1870 Seaside Dress (Part II)

Part I – Skirt

Part II – Bodice and Apron

Part III – Details, Supports, and Accessories

This costume is chugging along nicely – the end of this blog post will have brought us up to four days (almost 30 hours) of work.

I left off on the last post having finished the skirt and being a bit unhappy with it (the fault of the pattern and not of my construction skills). I resigned myself to a sad, narrow skirt and continued on.


The apron instructions were a bit confusing, but I went ahead and flat-felled the five pieces to make one giant piece of fabric.


It required halving the fabric and then making six folds on each side – this will provide the bulk and folds for bustling. I’m using a thicker cotton than the original, so I staggered my pleats a bit to reduce built at the waistband. Those got whipped down by hand…


I got the bodice cut out, sewn together, and button facings stitched down…only to realize that I’d forgotten to flatline it. (A new low.) I ripped out my basting (visible on left) and stitched in my lining fabric – some cotton voile I had lying around. I’m sure the pattern is inaccurate, but it’s light and breathable and won’t be seen, so I’m happy!


Time to work on the back…nicely flatlined and pressed, and then time to attach the apron piece. (One of the reasons I had been so confused was because I had understood an ‘apron’ to be an additional garment that sat over the skirt. Here, it’s literally the back of the bodice!


I stitched it on and then was directed to cover it nicely – I chose to do so with a strip from the lining, again to reduce bulk.


Instead of going ahead and stitching the seams, I pinned them all instead to enable easy fitting. It almost fit perfectly (I’m very fortunate to have proportions that neatly fit most standard Victorian pattern measurements).


I ended up letting out about half an inch of fabric in the bust, took in the same at the waist, and slightly modified the darts to also take in some fabric at the waist.

Sewn! I need to press those darts….

Skirt (again…)

I stopped there for the night since I was exhausted and dealing with a headache. Got in bed, turned off the lights…and couldn’t stop thinking about ways to fix the skirt.

I thought about it for a while and figured that my choices were either 1) add triangular gores to the front and sides of the skirt, where the seams are, to add fullness there; or 2) take off the waistband, take some of the bulk out of the cartridge pleats, and move that fabric to the front and sides and knife pleat it up there.

So I got back up at midnight and went to work tearing all of my stitching out. (Tears were shed.)

I had previously trimmed and tied off the threads holding the cartridge pleats, and was rather worried that I would lose all that hard work if I cut and released them to take out some bulk. So before I cut anything, I cut some more thick thread and shoved it through the middle of all the pleats with a long needle (repeat 3x) – voila, new cartridge pleats! Snip snip.

I brought a great deal of the fabric around to the front and sides and pleated it towards the back.


You can see how much smaller the cartridge pleated area is now! The pleats are also less densely packed. Those factors enabled me to stitch them straight the waistband by machine instead of doing it by hand to the bottom of the waistband later (which is necessary for most cartridge pleating).

I am so happy that I took the time to fix this. It looks a thousand times better.

(Before | After)


I put the bodice on to test how it would all look together – and on a hunch, I put my 1890s hip pads on the mannequin in reverse, so there was some support at the sides and front. This mimics whatever support I’ll be making in the end (hopefully wire, but maybe padded.) I love the shape!


(The bustled up it at back is just me fiddling with pins – it will look much better than that with the actual tapes, I’m sure.)


These went really quickly – cut four of one pattern piece (these are two piece sleeves, not really fitted), sew, flat fell the back seam and make a vent, etc. Nothing new, and I was really in the sewing zone so I didn’t bother documenting it much.

(No point putting a pic here, you’ll see them in a minute…)

Cuffs & Collar

The cuffs provided by the pattern were quite large (like…several inches) and I wasn’t really liking the idea of big cuffs. I went to do some research and decided that both large and small were perfectly accurate.

(Small cuffs and collars on extant garments: Striped is 1868-72, Les Arts Decoratifs; beige and white are about 1870.)

For the collar, the piece provided would have made it ~1.5″ high, which I associate very much with the 1880s. My first inclination was to make no collar at all, but I don’t like that look on me! So I reduced it and made it a bit under an inch high. I’m also thinking about putting in a little cotton pleated ruffle to stick out of both collar and cuffs, but that’s something I can do later.

BUTTON TIME~ I used to hate everything about doing buttons and so they feature in very few of my costumes, but now I really like sewing them on. I don’t particularly like doing buttonholes by hand or by machine, though. It doesn’t help that my poor machine decided a while ago that it wouldn’t do buttonholes anymore….so all of my machine holes are done with freehand satin stitching, which works, but hardly produces an even set!


Anyway, I didn’t have any buttons that might work, so I went to Jo-Ann’s today and picked out some relatively innocuous looking buttons. I did a brief google to see what was around during the 60s-70s, and the answer is “actually quite a lot”! I saw mother-of-pearl and white buttons on a few extant cotton and linen dresses, so that’s what I aimed for. I honestly don’t mind ripping them off and sewing new ones later if I have to.


They’re 1/2″ wide and go down the full opening in front, save for the waist where I put in a snap to reduce bulk (a ribbon belt is going over that area later). I also gave the cuffs a button each.

I started watching the new A Series of Unfortunate Events at some point while handstitching (no wonder I knew so many long words as a child…) and figured I’d get to the rest of the handstitching since I didn’t want to work at the machine.

All inner seams got whipstitched down and I sewed boning channels (blue) into the side seams.  I also attached the waist tape (black), which in this case makes sure that the heavier back of the bodice has a way to stay flush to my back instead of gaping outward. The waist tape is stitched to center back and the side seams, and the ends come around my waist and hook when the bodice is on.


ewww, bodice innards!!

And lastly (for this post, at least) – bustling!


This was a bit of a mess. I spent quite a while trying to understand the instructions and ended up sewing buttons down in two different configurations; nothing I did approached the pattern reference (or even looked good). So I trashed that, took everything out, and made something up.


It’s…vaguely arrow-shaped and has two points at the bottom. Ish. Hopefully it shows off the flounce nicely, when the flounce gets added…

I ended up using a single tape, sewn *inside* the pleating at the CB waist, with two buttonholes at its end. That pulls the CB part of the apron up in staggered pieces.


(Two I made earlier – the one I ended up with had two holes, one above the other.)

Then the sides were pulled up (at the seam between the 2nd and 3rd gore of the apron) and attach to the underside of one of the pleats at center by way of snaps.

I feel a bit guilty about using snaps for this since they’re not how bustles should be accomplished, but I thought about it, and if I had made my own pattern for a bustle, I wouldn’t have needed them. I’m using them because I don’t understand the pleated pattern here, and I think it’s okay to take a shortcut in something like this. My materials in this particular dress are hardly the bastion of historical accuracy, anyway…

You may notice that the bodice appears to be supported by something on the dressform in that last picture – I’ve posted about it on Instagram, but if you aren’t following me over there, read on!

Part III – Details, Supports, & Accessories



One thought on “1870 Seaside Dress (Part II)

  1. Pingback: 1870 Seaside Dress (Part III) | Sewing with Kenna

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