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, most of the time. And I want to share with others what I learn along the way. **You can find me on Facebook, or have my posts delivered to your email by signing up at the lower part of the right column.**

About Me

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HI, my name is Val. I'm a member of Costumer's Guild West in Los Angeles, Dean Emeritus of 2018 Costume College; Past President of the San Diego Costume Guild, member of Orange County Costume Guild, and a representative of the San Diego History Center. I make my own historical costumes but don't sell any unless I get tired of one.The eras I've made so far are 1770 up to 1918. My favorite is the 1880s bustle.


Friday, January 27, 2012

1914 Lavender Downton Abbey inspired gown

January 27, 2012
I'm planning this outfit for my costume guild's visit to the Titanic exhibit in San Diego and luncheon on May 5 this year. I've just started this outfit and because its a new pattern for me, and one of those vintage 1914 ones, its going to be a struggle. Besides not having familiar pattern markings, it uses different terms for things, like foundation, waist, shirring, tunic, regulation or high waistline. You get the picture.
The pattern I'm using is McCall's 6053.
    The front page & instructions are just a photo copy of the original pattern owned by the company I purchased this from. Sadly the lower right corner of the pattern was torn and the person who copied it didn't consider taping it back together before copying it. So it's almost illegible, and the pages have been copied so many times that the printing is offset, making it even harder to read the instructions. It has an entire back page of instructions but they don't seem to be in a chronological order, according to my brain, and seems to jump around from piece to piece.
  You may think at this point I was ready to give up. I did set it aside for a few days but kept looking at fashion prints of dresses similar to it and falling in love with it again. So I kept reading the instructions, & asking around to see if anyone else had made it or was familiar with the old McCall's patterns. I got a bit of help with some translations of the terms but on my pattern piece for the collar/vestee, which is one long piece, it has so many circles (originally perforations) that I can't connect the dots. That's what this is like, connecting the dots. And those dots can mean anything from straight of grain, darts, pleats, whatever. The three +'s means cut it on the fold. It also says there is only one half of each pattern, so in my modern mind that means cut two. Wrong. Getting further into the pattern, apparently I have to cut 4 of some of them but alter the width to be used separately as either one of the two vest styles or the foundation. In other words, the outside bodice and the inside bodice, which is mainly just a shell with a collar and a skirt attached to it. Confused? Me too. And I haven't even gotten to the skirt yet. 
    My first confusion was with the dress itself. I couldn't tell if it was a dress with collar and sleeves w/ two skirts, or a bodice with a separate skirt. It doesn't give much information on the skirt/tunic. I'm assuming tunic means the skirt. If not, I'm in big trouble.
   To make the pattern clearer to me, I photocopied the front & back pictures and colored in what I think are the two separate pieces. The one on the left shows the outside bodice and tunic. This middle is the foundation dress that has the bottom part of its skirt that will show on the outside. I still don't know how to make the foundation garment because I can't tell if the under bodice is just a repeat of the outside but very long, or somehow you attach the foundation skirt up into the collar/vestee.
   In reading more on the outside dress, it sounds like the belt is sewn on to the bottom of the bodice, and the other half to the skirt/tunic. I'm doing the one that has a large sash-type belt so I may do it my own way and have them separate. The last part of the directions faded off the photocopy so I have no idea what that part was.
   I had a specific fashion print and color I want to make but decided to try and use fabric from my stash before buying anymore just in case I screw this up. I had a very pretty lavendar linen blend but the pattern calls for 7 yds (40" wide) and I only had 4. The 7 yds doesn't even include the foundation fabric for the part of the skirt under the tunic that doesn't show (which can be a plain cotton) nor the contrasting fabric for the collar/vestee. But luckily when I laid out my lavender it was 62" wide, so I had enough fabric as long as I made the back bodice with a seam instead of on the fold.
   I first made up a muslin to try the bodice out and see if I was doing it right. Its pretty loose but according to the picture its kind of loose anyhow. It has some shirring/gathering in the lower back. Yesterday I cut out my lavender, and just to rest my brain a bit, sewed up the side seams on the skirt/tunic. I've left the pleating part of that till later. Last night I sewed up the outside bodice with its front pleats and the side seams. So here it is just loosely hanging on my dress form.

