Clothing Styles in Victorian Society, or Teslacon Dress Post 6 Wednesday, Oct 30 2013 

It’s true, I think it’s fun to either:

A. Look at an outfit and take cues from the details and fabrics to figure out who would wear it for what type of event.

B. When making an outfit, to plan out the details around a real or imagined person or event.

But then, I’m a costume geek, so I guess that’s one of my quirks.


But that means that a lot of thought and planning went into this outfit. There are limitless options when it comes to trimming a Victorian outfit, so it was hard to narrow it down to a few choices, let along decide on one.

For example, the collar and cuffs:

     Option 1– Yellow silk pleating banded along the outer two inches of the collar and cuffs. It would give a pop of color and reflect the pleating detail seen on the skirt. However, the pleats would need to be sized just right, or even angle pleated like those on the skirt. Plus the lapel is actually already yellow silk, so what would I even do there?- Additional yellow, but pleated? Pleat the entire collar? I made two rows of knife pleats for the cuffs but ended up feeling like they were too clunky for the cuffs.

     Option 2– Appliques. Drawing from my inspiration look, I considered doing some appliques on the collar and cuffs that would give the look of embroidery. I bought two types- one with some ribbon flowers in blues and yellows and one with actual embroidered flowers in pink on green curling vines. The blues match better but look kind of chunky. The pinks are pretty, delicate and might make a good accent color, but… there is no floral reference anywhere else on the dress- it’s all tabs, pleats, buttons and beading. Which brings me to…

    Option 3- Beading. As I cut into the vintage beaded top for my jacket, I harvested the beads and pearls from the scraps in case I needed to replace any missing bits. I had so many, I realized I could use them to create a beaded design on the collar and cuffs. (I swear, I didn’t choose this option just because it was the most time intensive! It just happened.)

blue yellow

The beaded hem I insanely decided to make after everything else was done.

The beading on the turned down cuff.

Beaded turned-down cuff on Teslacon dress

* My best collar and cuff advice is to check and re-check your stitching lines before clipping and pressing your seams.

Again, I would like to commend Truly Victorian on their clear, thorough and easy to follow instructions included in all their patterns. I have seen patterns supplied only with a single, all caps, run-on paragraph trying to pass as “instructions” and it makes things harder than they need to be. Truly Victorian patterns give you the information you need and the flexibility to make changes to achieve a truly custom fit. They’re not paying me to say this, it’s just the third pattern I’ve used from them and it’s a delight. IMHO

The Waterfall Back

*Note- there’s actually a waterfall draping style for bustles- this is not that, it’s just a convenient term for the back train on my gown. A true waterfall drape looks like this:


Waterfall Drape

There’s an additional decorative element that I added to my dress when I was forced to purchase twice as much silk as I needed (2 weeks after I was given a minimum purchase amount, I was told that, no, I actually needed to buy twice as much. Supreme Novelty Fabrics… avoid them- terrible dealing with them, but they had the same shade of silk as the vintage top, and I had a $200 gift card)

I decided to make a yellow silk pleated train coming down the back for the skirt, banded in by three V-shaped blue straps. I like to see an unexpected detail when someone turns around- a cutout back, a pop of color, etc. so I thought the waterfall style at the back would provide a Wow moment. Pleating the train was… interesting. I can’t say it turned out just how I imagined it, but one tip I can offer is to consider the benefits of tacking down your pleats to a certain point, to keep them where you want them.

Qualities of the 1880’s

I designed this dress with the late 1880’s in mind, and I was committed to the fabrics and the colors. Beyond that, the entire era was open to me. I like this time period for a few reasons:

1. The bustle was back! But it wasn’t a crazy big, rest-your-drink-on-it bustle above enormous hoops- I dislike how in some earlier decades some gowns resembled overwrought wedding cakes with doll torsos perched atop:

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Wedding Cakes

2. The waistline has returned to the the waist, and you even get to see some hip curve! It’s a somewhat body conscious look without the extreme limitation of movement incurred by the short-lived hobble dresses of 1879-1881. They were pretty, but I need to be able to walk, period:

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Sooo not happening.

