1875 Autumn Plaid Dress – Construction

If you’re just joining, this is my follow-up post to last week’s that was full of pretty photoshoot pictures of my recent 1875 bustle gown, made for my Big Ass Birthday Bash. This post focuses on construction and the insides of the ensemble. And thank you to everyone who responded to the last post with questions about the making of this outfit, I’ll do my best in answering them!

The foundations for this dress are my trusty pink Victorian corset along with the Laughing Moon bustle/crinoline I made earlier in the summer…..

along with the Travelling Bustle I also made in the summer. Additionally, for the photoshoot I wore my Natural Form bustle pad underneath the bustle petticoat to add just a touch more volume to my backside. I would have done for the party, too, except that it was rather warm that day and wanted to try and stay as comfortable as possible.

Over these I wore a trained petticoat that I made using the skirt pattern from the 1870-71 dress in Patterns of Fashion. This provides the perfect under layer for the ensemble’s base skirt……

because it was cut from the exact same pattern!

I underlined the silk with cotton organdy that I tea stained so it wouldn’t be such a bright optic white.

I bound the seam allowances with Snug Hug rayon seam binding and finished the hem with a deep-ish facing using strips cut on the garment bias (which is anywhere between straight grain and true bias – I wanted to use up some of the awkwardly sized slivers leftover from cutting out the skirt).

I also cut the silk for the skirt back shorter than the organdy underlining so that only one layer would go into the waistband, thus reducing bulk. I’ve periodically seen this done on extant skirts from the period. The waistband is just a piece of cotton left over from another project (I think a Scandi-style cloth advent calendar, actually! Lol).

Unfortunately, I don’t have any process photos for the ruffles, but they were pretty straightforward, if incredibly annoying, tedious and time-consuming.

They were cut on the bias to approximately 2x fullness.

I roughly calculated how many strips of full bias of the fabric (so, selvedge to selvedge) for each ruffle and sewed them together. They are all double-folded and machine hemmed along the bottom edges but only the top ruffle was treated the same for the upper edge.

I tried pinking the upper edge of one ruffle but the realized that because they’re cut on the bias this was both unnecessary and counter-productive since pinking the bias actually puts the cuts on the straight and cross grain, causing more fraying. Such a rookie mistake!

So I left the other two ruffles with the bias cut upper edge

The most time-consuming part was applying them to the skirt but I’d probably do it the same way again if I were to put myself through this again (who’m I kidding? It’s probably gonna happen again). I divided the hem circumference into eighths and marked the points with pins – I did this for each row of ruffle. I divided each ruffle strip the same, lined up the points and pinned the ungathered strip to the skirt. I then gathered each section by hand and pinned it down to the skirt as I went. In this way I could pretty easily ensure that the fullness was evenly distributed around the whole skirt. I then machine stitched it along the gathering/basting line.

Except for the top ruffle, which I hand stitched down to the skirt. I wanted to avoid an obvious line of machine stitching on the top layer.

The underside of the skirt with the ruffles sewn on – yes there are different colours of bobbin thread here, I like to use up anything I have that will at all work before winding new bobbins.

For the apron/overskirt I started with the apron part of the Truly Victorian Wash Overskirt.

I rounded out the front point, shortened it some (but I fear perhaps too much), extended it to wrap all the way around to the back and re-arranged the pleats somewhat. It’s probably a toss-up whether it would have taken any more time to have just draped and drafted this from scratch! Lol.

Before finishing the centre back edges with a facing I sewed a cotton twill tape stay to really secure and stabilize the pleats. In the photo below the right-hand edge of the tape is hand stitched to the pleats and the left hand edge is machine sewn to the facing, which you can see peeking out at the bottom. Once turned to the inside, the facing covers the stay tape.

The finished interior of the back. I added twill tape ties to the inside for fastening as I thought these would be more secure than hooks and eyes, there’s enough tension at the bottom to keep that hook and together on its own.

The #buttbow is made from 2 layers of bias cut plaid stripe strips with one layer of rust silk taffeta that was a drapery store sample I got at a fabric yard sale years ago. There was just enough of it for this and little bits I added to the bodice. the pompom trim was added after the party because it didn’t arrive in time for it. It’s just basted to the underside of the hem facing and the #buttbow tails.

