In order to challenge myself with my sewing this year, back in April I decided to sign-up for the Vintage Pledge (more info on the link here). As part of my pledge, I wanted to try sewing things that really challenged me; and pushed me out of my comfort zones. My first item was the jacket I made for Kieren, made from a 1940s pattern. Well that definitely pushed me well-out of most of my sewing comfort zones, but – not one to rest on my laurels, I (rather insanely) decided to go straight onto my next sewing project – a 1914 afternoon gown.
Although not technically Edwardian, it falls in the time period that is most widely perceived as Edwardian, so I may refer to it in this manner from now onwards.
Why make an Edwardian dress you may ask? Certainly, the Edwardian era is not one I have worn or made before, nor is it one I would usually wear in my day-to-day life. But, these reasons actually contributed to my decision, and the fact that I have an event coming up with the dress code of Edwardian-1920s. Yes, I know I could have made a 1920s dress/outfit to wear to the event in question, but – I have already made 1920s era clothing, and I am planning to make a few 1920s dresses next on my list anyway. See what I mean about embracing a challenge?
The pattern I chose was the Dress with Surplice Blouse in Drop-Shoulder style from Nehelenia Patterns (see a picture in this post here). I liked the optional lace trimming details, and the option for an additional overskirt in this pattern. The pattern itself was easy to follow, even though the instructions were rather limited.
So I made a toile to test the fit, and surprisingly, very little changes were needed. The blouse section is supposed to be loose, billowing over the waistband of the skirt, so I found I did not need to alter the size. I did however, sew the cross-over section at the front together, to stop the wrap style from gaping open with movement.
I found selecting the right fabric especially tricky for this dress. I think in my mind, I saw the dress more as a skirt and blouse, and it was that conflict that was throwing me off-kilter. I knew I wanted the skirt section to be a neutral caramel shade, inspired by this wonderful picture on Glamourdaze blog. But I found picking out the fabric for the blouse section rather difficult, and it took me a few weeks to finally reach a decision. I saw the dress as having either pink, coral or peach in it somehow, and after seeing this a-maaaa-zing dress on Etsy from Guermantes Vintage, it was settled. The blouse section would have to be a vibrant pink or coral.
As luck would have it, I had this coral rayon fabric already in my stash, so to make life easy (and to not waste any more time than I already had agonising over the fabric choice) I decided to use that. The lace trim around the neckline and sleeves is a beautiful embroidered lace I found in a fabric closing-down sale. I only had 1 metre, and the pattern called for much more than that, so I had to economise on the amount I used. The tunic over skirt was a bit of a last minute decision, I decided that whilst I liked the dress without it, the addition of the overskirt made it seem more recognisably Edwardian. So I decided to make it detachable, giving me the option of wearing it either with or without.
To continue with the warm tones in the dress, I decided on a burgundy linen for the belt. I also opted for burgundy, as I knew it would match my Hotter shoes which I planned to wear with the dress! I actually ignored the pattern for the belt section, and made it up myself. I thought pleating would look nice, so I pleated the outer belt section. The back fastens with two study hooks and bars.
Going back to the beautiful image on Glamourdaze, I also wanted to include some flowers. I made this flower from a kit containing wired ribbon, a felt square and some little stamens. Ideally, I was supposed to use a glue gun to assemble the flower, but I do not own one, so I sewed the whole thing by hand instead. I love how it came out, and am definitely planning an exciting project using ribbon flowers for the future!
Other than pondering over the fabric choice for too long, the other thing about this dress that drove me up the wall was the fastenings. I decided I wanted to be accurate to the time period, and used a combination of hooks & eyes and snaps. In retrospect, as much as re-enactors out there are going to sob tears of dismay at this sentence – I kind of wish I had used a zipper. There I said it. I am not an re-enactor, and although I like to aim for historical accuracy, it is only where I want it to be/up to a certain point. I just feel that a lapped zipper would have likely appeared the same as the hook & eye placket does, but the zipper would have felt more secure (and not been a complete pain trying to do up/undo the dress myself).
Overall, with this dress I would say that the most glaring lesson I learned was to TRUST MY INSTINCTS. My initial instincts were telling me this should be a SEPARATE blouse and skirt, rather than a dress. If I had made it as two pieces, I feel the dress would have somehow been more successful. And, of course I could have then mixed and matched the garments. Also my instincts were sounding alarm bells at my fabric choices. I think the rayon is too light to be paired with the heavy suiting of the skirt – again, if the dress were two separate pieces this wouldn’t have been an issue. But I couldn’t imagine the blouse section of the dress in the caramel suiting fabric, neither could I envisage the full dress entirely in the rayon.
I must admit, there were moments during this project when I felt like giving up on it. But, I am glad that I persevered, if only to learn some lessons from the experience. Will I be making this dress again? Probably not. But I’m glad that I pushed myself to do it, and I also discovered I actually really like wearing long skirts! Whilst we were taking these photos, I felt so elegant and feminine – even when I was laying in the buttercup field getting a damp derrière!
So there you have it, my completed 1914 dress. As a remedy to this, my next make (which I have actually already finished and worn!) is a pair of crazy zingy lemon print 1960s capri pants! Stay tuned for a blog post on those coming soon.
Until next time dears!