Jul 27
Touching History
icon1 basicallybenita | icon2 Historically Speaking | icon4 07 27th, 2010| icon36 Comments »

Several years ago, I had the opportunity to volunteer to make costumes for the 1836 area of Conner Prairie.  These clothes were hand-sewn on the areas that could be seen, and I really enjoyed this type of work.  The patterns used were taken from vintage clothes of that era that were on loan to the museum by Tasha Tudor. 

During this short, two-year stint making these costumes that were to be worn by the interpreters, I learned a lot about how vintage clothing was assembled and worn.  My triumph while there was making a corded petticoat with 25 yards of cording.  These petticoats were the precursor to the hoop skirts and crinolines that were to reach their height (width) during the 1860’s. 

The petticoat was entirely hand sewn and even traveled to one of the comic book conventions in Chicago where I sat behind the table, sewing away, and explaining to people what I was making.  It was the interest in this project, and the draw it had on the people there, that eventually lead me to sit behind the table with a spinning wheel, keeping my hands busy and pulling people in for a better look – and to buy comics.  This petticoat, I understand, is still referred to as “the petticoat” at Conner Prairie. 

Also, I made one dress for the 1876 schoolhouse for the schoolmarm to wear.  You can imagine my glee and pride when I visited Conner Prairie soon thereafter and in the schoolhouse was the teacher wearing the dress I had made.  Luckily, by this time sewing machines had been invented, so I made it on my sewing machine.

Where am I going with this?  Well, this past weekend while I was at Kristy’s, she showed me a pattern from her husband’s great-great-grandmother.  The pattern was like nothing I had ever seen before and I took several pictures of it to show to you.  It was almost (but not quite) enough to get me back into making vintage costumes again. 

The paper the pattern was printed on was very thick – thicker than card stock, but not as thick as cardboard.  Obviously it was meant to last through several dresses and the adjustability of the patterns meant it could be used for the entire family of adult women.  In fact, there was a sheet with the names of several women, including the owner of the pattern, and their measurements.  Fascinating!

I started with the sleeve.  Since this dress was in the same style as the 1870’s dress I had made for Conner Prairie, it immediately brought back memories of making that dress.  The sleeve is curved toward the inside seam which means that while wearing it the arm cannot be fully straightened out.  Also, the sleeve was fitted very tightly.

See the small holes?  These were used to mark cutting lines, dart lines, and other fitting lines.  With this many options, these dresses could be form fitted to the person much more easily than we do today.

Now, let’s go to the bodice front.  Again, there were lots of darts to be sewn in to fit the corseted body snugly.

The same with the back of the bodice.  And look at how tiny the waist is!  When I was a docent with the Morris Butler House in Indianapolis back in the late 1980’s, there was a dress (and I assume it is still there) that had an 11 inch waist.  At that time I weighed about 120 pounds, and my neck was 11 inches around.  I used my neck as a visual at how tiny the dress’ waist was and then reminded people that there would have been a corset, corset cover and chemise under that!

This piece was referred to as the Skirt and Dart Rule and was used to measure out the fabric for the skirt of the dress.  I didn’t get to look more closely at this piece, and I think I will ask if I can study the pattern even more.  The dress pattern I had used for Conner Prairie had a skirt pattern, so I’m not sure how this piece was used.  More study is needed on my part.

The following are several of the written areas on the patterns.  They are a bit blurry, but if you go slowly you can make out the words. 

And this was on the bodice front.  The Climax System.  I would love to know more about the history of these patterns and the creators of it. 

Anyway, I thought you would love to see this wonderful old dress pattern.  If I were a woman of leisure (HA!), I might be tempted into recreating this dress.