I didn’t participate in the Historical Sew Fortnightly’s ninth challenge as I had too much else to do, and couldn’t think of what to make with what little time I had. I was, amongst other things, actually working on challenge # 10.
I have long planned to make a mid 19th century common woman’s dress, and when I saw the theme for the HSF tenth challenge, literature, I realised this dress would fit in there. The book I chose is Utvandrarna (The Emigrants) by Vilhelm Moberg, which is about the first group of people in a certain Swedish farming community to emigrate to America. The main female character, Kristina, have several personality traits I can see in myself. I can especially sympathise with her fear of the dangers of bringing three little children on such a long and dangerous journey, and her grief in leaving her home, family, and friends forever.
As always, economy is a factor to be counted with, especially in outfits from periods I don’t really do, but I was lucky enough to find an old tablecloth in a charity shop, in colours that I love, and with a hand woven look. As the tablecloth measured only 1,5 x 2,5 metres, this dress proved to be a study in piecing:
– the lining of the cuffs are made from four and seven pieces respectively
– I needed to steal a bit from the skirt to have enough for the sleeves, and had to put a piece of another fabric at the centre front.
It’s perfectly period though: there are several examples of skirts being pieced with a different fabric in front, where it would be hidden by the apron. The result of the fabric shortage, however, is that the skirt is slightly shorter and less full than I’d have liked.
Also the cuffs are narrower than I had intended. A handful of tiny scraps are all that was left of the tablecloth when the dress was finished.
The bodice is cut in four pieces, two in the front and two in the back, the checks making a v-pattern, as was common in these dresses.
The front is shaped by darts, and there is boning in the front, darts, side and centre back. It closes in the front with thirteen pairs of hooks and eyes.
The plan was to make a dress that could be worn without a corset, as that was likely the most common thing for this social class in Sweden at that time. EDIT: I’m no longer sure that is necessary the case, though extant stays from this class are few and far between. The ones I have found are of much simpler construction than fashionable corsets of the time. END OF EDIT. It would have worked very well, except for the fact that I lost weight during the making of the dress. When first stitched together it fit perfectly, like someone painted it on me. Then after a week or two it was sort of loose, and I had to take it in a couple of inches. When trying on the finished dress it was too loose again. Sigh. As there is a nice open air museum where my in-laws live I planed to have pictures of the dress taken there, while we visited them. I finished the dress the day before we were to take pictures, but I decided not to bother with the loose fit anymore just then, but spend some more social time with the family.
The sleeves are smooth at the top, and gathered to a cuff, and closes with a hook and sewn bar. The skirt has a facing, and is also bound at the hem.
The skirt width is taken in at the waist by knife pleats, and a few deep cartridge pleats at the centre back.
I wore the dress with the apron and kerchief belonging to my folk costume, as that is what would have been worn with these dresses by country women, and also because I haven’t had the time to make more simple, everyday versions of them. Only problem is that my apron and kerchief is from the county Skåne, and the people in the book is from the county Småland, and there were some differences in traditional dress. Instead of looking like a poor, starving woman from Småland, I look like a woman from the more prosperous Skåne, who would not have had to emigrate to get food on the table. Ah well – that is what my ancestors were.
As for underwear, I’d have liked to have worn the dress with wool petticoats as well as a quilted one, as that was common, but so far I haven’t had time or material to make any. Instead I wore it over one of my everyday wool skirts, and my still not blogged about corded petticoat. Not right, but gave a tolerable poof. I also wore my regency shift.
Little B was with me, and had pictures taken in his clothes from challenge # 6. Need I say I found him adorable? I always do, but there is something extra with a child in period clothing…
The Challenge: # 10 Literature
Fabric: An old cotton tablecloth for the dress, another for the bodice lining, and a piece of a third for the piecing in the skirt. A bit of cotton sheeting from my stash as facing and sleeve lining, and a linen scrap from an old skirt my mother had when I was little for the binding.
Pattern: None. I looked at lots of pictures of original dresses of this kind, especially lots of detailed pictures of a one dress sent to me by a friend who works at a museum, and then draped my own.
Year: Mid 19th century.
Notions: Cotton cording for the piping, hooks and eyes, linen thread.
How historically accurate is it? Very much. It’s close in style to other dresses of this kind, and it’s hand stitched with waxed linen thread, using period stitches. The use of several different fabrics in the lining, facing and binding can be seen in period dresses of this kind.
Hours to complete: Many. The piecing took an awful lot of time….
First worn: For the pictures.
Total cost: 120 SEK ($18,3; £11,8; €14), including hooks and eyes.