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How to copy a historical dress, the simple way.
Originally made out of golden silk taffeta, this gown was too beautiful to not make.

I admit, it might be difficult for someone who is new to pattern drafting to follow me on these things, but I will try to keep it simple for the average sewer. :)

Posted by llJulie from North Berwick, Maine, United States • Published See llJulie's 19 projects »
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  • How to make a gown. 1870's Inspired Dress - Step 1
    Step 1

    Find the dress you want to re-create.

    Map out the front in 2-d form on a paper or on your computer. Show all of the seams and darts, etc.

    Do this for the back as well.

  • How to make a gown. 1870's Inspired Dress - Step 2
    Step 2

    Add in room for the zipper, or buttons, or clasps. I used an invisible zipper because my buttonholer broke..and it would cost $30.00 for a new one.

    (though the dress I was copying had hook and eye closures in the back)

  • Step 3

    Now, take all of your measurements:
    true waist:
    waist:
    hips:
    Bust:
    Overbust:
    underbust:
    center front:
    center back:
    side to arm-hole:
    armice (around thickest part of upper arm, arm hole):
    bust to shoulder:
    back true waist to shoulder:
    thickness of shoulder strap:
    shoulder strap to shoulder strap:

  • How to make a gown. 1870's Inspired Dress - Step 4
    Step 4

    I know that seemed daunting, but don't dismay. This does not require much work, and to get a basic body sloper (pattern), you can follow this tutorial:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aCvR8GhZ8n0

    (i don't own the vid)

  • Step 5

    From there, you may alter the sloper to match the darts and other unique qualities of the dress.

    If the neckline is wide, add the amount of inches you need to the neckline, etc.

    It is simple, and the tutorial above is very helpful with the darts.

  • How to make a gown. 1870's Inspired Dress - Step 6
    Step 6

    Now, I admit, I am cheap. I will not pay $20.00 a yard for satin as pretty as this.

    I live near Mardens, so I just go there when there are fabric sales. I got this fabric for $1.00 a yard. Yeah, I really did.

    I got a zipper at walmart, and thread that matched this fabric 100%! :D

    6 yards of fabric: $6.00
    2 spools of thread and a zipper:$5.09
    so, I payed $11.09 for it all. Not expensive in the least.

  • Step 7

    Grab your lining fabric. Cotton is best, but any cotton blend would work too. Nothing with a stretch, and something that will hold up but not bulk.

    I used midnight blue cotton.

  • Step 8

    Before you cut your fabric, use scrap fabric to make sure the pattern you made fits. A body form could really help.

  • Step 9

    Cut the pattern from the fabric, pin the wrong side of the lining to the wrong side of the fabric. DO NOT SEW. This step s to ensure the lining and outer fabric stay together and don't look wrinkled or 'loose'. You could also just use that iron on interfacing to make it all stay together, but that isn't historically accurate.
    (nor is this zipper...but...)

  • Step 10

    Sew your seams.
    iron your seams opened.
    top stitch areas that you need to.
    add your boning (if wanted.)

  • Step 11

    The skirt I made was easy, 2 panels that would have been for an A-line skirt, and 2 rectangular panels. You can experiment with panels, different kinds of skirts, etc if you'd like. It all depends on the skirt you are making. Just follow the pictures you are trying to copy. :)

  • Step 12

    This tutorial helped me out in a previous skirt I had made for a costume. If you follow how to do that, you can have a bustle skirt.

    http://blog.fabric.com/2010/10/the_costume_trunk_the_incredib.html

    Alternatly, youtube has many videos to help you learn the exact kind of skirt you are making. Just type in the skirt style's name, and then how to.
    so, let's say you want an A-line skirt. Type in A-line skirt how to.

    I wish I could be specific to you guys, but every dress has a different cut,and skirt style.

  • Step 13

    Once your skirt is done, attach it to the dress and add either the zipper, clasps, or buttons to it.
    (if the dress you are copying is not attached [top and bottom] skip this part)

  • How to make a gown. 1870's Inspired Dress - Step 14
    Step 14

    Hem the skirt. If yours has pleats like mine did, all you have to do is:

    how many inches is the hem of the skirt?
    how many inches do you want each pleat to be?
    a 2 inch box pleat takes up 6 inches of fabric per pleat
    3" pleat/9" fab.
    4"pleat/12" fab.
    5"pleat/15" fab.
    6"pleat/18" fab.
    In other words, divide your hem measurement(add seam allowance first) by the pleat number. This gives you the amount of pleats you will have. Take this number and multiply it by how many inches each pleat will take up.

  • Step 15

    Example of pleat hem computing:
    Hem+seam allowance: 120"
    Pleat size: 2"
    Fabric/Pleat#: 6"
    120/2=60"
    Hem/pleat=how many pleats

    60x6=360"
    Pleats needed X fabric per pleat= Fabric Needed

  • Step 16

    Pleat it. I only showed you how to do the measurements for the box pleat. If you want the other kind of pleat, multiply your pleat number by 2, then follow the same process I went over above.
    So if I want a knife pleat, and my measurements are:
    Hem+seam allowance=120"
    Pleat size: 2"
    I would multiply my pleat size by 2 to get the Fabric per pleat.
    Fabric/Pleat: 4"
    Computing:
    120/2=60"
    Hem/pleat= how many pleats

    60x4=240"
    Pleats needed X fabric per pleat= Fabric Needed

  • Step 17

    Need pleat help? Check out this tutorial.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XVYbVjMo6I8

    (i don't own this video)

  • Step 18

    Forgive my lack of pictures...

    Anyways, before you pleat the fabric make sure you hem top and bottom so everything is straight...If you don't, it will be quite difficult (and believe me, I know from experience on my first pleating project).

  • Step 19

    Pleat it, sew it.

    Finish your seams on everything.

  • How to make a gown. 1870's Inspired Dress - Step 20
    Step 20

    Add any details. There are many tutorials on bows and such available on youtube. Use your resources! I learned how to make a bow from this tutorial a while ago for another project:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dl2RB1Dxglo

    Then I added pleats to the under-part to copy the belt on the original dress. Made the belt and added clasps.

  • How to make a gown. 1870's Inspired Dress - Step 21
    Step 21

    Guess what? You just copied a dress! Amazing, right?

    Historical garments use undergarments to shape the skirts. Make the one you would need. I do not specialize in the making of petticoats and bustles. I will learn though :)

    You're done, so go admire yourself in your antique vanity mirror. :D

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Comments

Steph.
Steph. · Reading, England, GB · 212 projects
it looks amazing! you did a wonderful job ^^
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