An 1876 Victorian Skirt

1876 was the year I ended up deciding on after a great deal of time spent in something of a quiet and joyful Pinterest trance, flowing through image after image of museum extant garments and fashion illustrations from the period. I was finding myself drawn to the time of the First Bustle era and Natural Form era. I ended up landing on a silhouette that was somewhat a transition between the two. I knew if I was going to jump into this grand project, I wanted to do it right. I was going to be putting many hours into the construction so I went with a fabric I could really get excited about- this peacock blue silk faille from Mood Fabrics. And oh boy, was it ever a special day when it arrived in the mail! I was so very in love with the weight of how it draped and pleated…and the colour was perfection! Despite having other sewing work that needing doing, I couldn’t resist squeezing in a bit of time that very day to get started on this exciting project.

With my fabric sorted it was time to jump into the exciting stage of bringing the design I had in mind to life. I had been planning out a rough idea of what I wanted the final design to look like, using this 1876 pattern from Ageless Patterns and my Art of the Mantua Maker: 1870-1879 book.

I used the paper pattern from Ageless Patterns for building the basic skirt- going with the shorter train the pattern offered, and removing some of the pleats from the waist. This left a smooth A-line skirt with gathers only along the back. The structured silk faille created lots of extra volume when gathered, so the back gathers made for a small bustled silhouette. Perfect!

The whole skirt was flat lined with cotton muslin. I gave into a brief moment of madness and instead of grabbing the overlocker, I decided to dedicate a good chunk of time to finishing off the long raw skirt seams by hand. No regrets. It’s beautiful and makes my soul happy.

After some hemming and some strategically placed ties added to either side of the back panel seams (to keep the fullness at the back when drawn in with the ties), the basic skirt silhouette was now finished. It was time to start decorating. Bring on all the frills!

A silk charmeuse (gold croissant- also from Mood Fabrics) was used on the hem of the skirt. I took the length of the bottom hem and multiplied it by three to roughly get the length of fabric needed to create decorative knife pleats. The silk trim was bagged with cotton muslin and stitched on to the skirt with a 1cm line of the peacock faille for extra detail. While the trim was being prepared, I also went ahead and draped an overskirt pattern. I knew I wanted a gathered side seam and open back with crisp cascades on either side of the gathered underskirt. The overskirt mockup looked like an absolute mess at this point, all cut and pinned together, but there was a useful pattern in all that chaos!

I added a charmeuse bagged lining to a back section of the overskirt and pleated the structured cascade details at the back, securing them with points of hand stitching. Next up was adding box pleated trim to the base of the overskirt. I stitched charmeuse binding onto the edge of a very long strip of silk faille. For some reason I was also possessed to do this stitching by hand, so that meant plenty of time to catch up on some shows while hand sewing in front of the tv!

A few more details went onto the skirt -a bow at the back bottom hem and a gold ribbon at the side seams of the overskirt (with a 1cm strip of faille) to “hold up” the pleated overskirt sides.

And voilà! It’s starting to look like a thing! I’m still waiting on some fringe to arrive that I plan on putting on the bottom edge of the overskirt. While I wait on that, I’ll be moving on to fitting the bodice. Stay tuned!

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