Sunday, August 18, 2013

My Second Civil War Era Ball Gown Project


My Second Civil War Era Ball Gown Project


The 150th Anniversary of the Commemoration of the Consecration of the National Cemetery at Gettysburg will take place November 19, 2013. This event is most famous for the speech given by Abraham Lincoln that became known as the Gettysburg Address.

For those of us in the American Civil War living history or reenacting communities, it also means a big parade with scores or re-enactors marching in uniform, a grand opportunity to shop for necessary accouterments, a pilgrimage to Needle & Thread (the holy grail for period correct fabrics), a grand social event and the celebratory balls throughout town.

Now, my husband and I are not big aficionados of balls; but we do love to dress up in our mid-19th Century finery, sip some adult beverages and hob-knob with others similarly attired.  It is just fun to wear the fancy clothes of the period.  My husband dons his beaver top hat, fine wool frock with silk velvet collar, silk brocade vest, silk cravat and hand-sewn linen shirt.  I require a low-bodice silk taffeta gown that laces up the back, trimmed with laces, a decorative bertha and bows and a fine English net tucker and under-sleeves, an elaborate headdress, wrist length white kid gloves, and dancing slippers.

I made my first period ball gown 4 years ago. For an amateur, it was good. But my appreciation for period construction, my eye for detail and my understanding of what is appropriate is far more evolved now. I’ve seen a lot of originals, studied fashion plates and photographs, done my research and planned my project.

While I am using a Kay Fig bodice pattern for a guide as to fit and construction, I am also adapting the pattern to create a gown inspired by melding an extant Worth dress and a Petersons Fashion Plate circa June 1860.  It will no doubt be interesting to see the result.

I could, of course, pay an experienced dressmaker to create a confection of silk and beyond my humble sewing skills. But there is a level of satisfaction in attempting something so ambitious and actually succeeding on some level that I must move forward.

And, after borrowing an amazing mantle from our dear friend Jackie Wakeling Jacobs the last go around, I’ve decided I must have a mantle of my own.  No, it will not be the exquisitely embroidered silk that caused my heart to sing 4 years ago, but I do plan to make a serviceable silk taffeta lined velvet wrap to keep the chill away whilst walking to and from or carriage.

Let the games begin!


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