Monday, April 20, 2015

My Second Empire 1890's Dress

I didn't take pictures of the finished Second Empire stays, but here is the pattern:

I drafted it out first and then put it on the dress dummy for some final finishing.  After wearing the stays all day, they do need some small improvements.  One of the biggest ones would be to make the armsyce smaller - it was cutting into my chest around my arms.   Another would be to either make them one inch longer or one inch shorter - where they were, every time I bent over, the bones would cut into my upper belly and that was not fun.   However, overall, they were actually pretty good.  I could move!  I could drive!  Once I fix the really pretty minor issues (shorten the existing ones will fix one issue and maybe adding a patch on either side will fix the other), they will be perfect.

I didn't take any pictures of the dress while I was making it - it was a bit of a rush job since I had been so ill the previous week.   Really, the pattern for the Second Empire dress was easy since I used a modern pattern.  Simplicity 3777  has very similar lines to the 1890's dresses.  I just had to draft a new sleeve and lengthen the skirt.  Easy.   I used bodice pattern C/D for the lining and then added 3 1/2" to the front of that pattern, while drafting out the darts, for the front gathers.  The sleeve is just my normal trapezoid with a bell curve up top except this bell curve went up at least 8" than I normally do - the sleeve was also a bit wider but only by 3", I think.   The lining for the sleeve was a more traditional sleeve shape.

Another thing about the sleeves - in order to keep them "puffy", I added tulle to the inside upper bell curve edge of the sleeve.  It was about 6" wide and ran along the top of the sleeve.  When I gathered it to the sleeve lining, this allowed for something "stiff" but lightweight to help the sleeve keep it's shape.  Horsehair would have been the accurate way to do this but I had tulle on hand.  

Sleeves of doom!!!!!!!!  You can see the pink sleeves and gray wool dress (ie me!) as the only one without a parasol up.  It was wedge at my feet and you might be able to make out the handle of the parasol in this picture. (All photos courtesy of Kat!)

Kat was trying to steal my necklace which is why you see a hand in the photo below. However, you get a pretty good view of the dress. I used pink dupioni silk for the sleeves - which is what I had on hand- and gray wool for the dress. It needs trim, badly, but I'll do that next time. This time, I was in a rush to finish the dress. Thank goodness visible machine sewn hems are perfectly period for this era!

Okay, so in this photo you can really see the sleeves of doom. They are bigger than my head. :-)

This photo is courtesy of Danabren on LJ.

Overall, I'm pleased with the dress. Like I said, it needs trim. Badly. However, that's an easy fix. If you'd like to read about the Second Empire fashions, I have the original sewing plans, part one of Second Empire research, and part two. In those links, you'll see my inspiration for this outfit.


  1. I'm really interested in how your stays turn out. I'm thinking of making one for a bicycling outfit.

    1. Overall, they really were pretty good. I could bend at the waist! However, I did cut them too short (problem with drafting them on the dress dummy rather than myself) so, when I did bend even the slightest, the stays would poke my stomach a bit. It was pretty uncomfortable driving home like that. However, it really was a mea culpa where I needed to make the stays longer. Next time!