Monday, May 4, 2015

Historical Sew Monthly Challenge #4: War and Peace

As the Civil war in the US was dawning, cotton trading was a huge industry throughout the world, and the South was the hub of it all. The Southern states alone produced at least 2/3 of the world's cotton.

The main export was to Europe, who had no cotton-making capabilities at all but relied heavily on America for almost all of it. To quote James Henry Hammond in 1858:

"Without firing a gun, without drawing a sword, should they make war on us, we could bring the whole world to our feet... What would happen if no cotton was furnished for three years?... England would topple headlong and carry the whole civilized world with her save the South. No, you dare not to make war on cotton. No power on the earth dares to make war upon it. Cotton is King"

Thus began a diplomatic approach called King Cotton. As a military strategy, the South decided to cut off all exports to Europe, in hopes of forcing them into an alliance of some sort. To begin the movement, they even burned some 2.5 million bales of cotton to create a shortage.

However, the plan mostly backfired because, in the years of cotton surplus and with mounting tension in the US, Europe had a stock that would last them until 1862. Even then, they chose to remain neutral and traded with other countries, which stepped up to meet the demand that the South could not meet while still being in a state of war.

After months and months of being soooo excited to make a dress that is perfectly fitted over my new corset, here is an 1860's cotton dress.

I'm really pleased with how it turned out. The fit is just to my liking.

When I first started looking at fabric, I wanted something really sheer. A friend gave me a swatch of her barred sheer that is a tissue weight, and I fell in love with it.

Sad to say, I couldn't find any other than what was over in Bangkok. I did not care for the way they handled things there, and someone told me that they had ordered some of the same barred sheer and said the quality was questionable. So I moved on.

After much, much, much debate, I bought dotted swiss over at Hancocks. The price was right for the 11 yards I purchased, so I was appeased a little.  I can still dream about actually make a nothing-weight dress. Someday...

The actual construction went fairly well. I fiddled with the fit enough in the mockup stage to have it down before actually starting. Even then, the total time came out around 35 hours. Only 10 were used to make the skirt. The corset cover took around 7 of that time (that is a seperate post; I don't have any pictures of it yet)

There was an online debate about the width of the skirt. The fabric came in 50'' widths (just another plus to the cost aspect, as it was advertised as 44''), so I assumed to round up to 4 panels for a total of 200''. Only after I had it mostly finished, everything except for the gauging, I realized it might be too large. Multiple women told me to take out a panel, rip it in half and then sew it back in. In the end, I opted to leave it as it was. It is pretty large, but I really like how floaty it looks.

I agonized, literally, over how to figure the dog leg closure. For those of you that don't know, a dog leg closure is where the bodice (top part) closes down the front, but the skirt closes off to the side. Somehow, they are supposed to be attached, but only in some parts and not in others. Multiple tutorials later, I still hadn't figured it out. Even though several women have excellent examples, it still wasn't clicking. So I sat down and thought. It drove me crazy, until I finally came up with a solution that was simple. Someday, I will make a tutorial.

The sleeves are a bishop sleeve that are only full at the bottom. I probably wouldn't have chosen this, except that, in photos, I love when you can see the half-high lining through the sleeves. I thought my fabric wasn't as sheer as it really turns out, my thinking was that if I made it more closer fitting at the top, it would help. In the end, I liked the look. Excuse the weird face....

The corset cover fits really well. Maybe a little too well, the armscye is a little small. While it looks good, I think I'll rip the sleeves off and make it larger so I can actually move my arms, LOL.

More pictures if it in action later!


  1. I followed the link from The Dreamstress' HSM15 Challenge 4 round up, because this dress is so lovely. well done!!!

  2. You've made a really beautiful dress. Heaps of work but gorgeous. I hope you get some good chances to wear it.

  3. It turned out beautiful, worth all that work and agonizing. :-) (I hope you'll make the tutorial, because I can't seem to wrap my mind around doglegs, either.) That full, full skirt is gorgeous!

  4. Thanks everyone!
    Hana - thank you for reminding me, I had sort of put the idea of a tutorial out of my mind. I don't have any up-coming dresses that I can use for a tutorial in the near future, but will keep that in mind.