Sunday, August 6, 2017

Inside the 1902 Worth Gown for the CoCo Gala



A while ago I was looking online for warp printed silk for an 18th century dress, when I came across a fabric. Immediately I thought of this gown:

The Metropolitan Museum of Art
2009.300.2009a, b

This particular gown is at the Met. It's a House of Worth gown from 1902. The fabric is very distinct, and though the fabric I found wasn't 100% exact, it definitely had the vibe, and the motif was the right size and pattern to work with the design and cut outs that are on the original dress. I had to make it!

Granted, because the fabric wasn't 100% identical, and since the design of the gown is dependent on the design of the fabric, my gown couldn't be an exact replica, but I did my best to work with my fabric and use the motifs in a similar way. The edges of the lace yardage also had to be accounted for and worked into the design in a complimentary way.




It was a very fun dress to wear but especially so to create and sew. There were so many details and layers to figure out. I found a lot of information, again, in Kristina Harris' Authentic Victorian Dressmaking Techniques. That is just the most excellent book for this era. I also took inspiration for some of the elements, like the skirt pocket from Janet Arnold's Patterns of Fashion 2.

The bodice lining and base for the skirt started out as Truly Victorian's 1890's Ball Gown patterns. I tweaked them until they visually resembled the Met's pictures of the original gown. I used Cathy Hay's pattern notes on the Oak Leaf dress and similar era gowns in Patterns of Fashion 2 to work out the skirt pattern as well. Good lord, working out the pattern took up my whole kitchen floor. The pattern in the picture isn't the final cut; I actually ended up hacking quite a bit of the skirt fabric out of the center back. It's not quite a circle skirt and the skirt panels had to be created accounting for the design of the fabric. Luckily, the fabric had no right or wrong side, which made mirroring the center back designs very easy.




I also took a shot in the dark and called the Met. I never thought anyone would call me back, but someone did! And they were so nice and sent me all the curatorial notes for both this gown and the silver embroidered gown I intend to start soon. This was amazing! I now had the length of the skirt handed to me as well as details about the inside of the dress and it's construction and fabrics as well!

The most time consuming part of the dressmaking process was creating the front cut-out panels. One of my lightbulb moments was figuring out how there were no darts or seams over the hips: the lace and floral fabric overlap to create the shaping, which is easily manipulated with the cut out design. The time consuming part was overcasting the edges of the cut outs. I could have done it by machine, but as far as I know, zig zag stitching wasn't around, so I wanted to keep the process as true to the era as possible. By the way, I say process, because I'm pretty sure the floral fabric wasn't 100% silk, but I didn't check because I didn't really want to know! 


The panels were started by cutting out the floral design and laying them over the lace. They were basted down and then I stitched around the designs with the machine. 


The excess was snipped away close to the stitching and then the edges were overcast with a buttonhole stitch. Had it been that I had no deadline, this would have been enjoyable. But a couple weeks out from Coco, I had a little panic moment. Somehow this took so much longer than I assumed it would! Near the end I was taking the panels with me when I left the house, just in case I had a moment of downtime.


So on to the construction of the gown. The details of the skirt were done much like the foundation skirt I made to go under it. The Met's notes show the skirt as being center back closing, but I chose to close it in front, under one of the front panels. It was easier for me to get in and out of by myself and kept the back very clean looking, which was fine by me.



One of my very favorite parts of this skirt is the pocket. I worked a nice big pocket into one of the side seams. Its amazing how much fits in there and doesn't affect the drape of the skirt or affect sitting. I had my giant phone in its giant case, my coco badge, tickets, tissues... I also noticed that in period photos and illustrations, I didn't see one evening purse! Now I know why. 




The hooks to keep the skirt and bodice together were an absolute must!


The lace front was placed over a "clouding of chiffon" to "soften" the effect of the taffeta lining underneath. I can't remember what page this is on in Authentic Victorian Dressmaking Techniques, but its suggested in the chapter on evening gowns. 


The hem was finished in the same way as the foundation skirt, with a crinoline and cambric lining the hem, and faced with taffeta. Then a pinked dust ruffle was applied to the facing. I gathered it with my gathering foot, folded down at the stitched line and whipped that to the facing, then lightly steamed it back open. This was an easy way not to catch through to the outside of the dress. The ruffle was then tacked with french tacks. 


The skirt is very fun to wear. I was worried it would be a little unruly to walk in since its nearly 70 inches at the center back. The original dress is 70", but I had a cutting whoopsie and mine ended up a little shy of the mark. But, with all the engineering and following how the original skirts were made and what they were worn over, it behaved beautifully. Especially on the tile floors. It sweeps in a way no other period of gown moves. 

The bodice was a bit of a beast. So many elements! And it probably would have been easier to engineer, but I chose to make it front fastening, instead of back (like the original), because I wanted to be able to get in and out of it by myself. 



The basic construction is pretty general for the period. It has all the elements: neck drawstring that closes front and back, petersham waist tape, boning (I used German plastic), overcasted seam allowances, covered hooks...

One last minute liberty I took was to put lingerie holders in at the shoulders. I don't know if they were used in gowns like this, but they made my life easier so that my chemise straps weren't falling out of my gown. And I needed the chemise to hold in my bust padding. I just used french tacks with a little snap, much like this tutorial by Katherine, which I came across while trying to find if lingerie guards were used in this era. I do know little lingerie pins existed, but it was last minute, I didn't have any, and using safety pins seemed so sad when everything else was so beautiful inside! 










The bodice lining closes up the center front and then this front panel closes all the way across the front. Then the final panel with the bow closes across all of it.




The very front panel, with the bow, tacks to the bust with a hook and thread bar, which is a little hard to see in the picture below.



The beaded strip across the low bust was made of wire and swarovsky beads, and made similar to lace on a pillow.





The end of the bow was just cut on the bias so it wouldn't unravel. The folds in the satin belt were tacked down from underneath, not catching through to the front.


The sleeve base was made with the sleeve pattern that came with the Truly Victorian pattern. I cut the pattern piece out of lace and then folded the hem up to the armscye and gathered the two edges together, set in the sleeve and then gathered them up a bit behind the shoulder. It made a little puffed sleeve for the top decorations to rest on.


Whew! That was a long one! But it has got to be my new favorite dress! I wish (as always) I had gotten better pictures of it at the gala. I'm hoping the photographer's pictures turn out well! I'm looking forward to those.

So, in another post, I'll have to get into all the new undies I made for this. No room for that today! Hope everyone is having a lovely week! I'm still in Goldfield, which we came up to after Costume College, for Goldfield Days again. As soon as I get home I look forward to starting some new projects! Can't wait!

4 comments:

  1. Wow ! I loved the gown in the first CoCo pictures where I spotted it, but I hadn't noticed the level of detailing at first. This is breathtaking !

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  2. Oh my, that is stunning! I had to go and find my copy of "The Opulent Era" so that I could look at the original - you've made an amazing job of recreating it.

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    1. Thank you! It was so fun to work on. And wear!

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