Walking dress for summer, 2021
While I started my journey into the Natural
Form fashion era with the plan to focus on the glamour stuff,
some realism inevitably sneaked in at some point. I think it
began by looking at some pretty model titled "a walking dress
for country"Ě, and I began to think that maybe a short, durable,
easily washable dress would be a good one to have in my closet.
At this time there were also plans for a Victorian / Edwardian
outdoor activities day, including things like picnics and a
croquet match if the pandemic would only loosen its grip by the
I decided that a durable but relatively lightweight cotton would
be the obvious fabric choice. Ikeaís Bergpalm duvet &
pillowcase set seemed ideal, though in the webstore picture the
red and white stripes seemed a bit garish to me, though they
would no doubt appeal to Victorian taste. But when the fabric
arrived the red was darker and a lot more muted than I had
thought, even a bit dull, and from any distance the stripes
blended into a faded light pink. It worked well for the dress in
general: Not too densely woven so it breathes in hot weather,
but yet had enough body not to look limp. It seems also to be
surprisingly resistant against wrinkling in use.
Trimming would be in the most
durable kind of lace, cotton eyelet, and fortunately I had lots
of it on stash. I had originally bought this pretty lace for
underwear, but had never yet used it after all as I thought that
it might be a bit wasted in petticoat hems. I did have some
doubts whether the combination of pink and white eyelet lace
would look way too girly for me, but in the end decided to go
with it anyway. Maybe one should not be too conscious of one's
age after all.
I looked at a lot of different fashion plates and museum
costumes for inspiration. I found several tennis dresses, though
mainly from later 1880s in a similar looking striped cotton in
light colors and trimmed with some durable lace. I thought
something from the first years of 1880s would be ideal, as they
usually had short hems. Then there was this
extant printed cotton dress in Manchester City Galleries
from the early 1880s that I really liked and had even a fabric
for in the stash, and finally I decided that with some minor
changes I could use it as a base for this project and then redo
it later in the flower print.
I set out to make a mock up of the polonaise based on my
previous patterns. I added some extra allowance on the bodice as
I thought that this dress should have
a relaxed width with loosely laced corset beneath. I made small
horizontal darts at the waistline to get a nice fit.
I could not really make out from the
pictures quite what was going on at the back hem of the
Manchester Galleries polonaise, but thought the back puff looked
so ample that it must have pleats in all three back seams. When
I tried that out I just couldn't make it look right, so I went
back to my trusted method of adding a deep pleat in the back
seam, pleating the second side pieces in the back width and
looping up the back width with a button and tape - arrangement.
I tried on different options for the draping with tape and
safety pins until I was happy with it, and then marked the
places for buttons and buttonholes on the pattern. One more
thing about the back pleat: it goes all the way to the
waistline, because I had already decided to make the bodice
without the supporting interlining that the pleats are usually
sewn into. I thought it would be the best way to keep it in
shape and support it. I also cut the back piece with a seam at
the waistline so I could easily sew the pleat into it. The seam
is neatly disguised under the belt I had planned.
I have always had problems with the
shoulder seam, and yet again I had to adjust them. On the fronts
I loosely followed the Manchester City Galleries dress and
drafted four 8mm tucks on both sides of the center front
buttoning. In the original dress they turn towards the center
front, but I felt it would in many ways be more practical to
turn them outwards, so I did just that. A bit below the waist
the pleats open to give a tiny bit of extra width to the hem.
They also came in handy with the eternal problem of the bust
dart I never seem to get totally rid off - usually I try to turn
it towards the center front as a hidden dart in the lining
combined with the extra length in the top fabric smoothed on top
of it, but it only works in some materials. Now I just turned
the bust dart to follow the edge of the pleating to the neckline
and hid it under the pleats. I have no idea whether this would
have been done in the period but it worked beautifully for me. I
also left the waist darts to open as pleats.
I originally tried to open the side seam to
the hem as a wide pleat as well but I never got it to look nice,
so I gave up on it and made it as a normal seam in the end. The
sleeve came from another pattern with a basic long sleeve, I
just added a bit of extra width and drafted the armhole a bit
larger for more free arm movement. I added simple cuffs based on
period examples. The wide falling collar with pointed back
follows early 1880s fashion illustrations as well. With these
details the dress began to look a bit different from my original
inspiration, the printed dress, but I felt that it worked.
The skirt pattern came quite simply from the early 1880s short
skirt pattern I had made for my white
and navy walking dress, I only shortened it a bit more.
As for the construction, I decided that the dress should be as
light as possible, so I would leave the bodice unlined. It would
work better with a bodice with some extra allowance anyway. This
would also make putting the dress together a lot more
And this time I was going to do things as straightforward as
possible indeed: My plan was to machine sew the whole bloody
thing. With so much else going on I thought this could well be
the sort of quick and dirty sewing job we all need sometimes in
the middle of more challenging and long term projects. Well, at
least I do, but they usually tend to be modern clothing.
