UR Arts and Sciences Research Symposium

I will be presenting my poster in Modlin on April 13 from 3:30-4:30pm!

Published in: on March 30, 2012 at 2:18 pm  Comments (2)  

Arts Liberales Article

Here’s the link to the Fall 2011 issue of UR’s “Arts Liberales.” Turn to the second page to see a feature about my project! There is a link there to the video interview, or you can look below.


Published in: on September 14, 2011 at 5:12 pm  Leave a Comment  

Artes Liberales Interview Video


Go to next post: Artes Liberales Article

Published in: on September 4, 2011 at 3:07 am  Leave a Comment  

End of the Summer

It has been far too long since i updated you worthy readers on the progress of Polly's dress. The dress is very near completion. In fact, I am tempted to call it complete. But I am determined to add a double pleat to the skirt hem. Thus one pleat is all i have left to sew. Since school has begun and I am obscenely busy, I don't know when I will add this one last detail. For this reason, I want to wrap up the blog with a few final thoughts and pictures. Let's do the pictures first, the pretty part:

I have learned a great deal by doing this project. I have a much greater knowledge of regency fashion and garment construction, as well as Richmond history. Not only am I, through experience, much better and faster at hand-sewing, I have a better understanding of how it can be useful and the time it takes. Besides having an incredible amount of fun and creative stimulation, the best part about making Polly’s dress is what it has done for my confidence. I feel like I can now tackle almost any project.

I was interviewed by UR’s Artes Liberales, and this article and video will br published online soon. When it is, I’ll post the link here.

My last post will be to announce the date of the UR Arts and Sciences Symposium and the time I will be presenting. I hope you will come join me and see the dress in person!


Go to next post: Artes Liberales Interview Video

Published in: on September 2, 2011 at 2:44 am  Leave a Comment  

The work progresses…

Thought it was time for a progress report. Not much to say, just pictures to show.




Go to next post: ‘End of the Summer.’

Published in: on August 5, 2011 at 11:15 pm  Comments (2)  

The Fabric

The fabric has finally arrived! I can’t believe how long it took! I guess it did come from California, which is basically a continent away. In any case, I am now so excited to start working on the final dress!

The hand-sewing goes faster than I expected, but still, it does go awfully slow.

Beautiful linen:

The pink thread is my hand basting that marks my seam position and keeps me sewing in a straight line:

The bodice lining on the form (wrinkly, I know!):

Isn’t the cotton voile pretty? I finished the back of the bodice, pleats featured here:

Back of the bodice attached to the lining:

I also finished attaching the lace to the front bodice:

So pretty!


Go to next post: ‘The work progresses…’

Published in: on July 14, 2011 at 1:16 pm  Comments (2)  

This is no time for sport, there is lace at stake!

The mockup is complete! The face fabric is chosen! The lining fabric is chosen! The lace is chosen! Ummm, now what? Well, while I wait for my materials to arrive, here are some pretty pictures for you.

It is very difficult to see with photographs, but the face fabric I chose is “silky cotton voile” from Dharma Trading Co. It is a lovely soft and light cotton. Here are some pictures that give you an idea.

The lace I chose comes from my advisor Johann’s personal stock. It turns out he acquired a bag of lace at a garage sale some years back. In this collection are some perfect for Polly’s dress! Thanks Johann!

My latest mockup is very close to becoming the pattern for the final dress! I have some adjustments to make to the lining, the sleeves, and the front gathers. As you can see, I took some scrap of a similar weight to the face fabric, and used it for one side of the bodice.

So you get a clearer idea of the structure, here is what it looks like before the front wrap is attached.




Go to next post: ‘The Fabric.’

Published in: on June 30, 2011 at 1:35 am  Leave a Comment  

New Mock-Up

Armed with new information, I tackled another mock-up. This time, I used the fullness in the front skirt I saw in the blue plaid Cobb family dress, which hides the dart opening in the wrap dress. I kept the pleated back of Nora Waugh’s open gown. Like on the Cobb family blue round gown, the lining will be attached to the skirt at the back and sleeves, but not in front. The wrap front will be attached all the way around, like the yellow. I plan on acquiring some fabric to mock up the front bodice that is a comparable weight to the face fabric (of which I have yet to find anything satisfactory!).

