Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The "Winter Princess" 1890s Ballgown

This weekend was the 1890s ball and skating outing with the Commonwealth Vintage Dancers, and I was really pleased to have my friend KP come visit to join me! Of course, that also meant I needed a new dress...

I'd been planning to make a new 1890s dress eventually anyways, because my butterfly dress has a lot of fit issues and I've had it for several years at this point. (Although I will admit the changes I made for a ball this summer--which I've never blogged about, bad blogger! but Quinn has, and it was also covered by Bill Cunningham, so you can spot me in group shots there--greatly improve my feelings about the dress.) Anyways, I'd been planning a new dress...but this ended up being sort of the "murphy's law" of sewing plans: first I had a business trip that put me behind on sewing projects for earlier in the month, then I got horridly ill, and then I was sitting in the ladies' dressing room sewing when I was supposed to be setting up refreshments. Whoops.

I didn't have time to go fabric shopping, so I used a blue velvet I had in my stash originally purchased for the 1870s dress I made at Christmas. It is gorgeous, plush stuff that looks quite bright in some light and quite dark in other light. Like magic! A friend also nabbed me some white rabbit fur trim, which is a fabulous contrast. Right now there's just a bit thrown on, but I have 16 1/2 yards of it, so that's coming! 

I knew I wanted to make a super classic 90s dress with big sleeves, because my butterfly dress doesn't have them. I drew inspiration from portraits of the Russian royal family as well as some of the dresses belonging to Empress Maria Fyodorovna. Here are some favorites:

engagement photo of Nicholas II and Alexandra, 1894: big sleeves, fur trim

portrait of Grand Duchess Elizabeth c.1890: dark with pale trim, lots of pearls
Portrait of Maria Fyodorovna, 1894: fur trim!
Purple velvet dress by House of Worth for Maria Fyodorovna, 1890s

Years ago I purchased 1890s skirt and bodice patterns from Laughing Moon Mercantile, but when I started working on this project I decided I didn't have time to make a toile (as it was already the week of the ball), and I knew the bodice pattern didn't fit me very well straight out of the envelope. Instead, I ended up using the 1875 bodice pattern from the Mother/Daughter Dress Project because I knew it fit well. I switched the closures from front to back, shortened the bodice to end at my natural waist, and raised the neckline up slightly on my shoulders. I did stick with the Laughing Moon 5 gore skirt pattern, but I re-curved the top of the panels to make it fit more snugly on my hips without losing the volume at the hem.

There are still some adjustments to make (a hem, for instance, would be good--this will get a stiff linen interfacing as well as a velvet facing to help keep the shape), but overall I'm happy with this. I definitely felt regal, so mission accomplished!

The 1890s ball was held at the Dane Estate, an absolutely lovely mansion just outside Boston. We had fun posing for pictures in its elegant rooms, but with all the crazy going on I completely forgot my camera. As a result, these were all taken on my phone. Apologies, but enjoy!

playing with the full length mirrors in the library

sitting in the round mezzanine between the first and second floors--sorry these are so grainy! My phone did not like the dark...

my friend in my ballgown. She looked lovely and it was nice to be able to make her feel like a princess.

As people post pictures of the ballroom I'll do another post!


  1. Oooh I love the dark blue velvet with the white fur trim. I'd love to make bustle era and late Victorian gowns but knowing I would need to make all new undergarments just seems daunting, and I'll admit I'm a little be lazy! lol. :) Everyone looks lovely! The Dan Estate is beautiful.

    1. Thanks!
      New underwear is always a daunting undertaking! I have to admit I cheated here--I just made a new set of 1870s petticoats in December, and so my friend wore that with the ties undone (to let the fullness spread around, rather than being kept at the back). Not perfect, but it meant she could wear the dress!