Apr 6, 2014

Sewing Milestone - Creating an 1880s outfit

A year ago as a novice sewer my historical costuming adventures began with my first Victorian Costuming Project, an 1860s Spoon Bonnet, followed by an 1863 outfit to mark the Dunedin Botanical Gardens 150th celebrations.

They were simple projects for a more simple time, chosen to help build up my sewing skills so one day in the distance future I might sew something from my fav decade, the 1880s.

Two months ago I knew I needed a complete outfit for an Images of Past Dunedin event by the end of March and like an American Idol contestant I wasn't going to let dubious skills stop me any longer so I took the 1880s plunge.

Here's what I came up with:

Olden-time posing under the Peasgoode Nonesuch apple tree

As making this outfit coincided [sort-of] with the Historical Sew Fortnightly challenge #5 'Bodice' today I'll talk about the main part of the outfit, the jacket.

My inspiration for the chevron back came from the extant garment below, full details HERE at Bonhams.
Extant 1880s dress with chevron back detail - Source = Bonhams

Details for Historical Sew Fortnightly
The Challenge:  #5 'Bodice'
Fabric: dark blue synthetic outer, poly-cotton inner

I chose 'Ladies Costume' from the 1888 National Garment Cutter,

By the way, the 1888 National Garment Cutter is available FREE from the Library of Congress, aka the Internet Archive HERE

Pattern printed and back sections cut

I drafted the jacket using Adobe Illustrator, plotting out the Nat. Garment pattern exactly as stated and then merging it with my measurements in the form of a sloper  - drafted for me by a very kind friend, and without which I could not have made the jacket at all. Thank you S.W!!!

Year: 1888
Notions: thread, hook and eyes

How historically accurate is it? 
I give this 8 out of 10 for historicalness. Excluding the fabric's synthetic content, the pattern is 100% authentic, the construction is flat-lined, and sewn entirely on my 1937 Singer No15 which only does straight stitch - no reverse!

The Cat being helpful and my 1937 Singer
Jacket is flat-lined
1880s jacket in construction

Hours to complete: Many! Spread over two months I loss count. I really don't want to think about the time it took least it prove I'm crazy for doing things like this.

Problems encountered: Aside from the masses of time this took, I only had one major hiccup, it turns out I totally have one shoulder lower than the other! Who knew?

1880s Jacket - back not fitting quite right due to 'purse shoulder'...see the wrinkles on left shoulder
Argh - Fitting fail, had to adjust the left shoulder several times...but got there in the end :)

First worn: 28 March 2014, Toitu Museum

I really like this jacket, there's something quite severe about it that appeals to my odd sense of humour. I feel I should be standing outside the Sally Army banging a tambourine and haranguing people about the perils of drink! Hmmm, who can loan me a tamborine?

First worn at Toitu Museum
Total cost: jacket under $20
Fun Times Achieved: Hell yes.

I say, I do love a good silhouette, but does this make my bum look big enough??


  1. This looks great! One of these days I have to get my a into g and make a historically accurate costume, or a steampunk one, just because it would be FUN.

    1. Thanks Judy, & it is fun I assure you.
      If you wanted to go Steampunk the Dreamstress' HSF challenge #20: Alternative Universe, due 1st Nov may be just the thing :)

      Read about all the challenges for 2014 here:

  2. That looks great! I particularly like the first photo as it looks like it belongs in the time and was actually taken back then.
    My mother has the low shoulder problem on one side too, she takes care of it with shoulder pads being thicker on that side; often makes her own if I remember correctly.
    I have to say I love the 1880's silhouette too, it's an era to consider once I finish the 1776 outfit.

    1. Thank You so much.
      I will look into the shoulder pad idea, it sounds just the ticket :)
      All the best for your 1776 project

  3. Wow I'm dead impressed. What am amazing project and it looks fantastic. :-)

  4. I LOVE that chevroned back! It is just stunning. And thank you for the tip about the National Garment Cutter books in the archive :) I think the scales in a couple of books by Frances Grimble are from the same system, I can't wait to get started!

    1. Thanks Crystal, and you're very welcome. Frances book are great :) I look forward to seeing what you make

  5. I love the chevron work on the back. It is fabulous. I know this is a historical garment but i think i would look great with jeans and a shirt for regular wear.

    1. Thank you, and that's a very interesting idea. hmmm...Maybe I could make one in denim

  6. Wow Kura, that's really beautiful. I adore the chevrons! I'm hoping to delve into the 1880's later this year too!

    1. Thanks! I'm thinking about making some chevron cuffs to go with. Good luck with your 1880s projects, let me know what you come up with :)

  7. This is lovely, the back is so striking!

  8. I'm impressed you are self taught and that you are so dedicated to your fashion epoch. Nice hat!

    1. Thanks Maureen, and while I love Victorian styles I sure am glad I live in the age of the Internet, without which I wouldn't be able to learn such fun things :)