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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 


Wow, Patricia, I really applaud your willingness to jump into this beautiful concept on your very first try! It's just exciting to know how far you'll be able to go with your can-do attitude!! Congratulations on your accomplishments !

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