HSF Challenge #20: Outerwear, 1880s Dolman Part One

FINALLY!  After following the Historical Sew Fortnightly for 3/4 of a year I get to properly participate!  Until now, the challenges have run mostly counter to my historical sewing schedule.  It’s only taken 9 months for one to line up and this is it.  Three years ago I made this ensemble:

A few months ago I decided I’d like to make a piece of outerwear to go with it since I think the colouring (though very autumnal) can carry me through much of the winter – or I’m just happily deluding myself that it can.

I decided I wanted to make a dolman as I’ve been fascinated with them for some time.  No, I didn’t want to just make a sleeve ;oP  Historically, a dolman is a type of wrap or mantle that was particularly popular through the bustle periods.  In the 1870s they were pretty voluminous, in the 1880s they were a little more tailored and shorter.  Here are some extant 1880s examples:


Mantle 1885-90 Met Museum


Mantle 1885-90, Met Museum


Mantle c. 1885, Met Museum


Dolman 1885-90, Met Museum


Dolman 1885-90, Met Museum


Dolman 1889, Met Museum

Afternoon jacket

Emile Pingat, Afternoon Jacket 1885-90, Met Museum

Cape i hvid silke c. 1880's cape made of silk

1880s Dolman, National Museum Denmark (I could not get the direct museum link no matter how hard I tried, if anyone has it please post in the comments)

Mmmmm….scrummy Dolmans….

Sometimes I start the process of a new garment/project with a specific pattern I’m keen to use and look for fabric to suit it.  A lot of times, however, I start with an idea then look through my stash for the right fabric then look for a pattern to work or make up my own.  The latter is more how it went in this case.  So after deciding I wanted to make a dolman I went shopping in my stash (my usual method of fabric sourcing).  I first came upon 2 pieces of orange cotton velvet that seemed possible candidates.  One is quite a bright burnt orange and the other more of a rust.  I preferred the rust but there was just not enough of it, no way no how no matter how cleverly I might try to cut it (and I can be a pretty clever cutter).  I felt the other piece was just too bright to go with my ensemble.  Boo-urns.  Then, towards the bottom of the lower cotton shelf I came across this:

How perfect!?  The exact right colours and a pretty period correct style of print.  And while the pile is pretty low it is super soft, almost as soft as the silk pile velvets of the time (though of course not quite).  I have felt these in-person, I even have a small piece of my own – they are TO DIE FOR….SERIOUSLY.  Anyway, this was another thrift store find back in Edmonton, it was in 2 pieces of about 1.5m & just under 2m so plenty to make a dolman with, hooray!  Next I looked around for lining and remembered I had this coral/burnt orange silk charmeuse that friends recently brought me back from a trip to China (I somehow feel better about Chinese-made textiles if they were actually bought in China and not imported, totally irrational, but well).  There was 6m of it so I felt ok using a couple for this and loved the idea of such a rich interior.

Next I set about looking for a pattern.  I decided I wanted to try an actual pattern rather than make my because I just didn’t know how these things were put together – one of the reasons dolmans so intrigued me.  I first came across the Truly Victorian Talma Wrap:

Image result for Talma Wrap

Talma Wrap

I was concerned it was a little too 1870s but nearly ordered it thinking I could cut it down a bit and make it just a bit more fitted.  Then I found this one put out by Ageless Patterns on the Patterns of Time website (which is super annoying to navigate I have to say, but the prices and shipping to Canada are pretty good):

1888 Brown Plush Wrap

This seemed like just the silhouette I was looking for.  It would have been nice to have a picture of the front since but I willing to go for it anyway.  I was aware that Ageless Patterns are direct copies of historical patterns and come only with the directions the originals did.  As an experienced sewer of both modern and historical clothing I was pretty confident I could figure this out and was actually looking forward to the challenge!  So when I received the pattern I wasn’t bothered by the scant description and instructions.  What DID bother me, however, was the poor job of grading.  A lot of it looks to have been done free-hand (as in no ruler) and the lines are wobbly, wonky and inconsistent.  Why a person would ever bother to just draw lines like this and not use a ruler (although clearly use one in other areas) is beyond me, it seems like it would just be making it harder on yourself.  There was also no size chart with the pattern meaning I had no idea what the size numbers meant.  My best guess was that they were based on bust sizes since they ran 32-44.  Since I’m no more than 34″ when corseted I cut out the muslin (damn straight I was making a muslin for this!) in the size 34.  I don’t have photos of it, but is was noticeably too tight.  I did decide to skip a 2nd muslin (laziness kicking in here) and chose instead to cut my fabric out at 2 sizes up – at the seams anyway, I didn’t want to add anything to the length.  I took out about 1 1/2″ in the length through the body and sleeves as well to deal with my short-waistedness.

I decided to underline the entire dolman since my handling of 19th century over garments has shown them to have quite a lot of body.  I used a heavy/crisp non-fusible woven interfacing on the body of the dolman:

and some white poly/cotton broadcloth on the sleeve pieces because a) I thought maybe they should be a little softer and b) I ran out of the interfacing (a is my justification because of b).

As for the actual construction…well this was a puzzle!

The main body of the dolman isn’t difficult to figure out, pretty straightforward.  It’s the sleeves, they’re sewn into both the armhole and the side back seam.  It took me some time to figure out and I’m afraid it’s going to be difficult to explain.  I’m going to try drawing a diagram for the next post about this along with photos of the finished dolman to (hopefully) help out.  It was very interesting when I realized how it worked, I’d never done anything quite like it before.  It’s not some terribly profound bit of construction, just….a little different.

Well, and on that note – I think I’ll end for now.  This post has taken me something like a week to put together already and seems quite long enough for one post.  However, the dolman is finished, I’ve taken pictures of it (though not of it in-action actually on me yet) and will hopefully get a concluding post up soon!

5 thoughts on “HSF Challenge #20: Outerwear, 1880s Dolman Part One

  1. I adore dolmans. BTW, my book Bustle Fashions 1885-1887 contains several patterns for dolmans and long coats with the same type of sleeve. The apportioning scales included in the book enable you to easily enlarge the patterns to your own size.


  2. Oh, nifty! One of the (various) Victorian sewing books I’ve been reading online lately (why yes, I am a geek, why do you ask?) was showing a draft for a dolman and I admit to being completely perplexed by what they were talking about. Although it makes perfect sense now. I still think I’d be a bit flummoxed by the sleeve. Pity about the pattern-grading, though. 😛


    • Oh, it’s all geek pride here! lol I’m hoping to write the follow-up post to this soon and include a diagram of how the sleeve works, that may be best way to explain it.


  3. Pingback: The 1888 Dolman Jacket – Digital Grimoire

  4. Pingback: 1885 Mantle (HSM #5) & Accessories – The Quintessential Clothes Pen

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