It was a little over a year ago, in grade 12, that I first got interested in sewing historical clothing, starting with this pretty, pink, birthday cake of a ball gown.
Prior to this, I had only sewn a couple very simple things. It was in grade 10 that I first started learning to sew, when there were a few articles of clothing that I wanted, I didn’t take it seriously at all, not even finishing most of what i had started. Then in grade 11, I began doing high school at home, online, due to fatigue from persisting anemia, which made keeping up in school very difficult. Online school gave me a little more spare time to get interested in sewing. I made a few simple costumes and dresses, I drafted most of my patterns, but it was just a fun hobby that I didn’t take it too seriously.
Until grade 12, when i got better at doing school online, and my health began to improve. I can’t quite recall why I decided to challenge myself to make an 1860’s Victorian ballgown specifically. Perhaps a few photos I saw or movies I watched inspired me to make something from the victorian era. I could have started smaller, with a day or work dress, but I suppose I didn’t see my sewing level as a limitation and I learned as I went.
I bought the Truly Victorian “1860s Ballgown Bodice” (TV442) and the “1860s Ballgown Skirt” (TV240)
Before I started I made a hoop skirt with guidance from this article:
Though not an accurate steel victorian hoop skirt, i didn’t care, I wanted to save money on the hoopskirt and jump straight into the dress; no corset, chemise, drawers, or petticoats either! (face palm)
It took a few trips to my local fabric store until I finally found fabrics I liked. The label didn’t say what the fabric was, only that it was a jacquard print. But hey, they were in the discount section for only $4.00 a meter! and they matched my nail polish that day! so I knew it was meant to be. Though a lucky find for a good deal, I didn’t have much money at the time, and remember having some anxiety with all the purchases I’d been making. I thought I might not manage to make the gown, or that I’d lose interest too soon before it was finished.
Even so, I persisted, first starting with these rough drafts:
Then i was eager to start the actual dress. I kept my finger nails painted the same colours as the dress during most of the process of building it, for some superstitious reason i guess….
It wasn’t an easy process, and because i had no sewing studio, let alone a corner as i do now, it was such a pain getting out all my supplies, and the sewing machine, to sew on the kitchen table every time. Many nights my family had to eat dinner on the couch…. oops.
In terms of the building process though, I had my challenges, and many questions, it was a learning process and took time. Fortunately my friend google and my stitch ripper were always there to help!
After about 3 months, it was done. I’m happy with the outcome, not only because I like how it looks in its pretty, girly Victorian elegance. It made me a stronger sewer, I learned the most I’d ever had on this project than all my previous simple fun projects combined. Building this taught me that with hard work, time, inspiration, and motivation you can really exceed what seems to be your limit.
I also learned so much about 1860s clothing doing research for this dress. I even read up on other aspects of fashion from the 1860s, and other time periods surrounding it, simply because i found it very interesting.
The dress definitely isn’t perfect, the hook and eye closure doesn’t lay as flat as it should at the back, the bertha doesn’t lay smoothly, and the bodice could overall be fitted a little better. But now it’s been a little over a year since i made this dress, and I’ve learned all the solutions to these problems. I know how to make a neat hook and eye closure, a smooth bertha collar, and now that I draft my own Victorian patterns, I get a nice custom fit. So making these mistakes really wasn’t so bad as i learned from them, too. And besides, I still have extra fabric if i want to make a new bodice for it in the future.
All in all, The best thing about making this dress is that it has lead me to know where my interests lie, and paved the way for a wondrous frilly filled, fun future.