The bodice was done with Truly Victorian 422 1881 Dinner Bodice. That bodice kicked my tail for 5 days straight. I've been sewing professionally for 15 years for theatrical, and custom work; so it is safe to say I'm not a beginning seamstress by any means. Translation, if I am having trouble, something is seriously wrong somewhere. I reached out to the Historical Costumer Pattern Reviews group on facebook for help. There I struck gold.
A rundown of the trouble I ran into.
My first mock up made per the directions listed in the pattern for fitting. My back width is 18" ( per the measurement done by the DH), Bust is 40: 40-18= 22". 22" meant I was to use a size C front. Simple enough right? Yeah, didn't work out that way.
When I tried the mock up on over my corset I discovered, that I needed an inch added at the waist due to long torso. Also that I forgot to add an inch at CF so that I could pull the bodice together to properly fit. I then realized I was wearing the wrong type of corset, I needed to wear an over bust not an under bust. On top of all that I failed to take into account that that petticoat, plus bustle, plus under skirt plus over skirt add inches to waist which need to be accounted for. After being in tears for 2 days, decided to make a 2nd mock up.
I was not going to give up on this I again made a mock up per the measurements. I tried it on over a new over bust corset per the directions. I put the corset on my squishable dress dummy. I cinched the corset so that it's measurements matched mine when I wore the corset. Put the layers on the dress dummy over the corset. Then put the new mock up on. I found that the back was great (if not a little loose; however, I needed 5 inches added to the front/sides in order to make it so it fit properly. After another night of tears I came back to it. I remade the sides to add 4 inches total to necessary areas. ( after un picking and adjusting I found I didn't need as much space as I thought.) I also fixed gapeing at the neck line. In all honesty that second mock up was hideous!
That is when I had to wave a white flag and go for help. The best place I knew to go was to the Historical Pattern Review Facebook group. If they didn't know how to get me out of this pattern disaster I didn't know who could. Heather Naughton, God bless her, was able to help me. Is is actually the one who created the Truly Victorian Patterns, and if she can't figure out what is wrong no one could! She walked me through going from the beginning because SOMETHING was wrong, but we couldn't figure out where.
We started with proper measuring. She gave me a link to where she teaches people how to properly measure for her patterns. You would be amazed that most pattern drafting problems are because A) someone didn't measure in the right place, or B) they don't want to agree with what the measuring tape actually is telling them.
When I gave her the calculations I had on my first two mock ups she thought my back width sounded a bit wide. For a comparison, she has fairly wide shoulders, a 48" bust (all rib cage) and only a 16 1/2" back width. After looking at that I had a co-worker remeasure my back width for me. We came up with a 14.5" back width. With a 14 1/2" back with, that is a size F for back and sides. The adjusted back for the size F is 19.25. 40 - 19.25 = 20.75 which is a size F front. We decided to go with a size F back and a size G front, just to give me a hair bit more room in the front.
I then cut out an entirely new pattern and made a new mock up based on the new pattern recommendations from Heather. I made sure I had the extra inch added at my waist for torso length per my original mock up. Heather also reminded me that the TV patterns use a 1/2" seam allowance instead of 5/8" like modern patterns use. This is important because in garments this closely fitted 1/8"-es add up to whole inches in garments like these. I ended up putting a piece of tape on my machine where 1/2" was so that I could have a better guide than the tiny markings the machine provided. Part of me felt a fool for having all the problems, but I kept being reassured that we all sometimes get off the wrong foot, even with years of experience. It takes an outside eye to help you get back on track.
The third mock up did the trick. It was the back piece that was throwing everything off. I did the correct pieces and it fit perfectly. I did discover that I needed to adjust the bottom of the bodice to work with the design of the bustle. This wasn't surprising because I was using a 1870's bodice pattern and trying to make an 1880's gown. The bodice wasn't designed to go over a bustle,but by making an adjustment to the sides it laid better over the skirts.
I then went on to the proper fabric. It was a 100% cotton Scarlet broadcloth. I wanted something mid-weight that was breathable. As you can see in the pictures it began to show potential soon as it was put together. I flat lined my cotton with a black twill to give it more stability but keep it breathable. I added an inch at the center front to allow for buttons to be used. This was honestly the trickiest part of the construction. I had trouble wrapping my brain around how I needed to do the front. I ended up having to do something odd to allow for the over lap. Honestly I am not completely sure what I did, but it worked. (Too many late nights sewing, and foggy sleep deprived brain).
The only other quibble was with my corset. Trust me I LOVE my corset but for this gown it was 4 inches too tall in the front. I really needed a sweet heart neck line one but at the time I didn't have access to one. That has since been rectified. In the mean time I found an old partlet/ corset cover made of white cotton flannel that I would wear under the bodice. I had tried to make a white frill that I could wear with it but it drove me nuts, didn't lay right, and I ended up simply using my sewing snips I carry with me at events for repairs, to remove it with in 15 minutes of being at the event. It was bugging me THAT much.
I had never used buttons on a center front of a dress before and I wasn't sure how it would work out. The pattern directions tells you how to measure out how to make them properly spaced. I wasn't sure how that would work out , but it worked perfectly. As for the buttons themselves I had wanted to use the pearl half ball buttons I had left over from a different project but I could not find them anywhere in my stash of buttons. Knowing my luck I put them away someplace where I wouldn't loose them. Giving up on finding them, I ordered off amazon a dozen half ball pear buttons 1/2" for around $6 with free shipping. They arrived with in 2 days and I had no problems getting them on.
I added matching white pleated trim to the bottom and cuffs, and then the green leaves and beads to the bottom of the dress. I simply ran out of time to do the leaves and beads on the cuffs. Besides by then my fingers were raw from all the hand sewing. It has been YEARS since I had my fingers bleed this badly for a project. I will say it was well worth it.
As for what I want to add to it besides the wonderful cape I did for Celtic Christmas. I want to finish the trim on the sleeves, and maybe do some sort of fur collar thing. I also want to do a Christmas themed bonnet of some sort. It has been a while since I did millinery and I would like to try it again. Besides, who knows what I'll come up with between now and next Christmas. :)