Dickensian Dress Resource Guide

Scope:

With the upcoming Christmas season, many of us have been busy creating new garments or entire outfits to show off at popular holiday costuming events such as Dickens Fairs, Victorian Balls, or even Christmas caroling. In an effort to aid research, I have compiled a resource guide focusing specifically on sources that detail Dickensian dress and how to make it. The following guide includes eleven sources available in print or digitally that focus on female dress between 1830 and 1860 from England or North America. 


Research Guide:

The Workman’s Guide by A Lady (1838)

– Patterns of Fashion 1: Cut and Construction of Women’s Clothing 1660-1860 by Janet Arnold (1972)

The Cut of Women’s Clothes: 1600-1930 by Norah Waugh (1968)

Corsets and Crinolines by Norah Waugh (2017)

Corded Petticoat Sewing Workbook by Jennifer Rosbrugh (no date)

The Victorian Corset Sewing Workbook by Jennifer Rosbrugh (no date)

Period Fashions Reference Library: Mid 19th Century by Catherine Bishop (various dates)

Costume in Detail 1730-1930 by Nancy Bradfield (1997)

The Victorian Dressmaker by Izabela Pitcher (2018)

Victorian Costuming, Vol. 1: 1840 to 1865 by Janet Winter (1987)

The Dressmaker’s Guide 1840-1865 by Elizabeth Stewart Clark (2009)


Tips for Further Exploration:

– If you’re an experienced sewist, try taking what you learn from these resources and drafting your own garments based on period illustrations, such as ones seen in Godey’s Lady’s Book. This can be a chance to practice your sewing and design techniques and learn more about period construction.

– Visit museums in person that have garments on display from this time period. This can be a great chance to explore the garments in person and really learn about the little details of construction. Some museums offer the opportunity to view items in their collection personally; don’t be afraid to get in contact with them!

– Visit your local library to check out their resources on historical sewing. They often have significant collections of historical sewing books that may be expensive to purchase otherwise.

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Loving Linen

My sister has always laughed at the fact that I have a favorite fabric.

But how can you not love linen??

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It’s perfect for historical clothing.

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But it’s also perfect for everyday wear.

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Some of my favorite me-made pieces are linen, like this dress I blogged about the other day.

My tip for finding great-priced linen? Look at your local thrift shop! I’ve found numerous lengths of linen (3-4 yards!) over the years for around $5 apiece (silk too!). Just don’t be afraid to dig into the bins and have fun hunting.

Fashion in Family Photos

One of my favorite things about genealogy is coming across pictures of my ancestors. It’s amazing to see what my family members looked like and what they wore generations ago. They give me a peek into my past and offer plenty of inspiration for the fashion of days gone by.

I’ve shared some of my favorites below –

Nellie Stowell Howard and Stella Sexmith (cousins)7de6d617-08b9-4a69-a12d-e94a172af83382dde54c-cd67-420d-9bdb-a2fafd0828e87520e098-f354-49df-8cef-6456a9bcfdecOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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I have the physical copy of this photo of my great grandmother on my bookshelf.

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Ngaio Blouse {Or, I Got to Test a Pattern!}

It’s always been a dream of mine to test a pattern.

And last spring Leimomi of The Dreamstress offered the chance for my dream to come true.

I got to test the Ngaio Blouse!

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I had so much fun doing it! And the blouse turned out so well!

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I made one out of checkered cotton…

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And another out of sateen!

I used a test pattern for these and there’s a newer version published, but I was super impressed with the fit. One of my favorite things about this pattern is that it comes with different cup sizes (I used the “Large Bust” pattern pieces) which makes it really easy to fit to my body.

I wear these all the time and can’t recommend this pattern enough!

 

1950’s Wrap Dress

This dress is another one of my summer staples.

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This is the pattern I used.

I made it out of some beautifully-printed linen fabric that I picked up at Joann’s on major clearance last spring.

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Red-tag sale so it was really $3/yard.

I picked up a ton of fabric that day and had enough to make the dress + two sleeveless tops (one for me, one for my sister) after.

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The pattern was super fun, quick, and easy to make. Intended to be a breathable, cool summer dress to bum around in when it really heats up here, it really lives up to its name. I wear it all the time!

