Monday 1 February 2016

Deciphering Historical Clothes: 1830s silk wrap day dress

I've decided to try and do a Deciphering post for each month this year, to go with the Historical Sew Monthly challenges. Now, these are not going to be the same thing, not even remotely, as Leimomi's inspiration posts. For one thing, with each garment of the month, I doubt the beginning of the month is enough time for anyone interested to gather all materials and make the garment in time - and that's assuming I manage to post it in the beginning of the month every time or that my deciphering is enough to get you started. The challenges simply provide me with a good starting point in looking for decipherable garments.

I'll also try to focus on garments in Czech collections, although we'll see how that goes...

The Czech Regency stays from Příbram seem like a very good "entry" for January's theme of Procrastination - it took me about four years to make mine!

For February's "Pleats & Tucks" challenge, I turn to a garment I've posted about on this blog before - the wrap day dress that I saw in an exhibition in Dačice, which I posted about here

Photography was allowed at that exhibition (not usually a given in the Czech Republic!) and thanks to the setup, I even managed to snatch a back view of the bodice (not always a given, either!). The description said that it came from the collections of Prácheňské muzeum in Písek, but since then, I've come across a photo in Centrální evidence sbírek that shows a dress so suspiciously similar I'm 99,99 % sure it's the same one, and places it in Třebíč, so... probably a misattribution at the Dačice exhibition? (There were other garments from Třebíč there, too.) I'll come back to that photo from CES, because it shows more of the construction! It also says it's made from silk taffetta, which is a fairly safe guess anyway with this period and this look, but it's good to know.

It was one of my favourite garments in that exhibition - a rather boring yellowish brown shade, but exquisite construction with an eye for detail, so I was inspired to take detailed photos even at the time. For which I am grateful now, because there is so much going on with the construction that I can draw inspiration from, even if I never make this particular dress!

Going by the shape of the sleeves, with the puff lower in the sleeve, I would guess it's from later in the decade; you can even come across such puffs in fashion plates from early 1840s. In this particular exhibition, or the photo on CES, the puffs are not very pronounced, but I've come across a photo from another exhibition in Znojmo where there's yet again a garment so suspiciously similar to this one I think it might be the same one... where they'd gone for an arrangement of the sleeves that makes them puffier. I guess it depends on how long the arms of the wearer actually were (and therefore suspect it is supposed to be puffier).
Other than the basic shape, the above overall photo (especially if blown up to full size) shows rather well that there are two darts in the bodice on each side, sitting more to the sides than they would on later garments.

So how would this amazingly detailed thing go together? That's where the opportunity to take more detailed photos (or look at more detailed photos on a museum site, if available) comes in handy.


Just this half-photo gives you more details: it shows the lie of the pleats on the sleeves (knife pleats towards the back in the upper section and, if I'm not mistaken, towards the front in the lower section) and in the skirt (flat / box pleat in the front and then knife pleats towards the back) - in fact, it shows you that the sleeves are pleated rather than some other form of gathering. And that the edges of the collar are piped. Twice, in fact. It also hints that the sleeves close on the inside seam in the bottom section - you can see the edge overlapping. It also shows the fabric loop on the belt that the belt end goes through.
I can see more in this photo itself, actually, but let's keep it simple for now, because I have more detailed photos coming...

Here's the lower sleeves with more details. It proves my theory that the lower sleeve pleats are facing towards the front. It also shows the bands that hold them down: they consist of two rows of piping / cording. Now, this is a conjecture, but I would suggest they were made in a manner similar to this tutorial by Kelly of Tea in a Teacup.
It also shows the closure: fabric covered buttons and fabric loops (most of the buttons seem to be lost, but you can see one closed button and one orphaned loop in the upper photo.)
There is also very fine piping along the cuff and the slit in the sleeve. It is seen more clearly in the second photo. This sort of treatment would definitely require a finely woven fabric and really good skills in handling it!
The fabric and my photos don't alow me to see the grainlines quite as clearly as I would wish to, but when I look at the upper part of the sleeve on the photos and at the behaviour of the pleats on the bottom, I am fairly sure the sleeve is cut in such a manner that the bottom at the very least lies on the bias - see how the pleats look a bit "twisted", or seem to have creases running diagonally across the way they are sitting? Pleats done on the straight of grain don't do that. :-)
Cutting sleeves on the bias was a common practice at the time, as demonstrated by the pattern diagrams in The Workwoman's Guide (p. 346). (In fact, I would suggest perusing that publication as an excellent primary source if you ever wanted to re-make this dress.)

The sleeves of the dress seem quite similar to Fig 22 here, but there's more to them than that. That, I'm afraid, means that the only way to make sure you get the pattern right is to mock away - but then, you would probably have to do that anyway.

This photo shows the belt from close up: it is, once again, piped along the edges with very fine piping. The belt loop appears to be set cca 5 cm? from the inside edge of the belt; I can't tell if that's the only way the belt closes or if there's another form of losure on the inside. There's a line running down the middle of the belt loop which is, in fact, the fine piping as well! (See the full big picture; the bottom of the belt suggests a 3D feature rather than just topstitching even in the small picture.) You can, once again, see the double piping along the edge of the collar. And when you look at the inside seam of the sleeve, there is piping, too!
Once again: darts slanted very much to the sides. One box pleat in the front of the skirt and then knife pleats directed towards the back. There's topstitching along the overlaping front edges of the bodice. There's also a seam running along the left side of the collar (our right) - to be honest, I am not sure if that is the seam that attaches the collar, or a piecing seam (which would be neat, telling us that even such finely made garments like this had to resort to piecing at times.)
You can also see hints of the closures inside the garment - I'll leave that be for now, because that's what the CES photo is going to be very helpful for. This photo, on the other hand, is very helpful for pointing out that the sleeves are not as simple as being cut in one piece like the Workwoman's Guide sleeves. When you look at the upper sleeve here, you can see a seam running along the edge of the upper pleated section - a seam, not just a pleat like in the lower pleated section. Now, I am not entirely sure what exactly is going on there, but I think there is a pleated section with bands, sewn on top of other pleats, which are the pleats at the top of the sleeve - going all the way down and opening up into the puff where the applliquéd part ends.

