My 1890’s Puffed Sleeve Dress

I remember reading Anne of Green Gables, and how she went on and on about puffed sleeves. I had little puffled sleeves on my pink dress as a little girl and they made me happy to no end, so I could very much understand why she wanted them as well.

In Chapter 11, this is Anne’s response when Marilla makes her up a sensible dress without puffed sleeves:

“Oh, I AM grateful,” protested Anne.  “But I’d be ever so much gratefuller if–if you’d made just one of them with puffed sleeves.  Puffed sleeves are so fashionable now. It would give me such a thrill, Marilla, just to wear a dress with puffed sleeves.”

MARILLA SAID NO!!!!

My heart just went to Anne so much. Marilla gave an explanation about how puffed sleeves are wasteful, and at the time, that made no sense to me.

And check out this amazing comic by Hark a Vagrant! I reference this constantly.

 

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In fact, I’ll just be sitting at the table and randomly say “Sleeeeeeves,” and my husband will reprimand me and tell me to have more respectable reveries. I married the right man.

So while I was hammering out all our outfits for Venice, I kept coming back to imagining myself running around in 1890s, in a dress with over the top puffed sleeves.

Here is an example that I just love:

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Worth evening dress ca. 1890 From the Preservation Society of Newport County

 

So I started shopping around for patterns. I love that this era has actual patterns printed in that time period that are reproduced, and there are companies online that make these available to you. I was entranced with this particular pattern from Ageless patterns:

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Agelesspatterns.com #1953: 1894 Chevoit Costume w/Vest & Waiter Jacket

I kept staring at it, and wanting to make it in a lovely brown checked wool. Perhaps more dour and serious than Anne would like it, but around this period, fine tailoring started making an apperance in women’s clothing… and a brown suit seemed perfect my fancy.

So, I ended up ordering the pattern. Please note that their ordering process is a little dated – but it works quite well and the proprieter of the site is very trustworthy and I’ve never had a problem with it.

Then was the fabric issue: I had been eyeing this brown wool from Mood fabrics forever – and with that larger check, it was so close to the original fashion plate!

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Mood Fabrics: Demitasse Windowpane Check Wool Twill

I wasn’t sure how much I’d need so I ended up buyign 10 yards… just in case. 🙂

So when I got back from my trip to Venice, the first thing I did was dig into this. Honestly, working on a completely different time period after doing project after project in one – felt like a breath of fresh air.

First thing to do was adjust the pattern. Like all ageless patterns, this is drafted from Victorian fashion magazines from the period – so the pattern is one size fits none… I’m kidding – I’m sure someone out there has a perfect 36″ bust and a 23″ bust – but that certainly wasn’t me. So when I got the pattern, I realized I wanted to add about 3″ to the waist, and subtract 3″ from the bust. To do the subtraction at the bust, I chose not to do that right away, since I could do that during fitting. For the waist, I knew I would have to add some to the waist. Luckily the pattern comes with a nifty calculation sheet to figure out how much I’d have to add to each pattern piece – and I did so. I think it came to 3/8″ on each pattern piece on each side. Not much- but certainly enough.

Once I did that, I cut out my muslin and sewed up the jacket pieces.

Now to fit a Victorian muslin on you – you HAVE to put on your corset and undergarments first. It’s quite a pain in the butt to do this – you get undressed, put on the corset, put on the bum pad (I got mine here: ), put on your petticoat, then put on the muslin and fit it. So the proper undergarments are ideally: chemise, corset, bum pad, petticoat, corset cover, shirt… THEN the muslin, but… as you can see, I am not doing so. Also, you’ll notice my liberal use of a Wearing History Bust Improver. 😉

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VERY important: when you’re fitting a muslin, put it on inside out WITHOUT ironing the seams flat! This way, you can easily pin the seams how you would like it to be.

One thing that was immediately clear when I put it on was that the back was loose. (Also, the front collra is AMAZING). So using pins, I pinned the line that I wanted to change the seam to.

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Upon putting it back on, it became clear that this worked much better. I penciled the line in, and cut out my pattern. I then copied this new pencil lined pattern onto a new piece, and added my seam allowance. I figured this was good enough for me to start on my final.

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Meanwhile, I also did the same with my waistcoat pieces. A waistcoat has to be more fitted so it was actually considerably more work. I had to pull the front of the waistcoat up at the top shoulder seams about an inch and a half (to account for the fact that I am not nearly as busty as the original pattern), so I wish I had more photos of the process. Sadly, I do not. To get the waistcoat to fit correctly, I actually went through THREE different muslins til it fit perfectly. So… please don’t kick yourself if your first muslin is not perfect. It took me THREE tries.

After all this, I started sewing my waistcoat together. I used horsehair interfacing and pad stitched the collar on my waistcoat, and stitched the whole thing together. It was surprisingly fast and I managed to do the pattern drafting, and waistcoat creation in two days.

The jacket padstichcing, which was on a much larger area (I mean, look at that enormous collar!) took considerably more time. The collar was also sewn and pad stitched. It was so cool to see how the padstitching actually worked to let the collar stand on it’s own, even sitting on my table.

Once the pieces were on my coat, I covered the pad stitching by stitching the wool collar top on – right side to right side, and then flipping it inside out.

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After this… it was SLEEVE TIME. SLEEEEEEVESSS… PUFFED SLEEEEEVES….

No, I cannot have respectable day dreams Marilla.

THIS is the sleeve pattern.

I don’t even know if this video even does it justice. It’s HUGE.

I’m telling you, each sleeve takes 40″ of wool. Yes. This means that it takes about 2.5 YARDS of wool to make the two sleeves. I want to do some math – at 2.5 yards at 25 dollars a yard – puffed sleeves cost $62.50. EGADS. That’s todays money, moreover back in the 18th century when fabric was even more precious! Marilla wasn’t kidding about it being a frivolous expense!

So I initially cut it out of cotton muslin – AND I LOVED it. (no photo)

The wool I have here isn’t quite stiff enough on its own to handle the marvelous whimsy of puffed sleeves – it tends to slink a little. So I chose to flat line it with the cotton muslin I had cut out. After all, I didn’t have to alter the pattern at all. I sewed the sleeve up… and I gathered that HUGE voluminous sleeve. It was quite the thing to gather and sew it onto my bodice. Honestly – it couldn’t even get through my machine and I had to hand sew it on. Not a huge deal, and totally worth it… TO GET PUFFED SLEEVES.

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Afterwards came the long and less fun process of lining everything.

I used bright silk habotai though – which is wonderfully slinky and bright. I’m absolutely in love with Mood’s “beetroot” color– which is such a vibrant shade of pink. I love that you get glimpses of it as you walk around.

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Beetroot China Silk/Habotai

To line this, I first ironed the seam allowance down around the edges and sewed that flat using tiny stitches around the jacket. I suppose I could have just bag lined the jacket – but I find that results in lining that can pull and I wanted the jacket to hang just right.

Afterwards, I sewed the lining pieces together, ironed them flat, and then pinned the lining into the jacket, wrong side to wrong side. I did tiny hand stitches around the jacket to sew the lining to the jacket.

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One thing that happened was that I realized the waistcoat shrunk in production. I had not realized this but I relied on the natural and wonderful stretch of the wool to have the waistcoat fit me so snugly. Once that stretch was eradicated by sewing it to the soft but not-stretchy silk habotai, it no longer could close in front. Granted I was close (maybe 1/2″), but honestly, this is as thin as I ever get and I didn’t want to rely on not eating a burger to fit into my waistcoat.

I have NO idea if this is historically accurate, but I know this is an old tailor’s trick from the 18th century, so I used it… I cut the back seam of the waistcoat up to 1″ from the top, sewed the two edges shut, and then put hand sewn eyelets up the back. This way, I would lace myself into the jacket. And completely honestly – I never plan on wearing the waistcoat without the jacket… so no one will know! Except for me. And you. And the whole internet.

And here is the completed waistcoat.

So… while I was doing the whole jacket process, I was also working on the skirt. The skirt is an interesting thing altogether, having a split on the left side, some wonderful draping in front, and an underskirt. The underskirt pattern was literally just a rectangle that I was expected to gather and wear. I suppose I could have… but it didn’t have the fun-ness I was looking for.

