Sewing

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

Winter Pioneer Handcart Trek 1 The Prudent Homemaker

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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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83 Comments

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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!

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

  5. 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!)

  6. 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!

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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!

    Lea

  10. 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!

  11. 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!

  12. What an amazing job Winter did with her outfit! How she made the hat blows me away! I’ve made Civil War clothing but never thought to take a hat apart and re-purpose it.

  13. 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.

  14. Bravo, Winter!!! I’ve been looking forward to this post since it was first mentioned. What an amazing job. I am so delighted you shared your work. You’ve done such a wonderful job at researching every detail on that costume. Way to go!!! Theirs nothing like a project you passionately love to help you develop your skills, that’s for sure.

    The pioneer village I work in has a house from the 1840s. Our senior interpreter has a dress of the exact same design and a few of my co-workers have corded petticoats they wear under their costumes. I know they love them because it makes their dress pouf out like a princess dress.:D Thanks, again, for sharing your lovely costume, Winter!

  15. Congratulations Winter, you have done a superb job of your dressmaking, you must now feel so confident to continue sewing today’s fashions!! My own granddaughter (texas) made a historical dress as well, I sent her the boots to wear with it from ebay …..
    lovely silhouette photo too!! ann lee s

  16. I am speechless at how GORGEOUS this period attire looks! Your daughter shows talent, ingenuity and style way beyond her years. The garments are just lovely. I really can’t express to Winter what an accomplishment this is except to say that her efforts have created something wonderfully authentic in more ways than one.

  17. Wow, impressive! What attention to detail, and it turned out so beautifully. And I love that she used zip ties for the boning in the corset. Great job, Winter!

    And, Brandy, that silhouette picture with the desert backdrop is gorgeous.

  18. Incredible! Based on old sewing books I have read, learning to sew usually started with learning to sew underwear. So by completing the underwear first, she got a good, traditional foundation on the skills she needed to make the dress. I think she did a lovely job. I had seen instructions for hats in vintage millinery books that required straw braids and I had given up on the idea of making them because I hadn’t thought about taking apart a modern-day hat to get the raw materials. Duh!

  19. This is darling! I am a big fan of historical clothing and loved seeing this outfit. Your daughter did a beautiful job and should be very proud of herself!

  20. Thank you so much for sharing Winter’s project and the photos of her work! Amazingly well done! Congratulations to her for seeing it through and doing a really exceptional job! It is inspiring to see that she picked a really difficult project with so many tasks to accomplish and she followed them through to completion. And the final product looks so perfect! And congratulations to you and your husband for raising an amazing young woman ;).

  21. I am totally impressed by this project. I made a pioneer dress and bonnet for my younger sister when she was still in school–it was great fun to work on, but authenticity was far from my mind. It was only meant for a one day demonstration of a project they had worked on in class. Fortunately, it came in handy for several other wearings as well and eventually was consigned to the Halloween costume box.

    I am glad she will have further opportunities to wear it, and reading to younger children is a great idea anyhow. Now she has mastered many of the skills to make her own clothing, and at just about the time when most girls become interested in “fashion” to some extent. Winter–I hope you continue to enjoy sewing for years to come. It’s been a hobby of mine for a long, long time.

  22. Amazing job! The entire outfit is so beautifully done . The pictures are amazing too. The fan picture would make a beautiful poster for the event.

  23. Fantastic project completed to perfection, well done Winter ! Brandy and Winter – have you heard of a tv series called The Great British Sewing Bee ? It’s also on utube – it’s all things sewing with a bit of competition thrown in. I think you would both enjoy it.

  24. This is wonderful. I have 10 yrs old daughter…
    Especially great is how much effort is put into details and things which are not visible.
    Also it is great that it gives her opportunities to do something with it outside homeschooling (going to elementaries etc.)

  25. Simply amazing! What a clever girl you are Winter! Mum must be so very proud, I know I would be! My daughter also makes costumes and spends hundreds of hours on each creation. I love the photos too, just beautiful
    Fi

  26. “This is the first dress that Winter has ever sewn.” ??!!!! I’ve been sewing for over fifty years (first project was a shapeless nightgown) and, like Isabella, I am gobsmacked. Winter has done a stunning job, working through an array of advanced skills with aplomb. Wow. Just wow. Keep sewing, Winter. You have intuited what some of us take years and years to learn: sewing is about the process as much as–maybe even more than–the product, and the process itself, in its deliberate way, is immensely satisfying. The more deliberate the process, the more beautiful the product. Brilliantly done, Winter!