You can see it here in the back as well. I think this photo illustrates again that the seaming doesn't run further down into the sleeve; and because there is that corner, that makes me think "appliqué" sewn on top of the pleats rather than inserted into a cut out - that would be unnecessarily complicated to cut, sew, or indeed to arrive at as an idea!
You can also see that in the upper section, the bands holding the pleats down are plain. There is, however, piping running along the upper edge. And - which you can't see in the particular photo, but can in others - along the upper edge of the sleeve itself / the armscye.

The back of the skirt appears to be increasingly densely pleated, possibly even turning into cartridge pleating in the centre back.
The back of the bodice is fan pleated - an interesting feature more often seen in the fronts of dresses as far as I know. It almost appears as if the bottom of the fan pleats were smocked, but I can't tell for sure with the belt going over it.
You can also see - by not really seeing it in the photo :-) - that the collar does not go very deep in the back (unlike 1790s collars).

The belt is not permanently attached to the dress, a fact I know thanks to the museum's photo on CES:

Note, however, that the belt was meant to be a permanent fixture of the dress - the stitching is much less neat underneath it!

The bodice seems to be very, very lightly gathered to the waistband in the front, aside from the darts. It may not even be intentional...

As I said, this photo is priceless for showing how the dress closes. I had suspected some of it, thanks to a fabric-covered button showing at the bottom of the dress in Dačice.

The museum photo shows that there are three more buttons in the skirt (four in total) - probably closing with loops attached to the inside of the other edge (but further away from the edge, as you can see the attaching stitches in the above photo). The bodice closes with hooks and eyes, three running along the closed right edge of the bodice and one at the edge of the left waistband. The skirt edge is offset from the bodice wrap edge and waistband on the left side.
This offset "wrap" closure looks to me now like an interesting precursor to dogleg closures... a bit of a missing link between those and Regency "wrap" dresses, perhaps?

With the dress open like this, the box pleat in the skirt seems to be off-centre, but when the dress closes, it sits in the centre front. You can see that the front opening edge lies where a knife pleat is on the other side.

Sadly, I don't have any inside photos whatsoever, so I don't know in what manner it is lined. The little looks into the insides of the sleeves I have in my own photos show the same fabric as on the outside, but I can't tell how far into the sleeve that reaches - the logical guess is that it's just an edge finishing. The museum photo shows the crease of the hem stitching more clearly than my own photos, which makes me think it is, again, very neatly sewn and nearly invisible under normal circumstances.

And that about covers it, in terms of what you can see in the photos and how you can use observation of photos to figure out how a dress would be made. Figuring out how it would be cut is, of course, another matter. It helps to mark out the seamlines the way I do in these colour-coded photos, or to draw it out as a "technical drawing" on paper - if you're looking for patterns to use, that will give you an idea of what seamlines to look for and what can be altered; if you're draping or drafting yourself, that will give you an idea, too, of course...

You'll have to embiggen the picture to see it all properly. I did not mark seams on the bottom of the bands on the appliquéd pleated section of the sleeves. Here's why: when I look closely at some of the photos, they do not seem to be sewn down at the bottom, hanging free. I assume they are strips of fabric folded down the middle and attached by the open edges, or something along those lines.
The position of the darts is a bit of a conjecture, because I can't see them clearly in this particular photo. They are, however, definitely angled to the sides.
I am not sure what the grainlines are in the bodice or skirt. The skirt, common sense says, should be simply a pleated rectangle of fabric. With the bodice I just can't tell...

I have no idea what commercial pattern would be suitable for this wrap dress, either, to tell the truth. At first, I thought the Past Patterns Lowell Mill Dress might work as a starting point, but the more I look at it, the more I'm convinced not even the sleeves are the same... The skirt seems to be pleated in a similar way, though, and the pelerine could be used as a basis for the collar... if you figure out how to make it wrap rather than center. The sleeves of this pattern offered by Nehelenia patterns (I'm unable to figure out which pattern-maker it is Period Impressions, pattern #445) seem like a closer match to the sleeves of this dress, however, with the pleated top and fullness at the bottom (which would also be pleated in this dress). But the rest of the pattern, on the other hand, if the drawing is anything to go by... not so much, especially with the darts in the bodice going so firmly upwards.
All in all, if you have any experience with drafting / draping, that's probably a better recourse in this particular case.


  1. I love the style of this dress, and your post is so useful! When you mentioned the very fine piping on the belt I immediately though of the instructions I'd read on another blog for a period accurate way of doing this - I hope you don't mind me sharing it here.

    1. Not in the least! Tutorials welcome! More info welcome! Thank you. That tutorial for the rosettes in that post is also going to come in handy. :-)

  2. Wow, thanks for sharing this! I am amazed by how in-depth you went, and love the dress you chose to study! I adore the collar and the sleeve detail. Take care!