Sunday, November 11, 2012

1860s Blue Wool Dress

My 1860's wardrobe was in dire need of updating, so this summer I spent much of my free time creating some new clothing and accessories for reenacting. One of these creations was this blue wool dress. The wool is a very nice suiting weight wool. The bodice has points at the front and back. The bodice fit very well in all of the fittings, but the skirt wasn't attached to the bodice until the event, so when I wore it I noticed that the bodice was a bit too long, causing it to ride up and create creases at the upper bust. This will be corrected by shortening the bodice before it is worn next. This is a rather simple alteration. The skirt was knife pleated and attached to a waistband.

I wore a period paisley shawl and carried an original chantilly lace, silk, and bone parasol with the outfit.


Because I have owned only one silk bonnet for ages, and it is pink and black, I desperately wanted to make myself a new bonnet for the event that I was attending. I created a buckram bonnet form and covered it in orange silk fabric. I looked at a lot of period bonnets for trim inspiration and went with something that I felt was tasteful and not too overdone. Period bonnets seem to achieve a very full trim style inside the bonnet. I wanted to create that full look with loops of ombre plum and peach ribbon - just like original ribbon that I had seen on various pieces, and used the white stamens pulled from cheap Michael's flowers to create my own 'flower' clusters. Using the stamens in clusters always seems to add nice texture. I then added a few berries to the mix. The lace inside is original and was gathered and then tacked in place.

The coral grape cluster earrings (and matching brooch) are originals.

Rows of silk were pinked, gathered and attached near the brim, and ombre ribbon and paper flowers were used to lightly trim the exterior of the bonnet. Because I made this orange bonnet to go with the blue wool dress and period paisley shawl I selected a simpler trim style that didn't outshine the beautiful paisley shawl.

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  1. Beautiful dress and bonnet! I noticed your lovely sleeves and wish you had a close up picture of them! I've never seen sleeves like that and am really interested in how you created them.

  2. Beautiful! You look so "right" for the period. I particularly love the shawl and the earrings, and the interior trim on your bonnet.

  3. Thank you for your lovely comments, ladies! Sarah, the sleeves are based off of an original dress, but I'm struggling to remember which one. I will try to find the images of the original (I forget if it was in a CDV or a surviving dress). I'll get back to you with more information about it! You can create this sleeve style by slashing and spreading an existing coat sleeve pattern - I'll try to do a post explaining how soon!

  4. Oh wow, that looks so much like my great-great grandmother's shawl! She lived from 1848-1918. We have a few items of hers (a comb, a shuttle, a purse, a set of sleeves she made) but the shawl is my favorite.

  5. Love it so much! I have done Civil War reenacting with my family since I was a baby, and I love it so much. But I had never got the motivation to make a bonnet from scratch, and yours was definitely an inspiration to me. I finally made myself one about a month ago, and wore it for the first time last weekend. Do you have a problem with it falling off the back of your head? I can't seem to keep it on, is that normal? or did I do something wrong?

  6. I think a few things help to keep the bonnet on my head. I make sure to arrange my hair low enough (about where the skull connects to the neck - or the occipital protuberance) that the bonnet has something to sit on securely. I sew cotton utility ties next to the ribbon fashion ties and it's the utility ties that hold the bonnet securely on my head. The fashion ties are merely decorative. I also make sure to have plenty of trim in the inside brim of the bonnet - I noticed that the weight of the trim (not that you need heavy trim) seems to help to keep the bonnet on my head. You can also attach a strip of straw (for straw bonnets) or buckram covered in velvet inside the bonnet to help to secure the bonnet to your head. This is a period method. The trip is about 1/2" wide and connects to either side of the inside bonnet and comes across the head about where the brim connects to the crown of the bonnet or where the bonnet starts to lift off of your head. The positioning is unique to the wearer so you will need to play with it to find the best position. You can add trimming on top of this strip, but I always prefer the look of stitching the trimming directly to the brim of the bonnet (although you might want a little trim on the strip to help hide it). Most of my bonnets don't have this strip though - I think that it's the trim weight that helps to hold the bonnets on. Hope this helps! I know that a millinery item that won't stay in place is very annoying at events!