c. 1872 Ballgown: Tissot or Tarzan?

Jane from the Disney Tarzan vs. James Tissot, 'Too Early', 1873 (detail)

These were the two references I repeatedly got at the ball, so I'm really curious what everyone thinks my gown reminds them of! The Tissot homage with the ribbon necklace was deliberate, but I've never even seen Tarzan, so that was completely unplanned! Not a single person mentioned Hufflepuff, so clearly I need to concoct a large badger headdress to wear with it next time.

Front view. Picture by Peryn.
Back view. Picture by Peryn.
This nerd brought her time turner to pose with. Picture by a patient Peryn.

This is it! I'm really pleased with how it turned out, and it's very close to what I originally envisioned. Here are my main inspirations: the left-hand gown in this fashion plate, and the original of the c. 1871 dress in Patterns of Fashion (there were a lot of iterations of this pattern at the ball- I wish we could have all gotten a picture together!)

Le Moniteur de la Mode, July 1872.
Dress with evening bodice, c. 1871-3. Manchester Art Galleries. http://manchesterartgallery.org/collections/search/collection/?id=1947.3751

The gown made its debut at the Prior Attire Victorian Ball in Bath last weekend. This was the second year in a row that Peryn and I have gone, and it was even more enjoyable with some familiar faces this time around. True to tradition, I was sewing up until the day of the ball, but by that point it was just finishing touches rather than major construction, which is much more relaxing!

The Butt Bow: the cherry on top for a bustle gown.

I have another post written about the under layers, so for now I'll focus on the gown itself. I followed Janet Arnold's pattern pretty faithfully, only leaving off the ruffle on the overskirt due to time and fabric constraints. It consists of a trained underskirt, a bustled overskirt, bodice (the original has both day and evening versions), and basque (the little extra peplum bit- see picture above). Most of the pieces I was able to cut using the original measurements. I just had to make the bodice a bit bigger as it was ridiculously short-waisted, even on me. I am absolutely rubbish at taking in-progress photos, which is too bad as it would have been amusing to document all the places I ended up working on bits of this project!

So, two things I thought worked really well, and one that didn't... Throughout construction I was concerned about the skirt being the right shape, since I didn't have a proper 1870s bustle. I flatlined the underskirt, but in far lighter-weight fabric than would have been ideal. The train was sad and flat.

Sad flat train. Much more 1880s shape, which is incorrect.

I faced the hem with a strip of stiffer fabric, and bound the edge in cotton tape, which helped it hold its shape a bit better. Adding the ruffle to the hem also helped- definitely worth the approximately ten thousand hours of my life I spent hemming it.

Getting expert help with attaching the ruffle...
Improved skirt shape. Also I now have a bodice, hooray!

I decided what I really needed was the period solution- a dust ruffle, or balayeuse. (This blog gives a good overview of what that is and how to make one.) I looked for pre-made eyelet ruffle to use as a quick and easy option, since I was running out of time, but it was more expensive than I could justify for something that was going to get dragged around the floor all evening. Then I remembered that I had some black organdy: stiff, lightweight, wouldn't fray, wouldn't show dirt, and would go perfectly with the black trim!

The day before leaving for the ball, I cut a piece of cotton to the shape of the train (black might have been better than white, but oh well), cut the organdy into 4" wide strips, and just freehand pleated them on. I also pleated a strip onto twill tape to go around the front section of the hem. I was able to use the selvedge for most of the bottom edge, but it's also tightly-woven enough that fraying hasn't been an issue.

My organdy seems to have grown claws...

I remembered to take progress shots! Freehand pleating, living on the edge.

Done! This was actually really quick, maybe an hour total?

This is how you wear it, right?

I basted it in, and the train now has a wonderful amount of body and rustle. I sewed a ribbon loop under the outside ruffle so I could lift it up for dancing, and I love how the black ruffle peeks out. I was concerned about dancing in a train, but it stayed out of the way extremely well, and I didn't trip once!

Scooped up train, and peeking ruffle! Picture by Peryn.

The other thing I was really pleased with was the berthe, or neckline trim. I had found pretty lace, but I had to shape it to the berthe I'd cut from fabric. I ended up folding it so that the top border showed all the way along the top, tapering the rest to fit the shape. At the centre front and back, I carefully trimmed the lace to overlap seamlessly. It was tricky because the large motifs are actually teardrop shapes, but I got them to form a circle where they met, and I think it worked pretty well!

Not an entirely gratuitous Thistle picture- you can see the original shape of the lace, and the berthe cut in fabric on top.

Centre front- observe how the lace is folded over the top edge, and the barely-visible overlap.

The problem area is the centre front at the waist. I basted the bodice to the overskirt waist so I wouldn't have to worry about adding hooks and eyes to hold them together, and this ended up creating a weird gap in the bodice fastening. I expect that will be easily fixed if I go back and take the time to do it properly (and is that not so often the case?) The basque waistband also ended up being too big and weirdly angled, so the front points want to overlap rather than lying nicely side-by-side. So I need to take that apart and fuss with it a bit more too. The little rosette in front is currently hiding a multitude of sins!

All those hours playing with Microsoft Paint as a child have been justified.

This beautiful piece of art is your reward for making it this far! I'm planning a couple more posts on all the supporting undergarments, and on the hairstyles I created for Peryn and myself. And please vote in the comments... is this dress Tissot, or Tarzan?


  1. Some gorgeous photos there as well as a gorgeous cat and a gorgeous dress, I don't suppose you could call that a frock, and a gorgeous belle.. What about cat hair

    1. Thank you so much! Cat hair is just a fact of life in my flat, but fortunately it brushes off the silk pretty easily.

  2. I'd definitely vote Tissot ;). You looked lovely in the dress, very nice to see your dress diary! I'm also seriously impressed with the piecing on the lace, I was wondering how you'd done it, because it looked like it came in the right shape. Again, it was very nice to meet you at the ball!

    1. Thank you! I'm so pleased with how the lace turned out. It was wonderful to meet you too- hope to see you at more events in the future! :)

  3. Balayeuses are great! Black is a perfect color, as it won't show dirt. How fortuitous that it matched your dress and doesn't look out of place! I was interested to read that you had no problem dancing in the dress and that it didn't hang awkwardly from your wrist as trained things sometimes do. Looking forward to more details!


    1. I'm really glad I took the time to make the balayuese, the skirt didn't really 'work' until it was there! I think the train was just the right length to be just off the floor when it was looped up on my wrist. There are some action shots on facebook where I'm dancing, and I love how it swooshes! Thanks for the comment! :)

  4. This dress is so lovely!! I'm very impressed with your fearless balayeuse-ing ;) In the end this was such an elegant shape and you look just like a painting--but I'm not voting for either Tissot or Tarzan, as I've been watching your Hufflepuff board on Pinterest and that's all I see.

    Hooray for the time turner!!

    1. Thank you so much!! I'm so glad someone sees it as a Hufflepuff dress! I've just started working on an accessory that I hope will make it a bit more obvious... :P


Post a Comment