Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Inspired by History

First of all, a disclaimer: I do realize that this is not an accurate Civil War ballgown! I was simply going for general style, not accuracy. All of you Civil War costume historians will surely be able to pick out every historical faux pas, so know ahead of time that I am quite happy with being "farby!"

I used Simplicity 2881 as a base for my ballgown bodice -- but I made significant changes! I redrafted the armscye to make the dress rest on my shoulders, lengthened the sides (my mock-up was about 4 inches above my actual waist!), and shorted the "V" in the front (among other various changes. For the inside, I lined each bodice piece with black cotton flannel and serged the raw edges once I had constructed it -- not period correct, but very efficient!

I used salvaged material for the bodice -- a taffeta plaid skirt from an outdated dress and a green taffeta skirt from a dress I bought when I was nine. Amazingly, the sleeves are actually the sleeves from that dress, with an inch or two cut from the top edge (they were enormous 90's sleeves)-- I can't believe the armhole still fits! I modified the bretelles from the Simplicity pattern, used salvaged piping around the sleeve edges, and bound the top and bottom edges in green taffeta. Basically, I used the pattern shapes from Simplicity 2881, changed them considerably, and completely ignored the instructions!

Front view:

Back view:

Salvaged piping:

The sleeves were delightfully easy!

The skirt I drafted myself (although "draft" is a bit too ambitious a word). I sewed the fabric into a tube and double box pleated it. The waistband is extra-long to make sure nothing shows when I lift my arms.

I used a fabric rose for my hair, using instructions from Denver Fabrics. Many thanks to my sister, Tiffany, for styling my hair! I'm hopeless with hair, so I was thrilled to have her assistance!

I also made a small reticule from Mrs. Chancey's Elegant Lady's Closet Pattern, modified slightly (because I just can't stand not making changes! *grin*).

I even found a package of black tassels on clearance at Wal-Mart. I couldn't resist.

Since I was changing the bretelles (the green "straps") drastically anyway, I decided to add lacing to the front. Combined with the back lacing, I put in a total of 34 metal grommets, each hand-bound with a buttonhole stitch. I couldn't believe how many hours that took!

The back lacing:

In all, this dress cost about $10 or under in new materials. My skirt fabric was $1 per yard fabric from Wal-Mart, the flannel for the lining was $3, and the rest of the fabric was "re-purposed." One day I'd love to make a historically accurate gown, but for now -- well, for now, this will do just fine!


  1. Wow, Shannon! I really like how it turned out! And for so inexpensive, too. We are studying the Civil War in school next year, so I am excited. We make costumes for each era. This spring I am getting a colonial one...I am thinking I want a polonaise!

    By His Grace,
    Jane Ellen

  2. Beautiful!
    I'm so jealous! :) LOL
    The colors suit your coloring beautifully!

  3. SO lovely, Shannon! And your photos of the Ball were loads of fun to see. It looks like you had a simply lovely time.

  4. That gown is absolutely stunning!

    Which reminds me, I have just discovered this behemoth of a fabric store over on the west side. Its much like a variety shop, however my friend who is a fashion designer that I've started taking lessons from, recommended that I go over there.

    Once there, I thought of you and Tiffany! They had fabric and notions for miles, much more so than Joann's. AND! my favourite part - they carry retro fabric, and civil war style fabrics! Swoon!

    Anyway, I wanted to invite you to come with me maybe either next Monday or Tuesday. Those are my "off days" and as much as I would also love if Tiffany could come, I know she will be teaching. So I figured I could share my find with you and you could share with Tiff! Just let me know what you think! ;oD

  5. oh wow, that is beautiful!!! I've just started sewing, so i'm jealous of your amazing skills!!

    I'm Hannah, by the way. I just found your blog, it's lovely!

  6. Delightful! If only the pictures of you weren't so dark...

    Like your grommets, my sewing project is taking an enormous amount of time...


  7. Thank you! :-)

    Jane Ellen, what a fabulous idea! I've often wanted a good excuse to make a Colonial
    outfit :-)

    Kim, I think I know which sewing shop you mean -- I'd love to go there with you!

    Hannah, it's nice to meet you!

    Maria, sorry the pictures are dark -- they aren't on my computer screen! I hope your sewing project is going well, and will be worth the time you're putting into it!

    Yours in Christ,

  8. Are you thinking of the A&E perhaps?
    If so, that is it! ah fabric bliss!

  9. It's not that bad, really! I've seen farbier. *wink*

    Your eyelets are lovely! And your hoop is the right size for you and your hight too!



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