   It still looks very loose under the arms but until I put the shirring/gathering in the back, I'm not altering that. I'm so used to form fitting Victorian dresses that I keep wanting to do that to this dress. The skirt/tunic has groups of wide pleats around it so I need to figure out the markings for that.
Now I need to decide what kind of white fabric I want for the collar/vestee to be. The fashion prints I've seen look pretty plain. But I feel some lace calling to me.


  1. The tunic is definitely not the skirt, it will be the outer/over bodice. This era is so tricky because it looks quite modern to our eye and so we assume the construction will be more like what we know, but really it is more like what you already know about historical stuff. Except you're right about the sleeve - kimono sleeves were big back then and armscyes got bigger. It looks like it is coming together beautifully in spite of being such a troublesome beastie! :)

    1. Ha ha, I like that, a troublesome beastie! That it is. Thank you.

  2. Dear Val,

    You are on the right track :} Yes, it's hard to get used to some of the terminology. Here is what's going on, so far as I can tell from the pattern cover:

    The dress is composed of four basic parts, all connected to an interior "belt" or ""band", probably made of petersham, although at this date the belt may actually be an exterior waistband and made of self fabric, and it may not fit so tightly. In any case, it's the "belt" section. If an interior belt, it was closed tightly by hooks and eyes and served to support much of the garment. My lingerie dress of this era has that. If an exterior one working as a waistband, it might also have hooks and eyes at the front closure. My 1917 silk noil dress (with similar collar) has the latter.

    The top portion of the dress was known as a "draped waist".

    The foundation is for sure the underbodice. "Waist" was the term used for bodice. It was often very fitted and boned, although by this period, perhaps less so: I do not see the year on this pattern, but the wide squared collar moves us into the teens.

    The foundation waist (underbodice) was attached to the belt or band.

    Then the waist proper (the outer bodice) was draped over it, and often fit looseley, with tucks, known by that name or by "plaits" or at the shoulder line by "bretelles". It too was attached to the belt.

    The underskirt was attached to the belt, and then the "tunic", the shorter overskirt, was attached to it.

    The leftmost model of the pattern shows the sash effect, which would cover the join between the top and bottom. The rightmost model has the join more invisible and makes me wonder, especially if there is a self-fabric waistband over which the top of the overbodice is draping in front, but which shows a little in back.

    This way of constructing things was popular during the Edwardian era and well into the teens, until almost all shaping was abandoned towards 1920.

    Even if the overdress was meant to look like one piece, it was often constructed in two pieces.

    Hoping that this helps. You may find that the manuals I reference in recent posts will help you through the construction process.

    Very best,


    1. Thank you Natalie. I'm going to print this out and try and walk it thru to see if I can figure it out.

  3. Oh dear and wow, you do have your work cut out for you, good luck with this one, it seems you are getting a handle on it. I can look to see if I have anything similar with more compete instructions, but I only have one or two patterns from this time period.

  4. Thank you Victoria. Any hints are appreciated.

  5. I've had the same pattern for about 7 years and still haven't attempted it. Now I view it with more trepidation.

    1. Ista, no, I hope you will give it a try. I'll try and document as much as I can, with photos, of my construction, and maybe with those bits of help, you too can make this pretty dress. I may not make it exactly as the original called for (my modern fudging) but it will look the same on the outside.

    2. im doing a project off of an inspired coco chanel dress but i cant seem to find a pattern anywhere

    3. Anonymous, I'm not familiar w/ the Chanel styles so I'm not able to suggest anything. The 'teens era of dress are sadly ignored in pattern lines.

  6. Yup...that looks like fabric hell.


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