I have been obsessed with the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder since childhood, and I have always wanted to make a dress inspired by them. I got my chance recently, and made this dress for Costume College 2015.
We had a small meetup of Little House enthusiasts!
Laura Ingalls wrote about receiving a copy of Tennyson's Poems for a christmas gift, and having a particular fondness for his works. I obtained a small copy of selections of Tennyson's poems to use as a prop for my costume.
At Costume College I also taught an Irish Ceili dance class while wearing this dress.
Dress notes: The dress is made in the style of 1883 in a cotton print fabric from Moda. Being from Minnesota I really ought to have made something from when Laura Ingalls' family was living closest to where I am, but I just felt like doing '80s, even though they were in Dakota Territory by then. While not a direct reproduction of any of Laura's dresses described in her books, I wanted to make something that she or someone in De Smet might have worn.
Laura in De Smet, Dakota Territory in the 1880s.
I was inspired by these two dresses in the book Fashion in Detail, made in small scale cotton prints.
Construction: I made the skirt with French seams so I spent some time fiddling with making the pocket and placket cooperate. A couple internet tutorials helped: in-seam pockets with French seams from Sew Mama Sew, and skirt placket in a French seam from Diary of a Renaissance Seamstress. The skirt has a wide hem facing of plain cotton.
I sewed four lengths of twill tape inside the underskirt, one each at the two side front and side back seams. These tapes had hooks at the ends which connected to eyes in the skirt seams, enabling me to shorten the skirt temporarily to teach dancing.
The bodice is flat-lined with plain woven cotton broadcloth. The sleeves are lined with cotton lawn, and have a wide facing at the wrist so the full-length sleeve can be cuffed into a 3/4 sleeve. The bodice closes with functional buttonholes and metal buttons depicting oak leaves and acorns. The entire dress was sewn on the machine. I only hand sewed the edges of the bodice facings.
There are spiral bones in the curved side back seams and straight white steels in the front darts and side seams.
Patterns: the bodice pattern is from the green ruffle dress. I altered it by raising the shoulder line, creating a new neckline, adjusting the lower edge shape, and making a narrower sleeve, all to make it more 1880s than 1870s.
The skirt pattern is the 1883 skirt from the book The Cut of Women's Clothes by Norah Waugh. The overskirt I made up and draped through trial and error.
I copied the front pleated overskirt detail from one of the Fashion in Detail dresses. The overskirt back is made into puffs held up with hooks and eyes sewn onto twill tape. Because the puffs aren't permanently sewn, ironing and storage are a little easier.
Undies: Laura describes her preference for a smaller bustle in one of the later books, set in the mid-80s when the bustle was at its peak, so I made a small ruffled pad to fill out the late Natural Form shape. I also wore my white Victorian corset and a single, ruffled petticoat.
The lace: I knitted a small strip of lace to trim the neckline. The pattern is French lace from the Ladies' Guide to Elegant Patterns (Ravelry link). I knitted it on size 000 needles with sz 12 DMC Perle cotton.