I picked the ‘My Favourite Things’ theme because I thought it would be a great opportunity to make something from a period of history that I really loved the fashions of, but hadn’t made anything from before. I quickly settled on the 1870s and started doing research based on extant garments and contemporary portraits. I was particularly inspired by early 1870s day dresses, which had simple, elegant trimmings and colour schemes featuring two or three shades of the same colour. These dresses really appealed to my love of simple, unfussy shapes and subtle colour schemes, so once I saw them I knew that I wanted to make something like them.
I picked the year 1873 and designed a winter season day dress, since winter is my favourite time of year so it seemed to fit the theme. I also picked one of my favourite colours, red, and my favourite fabrics, silk and velvet, to make the dress. I also drew inspiration from my favourite fashion designer; Charles Frederick Worth, and favourite artistic movement; the Pre-Raphaelites. Basically, whenever there was a design choice I tried to fulfil the theme as much as possible by picking my favourite of whatever options were available!
I wanted to challenge myself so I decided to make a whole outfit. I made a set of underwear consisting of chemise, drawers and corset, a bustle and quilted petticoat and a bodice, skirt and bonnet, which is probably the largest number of garments I have made for a single project. Most of these were items I had never made before so getting to grips with the different shapes and construction techniques for things like drawers, bustles and 19th century bodices was a steep, but fun, learning curve. The sheer amount of planning and actual sewing was probably my biggest hurdle in completing this project and I did struggle to fit in long hours of sewing around my day job - also sewing related, so there was no respite!
The chemise and drawers are white cotton, trimmed with vintage lace and antique buttons. The corset is plum cotton backed satin, interlined with cotton canvas, lined with striped cotton twill and trimmed with handmade cord, flossing and vintage lace. The bustle is the same striped cotton twill as the corset lining. The quilted petticoat is printed cotton, interlined round the hem with cotton wadding and stiffened further with thick cotton cord. The bodice and skirt which make up the dress are of holly berry red (hence the name of the dress) silk trimmed with mahogany red rayon velvet. The bodice is lined with glazed cotton and cotton twill. The bonnet is made of wired buckram covered in the rayon velvet and trimmed with antique feathers, vintage ribbon, floristry berries and paper flowers.
Apart from the bonnet, which was entirely hand sewn, each garment has a mixture of hand and machine sewing in the construction. I tried to use machine sewing only where it would have been used in the 1870s, so things like hems, trimmings and fastenings were sewn by hand. I’ve uploaded lots of notes and progress photos to my dress diary so you can see the processes I used for each garment and my progress through the project as a whole.