Part III – Details, Support, and Accessories
I’ve had to dive back into research at several points in this whole crafting process, and on the most recent trip I found what I believe to be the original dress that this pattern is based off of! Feast your eyes:
Woman’s Seaside Ensemble, circa 1870. Cotton plain weave, printed.
I’ll start out part three here by talking about drafting the skirt supports.
I’d found several mini-crinis (my terminology, not official!) on the Met website a while back, and desperately wanted to try making one. (In retrospect – I’m pretty sure these extant short cages were for girls. Sadly, measurements aren’t given!)
I didn’t have a pattern – just an Amazon Prime account, a reference picture, and a dream. I spent a while looking for the right kind of wire – it struck me as weird that all the extant cages are made out of round wire, but all the reproductions that I’m finding are made out of hoop steel, which is flat…
I first landed on heavy millinery wire, but couldn’t find a good price except on one website, which wouldn’t let me register for an account due to an error. So. To Amazon.
I needed thick wire, not very malleable, so that it would spring back into shape when flexed. (Spring steel? Tempered steel? Who knows.) I went out on a limb and bought this 1/8″ steel wire:
MUCH cheaper than wire marketed for millinery. I was really not sure whether this would work, but I was so pleased to receive it and find that it was both thick and springy and not impossible to bend. It was labeled as music wire, which I’m befuddled by – what instrument uses wire this thick!?
Upon trying to cut it with my 8″ bolt cutters (on left – I usually use these to trim edges off of steel boning), I barely scratched the wire. Something heavier was needed. I’m a little salty that I had to go buy 14″ bolt cutters for this, but they sure did the trick.
This wire takes some effort – if you don’t have any hand strength, you may want to go a size down. But it ended up working very well, so if you want a good contemporary version of extant crinoline wire, try it out (and let me know how it worked for you)! It’s definitely less springy than the original wire, but it functions similarly enough, and LOOKS bang-on!
My waist is about 30″, so on a hunch I went ahead and cut 45″, 55″, and 65″ chunks for concentric circles. (+ bonus cat picture.)
I’d bought 1.5″ grosgrain ribbon, so I cut lengths, folded in half, and stitched it closed. I slipped the steel in and it worked great. (Also, I caught my hand on my pliers. Crap.)
I laid everything down and started pinning, knowing the placement was probably wrong but that I needed something on there so I could transfer everything to the mannequin.
(At this point, I was still unsure how exactly one persuaded circles to shift in one direction (i.e. get bulk in the booty and not just have equal circles all around the body).)
The ribbons encasing the wires provided excellent spots to pin the verticals on.
Once I got it on the mannequin, it became very obvious that the key to pulling bulk backwards was to angle the ribbons diagonally. I dramatically readjusted everything and figured that it was time to test.
Yes, it’s a little tilty – don’t worry, I fixed that later. I was happy with what I saw once the skirt was on…
I did quite a bit of readjusting after that to reduce the belly a bit, until I realized that the back-weighted skirt and bodice were what was pressing the wires to the front.
As it was, I had about the right shape, but I wanted to add some tapes across the butt on the inside in order to prevent that forward push.
(The darts on the apron are emphasizing the ‘belly’ shape, which I’m annoyed about, but I’m going to have to call it a day at some point….and I don’t really need to wear the crinoline all the time with this anyway.)
Alright, today’s a new day! Let’s finish her up.
I readjusted everything to my satisfaction and then shoved my 1890s hip pads under the crin at the butt. Success – that kept everything from moving forward.
Sewing these was slightly awful – very hard to maneuver shaped wire under my machine! Didn’t take too long though.
The last parts were finished by hand – not that neat, I admit, but seeing as this whole thing was an experiment, I didn’t much care. At the ends of the wires, I turned in the ribbon and backstitched everything together; it feels pretty secure.
The righthand picture ^: If I had just sewn the two back ribbons straight on the waistband, I wouldn’t have been able to get the hoops over my shoulders! So they had to be detachable. I didn’t want a snap on the waistband, so to reduce bulk I just made the ribbons in two parts, and put a snap in the middle. Works great. Now to make a custom bum pad for this….
So, what I have now:
I sewed on all the flounces (rolled hem at edges). I debated trim, but the velvet ribbon I was considering is probably too upper middle class for the park I’m using this at… The belt needs a bow bit & fasteners, and the hat needs some sprucing up. (Etsy find!) I need a proper petticoat to hold out the skirt a bit more and disguise the crin wires, and I need some solid side-bust improvement….
Also, found a dress (bodice…) that gives me more confidence in the tummy profile shape!
An 1870s/1880s bodice doesn’t look *quite* right (i.e. it looks wrinkly) without some nice, curvy side-bust. Here’s an improver built into an 1870s bodice I was looking through a few weeks ago…
Elizabeth Clark has a fantastic PDF about this, including these handy little images:
I also needed a new bum pad, so I picked my scrap cotton back up and freehanded some shapes. We’ll see if my little crescents work or not once I put everything back on. If they do, I’ll pin them into place on the inside of the bodice and then stitch them in by hand.
Accessories (i.e. Hat & belt)
I bought my hat off of Etsy after determining that it was pretty much the right shape, if not especially fashionable, and took off the existing trim. A quick costume test to see how it all came together, before the finishing touches:
A lot of 1870s hats have tall crowns and narrow, curved brims, but that seemed a little ambitious for my very first hat (and very hard to find bases for online). I picked a small hat with a low crown and a narrow brim.
As you can see – maybe not completely fashionable, but certainly appropriate enough.
I started with a thinner blue ribbon around the brim, gently tied in back and pinned down, and then picked up a 1.5″ ivory double-faced ribbon and just….went at it and pleated. No measuring here!
I ended up taking a lot of inspiration from this 1870s bergere-like hat from the MFA Boston:
Pleated brim, florals, trailing ribbon… after some artful flower arrangement attempts, I stitched everything down pretty securely and had a pretty cute hat on my hands.
(If you are an 1870s hat expert, I welcome critique! Nothing’s stopping me from fixing this in the future.)
Lastly – the waist bow. This was similar to the bow on the hat; both are fake and completely sewn down.
They’re sewn to one end of the belt, and the hooks are all covered by the bow. Again, I used double-faced satin ribbon for this.
Time to go enjoy the garden!
I hadn’t yet made the improvers or new petti for these pictures, but I didn’t want to lose out on the gorgeous backdrop. My hair was quite slapdash as well, but that’s mostly because I didn’t want to make my photographer wait!
Overall, I’m pretty happy with it!
I will be working on hairstyles for the future and sewing down the collar ribbon that I added last minute, but I think it comes together quite nicely, and I’m glad to see that my black Balmorals fit right in.
(I also snagged an antique marquise parasol off of eBay last week for a pittance, and it only needs a tiny bit of love. I’m holding it folded up here.)