Here are some behind the scenes photos of my construction. This is my usual sewing process:

  1. A few months out from the event I start collecting pics on pinterest, consulting books, and asking friends if their books have conflicting evidence with what I’ve found.
  2. Depending on the person I’m playing and time of year, decide on fabric and color, then buy the fabric.
  3. All of the fitting/sewing/finishing usually ends up taking place in a month or so. I figure out my pattern pieces; make a mock up; adjust; cut stuff out and then sew away.

I think this is pretty standard for most people who sew historical clothing.

Sources consulted

First, here is my 1840s pinterest board. I think I’m like most people who love historical clothing in that I’m drawn to certain lines, trim details, and colors. There is definitely a distinct style for my board. The tricky part with this sewing project was that the Christmas event we were a part of had a super specific time period: Dec 1843. My dress had to be within the date range of 1842 – 43, but not after. That also meant getting the sleeves right and the bodice construction right. Here’s the other kicker: I did not buy a commercial pattern. There are things for 1830s and 1845, but nothing exactly at 1843. Why would there be? That’s such a random date. Unless the historic site near you has that date within their time range.

Costume in Detail dress I studied:





Patterns of fashion dress I studied:





While my mom who grew up learning how to sew purely from commercial patterns freaked out over me not using a pattern, I really enjoyed the challenge of studying a picture and mulling over how the fabric was cut, tucked, folded etc so it looked like it did in the drawing/photo.

Luckily the sewing teacher at the school where I teach was pretty good at looking at a drawing and looking at my mock up and saying, yep you’ve got the right lines; you’re good to go. Cha-ching!

Mock ups:


(stripes look good!)

Construction and research on construction

I think I’ve been lucky with the other things I’ve sewn and the patterns I just so happened to use for those projects. I admitted in my other post that I never had to sew darts. Yeah not sure how I got away with that for so long, but I did. I always thought they were scary. No idea why. Thank goodness for the website, Historical Sewing! I read and re-read this post on Victorian bodice construction and it really helped a ton. I read this one on flatlining a bodice. Then I read this one on sewing darts. I’m pretty sure for the last month, I had these tutorials open on permanent tabs on my computer.

I was really proud of my reuse of a garment. I had made a not so authentic 18th cent petticoat when I first started reenacting. It was a brown/red stripe and looked fine. The sewing was nothing particularly outstanding, but it was the first article of clothing I had ever sewn by myself. Because I now only wear linen and wool petticoats, I decided it was time to repurpose my first cotton petticoat into the lining of my 1843 dress. I washed the petticoat (because I couldn’t remember the last time I had worn it and whether it had been washed) and then ripped it apart. I thought I would be sadder than I actually was! The other reason for using the old petticoat was two-fold: 1) I couldn’t be bothered with another trip to the fabric store because that would take away from important sewing time and 2) I wanted to work the bodice and fashion fabric in stripes so I knew which way was which.

Petticoat post rip:



Using the mock up as pattern pieces and cutting out bodice lining:



Flatlined bodice pieces:


I don’t know if this is historically accurate, but I used the pieces of the piping to conceal the inner seams. I still have to tack it down.

Spreading out the piping:



Completed bodice inside:


(piping attached to bottom, but not tacked down)




The fabric was about 60 inches wide. I didn’t want the skirt to be enormous nor did I want to hem all of that, so I used three panels. I really like pleating. I debated about doing cartridge pleats. I love the way they look. However, I’d never done them before. There are tutorials, but it wasn’t something that I wanted to try out given my time constraints. I had to repleat my skirt about 5 or 6 times to get the fit and bell shape just right. Working with more than two panels (a la 18th cent skirt) was a tad more challenging than I had expected. I tried to not get too annoyed / frustrated with myself. I determined that I just need more petticoats as well. I definitely need a double or triple flounced one. And I need one made of organdy that is stiffer.

Pleating take 1:


Pleating take 2:


Petticoat ghost:

IMG_20151122_151426340 (1)


Another fun/interesting part was making the sleeves. Again, I only had a pattern for the leg o’mutton 1830 sleeves, but by the 1840s, the sleeves started to be slimmer and more fitted all the way around. I could have done a gathered/pleated sleeve head with a little poof around the elbow, but again, that seemed like a lot of extra effort/time that I could not spare. By the time I got around to making the sleeves (which always seems to be one of my last steps), I was at my mental capacity. I used the top of a regency sleeve pattern because I knew it was fitted enough, and then I wrapped a string around the widest part of my arm to get a measurement. Then I used a different regency long sleeve pattern. I decided I only wanted one seam and I cut the fabric on the bias (because diagonal stripes are fun!) and to get a closer fitting sleeve.

Sleeve pattern:

IMG_20151121_143527762 (1)

Lining pinned together:


In looking at various 1842/43 fashion plates, I couldn’t exactly tell where the sleeves stopped. I purposely cut it longer just to be safe.

Sleeve length 1:


Sleeve length 2:


(I ended up cutting off a good 2 inches from the end of the sleeve. I will most likely use that as a cuff of some sort).

Two nights before I was to wear my dress, I was playing around the trim. My sleeve head did not come out as dropped as I would like it. But it is what it is. I have no desire to rip out all the stitches holding the sleeve in place, so I thought I would trim it in a sloped fabric of some sort to give the illusion of a dropped shoulder. Below are two options.

Trim options:



Lastly, it never fails – – I am *always* hemming my skirts the night before the event and usually this process starts some time between 8 and 9 p.m. What is my deal?! I had timed myself in the past and on similar length fabric, it took 2 hrs. This time I got it down to 1.5 hrs! Woot!

Kitty helps with hemming: