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1840's Pioneer Reproduction Dress and Bonnet: Winter's Outfit for a Mormon Handcart Trek

Winter Pioneer Handcart Trek 1 The Prudent Homemaker

Note: This post contains affiliate links. 

My 14-year-old daughter, Winter, has been working on a sewing project for the last couple of months.

She participated in a Pioneer handcart trek, and everyone was supposed to dress for the time period. This is a living history event where groups of people recreate a Mormon pioneer handcart trek across the plains. Many Mormons crossed with handcarts instead of covered wagons from the 1840's to 1860's.

 Winter Pioneer Handcart Trek 6 The Prudent Homemaker

Winter has been researching period clothing and underclothing, down to the smallest details (including what kind of buttons were used). The more she learned, the more determined she was to sew something accurate. Having studied and modeled historical clothing myself (I used to model for a historian while I was a university student), I have a strong love of historical clothing. I wanted her to make something accurate, but I didn't want her to feel obligated to do so. Seeing her get excited on her own about the project the more she studied what people actually wore during the period thrilled me. 


Winter Pioneer Handcart Trek 9 The Prudent Homemaker

She used old sheets to sew the split drawers, the corded petticoat, the second petticoat, her chemise and her corset.

Winter Pioneer Handcart Trek Drawers The Prudent Homemaker

She edged the chemise sleeves and the drawers with a bit of lace that I had in my stash (which I'm pretty sure came from my grandmother or my mother-in-law's stash).

Winter Pioneer Handcart Trek corset The Prudent Homemaker

The corset boning is actually zip ties, with the buckle part cut off. They were just the right size and less expensive than boning, and about the same stiffness. She sewed the holes for lacing it by hand, using a buttonhole stitch.  She laced it using a method called spiral lacing, which she says is easier to lace by one's self. At this period in time, the corset was more of a support garment. Winter says it is really comfortable, and she loves the back support it gives her. 

Winter Pioneer Handcart Trek 5 The Prudent Homemaker 

The corded petticoat is two layers of fabric, with cording (she used a thin cotton yarn for the cording) sewn in between. The more cording  in the petticoat, the fuller it is. It was amazing to see how the petticoat stood out more and more as she sewed in each section of cording, just like a hoop skirt. In doing her research for the project, Winter learned that precorded fabric was available to purchase for women of the era, but she did not have that option. She also learned that in the 1850's, when hoops became more common, that women still wore a corded petticoat over their hoops. The corded petticoat goes on first, with all other petticoats on top. A nice feature of the corded petticoat that Winter discovered is that the corded petticoat means plenty of air flow, as it keeps your skirts away from your legs.

She made stockings, using some jersey knit I had on hand. She tied them up with ribbons from my ribbon box.

She also made and embroidered several handkerchiefs.

Winter Pioneer Handcart Trek 4 The Prudent Homemaker

The dress itself was made with a cotton plaid that she bought at Hobby Lobby for $3.49 a yard. She used this Laughing Moon 1840's pattern (view A). The measurements for the dress are taken over underclothing, so she made the dress after making all of her underclothes.

She made her piping using the same yard as cording.  She made bias tape for her piping using this tutorial and a bias tape maker.

This is the first dress that Winter has ever sewn. She learned several new techniques making this project, including cording, making bias tape, making piping, covering buttons, making pintucks, cartridge pleating, regular pleating, flatlining, making a mock-up, and adjusting and following a pattern.

Winter Pioneer Handcart Trek 3 The Prudent Homemaker 

She made her apron and collar using unbleached muslin from my stash (inherited from my grandmother's stash). You can purchase unbleached muslin from Joann's in the quilting section. 

Winter Pioneer Handcart Trek 2 The Prudent Homemaker


The straw bonnet is quite amazing. She used this pattern to make the hat. She first started with a straw hat that she bought at the thrift store for $2. It had lace hot glued onto it that she removed before she unstitched the hat.

Straw Hat Before 

She then cut the straw braids and sewed them together into the new hat, before lining it with buckram and pleated muslin. She tied it on with a brown satin ribbon from my ribbon box.

 Winter Pioneer Handcart Trek 7 The Prudent Homemaker

To keep her cool, I ordered her a wooden folding fan that she can keep in the pocket of her dress. She also made a large bandana--more like a shawl--from an old sheet to tie around her neck. She took a Sammy cool n'dry with her that she said was very effective in keeping her cool (we use them at home and they are wonderful). 

Winter Pioneer Handcart Trek Silhouette The Prudent Homemaker

The project has been fun for her (it was all her idea!). It's been fun for me, too, to watch her confidence in her sewing abilities increase, even as she had to use the seam ripper to take seams out and fix things again. What I see now is that she feels like she can sew anything!

Winter Pioneer Handcart Trek 8 The Prudent Homemaker

If you're looking to make clothing from the same time period, here are some of the tutorials and patterns she used:


Seamed stocking tutorial

Split drawers tutorial

Chemise tutorial

Corset tutorial

Corded petticoat tutorial

Bonnet pattern and Lining Inspiration The bonnet can also be made from cloth.

