Sunday, April 28, 2013

My 1860s Gown...My Daughter's College Paper

My daughter mentioned to her Art History Honors professor that I was busily sewing 1860's clothing for myself and my son.  I've met this professor and she is absolutely great! She has taught the students that more than paintings comprise art.  Obviously architecture can be considered art, so my daughter took lots of photos of Poplar Forest Saturday for an art history extra credit paper.  Paper can become art, so when my daughter told the professort we had toured Pret-A Papier at the Hillwood Estate Museum and Gardens, the professor told her to write an extra credit paper on it.  Historical interpreters can be considered when my daughter told her professor we were going to see Mount Rushmore come to life, the professor asked for a paper to be written.  Even a historic gown can be considered art! When my daughter told the professor that I was busily sewing 1860s garments for our homeschool history presentation, guess what? The professor asked for a paper! 

Since I had the most research for my gown, we focused on that. My daughter asked me how I decide which historical garment to make from all the available choices.  First, I think about appropriateness for the interpretation of a character. Second I research extant gowns from museum collections and old paintings and fashion plates, then decide on my favorite one, based upon my sewing abilities and available patterns to try to replicate the look.  A sheer gown from 1860 was entirely plausible for my character as a US Senator's wife from Washington DC.


I even found an extant sheer bodice in the MET's collection, which I used to sew my bodice as historically accurate as possible.  At the link you can see 4 different views of the bodice, using a 100% cotton sheer windowpane outer fabric.  When my daughter saw it she was amazed at how nearly identical it was to my 100% cotton windowpane fabric. I told her that is why I purchased it!  Then I styled the underlining to match that of the extant gown.  I even trimmed it in cotton lace.  Although the extant bodice had hooks to secure the bodice, old paintings from the 1860s showed buttons. Therefore either hooks or buttons can be used.  I used mother-of-shell buttons for the bodice lining and pearl buttons for the outer fabric of the bodice.  I decided on a black sash based on an old painting I found from the 1860's. Many of the paintings and old photography show 1860s ladies wearing a cameo with their sheer gowns.  Therefore I wore a cameo as well.

To extend the idea to a more artistic feel, I submitted my gown to the international sewing group's Historical Sew Fortnightly's latest challenge: "By the sea." Here I am posing in preparation for a picnic by the sea. Or historically, it could be a rendering of my picnic at Manassas Junction in July of 1861.


Now for the HSF details:

HSF  2013

The Challenge: #8 By the Sea

Fabric: cotton

Pattern: Truly Victorian Sheer Dress and analysis of extant gown


Notions: thread, buttons

How historically accurate is it? very accurate

Hours to complete: lots

First worn: history presentation

Total cost: $50


  1. Hi,
    I've been looking to make my own sheer, floral print gown. Any idea where I might find some good fabric options?

    1. I have no idea. I would do a google search. It will probably take a lot of digging to find, but what a treasure once found!