Those who saw me wearing this outfit at the Tinsley House this summer might have assumed I finished the project long ago. But, no. As with many of my projects, I got it done enough to wear--if I sewed myself in, used pins, and didn't looke too closely. Now, finally, it has buttons and hooks, a belt and pockets, and the seams are overcast so they won't shred when washed. Yay, actually done!
This is a late Victorian wash dress, meaning it was made of cheap cotton cloth that could withstand regular, harsh washing. It was also colloquially called a Mother Hubbard, presumably after the fairy tale, although it has limited similarity to clothing from an earlier era. It was a common garment for lower class women in urban areas--and all classes of women in the West. A sort of cross between the civil war era work dress, which shared hard wearing cotton fabric and a simple construction design, and the fancier morning wrapper, which was less fitted and could be worn before full dressing for the day. By the 1870s this new style was common and appropriate not just for morning hours, but all day at home, and could even be worn to town or church if in good condition and belted.
While the dress is generally unwaisted on the outside, there is usually a fitted lining. It is tempting to assume that women went uncorseted in them, but this would have been highly unusual except for a few very elderly ladies (you gotta have something to hold the girls up and there were no bras . . .) You could, however, wear a lightly boned corset or leave your regular corset more loosely laced than you would for dressier occassions (sort of like leaving off the Spanx for housework). A newspaper article for Prescott, Arizona, describes a woman on a horse being fined for wearing her Mother Hubbard "negligently". It is likely she was a known prostitute, but it is also likely she was uncorseted in her Ma Hubbard--a truly "loose" woman. Anyway, proper women would not have wanted to be mistaken for such a woman, so corseted it would be.
This Mother Hubbard is made from the Past Patterns tea gown pattern. It has a Watteau back, which is a loose, pleated style popular in the 18th century and returned to popularity for America's centennial. The tea gown was frothy with lace and would likely have been made of silk. It would have been worn by high class women at home in the morning or when receiving other ladies for afternoon tea. Redesigned as a Mother Hubbard, it is made of plain weave cotton and simply styled with just a bit of a ruffle and some lovely tatted lace (thanks, Megan!). The source of the fabric is the stash (yay!) and given the amount of it, was likely $1 per yard Walmart special. The pattern called for nearly 10 yards (each Leg-o-mutton sleeve uses a yard), but judicious layout used only 7. The remainder will probably be seen as children aprons or men's shirts in later postings.
I've worn the gown several times and can assure you it is quite comfortable, even while wearing a corset, and is quite cool with the looser fit, giant air circulating sleeves, and swishy skirts. I do protect it with a work apron, but it's now well suited for washing, so a bit of dirt or dinner won't be a bother. Thanks, Ma!