The Kate Eliza Dress
Well it has been along time since I did any posting on the Westsailing Bum website. We have been working and working and more working over the last year or how ever long it is since I last posted. We still have our loved Westsail Kabuki and we have still been using her in the summers for sailing in the Bay of Islands here in New Zealand.
Working is not conducive to spending lots of time away sailing, but our working is for a reason. We are hopefully working our way to an early retirement. This has left us both with time on our hands during our non working times. Paul is tinkering with Kabuki, spending time with his Dad, and generally doing the things he likes to do. Me, well I have gone down the historical clothing rabbit hole in the last year or so. I have been sewing dresses and unpicking dresses, trailing sewing and drafting techniques, and basically messing about with fabric. On the side I have done some family history research, hence the photo's below.
I have had some old photos of my ancestors for some time and I have always been taken with the photo below of my 3rd Great Grandmother Kate Eliza Kelly(nee Maggs). Kate born in Westminster in London and her husband John born in Dublin, Ireland both moved to Australia in the 1850's or early 1860's. They met and married in Victoria, Australia in 1864 and then moved to Avoca in Victoria. According to my sister they had a Drapery in the town and were upstanding members of the community, but interestingly Kate was the brains behind the business. Sometime between 1870 and 1880's they moved to Wellington New Zealand. And it is still to be confirmed but Kate may have been working at Kirkcaldie and Stains a drapery company in Wellington, but she left with T Warnock and William Adkins to start their own business called Warnock, Kelly & Adkins in 1885. Any way she obviously was a pretty interesting woman.
All of this then led me down the path that I have now taken, reproducing the below dress for myself. After doing research on the clothing of the time, I will be unable to afford the fabric that I think was used in this dress (Silk and a burn out velvet or Devore) so I am making it from a cotton twill and some lovely quilting fabric.
I have done a very mediocre attempt at colouring the photo to represent the colour scheme that I am going with, but you get the general idea. The base skirt appears to be pleated with a drapery of patterned fabric around the hips and then bustled to the back. I am taking artistic licence in having the paler blue colour on part of the drapery, but as I have chosen the black main ground it needed more colour. I have tried to date the style of dress and to my inexperienced eye it looks about mid to late 1880's so it may have been about the time she went into business (if she is the Mrs Kelly involved in the business)
To start this adventure I had to make everything that goes underneath the dress. This has been a very rewarding process and I have ended up with most of the layers required to provide the correct silhouette, one thing I have not done is a bustle cage.
1. because it does not look like she has the extreme shelved bustle look.
2. To me I am not that historically accurate.
Anyway let me introduce you to my model, Bertha. I made this dress form from a bootstrap dummy pattern, and it is fairly close to my measurements. Bertha will be highlighting in many photos to come.
So far we have got the seperate split drawers, which were becoming a little bit old fashioned by this time as the combinations (all in ones) were starting to become popular. We then have a chemise or shift that went under the corset to protect the corset from sweat and to keep the corset clean, on top of that is the corset, this would have had a steel busk at the front and some steel boning but would have mostly been bones with baleen (from whales). Mine is made with synthetic baleen (a bit like cable ties) and some steel boning. Over the stop you wore a corset cover to soften the lines of the corset and also a petticoat and bum pad (needs tweaking) to add that butt lift.
So now the skirt construction has started with the base layer of the skirt made out of cotton/calico this will have a frill on the bottom to add more width to the hemline.
Then we have the pleated black twill, in those days they only added the embellishment on the part of the dress/skirt that would be seen, so the pleating will start 10 inches down from the waist and the top part of the skirt will be covered by the drapery that will made with the contrast fabric.
The pleating is in progress, so far I have pleated about 4 metres of fabric only 21/2 to go. I measure and mark the pleating lines on the fabric with chalk then fold the pleats and pin. When I have finished a section I then iron with lots of steam and when cool apply masking tape to hold in place while I continue on with the remainder of the cloth. When I have finished the entire length I will either do a catch stitch on the back of each pleat to give them more structure or add a tape and catch stitch. Looking at the photo it appears that something like this has been done to hold the pleats in place.
Anyway that is a catch up as to what we have been up to and what we are doing at the moment. Will keep you posted on the progress of the dress and yes there may even be Kabuki progress as we are due to haul the yacht out at the beginning of October.