Friday, 12 December 2014

1840's Maternity Dress

The first Saturday of Advent I had a little event to attend; my friend Maja and I was going to sit in the Tegnér Museum, as part of the larger event Thomanders Jul i Lund, a rather new Advent celebration in 19th century spirit. 

Picture (c) J. Wagner

Last year my friend and I were also involved, showing period sewing techniques, and we decided to go 1840’s, as Thomander (a professor at the university and later a bishop in the Church of Sweden) and his family were all alive and living in Lund at that time. Maja made a dress last year, but I had been asked to go as a farmer’s wife, so I wore my Insanely Pieced Dress for that. This year though, we were both going to be women of the bourgeois, so I needed a new dress. Poor me.  

Picture (c) J. Wagner.

As I knew I was going to loose baby weight during the time I made the dress, it felt like a waste of time and fabric to make one with a fashionably fitted bodice. Learned that the hard way... A maternity dress would be better, as those could be worn at home while breastfeeding. Luckily I have a pattern diagram taken from an 1853 maternity dress, so I used that as a guide. I only changed the sleeves to look more 1840’s, and put in drawstrings to make the dress more fitted when not pregnant. 

The drawstrings pulled tight. Picture (c) J. Wagner.

Having drawstrings to take up the width of the fan front bodice is something I saw in a picture of an 1860 original a friend - and museum curator - showed me. That isn’t a maternity dress, but I thought it plausible for my purpose, if nothing else.



The fabric was a duvet cover set from IKEA that I bought a year or so ago, as my first thought when I saw it was “mid 19th century dress!”. It was too expensive for me then, but a few months later I found it in the bargain corner for much less, as it had been used in the displays. Joy! I’ve seen it made up into both an 1830’s dress and an 1850’s one before. Both to not look too much like the others, and as I liked it better this way, I dyed it brown. It now looks somewhat similar to this dress:

Wool dress, 1845-50. V&A T.849-1974

The dress is cut like other dresses of the time in the back, but the front is cut in one from shoulder to hem. The bodice is flat lined in the back, but has a separate lining in front. This is tight fitting, and laces up – tolerably easily adjustable when pregnant. This bodice lining makes the back of the dress fit snugly, even when the fashion fabric may hang free and flowing in front. To make it fit nicer, the fashion fabric is attached to the lining halfway toward the front with a line of stitches, as in the original.

The separate front bodice lining, laced up. It's fitted and boned, as it was in the original 
1853 maternity dress. The drawstrings of the fashion fabric can also be seen, 
as can the petticoat, sitting low on the hips in a brave attempt to achieve the long waisted look of the 1840's.

The sleeves are also lined, and all but the side seams in the bodice are piped, as are the sleeves at the wrists. The skirt is cartridge pleated to the bodice. To give the pleats a bit more character, I inserted a strip of cotton sheeting in the fold before I pleated the skirt. This simple thing makes a lot of difference, as the pleats get a fuller look, instead of being flat.


The hem has a wide facing. I’ll have to shorten the skirt a bit; it’s a tad too long, and brushes the floor in a couple of places. It’s tricky balancing a skirt by yourself.

Picture (c) J. Wagner.

The collar is the one I crocheted a while back. I wore a bow pinned at the front of the neckline for the promo pics before the event (before the dress was finished), but as little H would just tear at it, I left it off for the event itself.  The collar was basted in, so even if he pulled that, it stayed put. The cap is also one I made earlier this year. 
Maja and I - I added another drawstring just below the bust later.
Picture by Lena Birgersson of Thomander's Jul i Lund.

The whole dress is hand sewn, using linen and cotton thread. I wore it over my 1840’s shift, my regency stays (they are not curvy enough over the hips, but otherwise acceptable for the Romantic era), my bum pad, quilted petticoat, a tucked petticoat, and a plain one. I had white wool blend knee stockings, and black ballet flats. All in all I think I looked rather sweet, in a motherly way, though I had a bad hair day.

Picture (c) J. Wagner.

The event was really nice. Maja was tatting, and I was taking care of little H, but as children in period clothing are usually quite the attraction I didn't really need to do anything else. The guide showed visitors around and talked about the house, and the poet and man of the church Tegnér who lived there between 1813 and 1826 - we wore fashions decidedly later than the furnishings of the house. We talked to the visitors about period clothing (stays being the most interesting), sewing, women's roles, children's lives and such. 

Picture by Torbjörn Engström, one of the visitors, who kindly sent it to me.

The Challenge: #21 Re-Do (#14 Paisley and Plaid)

Fabric: Different cottons.

Pattern: Drafted and draped my own, based on a diagram of a maternity dress from 1853.

Year: Second half of the 1840’s. 

Notions: Cotton and linen thread, cotton tape, cotton cords (made from cotton yarn), cotton string for the piping, velvet ribbon and zip ties.

How historically accurate is it? Tolerably. The only thing construction wise I’m not sure about are the drawstrings in front, but I think they are plausible. The fabric is… all right, but not a reproduction print. It hides spit up well – a good thing when you have a baby :)

Hours to complete: No idea; I could only work on it every now and then for a few months. Quite a lot though – if I used a solid fabric it would go a lot quicker, as the print is not as symmetrical as it looks…

First worn: For a small event at the Tegnér Museum on the 29th November.

Total cost:  The duvet cover set was 144 SEK ($19,17; £12,20; €15,38), and the velvet ribbon was about 30 SEK ($3,99; £2,54; € 3,20). I had the dye already, and I got it on sale a while back. Don’t remember how much it was though. The rest of the fabrics came from my stash, and would not cost much if bought in a charity shop.

7 comments:

  1. what a sweet dress! i think the drawstrings are very clever, and i believe there are a few extant wrappers out there with that feature as well. and i just love your cap!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you very much for the detailed description and photos of the inside! The dress is stunning and suits you so well!
    I do love the last photo very much, the photographer truly captured the past :)

    Sabine

    ReplyDelete
  3. What a beautiful picture you make, your dress is just lovely. Thanks for the inspiration!

    ReplyDelete
  4. That's gorgeous! It looks as if you stole it from a museum! Well done!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thanks for the nice comments :)

    ReplyDelete
  6. When I heard that you would use that fabric for a 1940's dress, I looked forward to see it and now the dress looks as beautiful as I expected it to do. =)

    ReplyDelete
  7. I love the fabric much better with the brown dye! It's special to make dresses for specific uses, like maternity, AND have a chance to wear them for that purpose! The drawstrings are genius.

    Best,
    Quinn

    ReplyDelete

I love to hear from you - please comment!