I’ve decided to give each gown I create, a name, and this first shall be called Passage to India. All photos have been scaled down but you can click on them to view them full-screen.
The first thing I needed was a pattern. Unlike some seamstresses I am not able to sew without one. I can adapt and change the pattern to a certain extent, but my skill does not extend to the actual creation of one. I found what I was looking for with the Simplicity pattern # 4092. This dress pattern has all the basic details that I wanted in my gown and was just right for my needs. It has the fitted boned and peaked bodice, the flounced sleeves, overskirt and contrasted petticoat. It is actually a reproduction pattern of the Elizabeth Swan gown for the movie “The Pirates of the Caribbean”, and with just a few adjustments I have made it my own. The pattern did not call for lining to the extent that I like, so I have added a nice muslin lining to it. This makes the dress look much more authentic, professional and more comfortable to wear as well, plus I really hate all that unfinished business. My grandmother used to say, “the inside must look as good as the outside” and over the years I have taken her words seriously and applied them to many aspects of my life, other than sewing.
As I added a significant amount of lace to the bottom of the gown, and it will be worn outdoors, I decided to straighten the hemline a little and not have a train. This will save it from much damage as I stroll the piers of Halifax (and other ports), and hopefully stop me from getting too tangled up in my skirts. Perhaps it will also, heaven forbid, prevent me from taking a tumble overboard. The pattern also calls for a zipper in the back which I have replaced with lacing since a zipper is not authentic for this period. I also added a totally removable lace collar, so the dress can be worn with or without it. As an after thought, I’m considering making a removable train, so that the dress can be worn at more formal occasions, it certainly is lovely enough for that. A lot of the finishing work, such as the lining, is hand stitched. I have tried, as with David’s uniform, to use hand stitching as much as possible where sewing is visible. I feel this is more to the period and often creates a nicer product as well.
I found an awesome online store down in Texas that sells the most wonderful drapery fabric remnants, including many beautiful Cotton Chintz and Cotton Sateena samples. These remnants are available in mostly 6 – 12 metre pieces, so they are just perfect for what I’m doing. I estimated that each gown would require a minimum of at least 12 metres. The price of this fabric is very reasonable as well, even with the cost of shipping. The quality and beauty is not something I will find here and I’m happy to have come across it. I did find the most incredible venetian style lace locally though, really lovely stuff, to trim up the dress. I do keep a box or two of sewing goodies on hand, so with that, I had all I needed to complete the Passage to India.
Now for a little background information about my choice of fabric.
Chintz is a very historically accurate fabric. It is a cotton fabric that has been glazed and printed with flowers or other designs. There are a number of glazes that are used to give it it’s polished and shiny appearance. Wax and starch glazes will wash out but resin glaze is more resistant and will take a dry-cleaning. The term Chintz comes from the Indian word chint which actually means “broad gaudily printed fabric”. It is most often covered in bright large flowers and birds but is also available in plain colours.
Chintz was originally produced in India and was hand stained and painted. It arrived in Europe by the 1600s on board the European ships who brought it back with them from their travels to the east. It became very popular, particularly in England and Holland. As it was very expensive it was only affordable to the wealthy and was most often used by the ladies to create gowns, bed coverings and draperies.
All in all, I’m very happy with the results! The dress is fantastic! The colours beautiful, and the fabrics very authentic. Of course cotton chintz of the day would have been hand dyed and hand painted, but this is the best I can do to substitute for the real thing. Can you just imagine the intense labour the creation of this cloth would have entailed?