So I chose to take this opportunity to whip out the Truly Victorian walking skirt pattern – YES THAT ONE. The one that Bernadette Banner turned into a super cute History Bounding skirt (which I’m totally doing next).

I decided to use Mood’s Burnt Orange silk duchessefor it. Yes. It’s 60 dollars a yard. Yes it’s super fabulous and worth it. Yes, I have a silk problem. THIS is why I’ll never do drugs. My fabric habit is just too overwhelmingly expensive. Just a heads up – for a size D- if your fabric doesn’t have a nap, you only need like 3 yards (I know this from experience). So I got the three yards of this fabulous orange fabric, and I cut out the pieces.

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If you’ve ever made a 1890s walking skirt – you know you have to flat line the crap out of it. That ethereal swinging motion of the skirt – the way that it magically floats outwards from your body… that’s all flat lining baby. Originally they had tarlatan. I chose to use cotton twill because I have bolts and bolts of it in the house already and because I blew my budget on silk. WORTH IT!

Afterwards, you need to line the bottom 10-18″ with interfacing. It’s a lot of owrk, but it is essential if you want that floating outwards feeling. The way that the ladies in the past would line it is that they would gentally prick stitch the interfacing onto the flat lined portion, carefully not sewing it to the exterior fabric…

I thought that was a lot of work, so I used iron on horsehair interfacing by pellon. … Yes. You can do that. So I just ironed it on, and I had that magical effect anyway. I’m convinced that if Victorian ladies had iron on interfacing and hem tape, they’d use it as much as I do.

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You’ll notice if you look carefully that at points, I stitched it together, forgot that I forgot the iron on interfacing, and then sloppily ironed it on top… Or maybe you didn’t notice? Hopefully? 😉

Then I started sewing the skirt together.

The beauty of these skirts is how quickly these do come together – once you’ve spent the hours flat lining and interfacing the bottom. Note that the waistband of the skirt is neither flat lined or interfaced.

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Even with just the waistcoat and the underskirt… I love it! I’d totally wear this with a lovely shirtwaist!

So… I forgot to mention, during the making of the waistcoat, I also started stitching together the overskirt.

The overskirt has some really wonderful draping on it. I did a mockup in cotton muslin, and then used the very same muslin as the interfacing for the wool. I wish I had some pictures of this, but I really don’t… But here are some of me wearing the skirt..

So after the skirt was flat lined to the muslin version, I hand hemmed all the edges of the skirt. This was finished long before I finished the underskirt, so you’ll notice that you can see my sweat pants under the skirt.

Once I added a wool waistband to the outfit, the skirt was done!

Now is the big question: How to keep your puffed sleeves puffed?

There isn’t one real answer to this – I’ve heard of people using stuffing, people using fabric bits and folds of tulle… The only thing that is consistent is that people definitely had sewn in sleeve supports. Unlike the 1830s, the sleeve supports were not moved around from garment to garment.

For mine, I chose to buy some lovely sleeve supports from The Boudoir Key on Etsy. On their own, they look like a little set of hoops for your sleeves, which they are! So you sew on the twill tape to the top of the shoulder, and the other (on the bottom) to the armpit. And once you do… that’s it!

Here is an image of the outfit with one sleeve support sewn in. Can you guess which side?

And then… I was done!

Boater hats were all the rage then, and though I don’t have an actual boater meant for this era, I do have a lovely little one from Miss Patina, so I posed with that.

I did order a blouse to wear underneathe – but it hasn’t come in yet… Once I have that, I’ll be putting up more photos. But for now, enjoy!

Thank you so much for reading!

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6 thoughts on “My 1890’s Puffed Sleeve Dress

  1. Oh it’s just perfect! I love everything about this: the wool, the funky colours of the silk, the draped skirt AND THE SLEEVES!!!! You did such a wonderful job with it.

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  2. This brought back memories. My mom made me a mini dress in the 60s when I was in jr high with puffed sleeves. The wrist was so tight she installed zippers. She had made up a pattern and taken it to the fabric store to purchase the fabric, laying it down because the fabric she wanted was scarce. Unfortunately when she preshrunk it it shrank a lot so she had to piece it. Loved that dress tho.

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