Designing A Dress

This page is a work in progress and is here for my own personal guidance. Having said that, I hope it is useful to others as well.

Appropriate Silks For 1860s
  • Barege (gauze weave)
  • Broadcloth
  • Brocades (some)
  • Faille
  • Gauze (overskirts & shawls)
  • Grenadine (like gauze)
  • Habotai or China (ok for bonnets but not dresses)
  • Jacquard (some)
  • Organza (overskirts)
  • Ottoman
  • Pongee
  • Shantung (not slubby)
  • Taffeta
  • Twill (for lining and bonnets but not dresses)

Bodice Styles for Silk Dresses
  • Darted
  • Asymmetrical
Sleeve Styles for Silk Dresses
  • Coat Sleeve
  • Pagoda Sleeve
  • Short Sleeve (for ball gowns only)
  • Funnel Sleeve

Neckline Styles for Silk Dresses
  • Low Neckline (for ball gowns)
  • High Neckline
  • V Neckline (with a chemissette)

Accessories and trimmings for Silk Dresses
  • Collar and Cuffs or undersleeves
  • silk belt
  • silk ribbons and lace for trimmings
  • self fabric ruffles
  • fabric covered buttons
  • glass buttons

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 Appropriate Wools for 1860s
  • Barege (gauze weave)
  • Crepe (will fray terribly as it is cut)
  • Flannel (for petticoats, bathing dresses, crafts but not for dresses)
  • Gabardine (only if it is mislabeled and is really twill - it must have a soft hand. See "Hand" in the definitions tab)
  • Tricotene (some)
  • Tropical Weight
  • Twill
  • Challis

Bodice Styles for Wool Dresses
  • Darted
  • Asymmetrical
Sleeve Styles for Wool Dresses
  • Coat Sleeve
  • Open Coat Sleeve
  • Funnel Sleeve
  • Overfull bishop sleeve with or without slashes, gathers, or other fancy works in the fabric
  • piped armscye - all styles
  • optional jockey

Neckline Styles for Wool Dresses
  • V Neckline (with chemisette)
  • High Neckline
  • Open neckline with turned back collar for jackets, trimmed as the dress

Accessories and trimmings for Wool Dresses
  • Collar or neckerchief and Cuffs or undersleeves
  • silk or velvet belt
  • velvet cuffs if other accessories are also velvet
  • silk (quilled or ruched ribbon or gathered silk fabric), velvet ribbon, wool braid or ribbon, fur or imitation fur of the time, for trimmings
  • fabric covered buttons
  • glass buttons
  • self fabric braces or bretelles tucked under the belt and trimmed as the dress is
  • military braiding for jackets

Types of Dresses made of Wool
  • Riding Habit are almost always made of wool. Their major design feature is that they are longer than an everyday dress by at least an eighth of a yard. The jacket or body is very tailored and there is generally a man's styled hat with vail, along with gloves to complete the outfit.
  • House Dresses are also commonly made of wool. These can be made for any class, from the poorest street vender to the most elegant of ladies (although a lady would most certainly prefer silk) depending on how they are ornamented.
  • Walking Dresses are also popular when made of light wool for summer or dress wool (tropical weight) for winter. Generally a walking dress has the accessories of a mantle or coordinating jacket type bodice with longer poplin, either in the back or all the way around.
  • Sheer Dresses can be made from sheer wools. These dresses are reserved for the upper class for the simple reason that they would be the only ones who could afford them. In this period, as today, sheer wools fetch a higher price than most ladies can afford for a dress length.
  • Flannel Petticoats are technically not dresses but they are very important, just the same. They are generally made of wool flannel, and sometimes set in a cotton yolk waistband and are worn under the hoop or corded petticoat. The side seams are generally opened and stitched down with Feather or Herringbone stitch in black or white pearl cotton. The hem is short, sometimes done in tucks with a facing and stitched with more Herringbone stitches. Decorative Herringbone stitch is sometimes found between the tucks.

Appropriate Cottons for 1860s
  • Pique (yellow, cream, tan or white for children's clothes, morning dresses)
  • Voille (for sheer summer printed dresses or white bodies and undersleeves)
  • Lawn  (for sheer summer printed dresses or white bodies and undersleeves)
  • Batiste  (for sheer summer printed dresses or white bodies and undersleeves)
  • Poplin - Checks and Stripes
  • Damask - (White for tablecloths and napkins but not dresses)
  • Dotted Swiss (both solid and white with colored spots for: morning dresses, summer cravat, ruffles for a cottage toilet-table, corded sun bonnets, undersleeves, black on black for mourning dresses)

Bodice Styles for Cotton Dresses
  • Gathered or Pleated **NOT Darted** (for 1860s)
  • Darted on a sheer dress only (for 1860s)
  • Darted or Fan front (for 1850s)
Sleeve Styles for Cotton Dresses
  • Coat Sleeve
  • Bishop Sleeve
  • **Not Pagoda Sleeves unless on a Fine Sheer or Morning Dress**

Neckline Styles for Cotton Dresses
  • High Neckline
  • Slight V Neckline (with chemissette)
  • Bateau neckline with lining for sheers only

Accessories and trimmings for Cotton Dresses
  • Collar or neckerchief and Cuffs or undersleeves
  • silk or self fabric belt
  • self fabric ruffles
  • fabric covered buttons
  • glass buttons

Types of Dresses made of Cotton
  • Wash Dresses are the most common dresses made of cotton. These dresses were never meant to be high fashion dresses. They are for the very lowest working class. There was a thriving second hand dress industry that could provide a silk or wool dress if the want was great enough. These dresses most generally have bishop or coat sleeves and no trimmings. They would have been worn over a work corset (a cross between a back brace/weight lifting belt and a bra) and were not intended to be very fitted.
  • Wrappers were a type of dress that was used for general purposes before the woman was ready to get dresses for the day or to keep her nice clothes clean. Basically this is a robe to be worn in the morning while making breakfast or house cleaning. It was also very commonly used as a maternity gown as the waistline is expandable. This type of dress is not fitted at all and is not intended to be worn over a fashion corset.
  • Morning Dress were used by the upper class instead of a wrapper for daily wear. That is not to say that a fine woman wouldn't have had a wrapper. I am just making a distinction between a wrapper and morning dress. The morning dress would have been something much nicer. This dress would have been worn in the morning while eating breakfast (as opposed to making breakfast) either at home or a resort, lounging around the house before getting dressed (as opposed to laboring), or any time that a fine lady wanted to go without her fashion corset. These dresses could be as fancy and ornamented as the lady could afford. White sheer, with lots of frills, seems to be the most popular mentioned in period magazines.
  • Sheers are very lovely and were worn by the upper class lady. Dyes for cotton were still not color fast so cotton sheers were printed with lovely floral motifs, or ameba style paisley prints. They were often made up with flounces to show off the expense of the dress and the beautiful printed fabrics available at the time.
  • Blouses were worn under open front jackets, under a fine morning dress, or with a silk skirt and Swiss waist, by woman of means. These were not available to the working class for two main reasons. Firstly the expense of the fabric itself, which is still quite high, and secondly the amount of work that went into the making of such a show piece. Neither of which would be available to a working class woman. The blouses were made of sheer, fine, high cost fabrics. They were worked into tucks, trimmed with lace and/or embroidered. They were not simply white shirts used for cleaning

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Details that apply to all dress styles:
  • Piping (armscye, waist edge, neckline)