Many, many problems have already arisen with this incomplete mock-up, so onward to another!


Go to next post: ‘This is no time for sport, there is lace at stake!’

Published in: on June 21, 2011 at 1:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

Primary Research…

…at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History and the Valentine Richmond History Center.

My trip to the Smithsonian was everything I could have hoped for. Johann and I met with the curator of the division of home and community life, Dr Nancy Davis, who took us up to the fourth floor where the costume collection is kept.

There, she had prepared several dresses for us to see, several of which were extremely helpful, and one of which was a gold mine!

Most of the dresses were from the Cobb family, donated in the nineteenth century. These dresses were fascinating because they came from a family that wasn’t extremely wealthy who took every effort to reuse and piece fabric together in creative ways.

The first dress I looked at was this 1795-1825 blue plaid dress from the Cobb family donation. The fabric shows how economical the dressmaker (most likely the wearer herself) was. Do you see the slight difference in colour between the right and left side of the bodice? That’s not a trick of the light; the pattern isn’t matched up, so that there is less blue at the place the right side was cut than the left. A different technique was used in the lining: the left side was cut in one piece from side seam to center front; the right side was seamed at the half-way point. Not only was it seamed, but the stripe was in one piece vertical, in the other horizontal! These little details would not be noticeable to those who saw the dress being worn, only we who can scrutinize it appreciate the genius!

I learned a few things directly useful to my project. One question I had was how the lining front is supposed to close. This dress provided a possible answer: there are strings attached at the side seam at waist height that might have been tied at front to hold the flaps closed. The lining is separate from  the face fabric at front. It is attached at the armhole, side seams, and from the mid-shoulder and around the back of the neck. The front opening is made from a long dart with a tiny rolled edge; drawstrings at the neck and waist create fullness in the fabric that hides the gap. The waist seam is much larger than any other seam, which would help the dress lie smoothly against the body.

The second dress I looked at was a 1799 red wool wedding dress. This dress dispels a few myths about wedding dresses. They haven’t always been white! That tradition started with Queen Victoria in the 19th century. Also, they weren’t always made of delicate chiffon and lace. The poorer brides picked practical fabrics for economy and because they wore their wedding dresses after the wedding! Over and over and over again. Here’s the proof: this dress has a million holes in it, some as big as my hand. All the holes have been carefully patched in the same red wool fabric. This dress was worn and probably worked in for years.

The dress had a bodice lining similar to the blue plaid. However, the dart closure is in the back, and there is only one drawstring at the neck.

The final Cobb family dress I saw was a yellow open dress – this was the gold mine! I think this style of gown is what Polly is wearing in her portrait. I am so sad I don’t have a picture of this dress on the form (most institutions don’t allow publications of “unofficial” research photos so I won’t be posting mine), but I will try to describe it to you.The front is wrapped like Nora Waugh’s open gown, but does not have a lot of fullness in the bodice, and is completely flat in the front of the skirt. The back is gathered. A wide collar, as well as the rest of the neck and cuffs, are trimmed with a frill.

The most important discovery I made with this dress, and on the trip as a whole, is how Polly’s gown might have been fastened in the front. This dress has a dart opening like the others, but it is offset to the right in front to where the bodice crossover ends. The skirt is attached from the dart, around the back, and to the front wrap. The bottom part of the wrap becomes a kid of flap whose end is tied to a cord at the opposite side waist. The front wrap also has a cord which is tied to another just inside the front dart. I hope this is all clear, but if it’s not it will become clearer when I post my mockup pictures!

Next, I saw a white wedding dress from 1814. It was lovely, with beautiful details and pleats. The fabric was so sheer that the pleats created lines in the monochromatic fabric – all the brighter white on the dress in the picture below (except the floral embroidery) is simply doubled over fabric. Tiny little seam allowances add to the pleat lines. Lovely!

Finally, I looked at a cotton round robe from 1798. This dress put the idea into my head that the detail on Polly’s sleeve is probably pleating. The skirt was lined in what appears to be a modern addition. This has put the question into my head – were sheer dresses lined only in the bodice, or in the skirt as well? There is no evidence of skirt lining in the white wedding dress above.

