After my cousin’s grandmother passed away I was given reams of old sewing material that she had owned. I was given this beautiful vintage material (from the 60s I think), that although one side had a quite obvious paisley pattern, on the inverse side (the one which I used) was a beautiful burgundy colour with just a slight hint of paisley. I had been wanting to make a Victorian gown for a while and thought the colour of this material would make an amazing gothic style Victorian gown.
My inspiration for the dress was Irene Adler’s pink gown from the recent ‘Sherlock Holmes’ films. I love the shape of the skirt and the shape of the collar on the bodice - I didn’t want something that button up high under my chin like most 19th century gowns.
I also loved the general shape and style of Winona Ryder’s gown from the 1992 film Dracula.
After searching multiple websites for late 1800s patterns, which is actually a bit of a challenge due to the fact that most mainstream 19th century patterns out there are all mid 19th century (probably due to all the Dickens/Civil War reenactments that are out there), I eventually stumbled across ‘Truly Victorian’. This website is great as it takes old patterns and fashion templates from the 19th century that are redrafted and drawn with traditional seam lines to fit the modern body.
It also has a huge selection of patterns, ranging from 1830-1910. I eventually settled on these two patterns from their ‘Late Bustle 1883-1889’ category: TV261-R 1885 Four Gore Underskirt and TV463 1884 French Vest Bodice.
I started with the skirt first and it didn’t really take me very long at all to finish. I’m pretty sure I finished it within a couple of days. The hardest part about the skirt was probably getting the bustle to sit just the way I wanted it to - it involved a lot of tulle netting underneath to get the volume and then manipulating the fabric and sewing it to layers of ribbon to get it just the way I wanted it.
This is a shot of the skirt before all the bustle had been sewn into place.
The key to any historical look is the undergarments. I decided not to bone the bodice (although they probably would have lightly in the past) as I knew after I’d cut it that it was already going to be extremely tight, and as I was wearing a Victorian-style corset underneath. This is the corset that I chose to wear underneath it:
As you can see it was just a cheap one bought from ebay. Even though it was obviously not a heavily boned as an historical corset would be it still gave my garments and my body that very rigid structure as you will later see.
The bodice requires multiple layers of material and can be a little tricky to assemble, especially the style of sleeves with the puffiness at the top. The ‘tail’ of the bodice (which blends into the bustle) is also a little confusing to work out. I’m not sure if I ended up doing it exactly as the instructions called for but it still worked.
I decided to get the buttons holes done by a tailor at my local alterations shop as I was terrified that I would so something wrong or the holes would just look a mess. I then sewed on the buttons by hand. I also altered the collar of the bodice. I wasn’t that happy about the way it turned out - I accidently cut off a bit too much material whilst altering it so it doesn’t quite look the way I wanted it to.
Anyway this is how the gown turned out:
And this is me wearing it to a party. Funnily enough our house was actually built in the mid 1880s, so my costume is very contemporary to the surrounds!