The #buttbow is primarily secured to the centre back opening of the overskirt but I did also tack the undermost layer part way down.

The body of the bodice is rust cotton velvet that I also underlined with the tea-dyed organdy.

Here also you can see part of my “playing around” process. I was debating using some rust coloured velvet ribbon as trim at this point. I ultimately decided against it (it is a little more orange-y than the bodice velvet). What do you think? Should I add it on?

The sleeves are two piece and cut on the bias – which I had to do over at least once for at least on of the pieces because I wanted them to mirror each other and I kept cutting it wrong! It’s really lucky I had so much of this plaid silk at the start!

For the bodice pattern I actually used the Truly Victorian Teagown pattern that I had already traced a hip-length version of for my plaid silk polonaise I made for Costume College. I just modified it a little more for this bodice and will probably use that tracing for any other 1870s day dress bodices I want to do! Hooray for laziness!

The bodice is flat-lined and the raw edges are hand-overcast. That was certainly time consuming but the thought of trying to sewing a binding around those velvet edges (a super fiddly process at the best of times) was really unappealing and I feared zigzag stitching would just shred the velvet pile along the edges and make a huge mess. So, hand overcasting it was. Thank goodness for Netflix.

I used a narrow strip of the rust silk taffeta drapery sample piece as a facing on the buttonhole side to minimize bulk.

I used a length of rust coloured petersham ribbon in my stash to face the button side to provide sturdy support for the buttons – of course, the button placement ultimately was further in than the width of the ribbon, *le sigh*. I also had enough to use for the bodice hem facing.

The neck edge is faced with the plaid silk because I knew I was going to add a plaid silk pleated ruffle around the neckline.

On the inside of the neckline ruffle I hand tacked a length of antique/vintage cotton lace I’d gathered up. Oh, and the pleated neckline ruffle is just double folded and pressed along the edges, I didn’t both to stitch them – you see this sometimes on extant garments.

And I finished this trimming off with a self-fabric and ribbon bow! #bustbow?

For cleanliness, I bound the armhole edges with more of the snug hug seam binding. I did this by hand on each side so I could ensure that I caught all the layers.

The cuff and its trimming start with a plain base cuff of the rust cotton velvet. I then tacked a box-pleated strip of the rust silk taffeta to the upper edge of the cuff. Over this I added a bias strip of the plaid silk and it’s just folded and pressed under along the edges, it’s tacked down to the cuff inside the pleat. I made 2 more bows like the one at the neckline and placed them sideways on the cuff.

This cuff was directly inspired by one of the fashion plates I used for general inspiration and I now realize I should add pompom trim to the cuff too, if I have any left!

I added more of the gathered cotton lace to the interior edge of the sleeve, which is also faced with a band of the plaid silk.

In addition to a few questions specific to this dress that I hope I answered adequately in the body of this post I was also asked about my time-management and scheduling practices for large projects. I don’t schedule each and every step so I can’t provide a template and sewing processes are so personal that what works for one person could be the exact wrong approach for another. But here’s a general outline of how I go about this. Essentially, I break the project down into component parts and use a calendar to work backwards from my deadline (if there is one). I look at how many days/weeks/months I have and usually try to allot about a week for each component. So, with this project I would break it down into:

  • underskirt
  • overskirt/apron
  • bodice
  • hat

And I would estimate that it should take about 4 weeks to complete the ensemble. Ideally I would add some wiggle room to that but that almost never happens! Lol The reality is that I usually still end up doing some panic sewing at the last minute because even after sewing more or less obsessively for over twenty years I still constantly underestimate how long things take.

On the upside, because I’ve been sewing so much for so long I rarely need to use instructions so I can pretty much go from one step to the next seamlessly (haha, see what I did there). I also have the luxury of having a fair amount of sewing time at this point in my life. I don’t have kids and don’t currently work full-time (*currently* being the operative word, before you get too jealous of that, lol).