A sweet detail: you can’t see it on the photograph, but there is ever-so-delicate embroidery running in lines up the entire skirt.

Thank-you Johann for making sure I got all the information I could! Also a big thanks to Nancy Davis for her time and invaluable insights!

Next, I ventured out alone to the local costume archive at the Valentine. Two employees, a technical assistant and summer intern, were kind enough to show me four dresses during.

One dress, a sheer muslin round gown from 1795-1800, was a great addition to my Smithsonian research. Again, I cannot post my research photos, so, imaginations: activate!

Imagine the blue plaid dress style, except with fabric was about the same weight as Polly’s dress.

Even with this light fabric, the skirt had no lining (it had the same type of bodice lining as I saw in the Smithsonian dresses). Was the linen shift under these translucent gowns enough to protect their modesty?!

The sleeves were surprising. They were quite long for being short – they looked like they would almost hit the elbow. My understanding has been that sleeves were almost always to the wrist or very short (like the final Smithsonian white dress). Perhaps this dress is an anomaly, or perhaps I just need to do more research! It is a wonderful clue to Polly’s dress, however. Her sleeves are most certainly not as short as was generally seen in the time, since the sleeve continues past her waist where the portrait is cut off. This previously led me to conclude that her sleeves were to the wrist. However, I haven’t seen pleats in the middle of a long sleeve, so the sleeves of the Valentine gown may provide an alternative. The sleeves were also lined, which I hadn’t seen before. This gave them more volume and made them less sheer.

Again I saw a wide waist seam, 1-5/8″ from the bodice, but this time the skirt layer had been cut away to a mere 1/8″.

The front opening was again a dart, but much longer than I saw before: from the waist it was 14″ where the blue plaid was 8″. The rolled edge here becomes a seam for the last 8″.

The lining in front had a very small cord basted along the top edge. I think it was used in lieu of pins or a cord at the side for a closure. I particularly like this method of lining closure, because it could be used as a drawstring to gather the lining and give the bodice added fullness.

I took careful notes on stitches. Skip this section if you are not as nerdy as me: most were 1/16″ (which will be so much fun when making the final dress). The front skirt was attached to the bodice with backstitch, the bottom of the drawstring casing was running stitch. The gathers were whip stitched through to the lining, and running stitched with a double thread through to the lining 1/8″ down. The pleats were 1/4″ wide, sewn with a running stitch. The hems were whip stitched. The edges were finished with a running stitch baste.

One final observation that made me very excited: the lining on this dress was a linen exactly the weight of linen I used to make the shift! Hooray! Confirmation I am getting things right!

In addition to the great fun, I gleaned so much useful information to use on Polly’s dress. This is really a case in point of why primary research is so important.


Go to next post: ‘New Mock-Up.’

Published in: on June 20, 2011 at 5:06 pm  Comments (4)  

Round to Open Gown

My first mock-up of the round gown confused me. After I got it on Pollykin, I was trying to find out how the dress should open. The bodice of the flat pattern I was working off of (in Patterns of Fashion 1 by Janet Arnold) was apron-style.

An apron style bodice separates at the front shoulder and falls forward like this:

Because of the way the fullness goes high up on Polly’s shoulders, unlike the gown in Patterns of Fashion, I think the back will be taking a lot of tension. For this reason, I worry about a back opening being secure enough. If you look closely at the dip in the front of her dress, it seems possible the neckline comes to a point, and could be a wrap bodice in the style of an open gown. I found a 1797 pattern for an open gown in Nora Waugh’s The Cut of Women’s Clothes 1600-1930:

I tried it out and i think i can work with that shape. Here is my mock-up following the pattern exactly:

It needs to be sized up a little, and the front isn’t nearly full enough.

Also, it still wasn’t clear to me how the front opened – was it open all the way down the front? The sketch seemed to suggest an petticoat showing.

With lots of new questions, I headed out to my primary research appointments at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History and the Valentine Richmond History Center.


Go to next post: ‘Primary Research…”

Published in: on June 16, 2011 at 5:37 pm  Comments (4)