December 14, 2015

Yuletide 2015: The Dress, Complete!

It's that time of year again, December means Yuletide Theatrical Tours at the Genesee Country Museum!  The date is 1849, and Christmas has just been declared an official holiday in New York State.  There's music, dancing and drama as business and homes herald in the new holiday.  Running throughout the first three weekends in December (that's December 4-6, 11-13 & 18-20), click here to book your reservations today - with only one weekend left, you won't want to miss out on this annual tradition!

A sneak peak at the Livingston's soirée!

Another view of the Livingston's private dining room.

This year, I was cast as Mrs. Jeannette Hutchinson, one of the MacKay sisters.  Upon entering our scene, visitors are informed that we, the MacKay family, do not celebrate this "new money" holiday of Christmas, preferring the venerable, Scottish holiday of Hogmanay.  My brother, Mr. John MacKay, Jr, however, has other plans on his mind, perhaps concerning our Irish maid, Mary Shannon.  All in all, our scene is a whole lot of fun as the four of us every night have added to and played off each-other to heighten the dramatic atmosphere.

Oh Hogmanay!

Enough on Yuletide for now, and onto the sewing!

Perhaps it was a tad crazy to want and tackle an entire, new outfit for Yuletide less than two weeks before the dressed rehearsal.  But, somehow, with lots of long days and long nights of stitching, it happened...Jeanette was very pleased.

Constructing the Dress 

First, let's talk about the dress, itself.  Last Spring, I approached my friend and accomplished seamstress, Allison, who runs her own sewing business, Clara Jane: Seamstress & Supplies, about an 1850s bodice commission.  Set on the polka dotted fabric and double puffed sleeves, I delivered the challenge into Allison's capable hands.  The result (here) was stunning!  Allison does fantastic, historically accurate work, especially menswear, so make sure to check Clara Jane: Seamstress & Supplies out on her blog, facebook page & etsy shop!

However, half a year later, my shape sort of fluctuated, ahem, and her bodice no longer to the scissors I went!  I didn't take any pictures of this process, so let's look at some of my inspiration instead:

THE inspiration.
(Image via: Pinterest)

Very full sleeve puffs & cravat bow at the neck.
(Image via: The Barrington House)

Sarah Chamberlain photographed by W.M. Pierce in Brunswick, Maine
(Image via: Pinterest)

More double puffed sleeves & a belt with a buckle!
(Image via: Ebay, Pinterest)

Tackling new sleeves was the next part of the process.  For this, I turned to two outstanding resources - The Dressmaker's Guide by Elizabeth Stewart Clark & this tutorial, Making Double-Puff Sleeves, by Sarah Jane of Romantic History.  Both are my go-to resources!  '

I found the process so interesting, I decided to document each step:

Step one: Drafting sleeves.

Step two: More drafting...and more...and more...and, finally, a successful mock up!

Step three:  Slashing and spreading the puff pattern to double the original.
Step four: Cutting out the puffs.  Two for each side.  Double for four. 

Step five: Stitching each puff & gathering the tops and bottoms.

Step six:  Stitch bottom of lower puff to sleeve, right sides together.

Step seven:  Stitch top of lower puff to sleeve.

Step eight:  Stitch bottom of upper puff,
making sure to enclose raw edges and previous rows of stitching.

Step nine:  Stitch top of upper puff to sleeve edge.

Step ten:  Handset piping and sleeve into armscye.

And we have sleeves - success!

Break for Accessories

While it may be simple to break down construction into a series of pictures and words, I assure you that it is not as easy and straightforward in real life...The dress (and looming deadline) was frustrating me, so I took a break to make a few accessories - a short and satisfying way to make progress!

First, a red, silk cravat or bow:  See Sarah Jane's splendid, little tutorial on How to Sew a Pre-Formed Cravat to make your own!

Front & back of bow.  I added a small clasp with a pin for wearing ease.

Second, a matching red, silk belt with a large, mother of pearl buckle:  The silk is flat lined with cotton muslin and interlined with cotton drill.

Hand-stitched belt closes with two hooks and thread loops.

And third, a plain, 2" collar:  My good friend, the dressmaker, swooped in to save the day with a yard of her loveliest cotton batiste!  I actually ended up making a few collars because, well, when you're tired and a perfectionist, drafting simple things like collars are beyond you...

My first collar fail with a four inch gap at the neckline;
even had it whipped to the bodice before I realized...

Collar drafting - success!

Back to the Dress 

With the necessary accessories finished (yes, I still need to make undersleeves, shhh), it was onto the skirt for a very deep hem facing of a brown, cotton broadcloth (sorry, no pictures) & gauging the skirt.  I ran into a small snag with the gauging - too much fabric at 180" and not enough waistband - so I turned to Liz Clark & the Sewing Sisters on Facebook for some advice.  The uneven gauging they suggested, 3/8" on the outside and 1/4" on the inside, worked like a charm!

Gauging AKA three rows of even stitching.

Closures, hooks and thread loops, were literally finished right before I hopped into the car for dressed rehearsal.  Phew, and with that, the dress was done!

Closures consist of hooks & thread eyes.
Worn over two gauged petticoats (including my flannel) & one corded 
to add a nice support for the very high waist. 

Listening to:  Broadway musical soundtracks!  Including Jekyll & Hyde, Wicked, Lion King & Phantom of the Opera.

The Dress, Complete at Last

So far, I am very pleased by my first, mid-century, day dress!  The one thing that I would change on the next dress would be to bring the waist back down to my corseted waist.  This bodice sits about 2" above my natural waist, and I guess I like long-waisted bodices (or those modern sensibilities getting in the way!)...anyways, I am just so happy to have a new dress:

The finished dress.
Liz Clark left me the kindest, period compliment on Facebook,
saying that it's "neat, tidy, and very delightful!" - I am so grateful for all of her help! 

Front, close up shot.

Back, close up shot.

Just to show off how versatile this dress can be, here I've paired it with a warm sontag for indoors:

A coat & hood for outdoors:

"Dressed up" or "dressed down:"

Day vs. work dress.

And finally, I couldn't resist a few shots before dashing out the door, courtesy of the Mom!  

Now I'm off to beg the sister for a proper photo shoot...Stay tuned for the upcoming posts on my new cap & sewing box.  Thanks for reading! 


  1. Pretty, pretty dress! I love the print, and the double-puff sleeves are perfection.

  2. My word! This is SUCH a gorgeous dress!!! I absolutely love it. Mid-1800s day dresses are definitely my one weakness, so this is right up my alley. Beautiful job!! :)

    1. Thank you so much, Esther!! Such kind words - I can see more mid-century day dresses in the future...Thanks again!

  3. this dress is beautiful!!!! what neat and tidy work! it fits you perfectly!

    1. Thank you, Samantha!! Your comment makes me smile :)