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


Man the Capstan Debuts, October 31, 2008

In the Red Parlour at the Blomidon Inn

I thought it might be getting to be high time that we posted a word a two about our recent activities, including our debut outing on October 31st.  So here then is a little tidbit. It’s been a pretty quiet couple of weeks around here since Hallow’een night. Rather nice actually, no deadlines and just a bit of down time. Not having to work on the costumes every waking minute has allowed me to get caught up with some housework, and even spare a thought or two for Christmas, which is really just around the corner!

The Blomidon Inn at Night

We had all agreed that Hallow’een was a great opportunity to go out and try out our costumes, so with that in mind we rushed to complete them to a point that all five could reasonably be worn.  It was a bit of a challenge but all in all we did manage rather well.

David, Steve & Tim

Keeping in mind that it was the first time all five of us would be in costume and taking into consideration the expecting member of the group, we decided that a calm and low key outing would be most appropriate. Thus, it was decided that dinner out was exactly what was called for.  The Blomidon Inn turned out to be the perfect place for us on this night.  It was a great setting for our costumes and offered just the right ambiance.

Surprising to us were the very few diners who had ventured out for dinner that evening;  we and a few other patrons had the place pretty much to ourselves.  Even though it would’ve been nice to see a few more persons about, the quiet did afford us the opportunity to take some really great pictures.

Shara & Johanna

The Blomidon Inn offers fantastic dining and a really affordable meal called “The Captain’s Dinner” which consists of five courses of some really awesome dishes that differ on various evenings.  Our meal included a very spicy Lobster Bisque, a choice of the largest Digby Scallops we had ever seen and a very tasty Mediterranean Chicken dish, and for dessert I had the best Cheese Cake ever!  We took our time over dinner, toured a few of the rooms and lingered in the red parlour where a fire crackled happily in the old fireplace.

It’s a lovely place and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.  We returned home to change into our modern day pajamas and settle down in front of our own fire.

An English Rose

"An English Rose"

"An English Rose"

There’s been a real push here at Man the Capstan to complete the costumes that have been under construction for the last four to five months or so, and I, as the tailor, have been one busy hombre. The crew unanimously decided that they would like to debut their gear on Old Hallowed Eve, (what better time to dress up?!) and I had to agree that this was a great idea, even though it meant that I would have to man that serger non-stop!  There are a few things not quite done, due to the fact that we are still waiting for some supplies, but that notwithstanding,  I think we are ready to make an appearance as a group.

Beautiful lace and contrast

Beautiful lace and contrast

I’m at present finishing up the third of the uniforms and I’m also very happy to say that I’ve finally completed work on the second ladies gown which I’ve called “An English Rose”.  I’m going to let David, our Sailing Master, fill you in on the details of the second Naval Officer’s uniform.

This post will be used to talk about and to exhibit the new gown which was made for our lovely daughter Shara, who also happens to be our Quartermaster and Design expert.  It is a dress that is sure to compliment her fair colouring and peaches and cream complexion.



The styling of this gown is very similar to the “Passage to India”, but this is where the similarity ends.  The colours are dramatic, intense and very “Fall”, (which just happens to be both Shara’s and my favourite time of the year, ) and is in direct contrast to the more pastel and subtle shades of the former gown.  For the main fabric of the overdress I chose another floral printed cotton, however, this is not a chintz but a more open weave matte. The Petticoat is made of a silk like fabric which has a nice sheen and texture and the lace and trims are simple but beautiful and generously used.

Laced Ruffled and Separate Petticoat

Laced Ruffled Petticoat

View of Back

View of Back

Like the “Passage to India” it is fully lined and properly laced at it’s back closure.  For accessories, I was so lucky to procure a hat that matches it exactly, and a really awesome vintage black lace hand fan.  Shara will also be wearing the pocket, hoops and some simple flat footwear. For jewelery she can wear her three strand red coral necklace and bracelet or a black velvet choker would also work out rather nicely. It’s going to look great!

I really love this gown and I think Shara  is going to attract a lot of attention dressed in it.

Democracy 250, 18th Century Costume Ball

A Lovely Event

On October 2, 1758, the first Grand Assembly in this country met in a small wooden building in Halifax, Nova Scotia. This was to be the birth of parliamentary democracy in Canada. There were twenty-two men chosen to represent people from all over Nova Scotia. Although they were all white, protestant, male, and land owners, the democratic process nevertheless grew from that point on, with Nova Scotia leading the way. Read more here.

We had a marvelous time!

Nova Scotia is marking this very important historic date with a year long celebration of events called “Democracy 250”. You can view the schedule of events here. There are all kinds of things going on, one of which we have been privileged to attend.

On Thursday evening an 18th century costume ball was held at the World Trade and Convention centre in Halifax, in their grand ballroom. Although I don’t have the exact numbers I would say that almost 400 people attended the glittering $125.00 per person event. Well worth the money my husband and I agree. Most of the attendees threw themselves happily into the flavour of the evening, the majority arriving in a beautiful array of wonderful and authentic costuming and uniforms.

The Passage to India was well received

The hour long reception prior to dinner, gave all a chance to chat and admire the dress of their compatriots. The beverages flowed freely and the appetizers were delicious. These were served by the most conscientious of white gloved staff until the piper called us all to dinner. The decor was lovely, the tables elegant and dressed with pristine white table coverings and silver center pieces. The food, which consisted of a five  or six course meal, was very period and yummy and included a delicious harvest squash soup, roast pork, blueberry dessert and finished off with a glass of Port. Although I’ve not often sampled Port, my husband rather likes it, and it did seem a fitting way to end the meal.

