This is a photo diary of my costuming "travels"; where I've learned and struggled to make historical costumes for myself. They're not always pretty, but always fun. And I want to share with others what I learn along the way. **You can have my posts delivered to your email by signing up at the lower part of the right column.**



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Past President & member of the San Diego Costume Guild, and Costumer's Guild West in Los Angeles. I make my own historical costumes but don't sell any unless I get tired of it.The eras I've made so far are 1770 up to 1918. My favorite is the 1880s bustle. And I've dabbled in some 1930s & 40s.

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Sunday, September 30, 2012

Little Girls Civil War Dresses


Started March /Finished Oct 2012
I first started making these Civil War dresses last March on my handcrank sewing machine at a reenactment. I was asked to make some for a sutler’s booth to sell them. I only got as far as sewing the skirts and growth tucks with all the questioning from the public I was getting. And I was enjoying that. But once home I had big girl clothes to make and they were set aside.
In September I made a trip up to Washington to visit my Mom for two weeks, and knowing I was going to have some down time I thought this would be great to finish them. So I brought the three with me I’d been working on. I was using Simplicity 4737 and was also going to try Elizabeth Stewart Clark’s pattern #250 (1850-65).  After questioning a few Civil War reenactor parents, I found their preference for sleeves are the pagoda style.


 I found a couple fabrics for $3 a yard at Walmart that I thought might work, and then started looking online for photos of extant dresses and photographs of little girls to see what fabric designs would work too. I wished I’d done that first because my first two fabrics aren’t bad but they remind me a little more of 1850 but it’s not impossible that they would have been used that long.


I loved some of the adorable photos of little girls I found, many on ebay. I didn’t even think of using plaids until after seeing some of them. And polka dots work too. I saved pictures of the fabrics of extant gowns too and most were tiny little floral prints, not unlike what we see in the stores today.


















While I was visiting my Mom I checked at their Walmart and found these two blue fabrics on the clearance shelf. If they had more I probably would have bought some for me but they had barely enough for a little girl dress.
The first three fabrics were cut out of the Simplicity pattern, and the brown out of the ESC pattern. Having no children of my own, I have no clue what sizes are for what ages, so I’m dependant on what the pattern told me. I even stopped one lady in an antique mall with her daughter and asked her age so I could get an idea of what size she might wear. I tried very hard not to look like I was stalking them.  I did find this skirt length chart that I thought might be handy that shows the ages and the length it should be.           
 Of course I cut and sewed these on my “assembly line method”, and as I made them I found some shortcuts and a way to use less of the fashion fabric. Both bodices required you to cut out two and allowed enough fabric for that. After doing two of them, I thought that was wasteful and from there I started cutting the lining out of a plain less expensive muslin I had. Also the waistband requires cutting two, one for the outside, & one inside that you slipstitch on top of the outside one. It’s not much fabric but the time saved of not putting it on the inside was worth it. I was told the sleeves on this run short so I added 2 inches to the length plus it has the growth tucks that can be let out. The skirts also had two growth tucks on them.
The Elizabeth S. Clark pattern is made a little differently. The patterns aren't really sized and you sew it to fit your little girl. Without having any measurements to fit it to I had to make it the largest size it came with. Supposedly you gather the neckline in to fit the child and I didn’t realize that until after I’d already sewed the lining to it. So I just took a couple tucks in the neck. It has a very wide neckline and I’m hoping this is enough to keep it up on the child’s shoulders. I only cut out one dress from this pattern and had planned on doing long sleeves on all the dresses but I ended up not having enough for this pattern and made the short sleeve version instead. This pattern requires more fabric than the Simplicity one.  I’m really liking the Simplicity pattern more and more.
After sewing the bodice front and back pieces together at the side seams and shoulders, I repeated it with the lining. Then I sewed the bodice and the lining right sides together, & flipped it right side out after trimming the neckline. I topstitched along the neckline very closely to the edge and it has the appearance of piping. The bodice was pinned to the waistband, matching notches, and I pleated the excess between them. I pleated the sleeves into the armholes rather than gathering them to have less bulk. Then I pinned the skirt to the lower part of the waistband, again pleating it to fit. On both the top and bottom of the waistband I topstitched them close to the seam lines. I machine-sewed buttonholes on the back and used some shell buttons I bought by the pound in a button store in Los Angeles Garment District, called Trim 2000 Plus, on Maple Ave.
The hardest part of making these I think are the growth pleats. I haven’t found a quick way to do that yet. They need to be measured, marked and pinned, then pressed & topstitched after the side seams on the skirt & sleeves are sewn because the tucks need to be able to be let down if needed, and if they’re in the side seams, that won’t work. It’s tedious and need to be measured to make them even. I’m working on that aspect.
 I can’t say how long it took me to make each one because a couple were started on my handcrank machine, and a couple started at a later date. But since I’ve made these, they will go faster now. I had trouble finding some fabrics that would work at my $3 and under price range when I first started looking but since I started these, I found a few more fabrics that will work. I even saw a cute little girl’s fancy dress that I think could be made using some leftover plaid silk taffeta I have.


