After attending a lecture on the Frederick Worth dresses last year at Costume College, I wanted to try making my own for the next year. The ideas I came away from it was Worth made really eye-catching and detailed gowns, paid attention to detail, and quality of workmanship. Ok, two out of three will happen. Just gotta get ‘er done.
While I was out shopping for fabric in the L.A. Garment District the day after Costume College last year, my friend Kristen and I came across a newly opened fabric shop that was primarily curtain and upholstery fabric but the rainbow of them on the wall blew our eyeballs out. And they had Grand Opening prices, like $2.99 a yard. Not silk, mind you. We knew they were polyester but still colors and patterns you wouldn’t normally see. This one really caught my eye; it was a plum color in faux dupioni with lots of floral embroidery on it. The flowers even had little tuffs on them. It looked very Chinese. I knew right away this could be my Worth tea gown that I’d saved a photo from.
Having no idea how much of it I would need, I bought 10 yards. I also begged him to put the roll in the back of the room for the rest of the day in hopes none of the other Costume College shoppers would see it. LOL!! Sorry about that, ladies.
My base for the tea gown would be Truly Victorian #432, which ended up taking 7 yards.
This was a fairly easy pattern to sew but the Watteau pleats on the back confused me a few times. Once I figured out I was pleating it inside out, and turned it right side out to pleat it, the pleats went the right direction. With the looseness at the waist in the back, I sewed a stay-belt inside on the back seams to pull it tight in front.
I tried these directions from another pattern, making an insert down the front to look like my Worth photo.
I thought maybe a shirred chiffon down the front would be pretty but I wanted to make it an overlay, not really part of the front closure. I even tried using the instructions from Patterns of History. I did two rows of very tight pleating at the bodice but the rest was just hanging loose. It started to look more like 1960s lingerie, and working with the chiffon was horrid. It was not the right choice of fabric to use. So off it went!
Next thing I know, my friend Gina was able to do exactly what I was trying to do, except she was replicating a maternity gown that would later revert to a tea gown. Now I’m waiting to see just how she did it. Apparently it was a struggle for her too. http://beauty4ashes7.blogspot.com/2016/06/natural-form-era-maternity-gown.html
I was leaving the buttons and buttonholes for last since they go alllll the way down the front but finally had to do them. Marking them two inches apart, I ended up making 19 buttonholes after thinking I only did 18. Oops. Finding the buttons in a short period of time was going to be harder. Both fabric stores by me had 8 of each kind at best. I found some on Etsy in wood, and considered that but then saw some metal filigree ones that I thought would look nice. I remembered a bag of metal buttons in my stash that I’d bought about 8 years ago at a Renaissance Fair, and the Button Gods didn’t fail me. I had 30, although in two different styles. I was able to use 14 of one, and the rest of the other at the bottom. They’re vaguely similar, and being that far down, I don’t think anyone would notice. Bam! Done!
So now the fun part of trimming it out, or “decorating the cake”. The fabric itself shows really beautiful but I wanted to soften it a bit too. I saw this lace collar and cuffs on someone’s gown, so I dug through my lace stash. I found the one I was looking for but in it’s old life it was actually part of a blouse. I didn’t like the separation on the shoulders instead of being one solid collar.
So I went back to digging in the stash. I found a good size roll of a white lace that I’d used years ago while making lace caps and pleated that around the inside of my collar and cuffs. And the beauty of this is, the lace cap I’ve decided to wear has that same lace on it. Serendipity. I only have one row of lace on the cuffs in this photo. I later tried a second row above it but didn't like it. At least its still froofy and softer looking.
My other addition is a pocket, like these other 1870s tea gowns.
I cropped a pocket from one photo and blew it up for my pattern, then hand stitched it to my gown, just slightly to the back.
I added some lace just inside it. Now it needed a silly contrasting bow on it. Out of my stash, I found some burnt orange taffeta for that, and added another of the metal buttons to it. Later I will tuck a fan and a handkerchief in the pocket to show what it’s used for.
I’ve gathered my accessories, one being the lace cap I had, and found some oxblood “suede-like” flats at Target that turned out to be the same color as the fabric of my gown. That was a surprise when I really wanted black but they were all sold out. I also plan on wearing an antique white petticoat so it will peek out at the bottom of my gown where I’m leaving it open.
Just a few days ago I finally finished it completely, and took a quickie photo of me in it, sans wig and accessories, just so I could be sure it fit. I’m satisfied with it, although I will be moving slowly so as not to break out in a sweat. It would be perfect for a cold Winter morning but in a hotel with thousands of costumed ladies, I’m going to melt. I will have that fan and hankie at the ready.
My Supervisor has been making sure I’m staying on track, and I’m now sewing the lace strips on to my 1908 blouse waist for my other outfit that I finished after two years. But I finally caved in to my Inner Squirrel and pulled a couple fabrics out of the stash for my next project(s). Just couldn’t resist. I’m thinking a couple sheer dresses.