TL;DR: The dress is finished and my mom is beautiful. The Ohio Historic Costumers tea was a great success and we met a lot of awesome people. I’ll post again when we’ve taken proper photos of the gown, as the day was way too rainy to do a decent photo-shoot.


Pretty cool comparison photo, if I do say so, myself.

Other than perfecting fit, most of the difficulty in this project was the fiddly bits. Around 16 hours were devoted to soutache alone- AND I DIDNT FINISH ALL OF THE DESIGNS. I had never had any experience with it and was surprised at how much I enjoy applying and manipulating the braid to get a pretty design. On the reference image the front of the dress is basically encrusted in soutache braid, then there’s a large design at the knees, 3 straight rows and wiggles on the skirt, wiggles and straights on the sleeves (and at the cuff) and the front of at the bust. I managed to get *most* of the work on the bust done, but ended up leaving off 2 of the straight rows on the skirt, the wiggles at the cuff and the large panel at the knee. I estimate finishing that will take at least another 8 hours. Very pleasing, but very finicky detail work.


Interesting tidbit: I clocked my average application time to be about 1 hour per yard of soutache~ pinning/manipulating time included. However, I used about 22 yards, so I’m not sure what went super fast? I do feel that I would have finished all of the design had I not had to go out of town for 3 days for a board meeting and retreat for the Southeast Ohio History Center. That set me back along with only having ordered 16 yards of soutache at the beginning. OOPS!


Detail of those ever-so-faint scallops

The other time consuming element was the scalloping of the front panel. I didn’t notice this detail until I was about to cut my fabric pieces. The gown in the photo appears to be a tone-on-tone color scheme so it definitely went unnoticed at first. I opted to do an applique technique of the wool onto large, 4″ wide (folded in half) bias strips.

I *did* decide to use modern iron-on interfacing on the scallops since the gabardine tends to ravel. I found it very interesting that the drape of the front panel improved immensely after this application and smoothed the edge wrinkles that were ever-so-slight, initially. I applied the soutache braid before whipstitching the lining to the backside. The scallop stage of the garment [less the soutache work] took about 5 hours to complete with the lining.

There was a lot of research that went into how to get the beautiful drape of the gown and with the portrait labeled “Secession Portrait” from Hungary I wanted to make sure that there wasn’t anything that was regionally specific or symbolic to the outfit. [Keep in mind that my historical knowledge is primarily focused on 1750s-1820s and 1880s; so, have a passable knowledge of the others] What I came to find out is that “secession” was an artistic movement in Europe that included the new wave of Art Nouveau and started in the late 1890s to the “Belle Epoque” time period we think of today. When you look at a lot of the famous design houses from that time period like Margaine-LaCroix, Caillot-Seours, and even just looking at art from John Singer-Sargent, you start to see more and more form fitting styles come in vogue, rather than the ruffly, lacy get ups that were so popular around the turn of the century. I think the reference image is definitely in the same vein… Princess cut, extremely well fitted, and ornate elements that aren’t terribly showy.

I hadn’t worked with bias-y drapes prior to this, so there was a lot of apprehension going into such a project. Overall, the wool was very forgiving if I did anything wrong, because it didn’t show it. The fit was impeccable and despite being so tailored it also has a “soft” feel to it. There are only 3 whalebones (yes, real ones) in the bodice of the dress, but they are thin and only help to smooth out the center back and side seams, since they were the ones that wanted to creep up the most. I also opted to add a lining to the bodice part and faced the hem with organdy; these elements helped keep the seams from widging about while sewing on machine.


The hat was a cheap wool felt floppy hat from Walmart that I blocked to make larger. My mom then used scraps of things I had around my studio to trim it out. It turned out so pretty; even if it took until the wee hours of the morning to finish. It definitely complimented the look, as the look at passers by kept saying how much she looked like she stepped off the Titanic. I’d call that a success- they got the era right!


Gown guts!