Mourning Dress

One of my biggest projects of 2017 was tackling a mourning outfit. Every year Heritage Square holds an event that explores Victorian mourning customs including a mock funeral procession. I really needed something I could wear to the event each year, however I’m never actually in the mock funeral. I prefer a station in one of the other areas of the museum, especially since I bring my older daughter along. So as I was researching mourning wear I had a generous time frame to pull from (1870-1920). I also wasn’t restricted to the deep mourning of the recently deceased. It was freeing and yet felt pretty overwhelming.

Since I knew I’d be tackling this project for the fall I kept a look out for fabrics and hoped that eventually the right thing would come along and help narrow down my choices. Luckily I was able to get some black cotton lace yardage in a destash for a reasonable price. Shortly afterwards I found lavender cotton sateen (no longer available) at Renaissance Fabrics and the two paired together so nicely. A half mourning dress would be perfect for our annual event!


I spent a whole lot of time looking at pictures of extant gowns to see if anything had used black lace and lavender. I found…not many options. Information about mourning clothes seems to be a little harder to find in the Edwardian-1920s period. I probably could (and should) have done more research, but I needed to get sewing. So I found a pattern that was very similar to the gowns I liked from 1910-1912 and ran with my vision.


I think I did pretty well. The wrap front bodice with guimpe underneath is completely period appropriate. So was the lace overlay on the skirt and a belt (with bonus heirloom buckle from my MIL!). Not an exact match to my examples, but the basic elements are the same. The one detail that might have been nice to include is the contrast trim at the neckline, but I got a little fatigued during the process. The cotton sateen also turned out a little thicker than I remembered and so I started cutting elements to decrease the bulk.


For such a time consuming project I don’t really remember many of the details. October was kind of a whirlwind between making this dress and planning my younger daughter’s 3rd birthday party.

I decided not to line the dress because the sateen was pretty bulky. The front neck edge has a bias binding hand sewn on. The pattern (Butterick 6093) called for a side zipper and I swapped that for hook and eye. I thought about having the lace overlap in the front, but now I can’t remember why I decided against it. Maybe not enough lace fabric? Lazy? Too tired? Maybe all of the above. Butterick patterns fit me decently well so the fitting process was not too bad. I compared the shoulders to my recently completed Jennifer Lauren Laneway dress and otherwise blended sizes. I’m getting better and faster at mock ups so the process moves a little more quickly. I need to trust my gut instinct more frequently.

The guimpe was made with Wearing History’s Edwardian Era pattern. I bought it because it was one of the only patterns I could find for a guimpe and I didn’t have the brain power to figure it out for myself. I could have drafted my own and it probably would have fit better, but I was balancing too many things in my life.

Because nothing could go smoothly, the original fabric I ordered for the guimpe ended up sold out. The seller more than made up for the inconvenience, but I had hoped for something slightly more transparent. This is black wool gauze. One thing I totally didn’t see coming was how badly the gauze would combine with the underside of the sateen. The fabrics LOVE each other. So now every time I wear this ensemble I have to have my husband yank my under sleeves for me. Whoops! Thankfully once they’ve been pulled down everything fits nicely and stays put.


And then after wearing my new dress to the museum, it got a second life as my Halloween costume. For my daughter birthday I dressed as a witch and my adorable mom dressed as a gnome. Getting to wear the dress two days in a row was fun, and adding a witch hat was super simple. I purchased one from a halloween store and covered it with lace scraps from the dress. Whew! Thank goodness I didn’t need to make a mourning dress and a costume for the same weekend!

How’s everyone settling into 2018? I’m really trying to keep a positive attitude and in a couple weeks I’m going to follow along with the Orange Theory Fitness Transformation Challenge. I’m not officially signing up because I cannot physically make it to 3 classes a week, but will aim to work out 3 days a week and to OTF 1-2 a week. I’ve been attending classes for 6 month now and have made a ton of progress on my fitness. Plus the 8 week challenge sounds fun to way to kick a few bad habits.



Lamplight 2017

Well, the holidays are upon us! When we started planning Lamplight way back in June the event seemed a long way off. A whole 6 months away! Then suddenly it was Thanksgiving and dress rehearsal was a week away. It always seems to fly by in a flurry of committee meetings, rehearsals, and a whole lot of sewing.

This year I re-joined the planning committee after taking a few years off while Charlie was a wee thing. Now the girls are a little older and if I need to bring them to a meeting they can (mostly, sort of, kind of) behave. Two fellow volunteers write a new script every year and I cannot believe how well they can pull it off and find a way to showcase our very amateur acting skills.

This year we did a production of Cinderella. It was an interactive play with the guests playing a game in the first scene, making dance cards in the second scene, and dancing in the third scene. My fall has been pretty busy so I opted for a smaller role with fewer lines and an easier costume. It was a good call since I sewed my entire costume the week before the dress rehearsal.


Pretty much as soon as we decided on Cinderella I started campaigning to be a step sister. There weren’t a ton of middle aged women roles this year, so step sister was my ticket to few lines and an opportunity to act like a fool. My fellow volunteer and friend opted to also play a step sister and it was really fun.

Right away we decided to wear our underclothes for the scene instead of making fell bustle ensemble. Thank goodness we made this call! I ordered a new corset from Redthreaded and already owned a camisole and flannel petticoat. All that I needed was a robe, corset cover, and petticoat.


As luck would have it, the head costumer made me a robe back when I was pregnant with my older daughter. She based it on this original house dress that belongs to another volunteer. The original was on display for the holidays and while mine has no waist (due to its maternity design), you can see the resemblance!


So all I had to make was a petticoat and corset cover. For the petticoat I was determined to use this silk taffeta from Renaissance Fabrics. It spoke to me. It probably looked more like my ball gown skirt for the scene, but I don’t care. I loved every second of swish through the evening. I bought 6 yards and used Butterick 3418. I used this skirt a couple times before and it is nice and basic and has a good sweep. I was even able to line up the plaid pretty well for such slippery fabric. And was just barely able to add on the pleated ruffle with the yardage I purchased! What a fabric hog of a skirt!

The corset cover is made with cotton lawn I also purchased from Renaissance Fabrics. It is one of my favorite fabrics ever. I buy it by 4 or 6 yards at a time and use it to line dresses. I used Butterick 3765 as a base, but that is more of an Edwardian pattern. To make it like this original corset cover in the Met’s collection I split the pieces at the waist line and added insertion lace to the top. Then I added darts to the bottom to make the waist more fitting. Worked like a charm! Not exact since I procrastinated, but still similar enough that it’s fine and the red ribbon at the neckline helped the look coordinate a bit.

To finish the ensemble I made a pair of fabric slippers while my friend was over visiting. Thank goodness for friends who don’t might chatting while you keep on sewing!!! I never did take a picture, but I might keep wearing them as house slippers because my feet are suddenly SO COLD.

So, that’s Lamplight 2017! And frankly, while 2017 was a pretty good year overall I’ve named it the year of minor emergencies. Much of it has kept me crafting for my sanity and I’m hoping in the next couple of weeks to share some more of my creations!


My Very Victorian Christmas 2015

Heritage Square is a museum where I try to volunteer at least once a month. It’s a museum that has several Victorian homes and usually I lead tours. However once I year I get to pretend I have a tiny bit of acting talent and spend one weekend performing in the Lamplight program.


This year I was Virginia, a woman in my early twenties (ha!) who had just been engaged to Martin, a man who literally swept me off my feet. We perform a scene every 20 minutes from 4pm to nearly 9pm. It is exhausting. It is fun. It is a good excuse to make a new pretty outfit.


Welcome to my home!

This year I was in the Hale house. It is the most restored home and quite lush inside! It’s also incredibly creepy and I think haunted. But at least no ghost sightings during our weekend! Just a few odd footsteps.


And I made my whole outfit (except the corset)! Whew! It was a lot of sewing for a few weeks, but a little bit each night makes it easy to accomplish. I ended up making a corset cover, blouse, and skirt. Plus refashioned two petticoats. Thankfully I made a light colored chemise this summer so it was one less items to churn out in November.

The blouse came from an out of print pattern (Butterick 3417). The largest size I had was too small, but I did adjustments to the front, back, and sleeves to size it up a few sizes. I over compensated a bit, but no worries! It fits the style of the time. The fabric came from a new favorite shop, Renaissance Fabrics. I purchased the last of some dimity and fully lined the blouse with cotton lawn since this was for a winter night time event and the weather is often quite chilly. Then I finished off the blouse with lace from a fellow volunteer (thank you Kristine!) and some buttons a fellow knitted sent to me (thank you Liz!).

Really I owe Kristine a huge thank you for helping me with fabric selection. I am a novice when it comes to historical accuracy and she held my hand through the hold process.


The skirt fabric also came from Renaissance Fabrics. It is their well priced cotton velveteen and was a dream to work with. Washed beautifully, a fabulous garment weight, and heavy enough that it didn’t need a full lining. I used Truly Victorian’s 1898 Flared Skirt pattern which was borrowed from another fellow volunteer. It eats up fabric (6 frickin’ yards), but was also simple to follow. The error I made was forgetting I’d be corseted when I cut the waistband. My waist corsets down 4 or 5 inches so the waist was much too big. Eventually I’ll re-do it.

The skirt trim was a light bulb idea. I wanted to trim the skirt with something I could sew right into the seam instead of having to hand sew to the velveteen. I ended up using Robert Kaufman’s Mammoth Flannel but on the bias. Then added the same lace as the blouse. So simple. The I added snap on black silk bows as the finishing touch. I just love this skirt so much. It was a joy to wear.

The weekend went by in a flash and just like that the whole program was over. But now I have a few new pieces I’ll get some wear out on my usual weekend tours.


Happy Lamplight!