Monday, June 12, 2017

My 40th Birthday Dress

Today marks exactly 2 months since I celebrated my 40th birthday. The dress I completed for the day of my celebration actually had its inception in August 2016. I had been wanting a warm weather, late Victorian dress for quite some time, and so last August, I was perusing my 1885 Butterick pattern book and happened upon a design I fell in love with.

dress design in Butterick pattern book

Not knowing of any patterns on the market for such a dress, I began searching through one of my Frances Grimble books where I found the perfect pattern. I had no idea where this journey would take me having no specific idea of how I was going to trim the dress out. It was actually a combination of many old CDVs, fashion plates, and paintings that led me to the finished product.

dress pattern found in my Frances Grimble book
the book
As you can see from the photos above, the original dress design has the butterfly train, whereas the pattern does not. For that, after drafting the pattern, I altered the train using the Truly Victorian Butterfly Bustle Train TV361 to create the right look. To do that, I layered the two together and blended them to create the one piece pattern needed for the polonaise.
Not being completely sold on the bodice detail of the original dress design, or the bodice design of the pattern, I began searching for ideas when I happened upon this bodice design found in the Frances Grimble book.

now we're talkin'
As I worked through this project, I began to see 18th Century details surfacing. This was not uncommon during the late Victorian Era.
Image result for 18th century fashion influence during the victorian eraImage result for 18th century womens fashion
Here, you can see some similarities between the two eras. On the left, a fashion plate from 1871. On the right, mid 18th century styles. Notice the bows on the bust, trim detail, and hat style of the yellow dress on the left. See how it mimics some of the details of the 18th century dresses?
This image I have admired for some time now for the hairstyle, not realizing it was also serving for inspiration for the bodice of my birthday dress.


This painting was serving as inspiration for the hat for this dress, but you can also see 18th Century influence in the dress design.

Here is the mockup prior to fitting. At this point, I wish I had the bust pads made for better fitting. I cut the pattern out to a measurement fuller than my natural bust line (I am very small in that department), wanting to create the curvy, hourglass shape that was so popular during the late Victorian Era. Sadly, by the time I got to inserting the bust pads, I had invested quite a lot of time, and cut my fashion fabric, thinking all was well. It didn't turn out badly, but I learned a valuable lesson; a mistake not to be repeated.

Here she is after the fitting. Everything is fitting smoothly, but looking back, I should have made adjustments to the bust at this point to accommodate a fuller bust line.

Here she is with just one bust pad inserted. I was proud of my progress at this point, but again looking back I am now disappointed.

don't mind my crooked back that is the result of a car accident
Definitely a marked improvement from the fitted mock up by inserting the bust pads. However, if I had cut the dress fuller to begin with, it would look even better. Hopefully, not only will I learn from my mistake, but others reading this will as well.

the butterfly train stitched into place, oh so pretty!
it is very important to put your bodice closures very close together to avoid gapping

Here I was working on figuring out the ruched fabric section of the bodice. I messed up the first time.

sleeve cuff trim detail inspired from
image in Frances Grimble book

lapel trim detail inspired by my mom
All in all, I am very pleased with it's outcome. I do eventually need to line and possibly weight my underskirt since the fabric is very light weight. I was in a hurry and just slapped one together really quick to finish the dress.

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, standing and outdoor

Image may contain: 1 person Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, hat

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, indoor


Image may contain: one or more people, people sitting and indoor


  1. Stunningly beautiful. Wish I had the patience to create a dress from scratch like that

  2. Wow! You're amazing! Beautiful dress for a beautiful woman.