The skirt follows the aforementioned walking dress skirt:
buttoned waist opening placket, seams joined with machine stitch
and allowances finished with overlock. The hem got a white
cotton lining under the ruffles, supporting the hem where they
are sewn on. The hem is turned up with a cotton band.
For gathering the ruffled I used another dirty trick originally
introduced to me by Noora (@noranoreen003) from The Shadow on my
Hand: I sewed a zig zag over a crochet cotton thread, which
could then be pulled to the desired length, giving a neat and
even gathering. Then I stitched it on the hem. The lower ruffle
edge is finished with bias tape, while the top one has a heading
of 3cm. The unorthodox gathering method that I have previously
used on petticoats etc actually doesnít look all that bad from
The polonaise is also put together
with rather modern methods of machining the seams and finishing
them with overlock. Technically this is not crucially different
from period construction, however, they would have just used
whip stitches instead of overlock for the seam allowances. I
also unashamedly used modern iron-on interfacing for the front
edges, collar, waistband and buttoning placket. Letís just call
it permanent starch, shall we?
I had to try it on a few times and adjust the fit slightly as I
went along, so the seam allowances are not always of equal width
and there are definite signs of unpicking stitches and sewing
them again. Nevertheless, the sewing went quite smoothly - it
was an easy material to work with, and once I had gotten past
the front pleats that needed more careful attention and stripe
matching everything went quite fast. Pleating the cotton lace
was a bit messy around the corners, though.
I finished the lace edging with bias tape. It actually looked so
nice that I could as well have put it on the right side, but
then that would have needed a bit more work. The cuffs were
lined with white cotton and sewed on the sleeve ends so that the
allowances were hidden under the cuff, which is really handy and
actually a period method.
The collar is lined with the same cotton as the cuffs. I sewed
it to the neckline and covered the seam allowances with the ever
so convenient bias tape. I also added a narrower pleated lace in
the seam. I guess the neck frill should be either part of the
corset cover or removable for washing, but as the whole dress is
washable I considered this little cheat very practical.
The polonaise skirt got the usual arrangement of buttons and one
buttonhole in the back width and corresponding tape attached to
the waistline furnished with buttonholes. I also added a
waistband at the back seam so that the skirts would not drag it
down, and also to support the tape that looped up the skirts.
I also was surprisingly sane enough to make the buttonholes with
a machine for once - it goes against the grain for me, but on a
striped material with small buttons they are not so obvious
after all. I actually like making buttonholes, but was not
prepared to give this outfit so much of my time. So, in the end
the only things I sewed by hand for this one were the buttons
and the skirt waistband hooks.
Then there was the always important accessorizing. Many fashion
illustrations showed jaunty belts with this type of dress, and I
thought this would add some character and an eyecatcher for a
light toned and sweetly girlish dress. I was lucky enough to
find a small piece of red cotton satin that matched the stripe
rather well, and a thrifted buckle for a 4cm wide belt. As the
buckle is only decorative the belt actually closes with hooks
and eyes hidden underneath the end.
I also wanted a new hat. I decided to try to salvage an old hat
base that hadn't turned out very well and had thus been
abandoned. Maybe if I just put on enough decoration it might do.
My idea was to
make something rather simple with a carefree look, and while I
began with a slightly different plan (more on that in another
post) this is how it turned out. The sheer linen and fake
flowers came from the stash - that rose was an especially
lucky find as it matched the belt.
The final touch for the outfit came with hosiery in the accent
color. I had seen several early 1880s paintings with women in
shorts skirts flashing ankles clad in bold red socks, so those
could be even appropriate detail. I had old 60 denier pantyhose
in the same dark red, and those would work perfectly with some
adjustment. Pantyhose just does not work with a corset and
drawers or combinations, but some of the odd things that I store
ďfor possible future useĒ came in handy for once.
This time it was old stay up hosiery
with torn feet but still perfectly working elastic lace with
silicone strips. I cut the top away from the red pantyhose and
sewed the lace tops on the legs with 3-stitch zig zag.
Period correct? Hell, no! But a nice no cost addition to my
outfit none the less.
The finished dress turned out quite cute. Itís very comfortable
and carefree to wear, just perfect for pique niques, strolls in
the country or beach, or light sports like croquet. While I did
have to buy the fabric, I had the satisfaction of turning some
other odd things lying around in my stash to good use. I also
got a very cute modern romper out of the remains of the fabric.
Iím very glad I got distracted to make it, even though it
postponed my other scheduled sewing a bit!