Tag Archives: bias binding on dress

Early Victorian Fan-Fronted Dress, Inside and Outside

Since two readers kindly mentioned a previous post about a Victorian dress on social media, I have many new followers. Thank you! and, welcome! I’ll try to wander into the 1800’s more frequently!

A fan-fronted dress in sheer plaid with bias flounces. From a private collection.

A fan-fronted dress in sheer plaid with bias flounces. From a private collection.

I apologize for the picture quality. I was documenting many dresses, which belonged to a friend, for the purpose of an inventory, with no thought of ever blogging about them. (The collection has been sold.) I didn’t have the luxury of researching on the spot, finding the perfect undergarments, or worrying about perfect pictures. H0wever, just being able to handle 19th century garments, and look inside them, is a privilege, so I feel obliged to share.

Bodice of a fan fronted dress , early Victorian.

Bodice of a fan fronted dress, early Victorian. Private collection.

The bottom of the “fan” of fabric is gathered with rows of stitches about 1/2 inch apart, which creates a slight “pouch” effect and makes the gathering very flat over the waist.

CF waist, fan fronted dress.

CF waist, fan fronted dress.

The bodice is finished with a very typical period detail:  narrow cording encased in bias self-fabric. You can also see that the cartridge pleating has several rows of stitching, which makes for a less bulky and more controlled waist area.

Early Victorian fan-fronted dress; inside view of center front waist where is attaches to the skirt.

Early Victorian fan-fronted dress; inside view of center front waist where it attaches to the skirt.

Characteristic of period construction, the skirt was gathered straight across the top of the yardage. Instead of cutting away the fabric into a V shape to follow the bodice, the Victorians left the excess skirt fabric hanging inside the front. Also visible in this photo are a few faint stitches ruching the tightly gathered front “fan” to the underbodice. You can see the way the bias fabric of the piping which follows the waistline has been hand-stitched to the underbodice. There appears to be a white hanging loop at the point of the bodice. This may have been added by a collector.

Underbodice of fan-fronted dress. Inside front, showing boning.

Underbodice of fan-fronted dress. Inside front, showing boning.

There are two boning channels on the center front seam, and the boning is wider than 1/4 inch, probably 1/2 inch. There are two diagonal boning channels, too. (If that white at the lower right of photo is an inseam pocket, I missed it while examining the dress.)

Skirt of fan-fronted dress.

Skirt of fan-fronted dress.

When you consider how the skirt was constructed and attached to the bodice, the straightness of the horizontal stripes in the fabric becomes truly impressive. Look at how well the stripes line up. (At this time, skirts were not cut into gores; all the side seams were on straight grain, turning the skirt into a very wide tube.) Read more here.

The flounces on the skirt are cut on the bias and not really gathered; the sheer material of the dress seems to change its pattern when closely gathered. I actually wondered if two different fabrics were used, but the contrast is entirely due to the the way the material looks when closely gathered or not gathered at all.

The flounces and hem of the fan-fronted dress.

The flounces and hem of the fan-fronted dress.

Look at that pattern match! At the top of the lower flounce, we can see that its gray and white stripes line up perfectly with the vertical stripes on the skirt, with the bias flounce eased only enough to make it work.

I don’t know the fiber content; I am guessing that its nearest equivalent would be printed cotton voile. The dress works so well because the fabric is so soft and light that it can be gathered very closely.

Back of fan-fronted dress.

Back of fan-fronted dress. Bias sleeves were common in the 1840’s and 1850’s.

I only photographed the back while it was on a padded hanger; it has a hook and eye closing.

Hooks and eyes at center back of fan-fronted dress.

Hooks and eyes at center back of fan-fronted dress.

The woman who collected this dress knew a great deal about hammered brass hook and eyes and could use them to date garments. I know nothing about them. Perhaps because the dress’ back is also gathered, there is no boning at the center back opening. (Dresses that lace up the back need that boning.)

I documented a tiny hole in the fabric, and therefore have this picture which shows the piping around the armholes; there is no piping at the side seam.

Armhole piping. l

Armhole piping, left side of dress.

Dresses with dropped shoulders, like this one, were very liable to tear at the armhole if the wearer raised her arms suddenly. This fragile fabric has survived amazingly well. (Click here for one that tore.)

Neckline of fan-fronted bodice is trimmed with lace.

Neckline of fan-fronted bodice is trimmed with lace.

The lace didn’t survive as well as the dress. I know very little about lace. Is this machine-made? It may well be.

Did the original owner wear sheer engageants — interchangeable sleeves — with this dress? I don’t know. The sleeves themselves are not tight, but roomy.

My hat’s off to the dressmaker, who cleverly used the stripes in the fabric as guidelines for all her hand gathering stitches!