  27. This looks absolutely fantastic! I just sewed my first work shirt yesterday. While it didn’t fit me well, it was most definitely a shirt, which is a total win! Sewing is a lot harder than people think, and it requires a lot of skill. Bravo for Winter learning so much at a young age! I think it will serve her very well.

  28. If this is how she starts with sewing, what will she be doing in 20 years? My goodness! As a sometimes hobby sewer, I am so, so impressed. I love the devotion to historical detail — that’s what makes it truly special.
    I know a German woman who learned to sew in school in Germany. Her final exam was to make a slip, bra, and underpants because that would show true skill, she said. And Winter [i]starts out[/i] with a boned corset…. oh my!

  29. An incredible job done by Winter, but the credit goes to you as well, Brandy. All I could think about was that had she not been homeschooled, she would likely never have had the time to undertake this project. And had you not provided an example of industriousness combined with love of beauty and detail, she may not have stretched herself to this level.

    Well done both!!

  30. Wonderful job Winter! Just beautiful. What a great skill that I wish I had. I am 47 and can only mend a small hole or sew on a button by hand. My husband bought me a sewing machine years ago and one of my resolutions for this year was to learn how to use it. We set it all up…and it doesn’t work. Project put on hold. How wonderful that she will be able to use those skills for the rest of her life. Good for you Brandy for inspiring her and teaching and helping her to do it.

  31. Oh, so very extraordinary! I love the fabric, and I have already been today to the Hobby Lobby website to check for availability. I couldn’t find it, though I did find a similar in sage green. But it did not have the nice contrast of the white in there. How long ago did you buy it?

    My Homemaker’s group did a fieldtrip last week to an historical village and Winter’s work was beyond what we saw on some their docents. They just were wearing calico skirts with store bought white blouses and an apron. (We did not check out the undergarments.)

    How long is the trip? When will it be? Does everything need to fit the period i.e. the books she might take to read or handiwork or games? Must they be anachronism free, like no wristwatch or zippers, for example? Did you or your husband ever do this same trip when you were younger?

  32. Oh, an what is meant by the “round dress”? I tried googling it and did not come up with a definition. Why is it called that? Is it the round band on the sleeve??

  33. She went a couple of weeks ago; it was a three day trip with over 200 people.

    It doesn’t have to be perfect for the time period at all; the girls were asked to have a bonnet, a blouse, an apron, a skirt, and some type of drawers, but no one was worried about it being perfectly accurate. They did ask them not to bring modern day items, like cell phones or music players (no electronics was the stated rule). Most of the girls are used to wearing jeans, so wearing a skirt and an apron was pretty different for them! They also asked that the girls wear no makeup, and that anyone who wore contacts should come with glasses.

    Not all of the youth in the area went; those who went did need to pay for food and transportation to get there. Winter earned the money for it and for her dress fabric by cleaning house for a woman. (I bought her patterns) and gave her what I already had on hand for everything else). The fabric looks like a brown check to me, but my husband says it looks green 🙂 They also had a blue plaid as well. The fabric was $3.49 a yard because it is one of the ones they have that is always on sale, so it will be marked higher on the actual bolt itself. They do have the fabric on their website. I found it for you; I
    ll update the post. It’s here: http://www.hobbylobby.com/Fabric-Sewing/Quilting-Fabrics/Cotton-Calico-Fabric/Brown-Homespun-Plaid-Cotton-Calico-Fabric/p/47588-GE0808

    My husband did not do a trek when he was younger, but he would love to go on one.

    I actually did do one, but I did it as part of a Girl Scout Wider Opportunity when I was 18, and we pulled handcarts over the actual trail in Wyoming (we pulled them over Rocky Ridge near the Sweetwater River). At the time I was not Mormon; I converted to my faith when I was 19.

  34. It’s wonderful! All the detailed undergarments make it even more amazing.
    My first sewing project was one of those 2 hr. “Super easy” patterns for a skirt. 12 hrs. Iater and I had a skirt with upside down palm trees!!
    That was 34 yrs ago and I’ve never got up the courage to try another patterned project. Maybe I’ll try again. Nothing as hard as Winter’s dress, but maybe another “easy” one.

  35. This comment made me laugh out loud Debby in KS!!! And it reminded me that I made a skirt with upside down flower baskets as my first project. I was just so proud my hem was straight! :p I’ve since learned the beauty of any-direction patterns or plain colors for my fabric. 🙂

    Thanks for the laugh,
    Lea

  36. My goodness, this is simply amazing. She did such a wonderful job! I’m wondering if she’s gone on trek already? The youth that go on trek here in the Gulf Coast region of the US do not keep their trek clothing after trek. It is simply unwearable again because of the mud. Even good hiking boots are very iffy for reuse after trek. I’m thinking that in the desert you won’t have this kind of problem though. I would hate for her to have to discard all that beautiful hard work!