"An Officer and a Gentleman"

The King ( George II at the time) was toasted liberally throughout dinner and the conversation was lively and vigorous. The music was provided by the Nova Scotia Symphony which performed in 18th century style. This added a terrific ambiance to the evening. A re-enactment group gave a lovely demonstration of 18th century dance, and the lesson after-wards was greeted with much enthusiasm by the guests, the dance floor being filled to capacity.

We stayed until the Symphony packed up and went home. Although the evening ended early, (it was a Thursday night), I can’t say when I’ve enjoyed myself more. Our compliments go to the organizers, whose skill and attention to detail really made this an awesome evening.

It was our first time out in our costumes and even though we felt we were quite prepared, there were some challenges to overcome. Some of these were getting a five hoop skirt into a modern day car, using an escalator or a ladies room in such a big dress, and keeping track of the large fore and aft hat. These were taken in good stride and indeed, added a sense of hilarity to the occasion. All in all, I would say we managed quite well and are ready to have another go at it anytime!

“To the King!”

Costume Updates

One of the purposes of Man The Capstan is to chronicle our journey as we get ready to go to the Tall Ships Festival in Halifax in July of 2009. I know this seems like an awfully long time in advance, so why must we work so far ahead you may well ask? Well…we have a plan, a plan to dress in complete period costuming when we attend, and of course such preparations take time.

1790's Reproduction Day Gown

Cotton Chintz Gown

These costumes will include two full dress Royal Navy Officer’s Uniforms and one full dress Royal Marine Officer’s Uniform. It will be the 250th year anniversary of the opening of the Royal Navy dockyard in Halifax as well which coincides with the Tall Ships, so these uniforms should be quite appropriate for this.

There will also be two Ladies gowns with accessories and lastly a costume for an infant. The time frame we are aiming for will include a period from approximately 1790 to about 1815. Neither Shara nor myself really wanted a regency period style gown, we went instead to a time just a few years before the first regency style gowns appeared in about 1796. I’m not sure at what time these diaphanous gowns came to be worn in the colonies, as style from Europe didn’t always make it across the sea for several years after their original emergence on the continent. Even today it can still sometimes take a number of years for fashion trends in Europe to become popular in North America, so there is no reason to believe that it was very much different back then.

At the moment there are three costumes in production. The first is the  Royal Navy Officer, Post Captain’s Dress Uniform, the second, the Cotton Chintz Ladies Day Gown, called “The Passage to India”, and the third a Royal Marine Officer, Major’s Dress Uniform.  These are in various stages of completion, as we are slowly acquiring the accoutrements with which to finish them. It is a time consuming, (since I am the only seamstress on site) and often expensive project, which sometimes proceeds at a snail’s pace.

R.N Post Captain

R.N Post Captain

From the very beginning we decided that authenticity was important to us, as was the quality, so therefore we have literally searched the world over for the materials and accessories required. Thanks to the Internet we have been able to order items from all over North  America, England, China and even Pakistan, from the West literally to the East. I think our mail delivery guy is really starting to wonder what we’re up to in this house at the end of the long, long, laneway!

Still to be started is another Royal Navy Officer, Post Captain’s Uniform with slight variances from the first, another Ladies Day Gown which shall be called “An English Rose”, and also period wear for an infant as we are soon expecting an addition to the family.

We have made reservations at a very old Inn near the waterfront, (see our links) a place where the Royal Navy officers, who were posted at the garrison, often danced the night away with the finest Ladies of Halifax. The old house was built in 1860 and was reputed to be one of the finest homes in Halifax at the time.

Royal Marine, Officer

Royal Marine, Officer

Today, (as for at least the past 125 years) it operates as a fine Inn. We have recently found that the wife of the original owner was a second or third cousin to one of my husband’s own ancestors, so that’s keeping it all in the family I would say, and makes the whole thing even more fun! The ambiance and setting of this place will be just perfect for our costumes! We are looking forward to staying there and perhaps rubbing elbows with a few past residents/guests…🙂

I’m just hoping that the weather won’t be too warm!  The breezes that  blow off the Atlantic ocean are generally very cooling though, so I imagine it won’t be too bad on the shore. The uphill hike from the pier on the waterfront to the Inn will be another matter altogether…

Please keep in mind that the photographs on this blog are of costumes and uniforms under construction.  There is still much to be done and they are a work in progress.

We welcome your comments and/or questions.

Passage to India

Passage to India

Passage to India

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.

Flounced Sleeves

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.

Lacing at the back closure

Lacing at the back closure

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.

Removal Lace Shawl Collar

Removable Lace Shawl Collar

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.

With the Hoopskirt

With the Hoopskirt

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.

"Tea Anyone?"

"Tea Anyone?"

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?

Fashion Woes!

Caricature poking fun at the new fashion of 1796

Caricature poking fun at the new fashion of 1796

The first reproduction gown we are doing will date to about 1795.

I chose not to aspire to create a Regency period gown, since quite frankly I don’t  really like them all that much, and in all honesty I don’t believe those gauzy, see through, low cut concoctions were actually worn by “mature” women.

For a brief period of about 30 years it seems that society forgot all about modesty

Marie Antoinette style court gown.

Marie Antoinette style court gown

and just let it all hang out, as it were! By the 1820s, fashion had returned to a much more covered up state of affairs and a lot more fun too.  Why go to all the trouble of dressing up in a period gown if it’s not going to be big and eccentric!?  So with those thoughts in mind, let’s find something a little more modest and appealing and “big”!

Hmm, perhaps the Antoinette gown might be a bit much… but don’t worry, I found something just right!