Dating? A Fan-front bodice pattern from Past Patterns is based on a dress from the 1840’s. Click here to see Past Patterns No. 801. I once owned a completely hand-stitched fan-fronted bodice in apple-green striped silk; it had pagoda sleeves. As the Past Patterns site points out, photos from the 1850’s also show women wearing similar dresses.

I do hope someone who really knows Early Victorian styles can help to put a date on this dress, although there was a considerable time lag between city and country styles, so real precision is impossible without provenance.  Who knows, someone may find a photo of it being worn!

Edited:  This link added Aug. 9, 2015:  another light weight cotton dress, dated 1860, with bias-cut ruffles, was pictured and described by Alys Mak-Pilsworth at the Ryerson Fashion Research Collection.   Click here.

 

 

 

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Filed under 1830s -1860s fashions, Costumes for the 19th century, Dresses, Early Victorian fashions, Vintage Garments: The Real Thing

More About Wrap Dresses

Simplicity wrap dress pattern #5449, 1964. Photo: RememberedSummers.

Simplicity wrap dress pattern #5449, 1964. Photo: RememberedSummers.

As often happens, a comment on one post — about the Official Uniform of the Food Administration in 1917 — led me to some new information.  The Vintage Traveler mentioned the “Swirl” dress of the 1940s, which was also a wrap dress, perhaps a direct descendant of the “Hooverette” wrapped apron dress. According to Fuzzie Lizzie, the Swirl dress dates back to 1944. Visit her fascinating and well-illustrated article by clicking here.

That reminded me of other wrap dress patterns — more like house dresses than the “uptown”  Diane von Furstenberg knitted jersey dresses that were ubiquitous in the seventies and are still with us today. There’s no doubt that the wrap dress, which preceded the Herbert Hoover wrapped apron dress, is a style with longevity!

Ladies' Home Journal Apron Pattern #1135, November 1917.

Ladies’ Home Journal Apron Pattern #1135, November 1917.

This wrap-around apron from 1917 closes with buttons, rather than ties. So does the 1952 version below.

Butterick B4790 Retro 1952 Pattern

Butterick B4790 Retro '52 pattern. Photo courtesy of RememberedSummers.

Butterick B4790 Retro ’52 pattern. Photo courtesy of RememberedSummers.

This wrap dress, like the “swirl” dresses that preceded it, looks ready to wear out of the house. It has a button fastening, rather than a tie. It’s a long way from the Ethel Mertz look. [Vivian Vance, who played Ethel, was contractually required to look more dowdy than Lucille Ball.]  A copy of a 1952 Butterick pattern, the envelope shows the dress open and laid out flat.

Butterick B4790 unfastened and laid out flat.

Butterick B4790 unfastened and laid out flat.

It looks like the wearer of this wrap dress would be well covered, avoiding a very embarrassing — and ass baring — experience I had with a 1960s back wrap skirt, which blew open while I was walking down a busy commercial street. I didn’t realize what was happening until cars started honking at me. Lesson learned:  never wear a wrap dress that doesn’t wrap all the way to the side on the underlap!

Simplicity Pattern #5449, dated 1964

Photo: RememberedSummers.

Photo: RememberedSummers.

To me, the bias binding on dresses like this one put them more in the “apron” family than in the housedress family. I have strong memories of bias bound dresses at the local dime store. They were usually made of very cheap fabric, heavily sized, and they turned limp and cheap-looking after their first washing. However, Simplicity # 5449 could be made of a good quality cotton fabric, and the envelope says that the “dress front laps to back fastening with tie ends,” so it would cover the wearer completely, fore and aft, even in a high wind.

Construction details of Simplicity #5449. RememberedSummers.

Construction details of Simplicity #5449. RememberedSummers.

Simplicity Pattern #8278, dated 1969

Simplicity pattern 8278 dated 1969. Photo courtesy of RememberedSummers.

Simplicity pattern 8278 dated 1969. Photo courtesy of RememberedSummers.

This wrap dress from 1969 couldn’t possibly be mistaken for an apron or a housedress. It can also be made as a tunic and worn over flared trousers. But that’s the only way I would have worn it, because the back of the pattern shows that the front pieces are symmetrical.

Simplicity #8278 pattern back. Photo by RememberedSummers on EBay.

Simplicity #8278 pattern back. Photo by RememberedSummers on EBay.

When you sit down, this kind of wrap dress pulls open and exposes your knees and usually some underwear.  Of course, a good dressmaker could alter the pattern and extend the skirt underlap to the side seam, and tie or button it in place, but I didn’t have that kind of patience or expertise in 1969.

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Filed under 1900s to 1920s, 1930s-1940s, 1940s-1950s, 1950s-1960s, Uncategorized, Uniforms and Work Clothes, Vintage patterns, Women in Trousers