Dress pattern

Apron tutorial

Bias tape tutorial and bias tape maker

Fan (purchased)

Brown Plaid fabric


Additional Reading:

The Transitional Dilemma: Dressing Teen Girls

Quick and Easy Way to Mark Cartridge Pleats

Buttoning Down the Past: A Look at Buttons as Indicators of Chronology and Material Culture

Winter also searched online for photos of women and teens from the 1840's, which helped her ultimately decide on several aspects of her project, including the fabric she chose. Here is her Pinterest board for the time period.

She has already planned several other ways that she can use her dress, including volunteering in some local elementary schools to go into classrooms and read works from an author from that time period (Louisa May Alcott!)



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Tagged in: Sewing Winters Sewing


  • Roxie July 04, 2016

    My goodness the talent she shows for age 14 is amazing. I learned to sew basic things at 11 from my grandmother. But nothing like that till I was a student at Sam Houston State University taking classes in the 1970's. She did wonderful work and great detail. I am just blown away. She has a lot of talent. Beautiful work.

  • Jen@FrugalSteppingStones July 04, 2016

    Winter did a fantastic job! I used to have to dress in 1840s clothing when I volunteered at the Cincinnati History Museum in college. Dressing up was probably the big reason I volunteered. They had a huge closet full of different period clothing.

    A friend of mine learned how to make period clothing when she worked at our local Renaissance Festival in high school. She became an expert seamstress and even made her own unique wedding dress. She had a nice side business on Ebay making period clothing.

  • myra July 04, 2016

    Beautiful costume and amazing that she sewed it herself. Sewing is a dying skill unfortunately and I am so glad to see a young person take interest in it. Excellent work!

  • trudy July 04, 2016

    Lovely young woman and what an amazing job she did. So authentic and beautiful. I learned alot just from reading about it.

  • LynnDinKy July 04, 2016

    Beautiful job, Winter!!!!

  • Roberta in So. Cal. July 04, 2016

    Wow! Just wow! I'm so impressed by her diligence, her attention to detail, and her skill. (Nothing like starting out with an "easy" project--Ha!)

  • I know! I was thinking that, too! She had done some smaller projects before this and was used to following tutorials, but this was her first pattern, and it was not a simple one!

  • Mariana July 04, 2016

    Wow - Ah-mazing! I am in absolute awe.

  • Paige July 04, 2016

    Wow!! How talented to tackle and complete such a task!!

  • TerriC July 04, 2016

    Winter did a most awesome job in research and in needlework. Gracious! That girl has a talent for sewing that will likely result in a long and happy creative pursuit!

  • Kim July 04, 2016


  • Becky Pratt July 04, 2016

    As someone that sews for a living I can say her work looks lovely.
    I noticed right away that she hadn't used grommets on her corset. So many people don't hand-sew that part of a costume/clothing.
    She is an amazing young woman.
    I showed this to my almost 12 year old granddaughter. She was blown away.
    Winter, you did a fantastic job.
    I would love to share this article with my friend Cassie. She sews by hand and does historical re-enactments.

  • Kimi July 04, 2016

    What a stunning outfit, I enjoyed reading about all of the historical details. Amazing job.

  • What a beautiful poised young woman; just like her mum. A splendid job - I think she has a passion and talent for sewing made all the more amazing that this was her first full pattern. Well done Winter (lovely name).



  • Cindi July 04, 2016

    I am so glad you posted this, as I have been wondering about this ever since you mentioned what she was working on. What a huge -- yet rewarding -- undertaking for her.
    I am also curious about the handcart journey recreation. I have read some historical accounts of women who made that journey. Has she done this yet? How far do they travel and how many days in the expedition? What a wonderful way to connect with her heritage.

  • Lea Stormhammer July 04, 2016

    Terrific job, Winter! Your attention to detail is just amazing. You did a beautiful job.

    I just showed this to my 11-year-old and she is interested in doing something similar, though she's thinking more Laura Ingalls with a cotton bonnet. Thanks so much for the inspiration!


  • Dana July 04, 2016

    What a fantastic job she has done! As someone who reenacts the pioneer 1840s (Sutter's Fort in California) I rarely see adults that are dressed as accurately. I'll be sharing your daughter's accomplishments with some of my fellow docents. Thank you for sharing Winter's wonderful costume!

  • Dana,

    Let them know that the bonnet has directions to make it from cloth as well. It is perfect for that! The dress has a few options, too.

    I've updated the post with a link to her Pinterest board, which also has actual clothing from the time period as a reference.

  • Rebecca July 04, 2016

    I can't believe she did this all herself! The only word to describe it is awe-inspiring! Well done, Winter! I especially love the hat- and that she made it using a thrifted (and gaudy) straw hat is just incredible. I can see that she has learned lessons on thrift and frugality as well as beauty and handicraft from her mother!

  • Isabella July 04, 2016

    I am gobsmacked! It's hard to believe that a young teen accomplished this. Kudos to Winter!

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