It closes with four small vintage snaps and, when I made it I was really worried that it would pop open during the day. But I’ve worn it for two summers now and it’s never happened! Those tiny snaps are stronger than they look!

Stuffed Pears & French Toast (1930)

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I like to cook, but I don’t often put much effort into breakfast. Usually it’s cereal. But there was one time last summer when I decided to make breakfast for my whole family.

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I chose one of my newer-to-me cookbooks, “New Delineator Recipes” (that I think I actually have two editions of).

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This menu comes from the 1930 edition.

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The menu reads as follows:

Baked Pears

French Toast

Maple Syrup

Coffee

Milk

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The stuffed pears recipe was in the dessert section and I thought Dessert for breakfast?! Sign me up!

Stuffed Baked Pears

Pare and core large pears and stuff with seeded dates, raisins or chopped nuts with some tart marmalade or shredded coconut. Place close together in a baking-dish, cover bottom of pan with water and bake slowly until tender.

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To make it a little easier on myself, I simply halved the pears and filled the core with ginger peach jam and chopped peanuts.

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French Toast

12 slices of bread 1/2 inch thick

3 eggs

2 cups milk

1/2 teaspoon salt

Powdered sugar

Beat the eggs, add the milk and salt. Dip slices of bread into this mixture and saute’ in a little hot fat until a delicate brown. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve hot.

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The pears didn’t take too long to bake – but I don’t remember exactly how long they were in the oven.

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Even a year later, this is my favorite way to eat French toast – with powdered sugar! It’s delicious!

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Some maple syrup and breakfast was complete! We all loved it.

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I’d definitely make this recipe again – especially to try out different combinations of stuffing for the pears! What would you put in the pears?

Love Story from 1881

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I have a very special book on my shelf.

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A beautifully decorated copy of “Beauties of Shakespeare” by William Dodd.

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It was originally published in the 1750’s and has gone through many, many editions over the years. The one I have dates from the mid-19th century and has several special details inside.

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Little notes about Shakespeare’s writing…

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Notes about Shakespeare’s life…

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“Lulu”

Signatures from the students who used the book…

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“Ben, J.M. Boggess, Bradford, 1881”

With some of the most beautiful handwriting I’ve ever seen!

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“Maggie Clancy and Lulu Hensley 1880”
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“Doug and Herman” — “Tis sweet to be remembered”
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“Guy & Pearl”

But the sweetest thing of all comes from these two: Guy and Pearl.

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“Guy and Pearl. School of 81.”

They signed the book in multiple places.

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And left such endearing love-notes in the back of the book that my heart melts every time I think about it.

Dear Pearl;

Never forget the school days of 1881. Alas, perhaps our last. 

Yours lovingly,

Guy

And her response:

Guy;-

I never will.

Pearl

I picked up this book at a library book sale for 50 cents and, over the years, have dug as deep into the census records as I can to try to find anything I can about these people.

I triangulated most of the names in the book (ten in all) to a town in Illinois called Yates City. They were all born around the early 1860’s and one of them, Lulu, moved to Washington after her second marriage so I’m guessing that’s how the book got to Seattle.

The most frustrating thing, though, is that I can find nothing about Guy or Pearl. I’ve read the census records cover to cover for that town and nada. I’ve expanded my search to go beyond the state and still nothing! I’m still holding out hope, though, that someday I’ll find some tidbit about their lives. I’m dying to know!

If you’re curious, I’ll list some information about the students under the cut:

Continue reading “Love Story from 1881”

A Necklace Months in the Making

The closest Renaissance Fair is an hour and a half away from me. I’ve wanted to go for several years now, but couldn’t ever seem to make it work. Today, however, I finally got to go!

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As they say at the fair, huzzah!

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I had a lot of fun perusing the shops, sampling the food, listening to the music, watching the shows, and rooting for the green knight.

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Unfortunately, he didn’t do so well…

But fortunately for me, I found something to add to my Renaissance ensemble that I’ve been searching for for quite a while now.

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Portrait of a Young Woman c. 1475 Tempera on panel, Galleria Palatina (Palazzo Pitti), Florence Botticelli.

When I made my pink Renaissance dress I based some of the design on the portrait above and what intrigued me about her outfit was that she seems to be wearing a necklace on a black cord.

