggage!

    • Thank you! <3 I'm both extremely pleased and not 100% happy with the back (if that makes sense), so may do a bit of tweaking to it.

      I wouldn't have thought of the lace myself, but my wonderful friend Emily lent me the gorgeous amethyst necklace I'm wearing and asked me to be sure to carry it in my carryon because it would be so sad if it was lost, and I thought about how I felt about the lace, and then thought about it's actual value!

  7. ProfessorBats says

    Wow, what an utterly fabulous lace! And you found a perfect use for it, it displays really well with those fabrics, and the whole gown came out gorgeous.

  8. It’s gorgeous, and it looks beautiful on you. I love the way you’ve draped the lace, it’s very elegant and it’s a perfect way to use the lace.

  9. Elise says

    Oh, that’s so pretty, and I especially like how you incorporated the theme a bit more, while still being true to your aesthetic. Of course, the best compliment came when my little girl pointed at your picture and said, “Mommy!”. It’s a real treat to think that my daughter finds me so glamourous and creative as you on this night!

  10. Emilia says

    I was just rewatching Downton Abbey season 2 when the war is on, and it is so striking how modern the lines of 1910s dresses look, especially when simple. Between you and Downton, I’m getting converted out of my 1860s hoopskirts or bust mindset. This dress is absolutely stunning. That lace is a showstopper, no two ways about it, and you just look delighted to be in it, which is the sign of a truly fantastic garment. Bravo, indeed.

    I foresee learning 1910s garments now that I’m set up with my freebie old 1950s sewing machine. (The woman who gave it to me swears it’s a benign haunting, and if I have trouble threading it, to ask Shirley for help and the spirit will provide.) Any recommendations for a novice seamstress interested in getting to grips with some easier Edwardian/WWI pieces? I’m fascinated by the clean, elegant lines, and they’ll go better in my new wheelchair than my hoops!

  11. Whoa, you ace’d it girl! You look spectacular.

    Unbelievable accomplishment especially when you consider the tremendous research and work that went into the Fortnight, writing your presentations for CC, and creating and constructing your exquisite gown AND packing for your vist with family in Hawaii?! You’ve nerves of steel.

  12. I love how you pose for pictures! You know how to make the dress come alive. I always look like my dress has been hung on a block of wood. You need to give classes!

  13. Helen Fratena says

    All of the above comments! Beautiful! As it was said, the front is incredible and then the back photos are even more breathtaking. I love that you said you did what the fabric told you to do. I believe that fabric most often has its own plan and finding it is the key. I, too, am in a 1910-1920s mood right now. Working on my second 1912-1914 dress currently. Brava!

  14. Your dress was Gorgeous and that lace, WOW! You were inspiring me to try that style someday! Spiders and bees, yay! So great to meet you! 🙂

  15. You looked amazing. Wish I’d had the chance to meet you while we were there. Perhaps next time. 🙂

    • Thank you! <3 Sorry I didn't get to meet you too. I seemed to spend my entire time running around meeting people, and yet there are so many I didn't meet!

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