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Inspiration for today’s post comes from the recent film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women! As soon as I heard about the upcoming movie, I mentally began planning a costume tribute! A good deal of my Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks were required for these novice efforts, while my family and family home were also roped into participation! I admit to crying buckets during the film which, in my opinion, managed to convey the heart of the characters and story despite many modifications to the book. With the help of my mom and sister, my beginner-level sewing produced an amusing costume experience and photo shoot! We must, however, begin with the sewing…
My 1860s costuming journey began with an article from one of my favorite resources, vintagedancer.com. The article listed many resources, including a tutorial for sewing a simple skirt. I began with the skirt, referencing the recommended instructions by Camela Bryan at https://www.ehow.com/how_8744033_make-civil-war-skirt.html. As i intended to make two skirts, I purchased two lengths of vintage-looking floral print cotton.
After washing and drying my fabric, I got to work following the skirt tutorial. (I am including a few photos of my process, but will refer you to the original article for complete directions!) The pleating of the skirt proved to be a bit confusing for me, so I will focus on that first. The article mentioned using “36 two-inch pleats” for gathering the skirt to the waistband. I did a bit of experimenting, and found that three inches of fabric could be gathered into a one-inch pleat. I believe this is actually what the author meant.
Accordingly, I marked 3 inch intervals along the top of my skirt, then pinned them into 1 inch pleats. I also reduced the size of the waistband and skirt fabric from what the the author used. This allowed the waistband to fit me better, but also reduced the fullness of the skirt.
After basting the pleats in place, I pinned the waistband to the skirt in preparation for sewing. (I should have lined the whole waistband with the white interfacing, but I only had pre-cut waistband interfacing at the time.)
I sewed a small square of hemmed fabric on one side of the skirt opening to help cover the hole when the skirt was worn. (I also could have sewn a snap into the opening.) A sturdy hook and eye closed the waistband.
Here are the finished skirts! In order to make the skirt look fuller when worn, I purchased an inexpensive hoop skirt with adjustable hoops. L used a wedding dress crinoline and two cotton skirts under her skirt. We both paired the skirts with white peasant blouses.
To create a more wintery look, I made two cloaks from wool remnants. This pattern from Simplicity, though not decade-specific, offered helpful pattern variations. As it turned out, I only had about half as much fabric as was needed for full-length cloaks!
Accordingly, I shortened my pattern pieces instead of extending them to full length.
I did, however, lengthen and widen the tie straps, as I couldn’t turn the original straps right side out!
Here is the outer cloak and hood pieces made from the wool fabric.
The lining was cut and sewn the same way
Following the pattern directions, I sewed the hood pieces right sides together.
After turning the hood right sides out, I basted the hood to the wool layer. I also basted the straps in place.
Next, I pinned the lining and wool right sides together with the straps and hood tucked inside. I sewed around the edges leaving a hole to turn the cloak right sides out.
And here is the finished cloak!
My next wool remnant was too small for even the shortened cloak pattern. Instead, I used the circular collar/outer cloak from to the brown cloak pictured on the pattern. I extended that half-circle pattern as big as the folded fabric would allow.
I cut two of each pattern piece from the folded fabric. (Fabric pieces are stacked in the picture.)
I did the same for the lining and sewed the pieces together in a similar way to the first cloak.
Ta-da! This cloak had a short, swing shape created by the circular pattern.
Of course, no Victorian lady would be without accessories! Our existing peasant blouses definitely needed some modification/embellishments. I added seam binding ties to a vintage collar to finish the edge and make the collar adjustable.
Next, I repurposed a vintage table runner and doily into more accessories! The table runner was destined to be a shawl, while the doily would become a cap!
I gathered thin elastic thread and a darning needle.
I stitched the elastic around the doily about an inch and a half from the outer edge.
I pulled the elastic and adjusted the new cap to fit my head before cutting and tying off the elastic thread. I added silk flower pins later for embellishment. For additional headgear, we used a diy snood like the one I made in this post. We also raided the jewelry boxes for antique-looking earrings and necklaces.
After an enjoyable movie viewing, we returned home to try out our costumes! Many thanks to our mom for taking pictures for us and for having antique furniture for backdrops! We attempted period-appropriate photo faces, with varying degrees of success!
We were a bit surprised by the amount of fabric we felt we were wearing. We had no right to complain, though, because we weren’t wearing all the period-appropriate undergarments! The collar and shawl had a tendency to become disheveled. How improper!
In Beth March’s honor, we included a family cat in the pictures!
Apparently, Gibson the cat is not opposed to historical portraiture… as long as he’s the center of attention.
We went outside to try out our cloaks. Wool fabric came in handy! Brr! You can really see L’s homemade snood in this picture.
We had alot of fun and learned a great deal in our first attempt at Victorian costuming! (I even got to wear a doily on my head! How fun is that?) We all enjoyed the Little Women movie, and I’m re-reading the book so that I can thoroughly experience the story. I’m also planning more challenging sewing projects to help me gain greater knowledge of the fashions and sewing practices of the time.
This post is gratefully and humbly dedicated to Louisa May Alcott, the author of Little Women. Through her characters, we knew early in life that we should become more than what was expected of us. May her works continue to inspire future generations!