 

12 comments:

  1. Fabulous post!!! I LOVE making the little girl's dresses, but I could never get away with selling them. The minute my two little gals found out I was selling them out from under their noses there'd be a revolt. It's all I can do to keep THEM outfitted from season to season. Speaking of, it's about time to begin a couple of long sleeved winter frocks for them to wear to Old Town with me!

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    1. Robin, do you have a particular pattern you use, or are you one of those talented folks who don't need one? :)
      Val

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  2. Aww....some lucky little girls would be so happy! :)
    !!
    ()~

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  3. Love seeing all the older pictures of the children you used for your inspiration. You're doing well with the prints, fabric and keeping the cost down. Val I think you're just amazing. Any the little costumers will be lucky to have your creations to wear.

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  4. Love the red & white floral! Everything turned out so perfect! Congrats to you!

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  5. Love your blog. You have an award waiting for you on mine!
    http://teacupsamongthefabric.blogspot.com/2012/10/versatile-blogger-award.html
    Laurie

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  6. Thank you so much for your review of the two patterns and why you liked Simplicity's better. I've been looking into 1860s period patterns and finding a pattern that is accurate but isn't tedious or time consuming to make is hard. Again, thank you and keep up the great work! Also, many folks didn't see fashion plates or get fabrics until later due to slow travel (not to mention wartime delays), and considering the war broke out in the early 1860s, I'm sure many girls were running around in their older sister's outgrown clothing from the late 1850s. :)

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    1. You're very welcome Mindy. I love hearing that what I wrote is helpful to someone else. I appreciate that from you. Good luck!
      Val

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  7. Where did you get your Simplicity pattern?

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    1. I'd bought it from the Kansas Mercantile who I'm making the dresses for. She may still have one. shelleypeters@verizon.net

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  8. Hello, I came across your page while doing a search for a book, The Children's Civil War. I love the vintage children's photo's you post, it's amazing how many photo's like this are on-line to be found! How long have you been making your children's dresses from this time period? I am a quilter myself, I love to reproduce antique quilts. I do however, always use quality fabric, and quality comes with a Price. The fabric from Wal-Mart and JoAnn Fabrics has a very low thread count, and will not hold up well after washing, and will not stand the test of time in the long run. Being a former quilt shop owner, I have a good background in quality fabric versus the fabrics that are sold at Wal-Mart or JoAnn's If cost is an issue, I recommend buying fabric in the Hobby Lobby fabric dept, providing you have one in your area, and the price is half that of quilt shop fabric, but the manufacturers they buy from have much better quality fabric than Wal-Mart or JoAnns. Are you familiar with all of the beautiful Civil War era fabrics found in quilt shops?. If you have never used these fabrics, I guarantee, if you made just one of your dresses with these fabrics, you will come to realize the difference as soon as you start to cut into the fabric, and sew with the fabric. Seeing your pictures of your finished dresses, you have a very good eye for color and style! Keep up the great work! Oh, also I love that you are making your dresses using a hand-crank machine! I had lots of vintage treadle machines on display at my shop, and a beautiful hand-crank Singer machine form 1906, a customer bought it from me, so I know it has a good home, but now I'm thinking I should have maybe kept it!

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    1. Thank you, Calicosan. I don't make these very often, just a couple a year for a friend who sells them in her sutler's tent. She only asks for 100% cottons and fabrics that look the period. And they can't be too expensive by the time she triples my price. Its just a little hobby on the side for me; something to sew when I'm at a reenactment, or when she requests them. I don't do 60s very often. My normal sewing is only for myself and mainly bustle period but I wander the time periods freely.
      I buy my own cottons at a quilt shop that has a room just for reproduction fabrics. Even when I don't need any, I seem to walk out with another one every time. They have sidewalk sales too so mine come from there occasionally. I also shop in the Los Angeles Garment District for most of my fabrics. Unfortunately we don't have any Hobby Lobbys near San Diego.
      Val

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I would love to hear if this was any help to you. Pretty please!