"Becoming Victoria"

I am honoured and excited to have been invited by the Llandrindod Wells Victorian Festival committee to appear as a young Queen Victoria at this year's festival from 22nd-28th August 2016. In preparation for this role I will be designing and making the costumes for the young queen over the coming months. These will be authentic reproductions of the fashions of the early years of Victoria's reign and will include a range of 1840s women's garments from corsets and petticoats to day dresses, ball gowns and bonnets. This blog will document and share my progress as I research, design and stitch each element to reveal the secrets of "Becoming Victoria".

Monday, 18 July 2016

Bodice Construction - Part II - The sleeves

36 days to go and the sleeves for the silk dress are complete.

Fashions for sleeves changed with amazing rapidity throughout the nineteenth century, veering from one extreme to the other.

At the beginning of the century, gowns tended to feature short, puffed sleeves or long, narrow, fitted sleeves depending on the type of dress.

A fashion plate from 1815 found here
By the 1830s, however, sleeves had achieved quite incredible proportions and were known as "Leg O'Mutton" or "Gigot" sleeves. Indeed they were so large that feather-filled pads were worn around the upper arms to hold out the sleeves! (Click on the image below to find out more about this dress).

Sleeve detail on an 1830s dress in the collections at The Museum at FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology)
By the 1840s, with it almost impossible for sleeves to get any bigger, the reaction was for fashion to swing once more in the other direction. Slimmer, more fitted sleeves began to come back into vogue for day dresses. Evening dresses tended to feature very small, straight sleeves or little puff sleeves.

From "The World of Fashion" periodical, 1845 (found here)
The pendulum continued to swing in this way throughout the rest of the century with sleeves expanding and contracting almost with each decade.

For my 1840s silk gown, I have opted to make the sleeves convertible. Victorian etiquette dictated that during the day the arms and throat must be covered. In the evening, however low cut, short-sleeved gowns were considered both proper and fashionable. It was not uncommon for dresses at this period to be made with two bodices so that the same dress could be worn both during the day and for evening wear. There are also examples of wedding dresses with detachable sleeves and a fill-in for the neckline. This meant that the dress, worn for a morning wedding, could be converted and worn later as a ball gown or evening dress.

Inspired by this, I have cut my sleeves so that the lower sleeve is detachable. During the day, the bodice can be worn with the long sleeves and a chemisette (false blouse) to fill in the neckline.

The upper part of the long sleeve is made from lining material and when this sleeve is used it is loosely tacked (stitched) in place by hand temporarily.

The lower sleeve, showing the top portion of lining fabric that is tacked inside the bodice sleeve head
To transform the dress into an evening gown, the lower half of the sleeve is simply removed.

Just like the original gown that the pattern was taken from, the sleeves are decorated with two simple bands of fabric that form cuffs. These also disguise the join when the long sleeves are added.

Sleeve detail

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