June 28, 2018

Down to the Seas - 1860s Photoshoot

"I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied"
- "Sea Fever" by John Masefield

At the beginning of the month, I finally finished the pink dress that had been waiting for a skirt since February.  Having a deadline of the fashion show at the Bement-Billings Farmstead Museum certainly helped move things along.  For those who sew, while there's nothing like the feeling of completing a longstanding U.F.O (or "UnFinished Object"), it's that first wearing that makes the trials of construction worth the challenge.  And thanks to Maria, the sister and photographer, we have pictures of that moment!

New dresses make me giddy!

Construction Details

Before jumping into the completed project pictures, let's discuss some of the details of the construction.  When I first saw this unusual reproduction cotton print, it just said make me into an 1860s day dress.  The background has tiny coral stripes against an ecru with large red and blue motifs.

The coral 1860s dress.

In fact, the print and scale are reminiscent of several tintypes I've come across, including this one, which served as inspiration:

Photograph of an 1860s lady
(Image via: Pinterest)

Here's my version:  I thought about adding silk trim, but then decided to keep the design simple with a single, self-fabric puff on each sleeve to let the fabric speak for itself.

Reproduction 1860s day dress with a large print.

For the bodice, I used the same block as the red "DNA dress" with a front opening fitted with two darts on each side and a one piece back with a curved tuck in the fashion fabric to mimic a three-piece back.  Both the neckline and bottom edge of the bodice were finished with piped facings, and the front facings were folded back and slip stitched to the lining.  Eleven metal hooks and thread eyes serve as closures.  

Following the directions in one of my most favorite resources, The Dressmaker's Guide by Elizabeth Stewart Clark, I drafted narrow sleeve puffs for the coat sleeves.  The sleeve hems were finished with wide muslin facings, and set into piped armscyes. 

Gathering the sleeve puffs.

Finished sleeves.

The skirt consists of four panels, balanced and gauged for wear over the hoop.  This was attached to the finished edge of the bodice, catching only the fabrics of the facing and lining to allow the piping to hang free.

Funny story, the dress actually came out a little short...apparently, in my eagerness to finish, I neglected to add extra length to the bodice (as it is set for a 1.5" waistband) and balanced the skirt to my usual measurements.  Rather than falling 2" off the ground as intended, the skirt rests at 4" over the hoop.  Luckily, Liz Clark and other experts on the Sewing Sisters Facebook group saved the day, assuring me that 4" is still within the acceptable range for adult.  So, learn from my mistake and always measure, twice is better! 

Close up of the piped edge and gauging from the outside.

Inside view of gauged skirt attached to the finished edge,
catching only the facing and lining to allow the piping to hang free. 

I had fun using up scraps for the hem facing!  I thought these two, pretty blue reproducing fabrics coordinated with the main print:

Close up of all of the reproduction prints! 
To me, the two blues look more 1830s appropriate,
but all three share that fern or coral-esque design.

Please note that I do use a machine for interior seams, though any visible stitching, finishings or 19th century techniques (like gauging) are done by hand.  And with that, let's move on to the pictures!

Completed Project Shots

The "coral dress," with it's coral-esque color and motif, just begged to be photographed at the seaside, or, in our case, by Lake Ontario.  For this photo shoot, Maria and I went up to the Irondequoit Bay, which has a small public beach and pier to walk out on.  It was both warmer and windier than we were expecting, leaving us with the sunburns to prove it, but Maria worked her magic with the camera as usual.  Many, many thanks to you, sister!

In the following pictures, the coral dress is worn over a mid-19th century chemise, drawers, modesty petticoat, corset, 90" cage crinoline with a small pad, and two tucked petticoats.  Accessories include reproduction stockings and boots, collar and belt by me, gold bee buckle by Ensembles of the Past, and ribbon hair net and matching bow by Timely Tresses

*All photographs courtesy of Maria M.*   

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;

And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.

Poem is "Sea Fever" by John Masefield.

And just for fun, here's one last outtake before jumping into the next sewing project:  

Thanks for reading!

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