The Spotty Dress

A reproduction of a dress worn by Maria Feodorovna, Grand Duchess of Russia, in 1873.


Inspiration & Resources

Useful Books & Links Arnold, Janet. Patterns of Fashion 2: Englishwomen's Dresses and Their Construction c.1860-1940. Drama Book Publishers, 1977.

Cunnington, C. Willett. English Women's Clothing in the Nineteenth Century: A Comprehensive Guide with 1,117 Illustrations. Dover Publications, Inc., 1990.

Hunnisett, Jean. Period Costume for Stage & Screen: Patterns for Women's Dress 1800-1909. Players Press, Inc., 1991.

Johnston, Lucy, Helen Persson, and Richard Davis. Nineteenth Century Fashion in Detail. Victoria & Albert Museum, 2009.

Construction Details


For Costume Con 29, my friend Katherine and I recreated a pair of dresses worn by Alexandria, Princess of Wales and her sister, Maria Feodorovna, Grand Duchess of Russia. In 1873 Maria visited Alexandria in London, and in what I like to think of as a sort of publicity stunt, the two dressed alike the entire time. Because of this, we were lucky enough to have several studio photographs of the sisters from different angles to use as reference when making our dresses.  Another interesting aspect of this project was the fact that the original dresses were made thousands of miles apart and Katherine and I also live on opposite ends of the country. Fortunately, we had the help of email and digital cameras when recreating the dresses and didn’t have to rely solely on letters or my poor sketching abilities.



For the underskirt I used the 1874 skirt on page 32-33 of Patterns of Fashion 2 as base pattern. The taffeta is flat lined in cotton sateen and the seams are finished by hand with an overcast stitch. This method can be seen on several examples in Patterns of Fashion 2 (page 26, 28, and 32). The fullness is controlled by pleats in the back and the closure is then hidden under the pleats. The underskirt also has ties to keep the train in place.


The ruffle decoration on the underskirt is comprised of three parts. First, on the front of the skirt there is a knee high box pleated ruffle. I cut a strip of taffeta twice the width I needed and then folded the cut edges into the middle, doubling the fabric and creating a finished edge. This strip was box pleated to the skirt and basted down by hand. To create the second ruffle, I gathered two more narrow strips of doubled taffeta and attached on top of the first ruffle. The gathering rows were then topstitched by machine. The back ruffles were cut on the straight of the grain and the two lower ones were simply gathered and stitched on by machine. The top ruffle was box pleated and sewn on by hand.



The over skirt is based on the 1870-1 overskirt on page 28-29 of Patterns of Fashion 2. I flat lined the silk charmeuse with the same cotton sateen as the underskirt. The front portion is simply hemmed, while the back section is faced with a 12 inch strip to avoid showing the lining when the skirt is polonaised. The front is a crescent shape with pleats on the side, like the original. The back is one width of fabric and the shaping is achieved using tapes that have been tacked to the fabric.




For the bodice, I started with my basic Victorian bodice pattern, modified to fit over the new corset, and the seam lines were adjusted to mirror the original. There is no visible opening on the original dresses, so we had to make an educated guess as to how they were constructed. Using several extant gowns as examples, the bodice has a one piece back and a two layer front. The under layer is slightly shorter and closes all the way to the neck. The over bodice meets at the neck and then is cut away over the bust and waist to accommodate the plastron.


The plastron is one layer of charmeuse interlined with cotton organdy. I mounted this to a layer of cotton sateen and finished the edges by hand. The plastron is sewn to one side of the bodice and closes on the other with hooks and bars.

The bodice is one layer of taffeta flat lined in cotton sateen. The seams are machine sewn and overcast by hand to finish. The edges of both the under and over bodice are finished with a narrow hem by hand and close with hooks and bars. The over bodice also has a narrow waistband that goes across the plastron to hold it in place.

For the lapels and spotted pleats, I attached pieces of pleated charmeuse interlined with cotton organdy to the over bodice, angling them so they were flush with the bottom edge of the bodice but did not show under the top of the lapels. The lapels were then sandwiched between the bodice and the spotted pleats, making it appear that they came through the spotted part of the dress.


The collar is one layer of taffeta with ends of the spotted charmeuse, interlined with cotton organdy and the faced with another layer of the taffeta/charmeuse combination.  The collar is sewn to the outer bodice and I used the lining to cover the seam allowance.

For the organdy ruff, Katherine pleated the fabric using the antique fluter and mailed it to me so I could construct my ruff. I pleated the fabric in two layers to a shaped band and sandwiched that to another band to finish seam allowance. The pleats were then folded over and basted to encourage them to stick out rather than up.  

The sleeves are based off of the pattern on page 26-7 of Patterns of Fashion 2. They were draped like a two piece sleeve, but only split on the outer edge up to the elbow. They are one layer of charmeuse flat lined with cotton sateen. For the cuffs, I mirrored the underskirt decoration, layering a box pleated ruffle under a gather ruffle. A box pleated ruffle of organdy was then basted to the inner part of the cuff and ties made from a strip of charmeuse interlined with organdy hold it together.


The belt and tails are made from the taffeta and interlined with cotton organdy.  The tails are sewn to the back and the belt closes with a pin at the side seam. The buckle is actually part of a matching set of shoe buckles Katherine found on Ebay.

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