Thursday, August 02, 2012

An 1870s Steampunk Black Dress

"On the Grass", by Berthe Morisot, 1874.
Not steampunk, but it is black
and in a setting dear to a
mother's heart.
 Ever since 2008 I've had a First Bustle era bustle all made up and waiting for me. At last, it's time to use it, because in October we are going to have a Steampunk Sunday Tea! A whole bunch of us, including Jenni over at Living with Jane, are getting really excited about the possibilities.

Anything goes at this event, and my ensemble will be much more about inspiration and fun, and much less about being a stickler for perfection. Plus, it has to be unfussy to make, with little or no handwork, because family life is so busy. Pinking shears, I need you: no handsomely finished seams this time...

Out comes the treadle, of course, and out come the Truly Victorian patterns that have been waiting, and the "I'm-not-sure-it's-really-cotton-gray-broadcloth", and the Hancock's Halloween black muslin, all of which date to before the twins' birth. The only thing to purchase? Some black ribbon. I even have thread.

Scene from "Stardust", a steampunk-
fantasy, complete with fallen
stars, flying pirate ships,
and witches!

The look? Chic, restrained, a study in gray and black and cream, mattes and satins, in honor of the season.

Well, well, that's all nice, but what about the details? Let's start with the all-important overskirt, a defining element of the early 1870s aesthetic, other than the bustle itself, of course. Let's look at some options and see where they lead.

Warning: wordiness ahead: I have been thinking things out around bedtime for awhile, now, and have been tippy-typing on the computer as ideas occur. Lo, it all piled up.

Those of you wondering where the sleeveless spencer went? Please be patient, it will get there. Meantime, I am off playing during this silly season.

Split Pannier Tunic Overskirt, March 1870

Here's an idea for an overskirt, from Peterson's, 1870:

The description:

The pattern and how to put it together. All I need is the tunic part. I can attach that to a waistband.

If you look carefully, there is a sash worn on top: it's attached to a belt. Sashes were considered "indispensible", as Peterson's put it, and could be easily changed out. The belts hid the joins between bodice and skirt.

Well, it's sweet, but the overskirt is too short for my taste. Let's look again.

Black Double-Aproned Dress, Sometime in 1873

Image courtesy
  There we go, that's better. It's the figure in black, second from right, that pitty-pats my heart. The front and back apron design is exactly what I was looking for, and the underskirt effect, the train, everything. The only thing I am not sure about is the jacket styling of the bodice. I'd prefer a plain bodice with a belt.

Let's look at an extant piece to determine how to make it up. Here is an 1870-75 walking dress, accession number, 2009.300.1900a–c, from the Met. The back has a large bustle effect, and is a little boufier than I want, but the seamlines clearly show the number of panels needed to create it. I have used colored lines to indicate the panels.

There are a total of 8 panels needed, 4 to a side:
  • The front apron needs a front panel (#1), gored, with two side panels (#2), also gored. The back of the side panel is drawn up almost to the top of the overskirt; the drawing up is hidden by the side "tie" trim. The bottom of both gores is shaped into a curve.
  • The back needs a gored panel #3, slightly curved at the bottom, and the back is composed of two panels, cut on the straight and pleated at the top.
  • In this case, the waistband to which all panels are attached is hidden underneath the bodice.
To create it:
  • A short front apron, using a variety of the pattern from the split pannier tunic, up top. I may or may not need multiple gored pieces, depending on how I can cut the fabric.
  • The back piece: made of one panel, but doubled fabric to make it double wide), pleated at the top and with a curved hem. When cut out, it would be shaped like a very wide, long "U", I think. The upper part lined with net or "crin" to help hold the puff. The puff would be pulled up into shape with an interior cord. 
  • The overskirt is trimmed with knife pleating, with header. The details are unclear in the image, but a narrow satin ribbon can cover the join of pleating to the aprons. Follow Heather McNaughton's directions to make them.
    Miss Blueberry Muffin, outfitted by nature with her own bustle and train.
  • I will have to make up the underskirt first, then drape the overskirt on top. Both front and back should be lined with plain white muslin, so they hang better, so I can drape the shapes using that plain muslin lining.
What About the Underskirt?
The 1873 Peterson's underskirt is just beautiful The upper part of the skirt appears to be scalloped, or perhaps it's ornamented with ribbon or soutache cord in scalloped shapes. I can find no detailed image to tell. The double layer of knife-pleated flouncing without headers, is streamlined. Love that.

Here are detailed instructions on making it, written down now so I don't forget!

Cut a black muslin lining, using TV201 as pattern, and adding a wee train. Face the back with another layer of lining, to about 6 inches deep, cut from the same pattern. Cut a third from iron-on interfacing. Turn right sides together, sew, and turn in the facing. Stitch down the top of the facing. This makes a fine strong hem that will not catch on anything, and was done during the period (although crin or other stiffener was used instead of the commercial interfacing). It helps hold the skirt to the right shape.
  • Mount a short top layer to the lining.
    • Use the TV201 pattern, but cut the pieces short, to mid-thigh in front, to knee-level in back.
    • Line the bottom to a depth of four inches or so, but put the right sides together. Baste strongly.
    • Using a stencil, cut scallops along the outer edge, through both lining and fashion fabric. Sew along this line.
    • Turn the lining inwards, and tack closed. Top-stitch along the scallop edges if necessary to help them lie flat.
    • Sew to skirt lining.
  • Cut and pleat the flounces. To pleat, use Heather McNaughton's directions. Spray with vinegar and press to help the pleats hold their shape.
  • Mount the upper of the double flounces to the lining. Sew it to the lining just up under the bottom of the upper skirt. Pink the top flounce so it needs no finishing. Mount the lower flounce the same way, plain hemming it for durability.
  • Inside the bottom of the muslin lining, tack a gathered balayeuse.
Oh, and There's a Sash?

Yes, but of course! The design, to come.

How about the Bodice?

Much as I like the jacket look of the 1873 plate, it's too hefty, and would not have a square neck, of course. I want the square neck, and need a very fitted waist.

Therefore, a plain, high waist is best, using TV 400, but with elbow-length sleeves. Trimming the neckline and sleeves is the next question, and I will save that for another day.

This evening I leave you with another memory of the lake:

Silliness on the pontoon boat: we know Christopher loved his Fig Newton cookie, but what's with Noah?


Jenni said...

Oh, Natalie, your gown is going to look good enough to eat! Thanks for bringing all of this up. It's such a lovely, and fun break from the Regency era.

Lady D said...

I do like those styles. They look elegant.

Kleidung um 1800 said...

What an unusual project - sounds like fun! Aawwwww and your cat!!! They are always dressed up perfectly, aren't they?!


Donna said...

I will have to look up Steampunk, I had never heard that word before,last week when reading a blog LADY OF PORTLAND HOUSE she has pictures of STEAMPUNK outfits she and friends wore Looks like fun!