Hello everyone! Today I’m really excited to share a project with you that has been my focus for many months now – my late Victorian walking suit! Some of you may remember last year when I made my first historical costume for a Victorian Christmas event here in Galveston. I had such a great time, and learned so much making that costume that I was excited to try my hand at another for this year. And of course, none of this would be possible without Mood Fabrics!
This year I really wanted my costume to be historically accurate to a specific time period, and I zeroed in on the 1890s. I love the later Victorian years because they are a bit of a transition time period, not quite as stuffy and frou-frou as the earlier Victorian styles, but not as elegant and feminine as the later Edwardian time period. It’s when women’s suffrage really took off as a movement, and there is this sense of independence that comes through in the styles. For the first time in history tailoring techniques are being applied to women’s wear, and traditionally masculine garments, like suits and shirtwaists and neck ties, become fashionable. Oh, yeah, and there’s the sleeves! Huge sleeves! The bigger the sleeve, the smaller the waist!
I purchased several patterns to work from for this costume, and I feel like the end result is a bit of my own thing. The main pattern I decided to work from is Simplicity 4156 – an out of print costume pattern for an 1895 gown. The pattern envelope looked like this:
While it’s not historically inaccurate, I wasn’t a fan of this look, particularly the standup Dracula collar and the over-the-top, beachball sized, gigot sleeves. But looking past all that, I felt like this was a great starting point for the bodice. I also purchased the Truly Victorian Eton Jacket pattern specifically for the leg-o-mutton sleeve. After I finished my late victorian corset (more on that later) and petticoat I made a muslin of the bodice with the Truly Victorian sleeve set on the Simplicity bodice. I had to refit the bodice quite drastically. To get it to fit my shoulders I cut the largest size (12), then I had to remove nearly 4 inches from the waist circumference at various points. I also wasn’t happy with how unfitted the sleeve was so I redrafted it so that it drastically tapered from the elbow to wrist, taking out nearly all the ease, and inserting a wrist placket in order to get it on and off. I also completely redrafted the collars to make them smaller and point downwards instead of up. I felt like getting the fit of this bodice spot on was essential to create an accurate period look, and it was all about balancing volume with nearly zero ease.
For the fabric I wanted something that would be light and crisp enough to hold the volume of the sleeve, so I gravitated to silk dupioni with its dry hand, and almost papery texture. This Light Periwinkle Solid Shantung/Dupioni caught my eye for it’s beautiful color – not quite blue but not completely purple. It changes tone depending on light. I paired it with this Orchid Hush and White Candy Striped Stretch Cotton Woven shirting for the center inset and lining. The navy blue velvet trim and lace beading and trim were all purchased locally.
The silk dupioni was underlined throughout with white cotton lawn to give it a bit more heft. Then the striped shirting was also flatlined to cotton lawn, with channels sewn in for boning. Then the two layers (four layers of fabric thick) were basted together and treated as one. I used spiral steel boning for the bodice. The edges were simply stitched and pinked, which is both period accurate, and expedient. The sleeves were sewn onto a fitted sleeve lining, which was slipstitched into the armsyce. The front trim conceals hook and eye tape which is how the whole thing comes on and off – much easier than having it in the back! All in all just the bodice alone required about 50% machine sewing and 50% handsewing, but the finished result is such a substantial, almost sculptural, piece of clothing!
The skirt was drafted based on some historical costume books I own. It’s seven gores, with the back pieces cut extra wide then gathered into the waistband to give a little extra “oomph” to the tush! The gathers also help hide the hook and eye placket in the center back. The skirt was underlined with white cotton lawn, and the bottom third of the skirt has an underlining of flannel to give it weight and to support the trim.
(Please excuse my dirty petticoat! I was doing a lot of walking last weekend!) In order to give the hem a boost I cut a 3 inch bias facing of navy cotton velveteen, then attached some gathered lace I had in my stash. This was all handsewn in place, along with the velvet trim. While the skirt is a much more straightforward sew than the bodice, it was almost equally as time consuming, just because of sheer volume! I’m quite happy with all the weight and heft of this skirt, as one of my pet peeves with historical costumes is a flimsy hem! (I know…. I’m such a snob! But this is why they ask me to judge the costume contest, no one else is eyeballing those hems!) In future years I’ll add petticoats as well, which will only add to the period correct drama!
I’m very pleased with how this costume turned out! I feel like I was able to apply a lot of what I learned last year to this year in order to make something that feels less like a costume and more like an actual historic reproduction. And even better, I feel like this costume reflects my own personal style as well – if that’s even possible for a thoroughly 21st century gal to do while wearing 19th century garb!
If you’re not completely tired of all this Victorian nonsense, I’ll be sharing more photos – as well as more details on my new corset and undergarments – on my own blog later this week. So stay tuned!
Would any of you venture into historic sewing? I gotta say, I’m definitely hooked! I’m already brainstorming next years costume. Any suggestions?