3. Tailoring. The advent of tailoring slowly led to changes in fashion- The details of dress began to reflect the more tailored silhouette, the first of more to come in the jackets and graceful bell shapes of the Belle Epoch and the smooth simple lines of later Poirot. I enjoy using buttons, pleats, worked trims and tabs in my designs, so it seemed a natural match. Plus, I like that in the 1880’s sleeves were generally slim and plain, not the concoctions of frills from the 1870’s, nor the internally supported leg-of-mutton look from the 1890’s:

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Very nice

4. Aniline dyes. I am not a delicate flower. I do not want rose, or violet, or baby blue. I like a strong color palette. In 1856 Aniline dye was patented, and was on exhibition by 1862… this synthetic dye allowed the attainment of rich, vibrant colors, and the Victorians went mad for them. Monochromatic gowns done in entirely one shade of purple (one of the earliest colors available), blue, indigo, fuchsia, pink or yellow were de rigueur. Some –unusual- color/pattern combinations cropped up and the impact of vibrant colors on taste level was sometimes questioned:



I wanted a somewhat French inspired look without falling into the aniline trap of an in-your-face blue and yellow outfit, so I chose a deep royal blue that’s quite somber, though not navy. Paired with it is a very delicate pale yellow silk. It’s a good thing too, because as complementary colors, they still look more vibrant next to each other than others would. Plus, the blue fabric is completely matte, so the only shimmer is the soft characteristic sheen of the silk and the occasional sparkle from the beaded accents.

Society and Culture

This dress in particular: The style of this dress when paired with the color and fabric speaks of a very particular event and wearer:

The colors indicate a woman who is confident and stylish but not a slave to (aniline) trends. The hand-worked details on her dress, in conjunction with machine stitched tailoring, indicate an expensive purchase. The very nature of the trims hint at a practical nature, as they are primarily menswear-inspired buttons, tabs and pleats rather than the expected flowers, gathers and ruffles. And yet the beading and pearl trim keeps it classically feminine.

The simple lines and the sturdy fabric could indicate it is a day dress, but the neckline is very low for a walking dress and the beaded details and waterfall train are less than practical for something like a travelling suit.


Little silk purse, a re-covered resale find.

My choice of accessories is deliberate as well. A hat indicates an outing, whereas a ribbon or floral decoration in the hair would be more appropriate indoors, and I carry a purse instead of a parasol- a practical and “active” accessory indicating either possession of my own money or at least the authority to spend it independently.

Therefore, the lady who wears this is attending a fancy daytime event, undoubtedly with a chaperone but still wishing to stand out. It could be a shopping expedition in a progressive city like London, an art salon exhibiting the controversial art of Toulouse Lautrec or Dante Gabriel Rosetti, or perhaps a daytime activity at a high-profile event like the Congress of Vienna. Or even a House of Mirth style seasonal gathering at the estate of a gracious host, where the day dress may have to serve for several events before one could change for dinner.

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Just Gorgeous


The back of the Teslacon Dress- More pictures will be added after Teslacon!

Wherever the lady is going, the dress is done and I’ll be moving on to other creations in my posts- I hope you’ve enjoyed this little saga!

Next Post: The 1-Day 1860’s Corset!

*Sources include:,, and around 13 years of general historical costuming research.


Victorian trim and decorations, or Teslacon Dress Post 5 Sunday, Oct 6 2013 

Now, as promised, The Fun Stuff.

The trims and decoration are what takes a well fitted jacket and a six gore skirt and transforms them into something that gets salivated over & repinned.

But trims *usually* also take a lot of planning. For example, most of the decoration on my outfit (that I’ll be referencing today) needs to be applied by hand and includes 2 different sizes of handmade silk piping.

What decoration techniques I’ll be using:

  • Beading- The shining star of my decoration will be the beaded and pearled perfection of a repurposed vintage shirt.  I cannot tell you the work and expense that recycling vintage finds has saved me… and it cuts down on waste.  The color of this shirt is really the inspiration for the outfit- this pale, gentle yellow paired with a deep, nearly navy, blue.  It says “French”, without screaming “FRENCH!!” If you know what I mean.
    I’m using the fabric as the center panel of the bodice and as an accent at the bottom of the flounce in back. The lines will echo the stripes and inverted V’s in the primary pleating and in yellow velvet ribbon accents on the sleeves.

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    Once the shirt was disassembled I could really see the size of the pieces I would have to work with.

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    After reinforcing all the pearls because they were chain stitched 😦 I backed everything with two layers of silk.

  • More Beading- I’m harvesting the beads and pearls from castoff bits of shirt and working it into the decoration on the lapels, cuffs, hem…. and purse and shoes.  To make a guide for beading the lapels and sleeves, I marked 3 evenly spaced right angles with chalk, and stitched on a bead every 1/3″ for a decorative look that echoes the lines of the dress without being too time intensive.

