Red and Black Victorian Walking Gown – Ensemble


I made this striking gown to sell in my Etsy shop, but as soon as my daughter Shara saw it,  it became hers. I would say it has “attitude”.  She looked so stunning in it that I had to give it to her, and in retrospect, perhaps I made it for her without realizing that I was doing so!  Shara and her husband like to do a little Steam Punk once in a while and this gown lends itself  to that, as well as to a strictly Victorian look. Shara therefore considers it a pretty versatile addition to have in her historical wardrobe.SLR_2_5600-2 It did look wonderfully festive when it was worn to the Victorian Christmas at the O’Dell House Museum.

For accessories, I bought a plain black, buckled, ladies felted top hat to go with it. I decorated it with red lace, black french netting, a few cocky feathers, a black net train and a big red rose. It also has a black parasol and matching reticule. Shara also wears netted black crocheted gloves, and a black beaded choker. Black brocade Victorian style booties complete this ensemble.

IMG_0014-002This Victorian walking gown consists of a polonaise and a walking skirt. I find it has a French feeling to it and  I also like it as a riding habit. The skirt, which is made from a black embroidered taffeta, has one large ruffle and is trimmed in black and red venise laces and satin ribbon. It is slightly trained at the back.

SLR_2_5437-002The polonaise, is made in a rich blood red and black shot striped taffeta and is fully lined and boned. It incorporates both the bodice and the over-skirt and has a nice large bustle, as well as a pleated basque at the back.  It is trimmed with matching black venise lace, tulle lace at the neckline and sleeves, and  ruched black satin ribbon. I had about a half yard of a very long, red, 8 inch venise lace, which matched the red of the taffeta exactly, so I added that to the front of the polonaise as well. I find it really stands out against the black of the skirt. This bodice closes at the front with black satin fabric self made buttons.

I’m planning to make a variation of this ensemble again as it is so striking. I have more of the striped taffeta, not only in the red but in a blue as well.

Don’t forget to click on the pictures to get the full size and effect!SLR_4_2486-002


A Victorian Ball Gown

SLR_3_7331-002I am very fortunate to have two very beautiful young women to model the historical gowns I make! The next two posts concerning gowns, will feature two crew members, my daughter Shara, and my feels like a daughter, friend Katherine, wearing Victorian ensembles.

2012_04_051-007This Victorian Gown was made for a client in Japan who is planning to wear it as her wedding gown. Once again our lovely Katherine is modeling this.

This is a circa 1875 – 1878 Ball gown which sports a full bustled over skirt, a double tiered ruffled underskirt, and an off the shoulder basque back style bodice with pouf sleeves. The patterns that were used came from Truly Victorian. They are TV324, which is the Long Draped Overskirt, and TV416 which is the Ball Gown Basque Bodice. The underskirt is of my own design.

2012_04_051-005I used a Seafoam green faux silk which is embroidered with ivory, gold, tan and turquoise florals and leaves, for both the overskirt, and the main part of the bodice. The pouf sleeves and the underskirt are made of a 100% pure golden dupioni silk. The bodice is fully lined and boned for added shape and structure, and buttons at the front with self covered golden dupioni fabric buttons. This bodice also has a lovely pleated basque back.The draped overskirt is fully lined and was lengthened at the back by several feet to incorporate a long and elegant train for the evening.2012_04_051-004

To trim this gown, I used golden pearl teardrop beading around the sleeves, around the bottom and extending around the basque back of the bodice. I also used this beading on the draped front of the overskirt. I used golden swagged and scalloped rayon venise laces, which were hand-dyed using potassium permanganate. This method of dyeing gives lace a rich golden colour, and perfectly matches the silk dupioni. The result lends a very antique quality to the gown.SLR_3_8484-003

Katherine is also carrying an authentic Victorian lace fan made of bone and wearing a pair of beige, non-shiny, elbow length gloves. She is wearing a single strand of golden pearls around her neck and wrist, and golden crystal drop earrings. Simple but very effective accessories.