 

— Portrait of Maddalena Doni, 1505, Oil on wood, Palazzo Pitti, Raphael. — Portrait of a Young Woman c. 1490 Oil on poplar Staatliche Museen, MAZZIERE. — Portrait of Giovanna Tornabuoni, 1488, Tempera on wood, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, GHIRLANDAIO. —

Some more research turned up these three images which showed slightly different views of ladies with pendants on black cords, wearing outfits ranging from the everyday to the grand.

Of course I had to have one for myself!

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I picked up the black leather cord from Jo-Ann’s for about $2 months ago and have been searching for the perfect pendant ever since. Well, I happened upon the one in the picture tucked away in the back of a tent today at the fair. It’s mounted on an old coin and has a substantial weight to it.

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DOMENICO GHIRLANDAIO (1449 – 1494) | Portrait of Costanza Caetani – 1480/90. The National Gallery, London.

I bought it for $6 and brought it home to mount on the cord. Since there seems to be multiple ways to tie the cord, I went with the way the lady above seems to be wearing hers.

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Just slip the pendant on, measure the length of the cord, tie a knot at the back of my neck, then one more about two inches up from the bottom. Easy peasy!

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This is how long it hangs. Long enough to slip over my head and tuck into my dress if I want.

Hurray Huzzah for unexpected finds!

The Birth of an Era

The very first historical costume that I owned was a Civil War era “ball gown” that I bought off of e-bay. I was so proud of it!

It looked a lot like this one:

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from ebay seller midnightbreezedesigns

Except the bodice was floral, it was attached to the skirt, and there was white lace around the sleeves and neckline that I later re-purposed for my Edwardian corset.

I wore it for a few Halloweens and then for a couple of school functions that required a costume and I loved every second of it.

Then I started getting more and more into historical costuming and I couldn’t help but think about ways to improve on the design.

This was one of the earliest sewing projects I did. I saved up my money to buy an actual pattern (my very first one) that was era-appropriate. After I saved up to buy my first corset, I pulled the pattern out of it’s place of honor and cut into the dress.

I tore the whole thing apart and cut a new bodice out of one of the skirt panels.

This was before I had a sewing machine so I spent night after night carefully cutting, pinning, and hand-sewing before bed.

To this day, it’s not quite finished.

But that didn’t stop me from dressing my sister up in it and taking lots of pictures over the years!

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It doesn’t have any fastenings on the bodice, so it’s held together by pins.

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And I’ve since made proper under-sleeves (she’s wearing an old button-down shirt underneath in the pictures).

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But this dress will always hold a special place in my heart. It helped ignite my passion and, although my enthusiasm for the Civil War era has slightly waned over the years, I’ll always remember it as my very first historical costume.

Fluffy Edwardian Gown + How I Learned to Clean it

So I actually own very few antique garments. I don’t have much space for storage, so it’s not something that I seek out…

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But when something like this Edwardian gown jumps off the rack at me, how can I say no??

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I bought this dress almost three years ago, now, and didn’t know what to do with it for quite awhile. I was so scared I’d somehow damage it, that I just tucked it away in my trunk until I could do some research on how to properly clean antique linens.

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The dress is in really good shape – no major holes or tears and the fabric is strong. The only thing is that elastic around the neckline has lost some of its elasticity.

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There are a couple of noticeable stains towards the bottom of the dress.

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Particularly at the hem. So I knew I would need to clean it sooner or later so I could pack it away and store it properly. After doing lots of research on the best way to clean antique garments (opinions vary quite broadly), I picked up a bottle of Woolite Extra Delicates and filled the tub with lukewarm water.

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Holding my breath, I carefully laid the dress on top of the water and pressed it down evenly. I let it soak in the water for several hours, refilling the soap + water a couple of times before rinsing it very, very clean.

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Then I rolled it carefully up in a towel to wring out the excess water and carried outside.

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So it could dry completely in the sun.

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The stains came out of the bottom!

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And the dress made it through the whole thing in great shape! It’s been carefully packed away now for a day when I have more space and can take it out to examine it more closely.

The dress taught me a lot about the careful laundering of vintage textiles, though, and I’ve used the same method on other linens since then with similar success.

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It’s always surprising to see how dirty the water is! The fabric always looks so clean at first!


On a related note, I recently bought a bag of Retro Clean after seeing some great success stories on Instagram. I’m really eager to give it a try. Has anyone tried it before? If so, what did you think of it?