  37. The dress is impressive, but I love the way Winter transformed a basic thrift store straw hat into a pioneer bonnet! It is lovely. Using the zip ties in place of the boning was quite ingenious, I think, too.

    Who would have known that the cording in the petticoats held them out for airflow?

  38. Marivene,

    The zip tie idea was one that she read online. She priced out boning and decided to go with the zip ties, as they were something we already had.

    I think the original point of the cording was to make for a fuller skirt. It certainly makes walking easier. Winter noticed the airflow and how much cooler it made her.

    The hat is really my favorite part. So many hats today are actually made from paper rather than straw,and I worried she wouldn’t find a straw hat to use. It is possible to buy straw braiding, but of course it is not inexpensive. I like her bonnet so much that I will be looking for straw hats at garage sales to make my own bonnet!

  39. WOW! I am so amazed by her drive and follow through to create such an outfit. It looks like she got all the details down just right. I’m so impressed.

  40. Amy,

    They went up to Utah for their trek (it was 2 weeks ago). The dirt was like powdered sugar. Everyone was dirty and some were muddy as there was a river area. She shook a lot of dirt out her her clothing (think Peppermint Patty from Charlie Brown!) before I put it in the washer. It still looks beautiful!

  41. I was wondering if Winter might be persuaded to write up an account of her trek and share it here? If she writes half as well as she sews, I am sure it would generate a lot of interest.

    I was able to go on a half day guided tour of part of the Oregon Trail on one of our trips out west. I had to go alone as my husband was busy with his vintage car, but it was certainly worth the time and trouble to do so. I found it extremely interesting to see actual traces of trails and carvings on trees, markings for the trail, etc. It just gave me the smallest taste of what a huge job it was to travel with a family to settle the west, and what an extreme hardship to just get there. She must have had similar experiences on her trek.

    I would be delighted to read such a story, should she have the time and inclination to write one. I’m already impressed with her sewing.

  42. Glad I gave you a funny flashback, Lea! I’ll make it a point to only buy any-direction fabric for my 2nd try!

  43. All I can say is Wow! The dress is beautiful, so well done. The details are spot-on. And the bonnet, my goodness! To have the vision to turn a regular old straw that into something so stunningly perfect is amazing. And all this, sewn by such a young lady. You must be so proud of her, I know all of us readers are, for sure. I can just imagine her sewing wedding gowns for a side job real soon. So very talented!

  44. I am amazed at Winters sewing talent.. She did an excellent job.. I know you are so proud of her.
    She looks beautiful in the dress too.

  45. Brandy i know this isnt a “religious” blog but id be interested to hear your conversion story if you ever feel it appropriate to share.

  46. Winter should be very proud of herself, this outfit and the attention to detail is amazing. If she can make an outfit like this at 14 I can only imagine what she will be making when she is older.

  47. I love the outfit! I love all things “pioneer” and Oregon Trail. It’s so interesting–I have just recently finished a non-fiction book about the Oregon Trail and they mentioned seeing one of the LDS handcart camps. I had never heard of that before. On one of our recent trips across Oregon, we were able to walk on some old ruts of the Oregon Trail and see some of the places the pioneers had crossed. One thing that struck me was how brutal the landscape and heat were. This was in June, and it was already blistering hot. I can’t imagine how hot Winter must have gotten on this trip, wearing all of those clothes. I’m glad she found a way to have a slightly cooler trip with her petticoats. I love to sew and that costume is inspiring. Thanks for sharing it with us!

  48. I shared this with a library patron whose daughter is interested in hand-sewing. The mom remarked that she won’t be surprised at all when you post photos (in a few years!) of Winter’s self-made wedding gown. 🙂

  49. I hope Winter can show her outfit at the state fair! Her workmanship is wonderful and her entire outfit is a class act. Blue ribbon for sure!!

  50. Wow, I am SO impressed with your daughter! I sew lots of historical clothing myself, and the 1840’s is one of my favourite periods (partly because I’m LDS myself, and is very intrigued by this period in our history), and I can tell you that she has done a VERY good job. To see this made my day

  51. What a great job. I wished you lived in the Sacramento area, you could join the Mormon Battalion and Sutter’s Fort. You would be such a great influence on our members and docents who are trying to make do. Keep up the great work.

  52. I am so delighted to read this! I love authentic… or as close as you can get.. and Winter did an amazing job. I am going to share this with others!!!

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