    The beading I did on the turned down cuff.


    The beading on the collar.

  • Even More Beading– So, after I had the box pleated hem made, I decided I needed to cover up the line of stitching that held the pleats down (and eventually the stitching that will attach it to the dress). I had allll these extra beads and pearls, so naturally I decided to hand bead the hem. (Oy) I found that a backstitch worked best, and feels pretty stable. Once the beading is done, the hem will be attached with stitches hidden along the beaded area.

    Box pleated hem (1/16" hem on the strips) starched and getting beaded. the pearl cluster is sewn in a circle beforehand, then the circle of beads attached at the intersection of each pleat.

    Box pleated hem (1/16″ hem on the strips) starched and getting beaded. The pearl cluster is sewn in a circle beforehand, then the circle of beads attached at the intersection of each pleat.

  • Pleating– The primary pleating, that I farmed out to my marvelously talented and patient friend Michelle, of Envy Rae Designs, is a 45 degree angle pleating running along the hem and up the back of the skirt on either side of the silk train. I knew what I wanted, I just really didn’t want to do it. And it turned out beautifully! I attached the larger piping to the edges and then stitched it onto the skirt.
    Large piping sewn at corner of angle pleats.

    Large piping sewn at corners of angle pleats.

    Corner of angle pleats.

    Corner of angle pleats.

    45 degree angled pleats, backed with yellow cotton.

    45 degree angled pleats, backed with yellow cotton.

    Large piping sewn to the angle pleats

    Large piping sewn to the angle pleats

    A view of the skirt pleating attached... and the attached beaded bits at the cuffs and jacket back.

    A view of the skirt pleating attached… and the attached beaded bits at the cuffs and jacket back.

  • More pleating– I also made a yellow silk box pleated hem which is undergoing surgery with beads and pearls. I had a knife pleat hem all ready to go and I was just…. whelmed…. by it.  So for all my groaning about last year’s box pleated hem, off I go again. (See picture under “Even more beading”)
  • Piping– I made 2 sizes of piping because I decided that a larger size would be too bulky round the neckline and cuffs, but a smaller size would get lost amid the larger skirt features.
    To make piping, I would suggest cutting a number of strips, maybe 2″ wide, of your fabric *at a 45 degree angle*. Then, you place the ends crosswise and pin them together, matching the grain-line, at a 45 angle to get the connected pieces to lay together correctly. (Hopefully the pictures will help with that description)

    Cutting out many bias strips at once (4 layers here)

    Cutting out many bias strips at once (4 layers here)

    Strips of bias cut silk, sewn together on a bias to make one long strip

    Strips of bias cut silk, sewn together on a bias to make one long strip

    Then when you have a very long strip of bias cut fabric, wrap it around the piping cord and use a zipper foot or something similar to sew as close to the cord as you can.

    Sewing the silk and cording together via zipper foot

    Sewing the silk and cording together via zipper foot

    Small piping when complete

    Small piping when complete

    *The bias cut is important, it allows your piping to move around corners and curves with ease, without distorting your fabric.To attach the piping to your outfit, it needs to be sandwiched between the lining and the fashion fabric. You’ll want to line it up pretty carefully- wavering lines will show here when you turn it all right-side out!
    I suggest using a thread color that matches your piping, and again you’ll want to get the needle as close to the edge of the cord as possible. Now, you could try sewing through the three layers, but what I usually do is to lay the piping on the right side of the fabric- with the cut edge of the piping facing the cut edge of the fabric- and stitch them together, adding the lining on top afterwards for another round of pinning and stitching. It takes a little more time, but it’s less stressful than trying to manipulate three layers at once, wondering if the piping is moving around in there where you can’t see it.

    Placement of piping for stitching before adding the lining.

    Placement of piping- the lining will be placed on top of this, sandwiching the piping in between, with the cord always toward the inside.

  • Self covered buttons– Buttons covered in the same fabric you’re using look professional and are useful if you want a subtle look on your closures or decorative bits. I put together a multi-step pictorial:

    Process for making self-covered buttons

    Process for making self-covered buttons

  • Turned down tabs-These are relatively easy, I planned to take the squared corners of the jacket and cuffs and turn them out at 45 degrees to show off the lining and to echo that chevron shape again. The only extra consideration I had (after I had the collar all put together!) was that the silk lining would have to be doubled because you could see through a single thickness.  So I cut 4 lining pieces for the cuffs, lapels and a couple of 5″x 5″ squares for the lower corners of the jacket. I placed a covered button at the center of the flap, and it makes for a nice, period look! I echoed the turned down tabs at a few points on the outfit.