Something I really enjoy doing is creating matching foot wear for these gowns. For the Victorian gowns I purchase vintage lace booties, which I then dye and decorate with left over scraps of the lace and trimmings used in the creation of the gown. For this dress, I tea dyed a pair of lace boots and decorated them with the left over golden lace. I also re-laced them with a matching satin ribbon. The effect is very lovely when worn with the dress.

Don’t forget to click on the pictures to see the full size and effect!SLR_3_8470-002

A Victorian Christmas at the O’Dell House Museum

SLR_2_5614-003The O’Dell House Museum is situated at 136 – George Street, in the beautiful and historic town of Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia. This very interesting Victorian house Museum, circa 1869, is now owned and operated by the Annapolis Heritage Society. Graced with beautiful period furnishings, art, photographs, and history, as well as a Genealogy Centre and Archives, this is a pretty special place.4460170492_4bb3e7fd52_z-001

Each year, “A Victorian Christmas” is hosted here, an event that is held over a period of two weekends in late November and/or early December. Two Christmases ago, Man The Capstan decided to attend. (yes I know this blog was a long time in coming, but better late then never), and did we ever enjoy it! For this outing, we donned…what else…but our Victorian bustle gowns! Our Royal Navy Captain and Marine Major, altered slightly, the way they wore their uniforms. The beauty of them is that they can be worn in several differing ways, which really helps when using them for different time periods.

SLR_2_5637-001The ambience, warmth, and beautiful period Christmas decor of the O’ Dell house, make this event well worth attending. The heritage society does a wonderful job of it, spending days collecting Christmas greenery from the surrounding woods, and then countless hours more in decorating the house with these natural treasures.

photo_1272856_resize-001Boughs, wreaths and bouquets of evergreen, holly, boxwood, moss and pine cones fill the house, adorning each doorway, staircase and mantle. Delightful touches such fruit pyramids on the dining table and sideboard, and dried floral bouquets brighten each corner of the house. An old fashioned Christmas tree with homemade and antique ornaments graces the lovely parlour. The golden flicker of candlelight, the fragrance of evergreen, and scents of baking and apple cider assail your senses as you enter. There is much laughter and conversation, and singing of the  traditional carols. You really feel as though you have stepped back in time! What a treat! The crew of Man The Capstan truly appreciated the efforts made and were definitely in our element.SLR_2_5624-001

Once a thriving Tavern and Inn, the O’Dell House was owned and built by Corey O’Dell in the 1860s. Corey who was born in St. John, New Brunswick on June 27, 1827, arrived in Nova Scotia in about 1849. He was a Pony Express Driver for the Kentville-Victoria Beach part of the Halifax-Victoria Beach run. This service was short lived and he returned to New Brunswick the following year.

He came back to Nova Scotia in the late 1850s with his wife and family to live in Annapolis Royal. There he purchased the property where the O’Dell house now stands. The house has fourteen rooms, including the tavern, which later became a grocery store, six bedrooms, dining room, front parlour and kitchen. It is situated near the waterfront, a short distance from the wharves in an ideal location for trade. Corey died March 14, 1887, a wealthy man.

SLR_2_5650-001The O’Dell House Museum and the Genealogy Centre are open year round.

The open hours for the O’Dell House Museum and the Genealogy Centre are:

Summer (from late May to early September):
Every day – 9 am to 5 pm
Monday to Saturday – 1 pm to 4 pm
(weather permitting; a call ahead is advised). Closed Sundays.

Admission for the O’Dell House Museum and the Genealogy Centre is by donation; the suggested amount is $3.00.

The Bustle Dress at Sherbrooke Village

During the late 1860s, the hoop skirt  gave way to the bustle. Huge skirts advanced into a more slim line with the fabric concentrated and pulled to the back of the dress. The first of these new fashions still had some fullness at the front but the most of it was now centered and pouffed at the back. The 1870s were a transitional period for women and their fashions. Perhaps because of these changes, the era was full of creativity and intriguing ideas; the bustle came back into fashion, albeit much different than it’s predecessor. Trains reappeared and fabric was used in huge quantities, trims too were used to the extreme; a woman could never add too much trim to her gown.