And finally, which perhaps I should have mentioned firstly, I try to plan out as much of the details and process before I start. I often end up changing my mind re trimmings, etc along the way but I try to go into each project with an idea of how complicated or not it’s going to be. I also use non-sewing time to mentally work through things when I can. For example, if I’m having a hard time getting to sleep at night I’ll mentally work through a sewing problem or sort out the order in which I want to do upcoming steps – I find this actually relaxes my mind and helps me drift off while also getting work done!

Do you ever mentally work through sewing problems during non-sewing time? I can’t be the only weirdo that way!

14 thoughts on “1875 Autumn Plaid Dress – Construction

  1. Definitely not the only “weirdo” – my partner and I do it too. Sometimes a problem just needs to sit and percolate a bit before the solution becomes clear 🙂

    Loved seeing the making-of this gorgeous gown (I think the skirt does need that ribbon on the top ruffle 😉 ). I haven’t made a victorian gown in a long time but I follow the same steps, just with much less trimming! I’m working on that part lol. Thank you for sharing 🙂


  2. Such a well-made ensemble! I love your attention to detail in the construction and trim. I too spend time visualizing construction so I can plan sequencing and tactics. Thanks for commenting on your time-management! I do pretty much the same, but lately it’s been by the seat of my pants – sew as much as I can everyday until the deadline. I usually have a version 1.0 which is wearable, v2.0 which has finishing details and some trim, and v3.0 satisfies my original vision. Ha! Looking forward to your next dress!


  3. Oh, I just love seeing all the details! Your bows are beautiful! Like straight off an original. And I love how you use up your bobbin thread. I must start doing that. I hate winding bobbins!



  4. Thanks so much for sharing your process! I always love posts like this, and I’m definitely impressed with your finishes, very neat! I get lazy sometimes, leave finishing seams to the last minute and then they don’t always get done… Also, I totally recognize the mentally sorting! I did a lot of sewing when I was between jobs just a while back, but I found I had to actually stop sometimes to reorganize everything in my mind. I’m so used to thinking through every step before I take it, that it’s difficult to do without that mental time, especially for projects where I’m working on new things!


  5. I have insomnia, and I find going over construction issues, step by step after I turn out the light, is very restful and order-inducing to my brain. The non-sewing time that I used the best that surprised me was the downtime at work. I’ve had at least three summers where I worked out something really complicated, standing at the shipping table and folding paper pieces into shapes and drawing. I couldn’t sew it so I had to work it out somehow. I never did sew a Six Napoleons dress for real, I was so happy I figured the layered pleats out I called it a ‘win’ and stopped there!


  6. Thank you for this wonderful post. I have no expectation (or truth be told inclination) to make such a garment. However I do get immense pleasure from reading your posts and looking at all the details of the ensemble. Sewing by proxy! 😄


  7. It’s always fascinating to see the detail of construction that you use to make these amazing outfits. And they always look fantastic too. I do enjoy reading about them – thanks.


  8. NOT a weirdo! Breastfeeding time and settling the little one down to be is a fantastic time to do the head work for a sewing project!! Beautiful dress & thank you for documenting and sharing!


  9. Pingback: 1875 Reception Dress: Skirt Construction – The Quintessential Clothes Pen

  10. Oh my goodness, four weeks in the making? I would think it would take at least four months! Everything about this post is fabulous and I appreciated your humble comments on tweaking ‘boo-boos’. The fabric is exquisite and I surely could see this garment being worn by the fine ladies of yore. Such an inspiration. Netflix? I’d be distracted by video, I prefer NPR and my local public radio or books on CD from the library for long sewing sessions.


  11. I just started making a similar dress, using Truly Victorian #466 Alexandra bodice, and #364 the Autumn overskirt. I had saved your blog post quite awhile ago for help if I needed it. And I did! I pleated the overskirt yesterday and put it on my dress form, and it wasn’t looking right. 😦 but then I saw it on your photo, and got excited because I was doing it right. It wasn’t pulled back far enough in the back. This is the first dress I’ve felt like making since the Covid pandemic so its going slowly but I’ve finally popped the bubble and am sewing a little bit again. I hope mine looks as pretty as yours.


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