08 February 2015

1820 Maid's Dress

This year I'm celebrating Valentine's Day by dressing as a Federal-era servant and hanging out in a historic house with Kitty Calash.

The program, An Afternoon in 1820: Life at the Whitehorne House, takes place at the Newport Restoration Foundation's 1811 Whitehorne House in "N'Port", where we will portray maids. A slightly outdated 18-teens gown seemed an appropriate costuming option for 1820 when representing a servant in an economically challenged city, so I created this cotton dress. Here are some sewing notes and interpretation thoughts...

I found this printed cotton fabric last year by Cranston Print Works. (I love how the company, established in 1807, dates from the era I'm representing!) Though it seems a little French, it has a nice early 19th century look. I used the Period Impressions 1809 Daywear pattern as my guide for cutting...but I didn't follow the construction directions. (Directions are too confusing!)

The skirt panels were gathered and stitched into the center back.

 It closes with two hooks/eyes at the inside bodice waist.

Being short waisted, I modified the bodice pattern so it wouldn't be gappy at the back shoulders. I cut it a tad too short so I created this waistband that I space back stitched in place. This helped lengthen the bodice without starting over.

I actually used the sewing machine on this project--a little. Inside seams that would normally be back stitched (such as the skirt panels to the bodice, flat felled skirt seams and attaching the sleeves) were sewn on the machine. In reality I'm better at hand stitching than manipulating my Singer, and I ended up sewing some parts twice.

I recently fell in love with the roller printed gown below, from Genesee Country Village. Borrowing that gown's sleeve as inspiration, I created a drawstring on my sleeve. Given that this event is 1820, and my pattern dates to 1809, and the GCV gown dates to a few years later, I like to think it helps slightly update my garment to something closer to the 18-teens.
1810-1818 Roller Printed Gown. 
For construction photos, and the pattern, visit 19us.com.

 I think Anne Shirley would approve of my poofy sleeve.

 Detail of the sleeve pleated and top stitched in place. 

 With this unusually chilly winter, long sleeves are a necessity.

For the bodice lining, I made it the kind that ties in the front.

And that's about it! 

Photo bombed by my four year-old!


  1. What lovely fabric--unusual and beautiful colors and print.


  2. Yum! Do we get to see it on you too? :) I have a very similar block printed Indian cotton in my stash, it reminds me so much of the 1970s, but the more I see gorgeous makes like this, the more that date slips back...about 160 years!

    1. I'm hoping to get photos at the program this weekend, time permitting. I hope to see images of your 1970s/19th century fabric on your site! (Yeah, I didn't accidentally hit delete this time!)


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