    The tabs on the skirt (not shown) and at the bottom of the jacket are "held down" by covered buttons.

    The tabs on the skirt (not shown) and at the bottom of the jacket are “held down” by covered buttons.

  • Chevron velvet ribbon accents on the upper sleeves:
    Challenge 1: I want the Vs placed on the outside of the arms, but that isn’t centered on the two sleeve pattern pieces.  What I did was pin the ribbon where I wanted it on the mock-up (another bonus to making one) and mark the lines of ribbon in chalk.  Then I took the sleeve off, took out one seam and cut slits along the marked lines. Then, placing the mock-up over the actual sleeve- with only one seam stitched- I used a chalk pencil to mark on the good fabric along the slits in the mock-up.  Then I had exact placement for the ribbon.

    1. Mark the top of the shoulder on the sleeve, then remove the sleeve from the mock-up. 2. Leave the outer seam in place, seam-rip the inside seam and lay it flat. 3. Mark the desired line placement in chalk. 4. Make some slits along your lines. 5. Lay the mockup on top of your sleeves (cut out in good fabric and sewn up the outer seam). Mark through the slits to get exact placement of your lines. Lay your trim along the marked lines and pin. 6. Attach. I tested machine stitching on a scrap and liked it... good to go.

    1. Mark the top of the shoulder on the sleeve, then remove the sleeve from the mock-up. 2. Leave the outer seam in place, seam-rip the inside seam and lay it flat. 3. Mark the desired line placement in chalk. 4. Make some slits along your lines. 5. Lay the mock-up on top of your sleeves (cut out in good fabric and sewn up the outer seam). Mark through the slits to get exact placement of your lines. Lay your trim along the marked lines and pin. 6. Attach. I tested machine stitching on a scrap and liked it… good to go.

    Challenge 2: How to attach the 3/8″ ribbon to the fabric. Fabric glue, in the past, sometimes can leave dark spots if you don’t get the amount precisely right, so gluing was out.  I considered 2-sided interfacing & ironing, but cutting strips that narrow and keeping the interfacing from getting all over would be a mess, and the velvet would have to be ironed from the opposite side, making the task nearly impossible.  I – briefly- considered doing tiny little baby hand-stitching up and down each side of each ribbon, but decided I’d rather stick something sharp in my eye.  So I did a test sample to see what machine stitching along the 1/16 edges would look like.  It was a success, but I’ll point out here that a machine with an adjustable stitch speed was very helpful here!

The very last aspect of decoration I did- the waterfall pleated train- is really more of an overall design choice, so it will be covered in the next post, where I’ll talk about the style choices, and who would be wearing this dress, and where, in the Victorian Era.

I swear I will write it before Teslacon!

Victorian Gowns featured in Milwaukee’s “Paleontology of a Woman” Fashion Show! Wednesday, Oct 2 2013 

Exciting News

Two weeks ago in Milwaukee at the Public Museum I was thrilled to be a part of a fashion show… one that was probably unlike any other you’ve seen!

Paleontology of a Woman“, hosted by Timothy Westbrook, was a dinosaur-inspired fashion show, and held in the rain forest section of the museum with an exclusive 200 seats available (plus some standing room only spots opened up due to demand).  You can check out Timothy’s sustainability-driven message and aesthetic at his link above, and get info on all the other collaborators on the POAW website while it’s up.

And among the 14 total looks shown, three of them were my Victorian inspired designs! An additional look was featured at the point of entry for guests, posed with a Velociraptor skeleton.

I was only one of many collaborators involved in the show, and I have to say I had a fantastic time seeing so many people come together for such a unique show.

I’ll post a couple photos below, but there’s no point in reinventing the wheel when there have been multiple articles, a very thorough blog, and even two videos posted on the show.

Thanks to Timothy for the opportunity, to the other collaborators for being wonderful, to my models for having the class to carry off these gowns, and to my assistant Lina Pashkova for being at the ready all night!


A back view of The Duchess gown


My award-winning burgundy and bronze gown. And a Velociraptor.


My lovely models, looking lovely in my gowns. Left to Right: Courtney, Anu, (me) and Marissa.

PS- Yes, my next blog post on the Teslacon Dress is coming, it’s mostly written & really just needs pictures!