Historical Sew Monthly December – Red

December didn’t quite turn out the way I wanted it to.

This was supposed to be a fun month for costuming.  Dickens on the Strand the first weekend, then some holiday cheer at my volunteer ranch to follow.  I had my December challenge item, a ball gown bodice, slated for finishing for the ranch events, and I was going to wear my awesome November “red” dolman for Dickens.

However, I ended up not being able to go to any of it.  Due to some unforeseen circumstances with my supervisor, I ended up having to attend drill the weekend of Dickens on the Strand.  And I had some other obligations that ended up taking precedent over the ranch events.  Then in January?  My parents’ puppy got stolen, and that was all kinds of bad.  Sad stuff.

I did get a chance to finish and wear my dolman, and now that things are quiet, I thought I’d catch up with the posts!  I’m quite happy with the end result!


The Challenge: Red

Material:  4 yards dyeable rayon/silk velvet from Dharma Trading, 4 yards twill and linen interlining, cotton shirting for lining, silk for sleeve edges

Pattern:  The “dolman” pattern from Bustle Fashions, somewhat manipulated

Year: 1887

Notions: Jacquard Acid dyes, salt, sofa ash, cotton balls, hook and eyes (eventually), 6 yards of 3/16th inch poly upholstery cord from JoAnn’s, and my bathtub

How historically accurate is it?:  Considering that I modeled it almost exactly off a museum piece, using a extant pattern and all natural fibers, I’d say 95%.  Some of the techniques are rather difficult to figure out on this, so they might not be right.

Hours to complete: 30

First worn: Monet Day at the Kimball Museum, 25 January

Total cost: between $150-$175

The biggest issue with trying to make this dolman was figuring out how the pattern pieces go together.  I literally could not find a single construction post online, and even dressmaking guides from the period don’t describe the process.  So, once the fabric was dyed and dried, I had quite the uphill fight figuring this out.  For anyone else contemplating making a dolman, these are the steps I worked out:


-Cut all pattern pieces as normal

-Flatline as needed.

Start with the sleeves:

-Sew darts in sleeve and lining

-Attach sleeve fashion fabric and lining at wrist.  Grade.  Understitch.

-Fold lining and sleeve, and sew in one seam from armpit to armpit

-Turn lining inside.  Baste or pin to sleeve

Sew bodice

-Sew darts in front lining and fashion fabric

-Sew backs together

-Sandwiching the sleeve “drape” in between the back and side back pieces, pin and sew.  The bottom of the sleeve should hit exactly at your waistline

-Sew side back to front (or side front, then front, depending on the pattern)

-Sew fronts to back at shoulders

-Gather or pleat the sleeve cap.  Sew it into the armhole, leaving the appropriate gap at the bottom.  Check the fit here; you might need to open up the hole more to allow for arm movement

-Add any trim at this time whose stitching needs to be hidden by the lining; soutache, etc

-Sew the bag lining for just the bodice together; you will bag line the bodice WITHOUT the sleeve lining

-Turn the bag lining through the neck hole

-Add the standing collar


-Finish hem

-Add any additional trim

I made the trim here out of small velvet circles, sewn and drawn up around the edges, cotton balls, and 3/16″ cording.  This was tedious, but turned out nice.

I used a hem facing on the bottom edge of my dolman, because the shape was a little funky, and also, I wanted to tuck the little balls into the seam.  In that case, I cut a bias strip of velvet for the facing, basted the facing on, and then nipped small holes to tuck the cord through.  I then re stitched the entire hem, graded, and understitched for extra strength.  I like the way it turned out.  You can see some of my hem stitches up close because they went through the velvet.  I’ll have to correct that in the future.

-Finish the armhole

You can finish the armhole with bias tape, or by folding the bodice lining over the seam.  I did the latter.  You can turn and tuck the seam allowances of the hole easier that way.

-Turn the edge of the collar under and whipstitch in place.

-Add hook and eyes (large hook tape or individually) at front for closure

And this is the end result!

A few things I noted:

-Velvet is HARD to work with.  This rayon stuff is lovely, but it is slippery.  It won’t slip as much sewing it to itself (I assume the fibers settle into each other) but it will slip against other materials.  Pin the hell out of it, use a walking foot, and if sewing to a different material, have the velvet be the top layer (the layer directly under the foot, not flat on the sewing machine base).  Why this works, I don’t know, but it helped.

-With as thick as this is, I added an extra 1/8th inch seam allowance to most seams, in addition to regular ease allowances.  So factor maybe two inches, instead of one, for ease

-Gathering the little velvet balls was tricky.  Next time, I’d probably cut two circles out and sew them together to form a ball.  The puckering isn’t accurate to the extant garment.

I will admit, I screwed up the bag lining.  I know, I know, you’re supposed to add a few inches of width to the panels for ease of fit… should have done that.  Also should have sprung for some lining material instead of cotton, but hey, I wanted to use silk and the budget just was not there.

Overall though, I’m very pleased with how this turned out!  (I did also whip up a cream overskirt and bodice to go with this at the last minute, cause I was worried about the contrast with the plaid… but that’s a whole other story!)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s