August 23, 2017

Inside & Out: DNA Dress and Hoop Petticoat

Today's post is all about the making of the DNA dress, a striped, 1860s cotton day dress, and over-hoop petticoat.  This also is the perfect project for prompt number 23 - made for yourself for the CoBloWriMo (Costume Blog Writing Month).

The DNA Dress!

The Inspiration

Two years ago, I bought this fabric on a whim from a destash on Facebook.  At the time, I was in need of a mid-century work dress, and the fabric just spoke to me, demanding to be made into my first 1860s day dress.  I finally started and finished the project this past May.  (Maria, the sister and photographer, and I did do a photo shoot for this dress, which I have been meaning to share for months...stay tuned!)

The fabric design resembled the double helix...and the DNA dress was born!

I looked at a variety of extant garments and other period sources for inspiration.  Taking a cue from similar striped dresses, I played up the directional print as much as possible.  This marvelous day dress from the Graceful Lady has coat sleeves, a contrasting horizontal waistband, and self-trim at the cuffs:

Civil War Era cotton day dress.
(Image source: The Graceful Lady)

Another extant example that I liked was this simple calico work dress.  It too has a horizontal waistband for contrast.  

Calico work dress, 1860s.
(Image source: Old Sacramento Living History Program)

Back waist detail of the calico work dress, 1860s.
(Image source: Old Sacramento Living History Program)

In my design, I also added a cap sleeve to echo the horizontal waistband.  One of my favorite parts of this project was seeing the 2D costume rendering become a 3D garment.  Nothing is more satisfying than that! 

Costume rendering of ink, watercolor and watercolor pencil.

Completed dress, accessorized with a white collar and large silk bow.

The Dress

Constructing the dress was not without its own challenges, but I am overly pleased that it no longer felt difficult.  For the pattern, I used the most recent version of my bodice block along with the coat sleeves from Laughing Moon's Pattern #111 - Ladies' Early 1860's Day Dress.  The cap sleeves were drafted following the directions in The Dressmaker’s Guide, an absolute must-have sewing resource, and the skirt was made from four, 45" ripped panels.  The interior seams are machine stitched, with hand stitched finishings, facings, and gauging. 

Rather than dealing with the usual, three-piece back and curved seams, I tried a one-piece back with a 1/8" curved tuck detail, which was then basted to the lining.  

A one piece back with 1/8" curved tuck details.

The front-opening bodice is fully flat lined with cotton muslin, while the coat sleeves are unlined.  A piped facing finishes the neckline and is also applied at the armscyes.  Each front side has two darts and 11 metal hooks (9 on the bodice, 2 on the waistband) with corresponding thread eyes for closures.  

The bodice closes with 11 metal hooks and thread eyes.

To keep the neckline neat and tidy, a white collar whip stitched to a twill tape band is basted at the neck.

Another of my favorite features is the accessories, especially the large, striped silk cravat! 

The large, silk cravat bow completes the look.

To play with the directional fabric, I cut the cap sleeves and waistband horizontally, and the coat sleeves, bodice and skirt vertically.  The cap sleeves are lined with the same cotton as the hem facing to give them more body, while the coat sleeves are finished with a generous, cotton muslin facing. 

Playing with stripes!
Notice the piping at the armscye and cap sleeve details. 

The cap sleeves are lined with a dark cotton.

The coat sleeves are finished with a hem facing.

Lastly, the skirt was balanced for a 90" hoop and gauged by hand.  In addition to the fabric waistband, I added a heavy duty 1" twill tape band at the waist, and whipped the pleats through all three layers.  I was concerned about the weight of four panels on the bodice, but in the future would not add the twill tape again.  A wide, dark cotton hem facing protects the skirt from dirt.

Detail of the gauged skirt interior with a heavy duty 1" twill tape
added to the waistband for stability.  

Hand-stitched hem facing.

The Petticoat 

Previously, I was just using my 1850s petticoats over the 90" cage crinoline, however, they were neither wide nor long enough to do the job properly.  So, I made an over-the-hoop, 180" cotton muslin petticoat.  The skirt is balanced and gauged to fit the waistband.  It features a deep hem and two 1/2" tucks, and closes with a single button.  

The 180" petticoat is gauged to a 25" waistband.

The full petticoat features a deep hem and two 1/2" tucks.

In the future, I should really make a second hoop petticoat, though for right now, I am still cheating with an earlier one underneath...the next petticoat will have a lot more tucks.  I am seeing either three sets of five tucks, or three sets of three tucks depending on how patient I am feeling.  But for the time being, I am content with the one.  

Completed Project Shots

The petticoat is shown worn over a Regency shift, mid-century drawers, corset, under-petticoat, small support, and 90" cage crinoline. 

And finally, one picture of the completed DNA dress ensemble taken at the Genesee Country Village & Museum.  Make sure to follow us for the full photo shoot of this project coming either later this month or the next!  


  1. Stunning, as always! Are the sleeves wide enough to roll up when it's hot? Did you have help fitting the bodice? It looks perfect. I'm also really impressed by your watercolor. You even went through the trouble of painting the stripes! It's amazing that the dress turned out just like the painting.

    1. Thank you, Kaela! Your comments always make my day! To answer your questions, while I can't really roll the sleeves, I can push them past my elbows to keep cool and for work. I did not have help with the fitting, and there are a few minor things I'd change next I'm glad that you think it looks good. I purposely made it front-opening so I could easily pin the darts and get dressed by myself!

  2. My late friend and mentor,Mrs.Dale Curry,was so right with her sewing-pick out the most ugly (period correct)material and then choose one color from the material as the contrasting color for trim. The dress will come together and the results are splendid! With your dress,a solid red or the darker background would have worked. Job very well done!!!

    1. Thank you very much! Mrs. Curry was very wise, there's nothing that a little (or a lot of) trim can't fix! Oooh a red or even black would be nice, I'll keep that in mind for the future.

  3. Lovely work and great results! Is your hoop-skir a full round one, or somewhat elliptical?

    1. Thank you! My hoop is on the smaller side at 90" round. I wear a small support in the back to create that elliptical illusion. Also, when I distribute the gathers in my skirts, I try to have the fullness slightly more concentrated in the back. Hope that helps!

  4. Simply wonderful! Love it! I nominated you for the "Liebster Award" :)

    1. I realize that this is several months late now, but please accept my most sincere thanks for the nomination! :)