1865 Croquet Dress1855 Ballgown, blue and cream1865 ballgown rendering1865 ballgown before

Inspiration

This dress was inspired by a photograph of a British croquet outfit. It seemed mighty elaborate for sportwear, but I guess those British nobles had the money to spare. Anyway, once I decided that only something as fancy as a ballgown deserved this much applique, I went looking for proof that gowns from this era had this sort of hem trim, particularly applique. I lucked into a very similar fashion plate from 1864 [scans later].

Pattern

The bodice is Past Patterns civil war ballgown bodice. I’m a huge fan of this pattern company. The skirt is self drafted, such as it is, being a few straight panels with box pleats to distribute the fabric appropriately–single boxes in front, double in the back. The applique was designed on graph paper, using the original photograph as a model.

Materials

The bodice and portions of the applique are a pink jacquard silk, purchased on sale from Thai Silks. Additional applique is a burgundy cotton velvet (from a chain store, I think). The skirt is a black china silk, also from Thai Silks–probably too thin, but all I could afford for that much fabric. All linings are cotton muslin. I used cotton boning channels and have now replaced the plastic feather boning with spiral steel bones, which I think are far preferable–sturdier and yet not so ready to curl on their own and poke you uncomfortably. Wool brush braid and various hooks and eyes.

Construction

The sleeves have had several lives–the first time I wore the dress was for an 1898 reenactment (it being 1998, at the time) and I’d had this idea I could make one bodice for both the late civil war and Spanish-American war events–both sleeves being fairly full puffs. I do not need any extra fullness on my arms, however, especially dropped off the shoulder as the ball gowns are (hello, NFL!). So, eventually I modified it to the current style, which is inspired by a late 1850s dress. I figure you can always claim an eccentric passion for an older style, but an uncanny knowledge of future fashion would be a no-no.

I’ve never gotten around to making a bertha for this dress, for two reasons: first, I love the fabric so much I don’t want to cover it up and, second, I don’t really need more padding in the decolletage area. I have done a lot of tweaking to improve the waist points, which I thought were too long on the original pattern (plus sizes are always problematic this way, even for great companies like PP). And someday, I’ll get around to making the proper eyelets for lacing. I also need to add a drawstring to the shoulders, having since learned this was period appropriate AND having now shrunk a bit in size (yay!) [link to site with drawstring info. pending].

The skirt is fully lined with muslin, with an additional 4 inch muslin panel at the hem as well as a black wool brush braid from Wooded Hamlet. The length is determined at the waist, with the excess turned under and retained. After pleating, the waist was hand whipped onto a heavy cotton belting, also from Wooded Hamlet. As for the applique, well it’s been 4 years and I’m still not done! This is because, being me, I couldn’t just go with a basic blanket or satin stitch–oh no–it has to be this ultra fancy chain stitch embroidery that takes me an hour to do about 2 inches. The dress has been worn 4 or 5 times anyway.

The entire dress was made on a handcrank sewing machine, with the finishing and applique done by hand (yes, I’m crazy).

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