1860s satin and lace ballgown

And I'm just about 9 months late in writing a blog post for it! I made it last year, and wore it to the Saturday night ball Remembrance Day weekend in Gettysburg. I only got a few pictures of it then, and none of them were great quality (that's the thing about balls, they're too much fun to stop and get proper pictures, and indoor nighttime lighting is never great for documentary photos anyway). And as I take my costume pics outside 99% of the time - first it was too cold, then it rained forever, and then it was too hot. And I had to plan in advance because it needed some repairs after the Gettysburg wearing. But here it is!
Introduced in "action", because I couldn't resist.

And this post will be a little heavier on the picture side than the "how I made it" - mostly because I just don't remember! It's a very basic 1860s dress in terms of construction, though - nothing special or weird going on.
The lace and satin. The laces are three different shades of ivory-to-ecru, but it's not horribly obvious on the dress! I was more concerned with getting really nice lace than matching shades.
 Materials: Silk satin, in a color I might call "moonlight" - it's a silvery-ivory face, backed with ice blue threads that give it a really pretty depth. I don't know the weight in mm, but it's a fairly heavy satin, although definitely not duchesse. A friend bought a whole roll of it for a steal, and was kind enough to sell me some, also at rather a steal. The trim is cotton English lace (bought from ebay), and expensive, but maybe not as much as you might think. ;) Bodice is lined in cotton twill; skirt is unlined but faced with muslin (and the flounce is lined in brown cotton. I think you catch a glimpse of that once or twice here in "spinny" pictures).
The beginnings of the bodice! You can sort of see allll the basting stitches - yes, I had to baste the pieces together by hand. Satin is fairly evil!
Construction: Basic seams done on the machine, finishings (tacking down piping, sewing on all that lace, etc) done by hand.
Bodice mostly finished here, pre-bertha.
I was originally inspired by this fashion plate (which I found without any attribution, but I'm guessing early 1860s, as the skirt's pretty wide and hasn't really started moving toward elliptical yet), and initially was looking for black lace, but wasn't able to find both the quantity and quality in several widths the way I could in lighter colors. I was afraid ivory on silver satin would be boring, but I think it turned out alright. A little more subtle, but not boring! We hope.
I didn't style the dress like this for the ball, by the way - I'm not really a tiara aficionado like many I know, but the Saturday ball this year for Remembrance Day is a Crystal Ball, where the ladies are encouraged to wear white jewelry and flowers, tiaras, and wear light-colored dresses. And we aren't going this year, so I thought I'd make an effort for the photoshoot instead! Last year I wore garnet-colored jewelry and a red rose in my hair, to match my slippers:
Yep, made those! Uppers of red silk-and-rayon satin, made from my slipper pattern. Not great for outdoor photoshoots. Gravel is uncomfortable.
The butt-bow is detatchable (and slightly crooked), with hooks on the bow and thread bars on the bodice. Sounds shaky but actually has not fallen off yet, despite much dancing at the ball and much twirling around on lawns just now!
And no, it will not stay nicely in place! But I thought tacking it to the skirt would be weird, so floppy it stays.
And you'd never know that after the first dance at the ball, one of those narrow lines of lace was half hanging off the skirt, and had to be completely ripped off by my accommodating friends! (Not the way I wanted to spend the second and third dances, but I admit I'm still flattered to have had Koshka-the-cat help rip off my lace! Yep, totally name-dropping here.) I spent last night sewing it back on, along with a couple repairs to the lace on the flounce and replacing a bar that popped off the skirt while getting dressed for the ball!
I admit to shameless The King and I posturing here...(a story that has its share of issues, but DAT SKIRT. You know the one)
Yeah, here too. xD
And the number-one issue that you can't see, is that the CF seam frayed right through the seam allowance for almost a half-inch before I even wore the dress! Mercifully, it was near the top of the bodice, and the hideous darning job I did is hidden by the bertha. I do use small seam allowances, but not absurdly small, nor is that seam under any especial strain - any other fabric wouldn't have frayed out like that, I'm sure. Did I mention satin is evil? Because satin is EVIL.
Contemplating the evils of satin.
And I almost forgot to mention the little capelet I threw together to wear over this gown. Nothing wildly thrilling, but it does its job! I should really make thumb loops for it before I wear it again (I've occasionally seen, on these types of capes, little loops at the bottom/waist length, so you can hold the cape closed if there's a wind! Clever), but that didn't seem like a priority for wearing it for 30 seconds in August...
It's yellow and cream striped silk taffeta, lined with brown cotton/linen, and interlined with cotton flannel. The trim is (a fairly hideous, but somehow so Victorian) gold and purple shot taffeta that usually reads as brownish, cut into bias strips.
Ideally I would have liked it a few inches longer, and maybe even have a hood, but I used every inch of this taffeta that I had! The wrong side of the collar isn't even the striped fabric, it's the goldy-purple, since I didn't have enough! If I were making it again I'd spread the gathers further out on the shoulders (it's just your standard half-circle cape), but it's not annoying enough to redo.
And another few pictures of the dress, while we're here...
My ultimate verdict? While I really like twirling around in it, and admit I love how it looks in pictures, I wouldn't make another dancing dress out of satin. It gets really damn heavy after a while! And it's not an excessively wide skirt (not that I recall the exact measurements right now) or anything. It's a perfect ballgown for not actually dancing. Next time, taffeta, I think. (Or cotton.)
Still contemplating the evils of satin.
Up next: early 1880s!


  1. Next time you're dressed up in Gettysburg let me know! I'd love to do a historical fashion photoshoot! www.melissaringphotography.com
    Especially of a stunning dress like this. Lovely job.

    1. Thank you very much! You do lovely work, I'd be very flattered to do a photoshoot with you! We usually do a G'burg trip every other Remembrance Day, but it's certainly not out of the realm of possibility to go out for a weekend some time...I will definitely let you know when I'll be out that way again.

  2. Gorgeous dress! There can't be too many photos of it! ;)

  3. Gosh, what a great read! Southern belles are the most alluring eye candy in this Dixie Dandy's antebellum world. I could look at your pictures every day of my life.


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