Mourning dress, 2004

My final project at school: A dress inspired by Victorian mourning garb for my sister Kaisa.

A Victorian, or to be more exact, late 1870's style of dress has obviously gotten some it's look from the historical garments, but the construction is throughly modern. Had I been more of a costume history freak already at the time, I might have gotten more ambitious about it, but now it's more a stylished, EGA (elegant gothic aristocracy) type of thing. The material is artificial, having a little lycra even, and the pattern, which became so trendy a bit later, reminded me of an old armchair at the time. Wearing a corset over the dress was as a visible and central detail, not an invisible dress support as it originally was, was part of the design. The corset, by the way, is not of my making, but a ready-made one.

As this dress was my final project at school, it's also exceptionally well documented one from the period when I had yet no idea of making a website. Part of the project was to write a short work with some rather shallow research about the subject (in this case the mourning wear and customs at Victorian England, and also a bit about fashion and corsets of the era) and then a sort of diary about the process of designing and making the garment. Actually I may still have a pdf file of that somewhere, but I'd rather not include it, because the research part may have some inaccuracies, and the rest of it has really some plain shit scribbled in a hurry.
mourning back 1
The pattern for the dress is based on the basic dress pattern I made for Kaisa originally for this dress. As I happen to have the scaled patterns I made for the documentation you can find them below. There's nothing special in them really, apart from the fact that the cut really is rather modern and simple, but perhaps someone might be interested in what the Müller&Sohn patterns I keep talking about look like. The white lines indicate the original pattern (these images representing one phase of the pattern making), the colored lines the alterations made. As you can see, you can cut and paste them into whatever style you like. By the way, the princess cut, still popular today, appeared about the time the dress is based on. There are other things in the cut that have a definitely modern air, though, the shoulder seams are at the top of the shoulder for example, while at the period they were still further back.

Anyway, first thing on working with the pattern was to make a mock-up of the basic pattern, which I fitted with a corset (which changed the fit of the bust area especially), and in which I marked the line of the horizontal seam of the skirt and the chiffon neckline with a pencil. Then I transferred these changes on the paper pattern.
The skirt piece below the horizontal seam at mid-thigh is simply flared. The mock up for the back pieces forming a short train I cut randomly, having some rough idea how they were supposed to be shaped, and tried them on on a dummy. Here again I didn't go so much for a historical accuracy but more for my own idea of what it was supposed to look like.  Of course the result is plainer than the period fashion plates for the fact that there are no ruffled petticoats underneath alone. The horizontal seam is neatly covered with a pleated thingie, for which a pattern was created with copy-paste method. It's a separate one, attached only on the center back seam and with thread loops on the side seams. In hopes of having it cling body and fold prettily it's cut on bias, which I though beforehand to be easier than it proved to be - as I was making it, the pieces tended to pull in different directions.
The same proved to be true of the chiffon. I wonder how I could have forgotten my experiences with chiffon with the knit dress just before, and actually voluntarily go near the fickle thing again.

There is nothing revolutionary to report about the construction of the dress apart from the neckline and the train, really. As you can see from the pictures, I marked and cut the chiffon  quite carefully. The standing collar was a piece of wide lace lined with chiffon. Being thus a straight piece it did not fit as well as a curved collar might have, but I wanted it to stay a bit transparent so I did not want darts or seams in it.

There was a machine in school with which you could cover buttons with fabric fast and easy and cheap, so I got a pretty row of buttons at the neck. The back opening is finished with looped band for buttons and narrow bias tape.
I had spent considerable time and  effort in fitting the chiffon neckline, but still it was a terrifying experience to sew it between the half-finished bodice and lining. The the is, that  you can't really try it on until you have to cut the seam allowances of such a curved seam very thin, and clip pieces off here and there so that it will turn neatly over, and thus say goodbye to unpicking it and doing it again very easily, or at all even. I can still remember making it, alone at school one evening. I did unpick and sew again a few parts where the chiffon was crumbled between the seam before the scary process of cutting away the seam allowances.  work3
Well, as you can see from the pictures, it didn't came out quite perfect, the chiffon does behave in a slightly wrinkly manner at some places, but then again, had I tried to unpick and and do it again it would probably have been ruined. Of course, now that I come to think about it, I could instead have practiced a similar thing beforehand... Anyway, as they say, when it's on and a person won't stay still it will not show, right?

As you can also see from the picture, from the buttons down its fastened by a very 21th century invisible zipper.
Putting the train together was a much more relaxing experience. The center back seam is closed down to where the pleated vertical piece ends, and the long train piece in the middle is folded between it, upper edge of it being pleated, stitched down and covered neatly by the shorter pieces  hanging on the top. There are loops and buttons hidden in the seams, so that the train can be pinned up from the ground. I think something like 20 meters of lace went into the pleating.

Apart from some minor faults the dress came out pretty much like I planned, and on schedule, too. The good thing about school projects is that if you became disheartened with them you can't just bury them in the closet but have to think out a solution for the problems and get on with it.

Kaisa has worn the dress at Lumous-festival and at my wedding. Black may be a bit unconventional color for a maid-of-honour, but actually many guests complimented the stylish effect created by a bride in white, maid-of-honour in black, and the groom and best man in white ties.

<<Back to the project page