In May 2021, Kim, one of my most loyal clients who lives in Los Angeles, California, asked me to make the dress of her dreams. It was a reproduction of an existing model, a late 1830s dress held at the Victoria & Albert Museum. The project was exciting! It forced me to step out of my comfort zone of the 1770s and 1800s. I immediately realized that pre-Victorian fashion has nothing to do with the period that precedes it. The bust is much more triangular; the sleeves are puffy, the neckline is flat.
After having gathered a good collection of images of romantic dresses, it was time to get right into this project.
1. What pattern to use for a pre-Victorian dress?
Again, I did a lot of browsing in historical pattern stores searching for the pattern that would best fit this original design. The main thing was to find a very similar bodice design. It had to perfectly fit the chest and back contours and offer the option of a bateau neck.
I finally chose the TV455 pattern from the Truly Victorian store. It's convenient because you can download and print it right after you buy it!
This pattern offers two types of sleeves: a gigot sleeve (for a day dress) and a beret sleeve (for an evening dress). But neither of these two patterns fit what I was looking for in terms of sleeves. No problem! I'll make something up!
2. The choice of a fabric
Once the pattern in hand, Kim and I had to find a fabric that would match the tones of the original design. We had to find a fabric with a beige background and red floral patterns, which was not too expensive to avoid inflating the budget of this dress. So, no silk, but I had the idea to check the Chintz Cottons catalog from Historical Fabric Store and found this fabric that would do the trick perfectly. I bought 8 yards of it because I wanted to put at least 4 yards in the skirt.
3. The main difficulty: the sleeves
The pattern is relatively straightforward to make for anyone who can handle a historical sewing project. Unlike the pattern instructions, though, I made a completely separate lining, then joined it to the outer fabric at the end of the process. This is the way I do since I want to be no visible seams when looking at the inside of the bodice.
I finally started with the beret pattern for the sleeves, which I joined to a first ring, then to a strip of gathered fabric, then to a second ring. The forearm part is much simpler to make: pick a strip of fabric about 30 centimeters long and sew it to the ring at the top and the cuff at the bottom.
This romantic dress is the second one I made after my first try: an 1830 almond green linen dress. The result is stunning, and even if the period is a bit out of scope, I will certainly make more in the coming months!