The dress in a painting – in the serre from Otto Eerelman (~1876) Part 1

Picture Credit: Amber Tree on Flickr

A few weeks ago I was browsing on pinterest and I saw a painting in which I fell in love immediateley. It was love at first sight and I got a fuzzy feeling and I knew I had to recreate the dress.

The painting is from the dutch painter Otto Eerelman. He is famous for his paintings of animals (there are a lot of paintings of kittens and puppies!) but occassionally he painted women. The painting In de serre has no official dating but considering the dress the woman wears and looking through a lot of fashion magazines from the time I would say it’s from around 1876 and not from 1874 which the art dealer suggests. The painting has also a ‚sister‘ painting as I call it because the pose of the women and the surroundings are very similar. The sister painting is dated to 1874 which fits the dress the women is wearing.
My uneducated guess is, that the first painting was commissioned and after a while (or about two years later) someone saw it, loved it and wanted it too. And since painters often repainted paintings this beautiful thing was born.

The first step on recreating this dress was to decide what I need to sew and it came down to a new chemise, a petticoat with a long train, the skirt and the bodice.
I have enough corsets to go under this dress but I might make a new one for this dress, I still don’t really know.
Then I also had to decide what fabrics I need to buy or if I had fabrics and notions in my stash to use.

The Chemise

But let’s start with the chemise. You can never have enough chemises and since I had some lovley soft linen at home I started with it. I also found a narrow cotton lace from italy at my local fabric shop. I used the ärmelloses Hemd from (the first picture of the page) and I’m very happy with the result. The chemise features small thread buttons on the shoulders and I gathered it slightly in the center front and center back.
The chemise did cost me about 15 Euros in total including the fabric, lace and buttons.

The Petticoat

After the chemise was done I started with my petticoat. I found the pattern for it in a Facebook Group called 19th century sewing patterns. The pattern is from a magazine called illustrierte Frauenzeitung from 1879.

It’s a pretty simple pattern – if you know what you‘re doing. Patterns from magazines often were described very vague.
You have a yoke on the top of the skirt you have to draft yourself and two rows of rushing attached to the base skirt which closes at the center back with buttons.

I used 3,5 m cotton batiste, 15m of lace (two different widths), 15m of ribbon, a bit of strong cotton as a train lining and lots and lots of thread and a few buttons. I calculated that this petticoat did cost me about 20 € in total which makes my wallet very very happy, because the bodice will probably get pretty expensive.

The fabric is not ideal for the train but it was the only fabric which was okay for a petticoat. My fabric-dealer was out of normal cotton.

The construction of the skirt was fairly easy. I sewed together the skirt pieces and added 3cm wide strips in the center back on both sides for the closure. Then I added the gathered train-piece, and sewed the skirt into the yoke part which I drafted myself because there was no pattern piece for it. (I used a modern pencil skirt pattern for it and closed all darts) For the hem I used the strong cotton so that the batiste is protected from the ground when I’m going to wear the dress outside.

And then I started to thread the satin ribbon through 15m of the lace. This was the most tiring part because I had to be extra careful because the ribbon liked to twist when I pulled it through the tiny holes.

First I sewed both rows of lace on fabric strips – the bottom row was only gathered at the back because I don’t want to much fullness in the front. Then I gathered the top lace row and pinned it to the skirt. And I can tell you: sewing this monster was exhausting because there was so. much. fabric. And then I added a top row of lace to hide the gathered seam.
And to be real: I made a mistake and some skirt fabric went under my needle and while ripping the seam open I cut into the fabric. I was able to mend it and it’s not visible, but it was annoying to cut into a new skirt.

After I sewed on the lace the only thing left to do where buttonholes and buttons. I used thread buttons I got from my grandma and used my sewing machine to make the buttonholes. (Did you know that the first buttonhole machine was invented in 1862? – I didn’t! )

And now the petticoat is finally finished. I’m extremeley happy with how it turned out. It’s big and fluffy and absolutley lovley. The skirt sit’s unter my waist, more on my hips, which I really like because this will reduce bulk under the bodice and actual skirt. I also need to try the petticoat on with the skirt to decide if I need more strength in the petticoat hem because I’m not sure if it will keep the shape when I’m walking.

What’s next?

The next step is the skirt. I bought this beautiful silk dupioni last year for about 18€/m which is an absolute bargain in austria. We normally don’t get silk dupioni for unter 25 €!
If you look closley in the picture you can see that the skirt shifts from the soft pink to a white-ish pink. This was probably due to a white warp and a soft pink weft. And yes you probably guessed it: My silk has exactly that! I was over the moon when I realized how perfect the fabric is for my project and I can’t wait to cut into it.

After making the skirt I will have to start with the bodice. I don’t see a big problem when it comes to the pattern drafting but I’m a bit lost when it comes to the fabric.

A white to cream to ivory base fabric with pretty strong colors on top is hard to get. I looked for embroidered and printed fabrics and also brocade and jacquards but I couln’t find a suitable fabric until now. I’m thinking about hand-embroidering the whole bodice but this would cost me a lot of money because silk embroidery thread is not cheap and I still have to buy the base fabric. If you know any shop or wholesaler or producer (non american, because shipping and import taxes are very high) of silk which could have something like I’m looking for please reach out to me!

And that’s it again! What are you currently sewing/making? Do you have any love at first sight dresses?

See you next time!

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