1860s Maternity Dress

Hello Friends,

Recently I decided to try to make a maternity-style dress, with the challenges of being able to accommodate different sizes and shapes that a body does during pregnancy. Since different people also carry differently (like high vs. low), the dress does end up being somewhat personalized (such as shoulder-to-waist length), but is much more flexible in sizing than the typical Civil War era dress, especially in the waist. This dress presented some interesting challenges. In the captions I will note some of the issues I encountered with the final product and possible solutions I could implement.

Garment Data:
Type: Maternity dress, 1860s-style. Long sleeved, day wear.
Date made: February 2016
Pattern: self-drafted, based loosely on the pattern my friend Karen drafted for me, and on resources I read on thesewingacademy.org about how maternity dresses were made.
Fabric/Materials: A heavy fabric I found at goodwill. Possibly meant for drapery and upholstery, this is actually slightly heavier than I’d normally use for a dress, but still light enough that I dared. Quite stiff.
Trim: Cotton collar and cuffs.
Time to finish: A few days?

Unfortunately I didn’t get many in-progress pictures as I made it, but I have some detail shots and finished-product pictures, so I’ll share those!

The fabric. The geometric pattern is good for Civil War era, but the swirly background is modern…

Sharpie for scale 🙂
Detail of the front bodice drawstrings. There is a set like this on either side of the front bodice. I created it by sewing a strip of muslin to the widened bodice front, and then sewed down the middle (I did not sew down the ends). I then threaded a bias tape through both tunnels so that the ends came out next to the front closure. Hope that makes sense!

The dress, part way done. Note the pins marking where I’ll be putting buttons!
The waist is also bigger than usual, with an 8″ overlap. I can change it to match the size needed, just by moving the hooks that close the waistband.

Seated, with hoops (no corset). While a gestational corset could certainly be used, I did not have one to work with. But since the bodice front is made to be more roomy anyway, the shifted and less structured body works beneath it.

Front view. It buttons down the front. Note that you can see the skirt overlap, and that it falls very un-gracefully. I could probably remedy this partially by making most of the skirt gauged instead of wide pleats, and then I could even have the front portion on drawstrings like the bodice so that it is easier to adjust.

Side view. You can see here that the skirt looks a little strained around the circumference of the hoops. I have extra fabric, so if I change from knife pleats to cartridge pleats (gauging), I will also add another panel. This will soften the way the skirt falls, I hope. I will also wash the dress at some point 🙂 and see if the stiffness is partially some sort of sizing. If so, I think it will also hang more naturally after that.

Rear view. They back has not been altered from my normal pattern, so this is pretty standard. YES, I know the petticoat is showing!!! I didn’t know it until I saw the pictures, though… 🙁 I will shorten them soon. The petticoats were also made with a longer waistband than usual, but thus also have the overlap/awkward front problem. I think a partial drawstring waist may be a solution that would work, but I need to see if I can find out what was done. Possibly just resetting the waistband each time it doesn’t fit well? (If you know, please post in the comments below!!!)

I also made a new narrow collar and white cuffs. Not perfect, but they work. The cuffs should be rotated more toward the back, but otherwise worked pretty well.

Most sincerely yours,
~ Sarah

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