sewing my first historic ballgown

sewing my first historic ballgown

It didn’t happen quite when I thought it would…but I finally made my first ballgown!

Read more: sewing my first historic ballgown

I posted back in June 2021 that I’d decided to attend a historic ball being held that fall and use that as the impetus to sew my own first historic costume. I shared some other updates on Patreon, but things have been pretty quiet over here for one major reason: the ball got postponed! I was disappointed to see it moved to October 2022, but I told myself that it would work out for the best by giving me more time to work on my dress.

…and then I didn’t work on it until September 2022! 😬 But I DID IT, and I’m here today to share the adventure and my experience as a beginner/intermediate sewist working on a gown. Let’s dive in!

When I first started brainstorming for the event, I fairly quickly settled on an 1860s gown complete with a giant hoop. I really wanted to feel like a princess, in case this was my only chance to play dress up like this (spoiler alert: I already have another gown coming up). I decided on Truly Victorian patterns for the bodice (TV442) and the skirt (TV240), and quickly determined that I would be purchasing my corset and hoop skirt instead of attempting to make my own.

As I said, I waited until far too late to start this project although, in my defense, I honestly doubt I could have completed it in my old apartment. Having a sewing space with a cutting table and room to maneuver this quantity of fabric was absolutely crucial. I’m trying to imagine doing the pleating on the fabric swags on the overskirt on the floor of my old apartment, and it’s a dire situation indeed. I definitely felt like I was breaking in my new space with a major project! If you’ve followed along with my sewing adventures, you’ll know that I’ve made skirts and simple dresses for myself before, but this was by far the largest and most complex piece I’ve made.

Following the Truly Victorian patterns was actually surprisingly straightforward. The construction of the garment wasn’t especially tricky, although the instructions were a little lighter than I’m used to. They definitely assume that you have a base level of sewing knowledge – and I was pleasantly surprised to feel like I did! Making something like this is definitely a big confidence boost – although there are definitely imperfect parts and things that I wish I could fix, I’m overall super proud of what I made and it made me inspired to do more sewing.

The skirt was relatively simple, although I did have to watch a few videos about box pleating (and I still messed up the bottom ruffle!) to get the hang of it. The pattern includes variations for different sizes of hoop – thankfully I tried the start of my skirt on with the hoop and realized that it seemed rather small. Turns out I was remembering the wrong measurement and needed to add two more panels to the skirt to fit it! In the past, I’ve definitely been bad about not taking the time to try things on throughout the process. I’m aware this is, in fact, part of the whole benefit in making your own clothes, and I have been convinced to do a better job of it moving forward.

I was so scared of making the bodice that I told friends in advance that I probably wasn’t going to make the bodice, actually, and just pair the skirt with a historic-y blouse. Thankfully, friends were like “what are you talking about, make the bodice” and I’m so glad that I put the time and mental energy into it. I had used boning in a renfair bodice I made last summer, so that ended up being not too scary. I also did the most hand-sewing that I’ve ever done attaching the trim to the bodice and adding hooks and eyes. I am still pretty pants at it, but we got it on there.

On the morning of the ball, I finished adding hooks and eyes to the bodice and decided to add some silk flowers to the gown. I will say that I don’t consider this dress fully complete – it is wearable (and wear it I did!), but there’s more trimming that I’d like to add with more time. I’d definitely like to add lace to the swags of fabric and perhaps the underside of the bertha, and maybe add additional floral/botanical elements. If I had more time or if I was better at hand-sewing, I would have liked to do more. But as is, it was sure great for having a good time at the fete!

I was asked what my most valuable lessons from this project were, both sewing and non. For sewing: I started using these little plastic clips to hold fabric, and they’re a GAMECHANGER. I found it a lot easier than pinning for the majority of the project and I bought a bunch more to use going forward. Big fan. Non-sewing: I think it was just really valuable to feel like I can accomplish things and keep a schedule on a project when I’m really focused. I’m someone who really struggles with staying on track and often ends up leaving things half done, so I feel really good that I set this goal for myself and was able to see it through. Having a hard deadline helps immensely, but I’m hoping that I can take that energy into future creative projects that don’t have a drop dead date.

What’s next for the Snark Atelier? As I mentioned earlier, I actually have tickets for another ball! My lovely Fetes d’Autumne date Wendy and I will actually be attending another ball together – this time in Chicago! This event is Belle Epoque themed, so I had more limited choices in terms of inspiration and have been narrowing in on what my plans are. Having made it through a crunched sewing schedule, I’m planning to get a better start with this one and not end up with such a heavy lift at the end. Most of the small issues with my 1860s gown were caused by rushed/sloppy sewing, and I’m hoping that giving myself more time will allow me to be more careful with my work. Updates for that will probably also be primarily on Patreon, if you’d like to see more.

Thanks again to everyone who’s cheered me on or listened to me stress about this project along the way! I’m looking forward to many more sewing adventures.