Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Victorian Explorer

The idea for this gown was put into motion at Costume College 2012. Aubry from A Fractured Fairytale and Sara from Gilded Garb, had made Victorian Naturalist or Explorer outfits. I was inspired and over the next year or so the wheels in my head spun. I had so many ideas come out of their inspiration it was actually a bit hard to narrow them down and choose just one. I was torn between how historically accurate I wanted to get versus giving it a Steampunk flair. Even after choosing to be as historically accurate as I could, I had a hard time deciding on a specific decade in the late 19th century.
I eventually did choose one and this was the winner. 
Outdoor dress & hunting costume 1880, as seen originally in the magazine 'La Mode Illustree' in 1880 and reproduced in 1943 in a book titled 'Fashions and Fashion Plates 1800-1900 by James Laver (1899-1975)
I was drawn to the shorter skirts. I had a picture in my head that she could go out and hike and explore things easier then most because she wouldn't be tripping on her skirt. I also LOVED the pleated underskirt, and the turned back skirt of the polonaise. 
Finding a fashion plate I liked was the easy part. The hard part was figuring out how to reproduce it. The first step was trying to figure out what time period this fashion plate was from. I knew it was from the Victorian Bustle time frame, but fashions in those 20 or so years changed rather dramatically. Sometimes in just a span of one year. I also knew it was somewhere in the middle of the Bustle Era, commonly referred to as the the Natural Form Bustle. Unfortunately that was about where my knowledge ended. Luck was on my side and a matter of days after I choose my inspiration picture, Wearing History, a page I follow on Facebook posted a similar fashion plate. It was dated 1881, which helped me narrow down my search.
With a more focused search, I ordered both Volume 1 and Volume 2 of Fashions of the Gilded Age by Frances Grimble. I had seen it referenced by other costumers and it came highly recommended. I would also recommend adding these books to your sewing library if you are at all interested in the Natural Form era. I also went through my pattern stash and pulled out an underskirt pattern that I thought would work, which I will go into more detail in just a moment.
I didn't start this costume from scratch. I've wanted to make a Bustle-of-doom type gown for sometime and finished the undergarments despite never moving forward on the actual gown. It may not seem like much but already having the chemise and corset finished was extremely helpful. My next step was to finish my foundation garments. I choose the Muslin Petticoat from Fashions of the Gilded Age Vol 1. pg. 109. I wasn't sure if just the petticoat would be enough but continued under the assumption, if I needed more skirt support I could make it later.
muslin petticoat

With that complete I moved onto the underskirt. Truly Victorian carries a pattern for a 1878 Tie-back underskirt that reminded me of a couple of the patterns in the Fashions of the Gilded Age book. Using a pattern I already had on hand won vs. scaling up a new one. I used it as the base for my underskirt. Once I was sure the shape was what I wanted I added the knife pleated panel to it. There are over 6 1/2 yards of fabric in those pleats!
For the next step I went back to the patterns in the Fashion's of the Gilded Age book. I choose the Close-Fitting Polonaise on pg. 314, because of the quote provided on the page. "A polonaise is nothing but a princess dress shortened in front and lengthened in back. The back is pleated on the side and then sewn to the side piece." This sounded exactly like what I wanted!
I didn't fully comprehend the instructions for scaling up the pattern with the half bust rulers but it got me close enough. I only needed two tries before I had a well fitting mock up.
I choose a white wool twill for my fashion fabric. I wanted a natural fiber that would of been used in period and something that was lightweight because I was afraid of overheating. Since the green fabric I had already used was wool blend, I choose to stay with wool as my fabric choice. Surprisingly finding a white or cream wool was harder then I expected it to be. I interlined everything but the sleeves in cotton muslin, because it was what I had on hand. I basted them together and then just treated them as one piece of fabric. Before putting the lining in I added boning to each seam and dart. It was fabric covered plastic boning that I had in my stash. I wasn't concerned about the plastic not being strong enough, because it was to help smooth the dress not shape me.
I used a polished cotton for my lining. I didn't do a full lining because I didn't want the extra fabric changing the drape/weight of the fabric. I was afraid it would affect the look of the bustle.
This has taken over the 1st place slot for coolest thing I have done costuming wise.
While working on the dress it came up in discussion that the lining would have been treated the same as the other layers. Not as a separate layer and put together with the wrong sides facing each other, like I had done.

As soon as it came up I did remember seeing seams on insides of many extant bodice. Even so I choose to continue on, with my original plan, so I could complete the outfit on time.  I knew with how my brain works, wrapping my mind around a new plan of attack could take a few days. I didn't want to spare those days knowing I could be giving up something like completing the hat or trimming the gown. 
I think the sleeves were one of the hardest parts of the whole dress. I did 5 mock ups, alternating back and forth between to loose and to tight. Even on the first outing I was afraid my corrections to get rid of the bunching around the forearms had made them to tight. By the end of the day though, my wearing them had loosened them enough that they seemed pretty close to perfect. My favorite part of the sleeves are the cuffs. I drew inspiration from several fashion plates, but ultimately wanted something that tied the skirts pleats into the top.
The last piece I wanted to carry over from the inspiration fashion plate was all those buttons! I went the fabric covered buttons route. I was really unsure of the shape of them when I started but when all 20 of them are on the dress I didn't notice anymore.
Before I wear this again there are things I want to change/add. The main one would be adding the collar, I choose to leave off to save time.  I don't feel it was lacking anything on the first outing though. 
First worn at Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area near Las Vegas, NV, Mar. 2014

No comments:

Post a Comment