Much of the overindulgence in ladies’ fashions was due to that new fangled invention and the wide spread use of the contraption known as the sewing machine. All those trims, tucks, and pleats that once had to be sewn by hand could now be done by machine. Not too many of us have a very good idea of how slow hand sewing was/is – can you imagine sewing the long and endless seams of the skirts and gowns of that time? We would also likely chuckle at the slowness of middle nineteenth century sewing machines compared with what is available to a seamstress today. I own such a peddle machine, (although I don’t sew on it) it is powered by ones feet, no motors, electricity or computers. I learned to sew on just such a one when I was in my early teens and my mother still has it at home. The early sewing machines sewed over one thousand stitches per minute, and this was at least sixty times faster than hand sewing. The result of this was that what once was very expensive to produce was now much more affordable. What previously only the wealthy could wear, now the middle class could create themselves.

In addition to the laces and trims that were made at home or in a dressmaker’s shop, many trims could be purchased and were produced en mass. Everything from pleated yardage, to flounces, to tucked materials, to bindings and elaborate cut-work could be bought at the general store. Women rushed to take advantage of these advances and even the simplest house dresses were trimmed, frilled and required large amounts of fabric. It must have been so exciting for them!

I have always loved the bustle gown. The distinguished lady with her ruffled or pleated, laced and bustled skirts, the feathered hats tilted smartly to the front or the side of the head, the beautiful laces and trims and the rows of buttons embellishing the bodices, which in contrast to the skirts were fitted snugly. They made a woman look beautiful, feminine and curvaceous. Padding was used in the bodices at the bust and under the arms area giving a woman a soft rounded look; and the seams for the sleeves were set in just slightly off the shoulder.

For the first bustle gown I decided to sew, I secured a Truly Victorian pattern for the polonaise. A piece that became very popular in about 1873 and was styled in many different ways. It was actually a combination bodice and over-skirt, saving the woman of wearing these pieces separately. The fitting process for these patterns is done a little differently then the usual way; (Victorian tailoring methods are used), but once you get the hang of it, it’s not really that hard and it does give one a very good fit. The skirt I designed and drafted myself using fashion plates of the period for my inspiration. I left it untrained as I wanted a walking skirt.

The entire ensemble was sewn using a beautiful green shot taffeta. I trimmed the polonaise with various venise laces – a beautiful four inch floral for around the sleeves and the bottom front, and I edged the entire front with a lovely one inch swagged lace which I also added to the basque back. I found the prettiest gold and black store bought daisy buttons for closures and also pleated black satin ribbon which I added to the bustle at the bottom edge at the back of the polonaise. The skirt was over-layered with a black floral lace to just below where the polonaise ended in the front, and I pleated and added about a 12 inch length of taffeta around the bottom of the skirt; which I trimmed with thick black braided trim. I always add my trims by hand as I find that a sewing machine is just to rough on these beautiful additions, plus I find it a pleasant task to sit in the evening and sew. It also gives my hands something to do as I find it difficult to sit and do nothing.

For matching accessories I bought a smart, green, plain wool hat and trimmed it with gathered and somewhat pleated taffeta to the brim, black embroidered lace over the crown, and satin ribbon left both plain and ruched around the crown. The outside of the brim was also decorated with black braid. I finished by making a matching reticule with a bit of the left over taffeta, braid and beaded trim. Such things as matching hats and reticules are a great way of using up leftover trims and fabrics.

When we went to Sherbrooke Village I also carried a black parasol, wore black elbow length non-shiny gloves and black shoes. Underneath the dress I wore a small bustle, bloomers and cabled stockings. Because it was a 3.5 hour drive to Sherbrooke and I did not have help to lace it up, I did not wear a corset, although I do own one and the dress does have an even better shape when it is worn with it.

I am very happy with this gown! I feel good in it and it’s really pretty comfortable to wear.