March 15, 2017

Inside & Out: 1830s Sky Blue Ball Gown

As the fourth and final part of the 1830s Sky Blue Ball Gown project, today's post will feature the construction details for the dress, accessories and wacky 30s hairdo photographed at our most recent shoot, here:  I Could Have Danced All Night.  

Photograph courtesy of Maria M.

The Dress

As always, I draw my inspiration from extant garments, fashion plates and period portraits (and photographs if applicable).  I wrote extensively about the sari fabric and inspiration behind this project, here, in the Project Planning Post, if you're interested.  Out of all of the sources, this portrait from the MET really spoke to me, and I drew on it for the sleeves, single lace flounce and use of white, contrasting piping at the neckline: 

Portrait of a Lady by Alvan Clark, ca. 1835
(Source: MET Museum, 38.146.3)

Constructing the grand ball gown that I imagined, however, was not easy to put it simply.  For nearly two months, the bodice sat in the U.F.O pile as I just couldn't figure out where to go with it...until winter break, when I knew it would be the perfect project entry for the Historical Sew Monthly remake, reuse and refashion challenge, since the fabric is a repurposed Indian sari.  Five days later, Maria and I were shooting the completed outfit:

1830s sky blue ball gown, front view.

The first step was to recut and refit the bodice, and attach the waistband which was fussy cut from the pallu of the sky blue and gold satin sari, which served as the fashion fabric.

Detail of bodice front, outside.

The bodice is lined with a sturdy cotton twill, and features two darts on each side.  The waistband needed to be stabilized, so I lined it with interfacing.  Also, I piped the neckline with white satin.  

Detail of bodice front, inside.

The second step and part that probably gave me the most trouble was patterning the sleeves.  They had to be recut several times before they would nicely lay over the sleeve supports.  

Sleeve detail from the outside,
notice the armseye is piped with the same satin as the neckline. 

The sleeves are lined with cotton organdy for extra support, and gathered onto bands, also cut from the sari's pallu and stabilized with interfacing.

Sleeve detail with a view of the interior.

Cotton twill tapes were added to secure the sleeve puffs at the armseye.  Overall, this project was very hand intensive.  I did machine the interior seams, but there was a lot of hand finishing and each seam needed to be hand overcast as the sari frayed terribly!

Armseye with tapes for the sleeve supports.

Tackling the skirt came next.  I did not have the heart to cut off the pretty border, so I spent well over an hour with a ruler, balancing the skirt.  The fabric was very slippery, so this was a tedious task.  The center back length is three inches longer than the center front to accommodate a small bustle pad.  After gauging the skirt with two rows of running stitches, the skirt was whipped to the edge of the waistband.

Skirt interior detail featuring two rows of gauging,
which were whipped to the edge of the waistband.

I also applied a deep hem facing from blue cotton, and was thrilled to make use of the sari border to finish the skirt.  

Hem detail depicting sari border and hem facing.

Keeping in line with the remake, reuse and refashion theme, I cut a straight length of net lace off an 1970s prom dress.  I played around, pinning and pleating the lace with the aid of my dress form until it laid just so - balanced longer at the center front and over the sleeves.  The pleats were then hand stitched in place, the raw edges whip stitched under, and then covered with a narrow lace trim, also salvaged from the prom dress.   

Neckline and lace details.

Finally, there was an end in sight as I stitched the hooks and eyes - both metal and thread - up the back of the bodice:  

Dress closures, including nine metal hooks
and a combination of both metal and thread eyes.

The completed ball gown, back view.

For the photo shoot, the completed ball gown was worn over a proper shift, the new corset and sleeve puffs (featured in this post), flounced bum roll, and three petticoats to achieve the early-1830s silhouette.  

The Accessories

No outfit would be complete without the accessories of course!  Vintage gloves, matching costume pearl bracelets, ribbons and a belt with a gold buckle accessorized the look.

Drawing again on period inspiration, and a little help from my two seamstress friends, Allison and Lydia, I added three bows to balance the look of the neckline.  Each bow was hand stitched from wired ribbon and secured with a metal pin backing.

The neckline and ribbon trim inspiration.
(Source: Pinterest)


The last piece I made was a matching 2" belt with a gold, reproduction slider buckle.  Cut also from the sari's pallu and interlined with both interfacing and cotton drill, the hand stitched belt closes with two hooks and thread eyes.  

Belt and reproduction slider buckle.

Back details of both the belt and a bow
showing the hooks and pin backs respectively. 

The Hair

Onto what is perhaps the most exciting and distinct part of 1830s fashions...the hairdos!  Bring on the towering plumes, flowers, ringlets, ribbons and all things ridiculously fun!  

A couple of months ago, I decided to dye my hair for the first time...the copper ombrĂ© style was fun at first, but nearly two feet of bleached and colored ends are not very, I kept the roots and about a foot of hair my natural color.  Thus, a bit of creativity was required to disguise the copper...  

The complete hairdo, front view. 

I started with a braided bun, pinned in some ringlets and added the flower bunches (on combs) after this portrait:

Portrait of Grand Duchess Elena Pavlovna Romanova.
(Source: Pinterest)

Then, I bobby pinned the feathers and large bow, which hid the majority of my colored hair, to finish the look.  It was pretty straightforward, while looking very 30s, and oh so fun to wear!  

Hairdo from the side...if you look closely,
you can just see a bit of my colored hair.

The complete hairdo, back view.
The feathers and bow hid all of the colored hair perfectly!

All in all, regardless of the early struggles with the dress construction, I am so happy that Maria and I were able to see this project through.  My friend, the dressmaker, paid us the highest compliment by saying that this was her favorite of our projects.  I haven't stopped smiling, thanks to that and the overwhelmingly positive response on our Facebook page.  I so appreciate all of your support as the encouragement keeps me sewing - thanks for reading!  


  1. It's absolutely stunning! You paid great attention to detail. I like the perfect piping, the overcast edges, the hem facing, the precise gauging at the waist... lovely!

  2. The entire ensemble is stunningly gorgeous