Patricia PruittPatricia PruittPatricia PruittPatricia PruittYWU 16 beg winLe Billet

As a member of Your Wardrobe Unlock'd I never gave any thought to entering the contest. I’m new to costume and historic sewing and not very confident to take on and make a costume for a contest, but after my family vacation I came home and decided to go on and give it a go. I thought to myself, “You have nothing to lose and can only gain experience and learn some things.” So I logged on to YWU to read about the year’s theme. I decided to do the second theme, Stepped out of a Portrait or Photograph.

So begins the search to find a dress to make from one of my favorite paintings or photographs. I was able to narrow it down to an artist.  I picked six paintings I liked the most and thought I could make without wanting to throw myself out the window. The artist I chose was Auguste Toulmouche. I love Auguste Toulmouche’s work. I love his women, they are so beautiful and there is something about them that I like. They seem like girly girls. I had my heart set on making a pink dress. I did pick four paintings featuring women wearing pink dresses. After spending hours looking at the paintings I finally picked one, Le Billet.

Now, the real work. Since this was my first 19th century costume I knew I needed to start from the undergarments. I did some research on undergarments and found a lot of information that overwhelmed me at first, but after reading and rereading, I was ready to get started.


The chemise and petticoat

I drafted the pattern from a free pattern on Tudorlinks. The chemise is from an 1889-1893 pattern which is a few years after my dress, but chemise shapes didn’t change that much. The pattern was close to what I needed, I just altered it a bit. The fabric is a cotton eyelet. It’s lightweight and semi sheer. I was going to add a bit of trim at the bottom to match the top. I decide not to since the whole garment was eyelet, it was pretty enough. I did, however, add a lavender ribbon to match the corset. The petticoat was made from a pattern and was made in a simple cotton. There’s nothing fancy about it. Not one ruffle, but it serves its purpose.

The corset

The dreaded corset! I was so nervous to make my first corset. I knew fit was important and wanted to get things right. I wasn’t brave enough to draft a pattern so I bought a pattern from Truly Victorian. Even with the bought pattern I had to do a few alterations before making a mock up. I made two before I got the fit right. The first was too small in the bust; the second mock up had two panels re-sized and re-cut. The fit was a lot better with the second mock up. After getting things right it was time to cut out the corset in my fabric. I used a lavender duchess satin for my outer fabric and twill for my lining and inner. I’m still learning corset 101, but after all the fear I had going into making the corset,  I found it to be a joy making the garment.

The dress

For the dress I found a beautiful duchess satin in pink that matched the painting. To make the dress I used both bought patterns from Truly Victorian with some changes and adjustment to the pattern and I did some drafting. There is an underskirt, overskirt with train and a bodice. Both the underskirt and bodice are trimmed with white lace. For the overskirt I made some changes from the painting. I shortened the length in front and made a shorter train. I wasn’t sure whether my short legs could handle anything longer (I was right). The skirts were pretty simple to make. I had to get an understanding of working with pleats while making the overskirt. I never made pleats until this project, where almost every skirt/petticoat needed pleats. The bodice was a matter of taste for me. I made a few changes to the look of it.

In the end I enjoyed making the costume and learning some 19th century fashion and sewing information. I improved my skills as a seamstress and amateur costumer and I can’t wait to make my next one.

Patricia's full Dress Diary 


That colour really suits you and I love the lace ruffles on your skirt :) You must feel like a princess wearing this lovely gown.
Quite ambitious for a first time 19th century project. I commend you.
Beautiful!!! The colour suits you very well, and I think you've done a great job for a first time project, amazing job!
Ambitious and well done
I love seeing the work of beginners who jump in with gusto. You've done it! Well thought out and constructed. Thumbs up!
Nice work and lovely pink fabric. Nice job on the under garments. Keep up the good work.
This is fabulous! I love the colour and you've created a really wonderful, feminine, curvy silhouette. Satin is notoriously tricky to work with but you've done it with aplomb and got a really pretty end result - the shiny fabric emphasizes all that lovely drapery and pleating. I really like how you've gone to the trouble of creating the right underwear to go under the gown. It always makes a huge difference on the final piece and it shows on your photos as the gown hangs and fits really nicely over the corset. You look great and you look like you feel great wearing it :-) . A huge accomplishment for someone who is a 'beginner' - well done.

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