1860s-Style Mourning Dress

Hi Friends,

As some of you know, we recently experienced a loss in our family. This led me (of course!) to looking into historical customs of mourning, specifically for the American Civil War era (1861-65).

Garment Data:
– Type: Dress, specifically for mourning or half mourning, depending on the accessories
– Date made: August 2016
– Pattern: My personalized Civil War “Day Dress” pattern, drafted by my friend Karen, adjusted slightly at the neckline, and with sleeves I drafted myself. Also, assisted by the Dressmaker’s Guide by Elizabeth Stewart Clark
– Fabric/Materials: Linen, cotton lining/hem facing, polyester chiffon for the veil
– Trim: Nylon velvet ribbon (1-1/2″ and 3/8″), lace (poly?), cotton hem tape (1″ twill tape), plastic buttons, 2 pants hooks for waist closure
– Accessories: Brooch, Belt, Belt buckle, Headband, Veil, Hairnet, Shoes
– Time to finish: approximately 3 days

I was originally intending to make this dress from a light-weight or even sheer wool. However, I could not find it easily locally, and since I had a timeline in which I wanted to make it (I wanted to wear it to the Hale Farm (Ohio) reenactment on August 13th), I needed fabric to be available quickly. As it turned out, I knew someone who had over 6 yards of black linen – and, bonus, a roll of 3-1/2″ black lace! I did a little bit of research to see if that would work. Linen was rare by this point, so it is a bit of a stretch but still possible.

Due to time constraints, as well as budgetary ones, here are the corners I cut:
– I used linen, a material no longer much in use in the 1860s for dresses
– I used a blue print for the lining rather than a polished cotton
– I did not make or use a bias piping on the armscye
– I did not make/cover a bonnet (though I did buy some of the materials…)
– I forgot pockets
– I used poly chiffon instead of crape

In all, though, it came together well! Here are the pictures:

Cutting the skirt. I based the number of panels on the yardage I had left after cutting the bodice and sleeves. I had enough length left for 3 panels, and they are about 60″ wide, so that was fine.

Adding the hem facing at the bottom of the skirt.

Completed skirt (inside out) showing the hem facing.

Nearly completed bodice back. Note that the sleeves are still uncuffed.

Nearly completed bodice front. Note that I have not yet added darts or finished the front edge.
Shoe options at Goodwill. I realized last minute I had no black footwear that would be even halfway passable!!! I went with the top pair due to the overall look and that they were black. The bottom pair had a thick heel and were gray, which I didn’t like.

Pinning on the trim. Note that I had already gathered the skirt at this point, using 2 layers of aligned gathering stitches in anticipation of gauging (is that the same as cartridge pleating?). I had tried larger pleats but noticed that the fabric was too bulky, so despite time constraints, I was going to have to gauge the skirt.

Laying everything out to make sure I had everything I needed 🙂

Completed dress!!! Just in time… this is the night before. I would still have to add the waist hooks in the morning, and complete the headdress and belt, but I had the bulk done! Hurrah!

At Hale Farm. I am wearing a ribbon headband, a hairnet, veil; period glasses, reproduction brooch, gloves; velvet ribbon belt with reproduction buckle; and the dress. The funny wrinkle-tuck at my waist is because I realized that the way I did the waistband of the dress caused the bodice to be too long. I pinned it up for the duration of this event, and will take it in permanently when I have the chance.

Here you can see the line of hem tape as well.

Detail of trim lines at bottom of skirt. They are all sewn on along the upper edge.

Dearest husband is the one taking the pictures! 🙂

The reproduction brooch by Elizabeth Aldridge, and the matte plastic shank buttons.

Velvet ribbon belt with reproduction buckle by Elizabeth Aldridge. You can see that my “fly” is gaping a little and I had to pin it shut. Not sure how to remedy that. You can also see my hasty pinned tuck to shorten the bodice. I can fix it much more elegantly, but that worked for the day!

Close up of the gauging along the waistband. I folded about 3″ of the skirt down, then did pleating stitches in black thread, that stay in the skirt (two parallel lines of stitches, lined up with each other). I then pulled it tight, and matched the skirt to the waistband. I then whip-stitched one side of each pleat to the waistband from the inside, so only the outside edge of the pleat would show from the outside. Time-consuming, but I love the finished effect!!!

Most sincerely yours,
~ Sarah

One comment on “1860s-Style Mourning Dress”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *