When my parents came over for Thanksgiving this year my mom brought me a bag of patterns. She had been cleaning out her pattern drawer and came across a bunch that were mine. The other day I took them out of the bag to remind myself what I had purchased many years ago.
If you are unaware, I’m a bit of a Civil War nut.
These are the majority of the books that I own on the topic of the Civil War. Jay built these bookshelves as my Christmas present just a few weeks after moving into our house. These three bookshelves are each four feet wide by six feet tall… just to give you an idea of how much space my books occupy.
You see, prior to meeting and marrying Jay I had pretty much figured that I was going to become an old Maid. In order to be a REALLY good old Maid you have to have a bunch of cats (which I am always working towards) and you have to have some weird proclivities. My particular proclivity was going to be the Civil War. I love immersing myself in the time period, but I didn’t want to go full-fledged reenacting. Despite my passion for the era I have no desire to live full time without indoor plumbing or electricity. Therefore I would not be ‘tenting on the old camp ground’ (a Civil War song… sorry). I thought that maybe I could be an independent reenactor; somebody whom the hardcore guys would despise. I would show up at reenactments and portray whatever persona I decided to undertake. Which means I would need a wardrobe. To buy dresses that look authentic takes some money. Money I didn’t have because I was paying off college loans. However, my mom is a wonder with a sewing machine so I figured that I could glean some knowledge from her and make my own.
That’s where these patterns come in.
First, you need undergarments.
I made the chemise and pantaloons from this pattern set. I decided not to attempt the corset. You see, the corset is a BIG part of the look and if you get it wrong then anybody who knows the era will snicker at you as you walk by. Also, corsets are a bit complicated for the novice sewer, so I did buy one of those made to my (at-the-time) measurements.
I also made the chemise from this pattern because I felt the other one was a bit bulky at times. I think I used this pattern for the over-petticoat that I wear, too. The over-petticoat helps to smooth out the dress and keep the hoops from showing through your skirt. I did not make my own hoop skirt. That’s another big part of the image that you’re creating, so I also left that one up to the professionals. I bought mine in Gettysburg, but I can’t recall if it was during my college graduation trip or during another trip later on.
I don’t have pictures of me wearing these aforementioned articles as that would be horribly improper for a lady to be seen in her undergarments! Although, when I have them on I’m already wearing way more than most women wear to church on Sundays.
If you are going to portray a woman during the Civil War you are definitely going to need a day dress in which you can do chores, tend to the wounded, or cook in without worrying about soiling your good clothes.
I dressed it up a little with a nice collar and brooch, along with my hat (also purchased in Gettysburg). I spent this day at a local museum in the Abraham Lincoln room answering questions that visitors had on all things Civil War.
This is the same dress, but I think that I did something different with the collar. Actually, at this point I was very sick (I hadn’t yet been diagnosed with Celiac Disease) so I was skinny and looked really good in this outfit! I can’t recall what I did to make the skirt not drag on the ground. I know that I was wearing my boots with the 1/2″ heel, but I don’t think that I did anything different with the hoop. Hmmm…
Anyway, so what happens when you want to go visiting? Or when you want to get together with the other women in the auxiliary and roll bandages? You need a visiting dress!
I loved this dress when I saw it. Mainly because it was blue, but I thought it was dressy enough without being too fancy. After all, I knew that no matter what persona I chose it wouldn’t be one where I was in the upper class. Therefore, I wouldn’t need a ball gown right away.
I used homespun fabric (which would have been more along the lines of what my ancestors could afford) and what looked like handmade lace. I love this dress. I loved sewing this dress, too. There was quite a bit of it that needed to be hand sewn and I enjoyed every stitch. Not that I would want to hand sew the entire thing!
It’s been a while since I’ve worn any of these items, but I know right where they are hanging. There was one time that I had them out and Jay was asking me about it. I handed him the hangers with all of the underclothes, the skirt, bodice and hoop. He was a bit surprised at the weight! In order to wear and walk around in this fashion you have to be able to handle a bit of weight! Typically I wear two under-petticoats (for modesty and warmth), my hoop, the over-petticoat, the pantaloons, chemise, corset, skirt and bodice. There must be about ten yards of fabric in the skirt and bodice, plus the fabric needed to make full petticoats. It can get pretty heavy!
I’m not sure what I’m going to do with all of these patterns, but I’ll definitely keep them. You never know when you might see an employment ad where somebody is looking for a Civil War enthusiast who must have their own wardrobe. Give me a weekend and I can whip up another dress!
The Civil War era isn’t the only fashion that I’ve sported, though. When I was in college I LOVED the move Ever After with Drew Barrymore. Her accent was horrible and the acting wasn’t that great, but the story was good and there were some pretty good lines. Anyway, for our formal dance in college I had to be different, so I asked my mom to make me this dress:
This is why I don’t enjoy clothes shopping; None of it is my taste! I thought about trying to bring the 1860’s fashion back, but Jay thinks that it’s a lost cause. I think that I might try to start a trend of women wearing fancy hats again. I’m going to make my friend in choir, Chrissy, wear a hat, too, to help the trend spread!