1850s · 1850s sewing · 1860s · Dress · Finished! · Reenactments

The Spring Ball


Readers, yesterday was probably one of the best nights of my life. The combination of great food and friends, excellent conversation, amazing costumes, and fun historic dancing made the Spring Ball probably my favorite reenactment to date! I now understand what all those gaggles of giggly girls in Jane Austen novels are so excited about!


Anyways, I did finish the dress (and thank you all so much for your lovely comments while I was working on it this week!), although I was sewing up to about a half hour before I left. Making a reproduction ballgown in a week while also working full-time is something I definitely do not reccommend. But, it came out so fabulously and fulfilled a personal sewing goal of mine – to make a ballgown.


By far, the most time-consuming thing was the bertha (which is the front swoopy thing on the bodice). I decided to make a tucked bertha, as I’d read that this was the most common style during the project. And since I got so many questions from the ladies last evening on how I made this (surprisingly, the guys were not interested in this, lol) I thought I would try my best to describe it, as in my mad rush to finish this thing, I forgot to take progress pictures. Anyways, I basically made a bodice facing piece that would go on the outside (those familiar with modern sewing techniques have, no doubt, encountered facings). I cut this out of cotton batiste, and then sewed rows and rows of bias strips of fabric to this. I then sewed lace around the edge, and finally, pinched the whole thing in the CF, so it looks like I have two swoops going on. This whole process is very similar to what Katherine did on her Eugenie project ballgown, which you can read more about here. The results are lovely, but very time consuming, and was the most labor-intensive part of the whole dress.


Now is the time when I must confess that this is not actual silk. I just couldn’t justify the expense of $20/yard silk taffeta for a dress I will probably wear once a year. Instead, this is a really good fake iridescent silk that – get this – only cost me $5 for all 6 yards of it. It was an amazing thrifted find last year, and the lace on the dress (6 yards @ $3/yard) cost more than the dress! With thread and notions added in, I probably spent around $30 total on this project. Not bad!


As for the accessories, I wore my grandmother’s pearl necklace (from 1943! Eep!) and the head decoration was made by one of the gals at the museum. I won it in January at the silent auction (when I knew I would be going to the ball) and the white and pink coordinate perfectly with the dress.

My plate also matched my dress, so of course we had to get a picture of that!

A plate is an accessory, right?
A plate is an accessory, right?

Anyways, I came home exhausted last evening and am still recovering today (the whole moving the clocks forward thing is defintely not helping!). My feet seem to be healing, they were quite sore from having danced almost every dance last evening. There were a shortage of gents (as there usually are at these types of events), so some of us gals had to pir up. Which inevitably led to more silliness and fun. 😉


As for my next project? I’ll be working on a reproduction 1940s novelty dress, so skipping ahead about 100 years in terms of fashion history. Should be a fun little project, with way less fabric!

30 thoughts on “The Spring Ball

  1. WOW!!! That is stunning! And I can’t believe that that’s all you really spent on it! Mega impressed with your sewing and shopping skills!

  2. You look very beautiful, again!
    And the ball looks very nice indeed,
    im blessed you had so much fun
    it almost looks like a big wedding to me, love it


  3. Wow! You do such amazing work, Anna, and I love how deeply you delve into the history of it all. Not to mention how impressive it is that you made this beautiful dress in a week! You look so pretty!

    1. Well, the ball is put on by the Washington Civil War Association, although luckily you don’t need to be a member to attend. I believe it’s held every March, and tickets usually go on sale December/January. All you need to do is send in a check for $25 and your registration form (which basically is just your name, address, and what dish you plan on bringing to the potluck) and you’re on the guest list!

      1. Do they coach you through the dances? Thornhill is totally pants at remembering how to do those quadrilles and things!

  4. Sounds like great fun, especially the pot luck for period feasting. Your dress was a great color and the trim just makes the look.

      1. I followed your link to see Katherine’s yellow ball gown. It is all hand sewn! Yikes, I’m guessing that is due to the period of the gowns. I’m really impressed at your ladies undertakings of not only the gown but all the accessories that go along with it.

        1. Oh, Katherine’s a bit of a celebrity in the historic costuming world because she sews a lot of stuff by hand. Me (and most of my fellow reenactors) only sew stuff by hand that will be seen on the outside. Everything else is usually by machine. 😉

  5. I did a dress in a week but I was at home the whole time after surgury! You are nuts to do it while working! But, yipes, that is a pretty dress! Nice job! As to the sythetic fibers…I was in a bit of a debate with someone who made a comment on the internet that one will regret using synthetic fibers when recreating a Victorian or older dress. I think regret is too strong a word. If I’m on my death bed in 10 years, I will not be saying “I regret not spending $40 a yard on real silk for my dresses.” I CAN imagine regretting spending that money on a costume and not putting it towards my morgage so my husband doesn’t loose the house or putting it towards a legacy for my children or giving it to charity to make the world a better place. I can imagine spending it on silk and regretting wearing it and spilling juice on it or botching the whole sewing process and having piles of useless material. If it isn’t being entered in a contest and it isn’t being used as a museum piece then I can’t justify that kind of money either. And guess what? If you hadn’t said it was fake fibers, I doubt to many people would have known the difference! Again, you and your dress look GREAT!

    1. I agree WBV with your thinking. Anyone who remembers the first polyester fabrics can comisserate with me about being chafed under the arms because our moms made a swimsuit or sleeveless shift from a plastic-like fabric which was a quarter-inch thick and what flexible styrofoam would be like if there was such a thing!

      If I am hired to sew something in silk, that is a must do. However, the miracle of modern synthetic fabrics is certainly one way to cut the cost of an otherwise expensive hobby. Washable silk even is amazing. I believe there are some blessings, like indoor plumbing, that we are best off being thankful about it. Else, until necessity pushes us in that direction, experimenting with function and form is the real reason that most people create with fabric. Indeed, the dress is perfect as is.

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