The Early 1840s Dress, Part 1

1840s dress p1

This week I’ve been busy working on my 1840s dress. It’s been a frustrating, long process, and everything that could have gone wrong, has. However, in the end, I’m actually not hating the final product, so all’s well that ends well! Through a process of trial and error, I managed to make something at I am actually pretty proud of. This post will cover making the bodice and undergarments. I was actually pretty good about photographing this process, so this post is very picture heavy!

I started this dress with a lot of research, and did a rough sketch of what I wanted to do. I wanted it to be based off the dress from the late 1830’s and early 1840s. The first thing I did was make the undergarments that the actual dress would sit on top of. They consisted of three petticoats, and a bustle pad.

The bustle pad was made of cotton fabric stuffed with plush stuffing, or the kind you often find in stuffed toys. I drew out a pattern that resembled a smiley face, and cut this piece out twice. I then sewed the sides together, flipped them inside out, and sewed in two pieces of ribbon to act as ties. I left a small hole, which I then stuffed full and then closed.


On top of this came a gathered petticoat on a waistband.


I then made two more petticoats, with drawstring waists. Essentially, I cut two 45″ panels of white cotton, sewed them together, and hemmed the bottom edge. Then, I folded over the top edge, sewed it, and threaded through the ribbon or cord.

In the end, they looked like this:


I starched each petticoat, which made a huge difference to the shape – above in unstarched (left) versus starched (right).

Starch v No Starch

After I finished these, I was able to move onto the bodice. I made two mock-ups for this – one that failed miserably, and another which turned out fairly well.


I turned this second mock-up into pattern pieces, and cut them out of lining, the actual fabric, and the top pieces out of interfacing for support. My outside fabric is a really pretty floral which is yellow, with peach and orange-y flowers.


I sewed the seams together, of the base bodice first, leaving the shoulder pieces for last.


Then, I interfaced the shoulder pieces, and sewed the lining to the floral on what would be the top edge. This process was filled with unpicking and messing with seams, because I messed up some of the original shoulder seams and had to change them all.


Finally, when all the pieces were sewed together, it ended up looking like this! In other news, it is incredibly hard to hold the back of a shirt together and try to take pictures with your arm movement restricted, so excuse the bad picture.


The next post will cover the skirt and sleeves for this dress, and will include better photos of the bodice, hopefully!





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