The Maple Dress

The research, design and inspiration behind the 1850s settler dress.



2/28/20222 min read

Summer 2022.

10 yards of cream and red floral fabric was begging to be turned into a day dress fit for Catherine Parr Traill herself. The dress is adapted from Angela Clayton's M788 pattern. The major changes included lengthening the bodice, and creating a pair of button-on long sleeves. In doing this, the longer-sleeved dress is more protective for hearth cooking, but you can still have the look of the short sleeves. I also really love the visual look of the frilled short sleeves with the longer ones underneath, and this style has been documented in extant museum examples. This project was really exciting to work on because it actually ties into a larger undertaking for my Master's degree (which at this point, hasn't even started yet!).

The Overall Project: Enter my MA thesis, a long-term research project into Catherine Parr Traill's Female Emigrant's Guide, realized through a historical cooking Youtube series jam-packed with historical information, recipes, techniques and my attempt at humour. The series won't be out until I start that portion of the degree (2023), but in the meantime, I have started to collect the various elements and tools that I will be using throughout the series - the dress being one of them.

CPT emphasizes practicality in a lot of her writing, in the Female Emigrant's Guide she even writes "It is one of the blessings of this new country, that a young person's respectability does by no means depend upon these points of style in dress [...] Good sense is as much marked by the style of a person's dress, as by their conversation [...] To plead fashion, is like following a multitude to do evil." (pg. 21-22). The paragraph is much longer than this excerpt, but I think it does well to illustrate her views on frivolous dress. I for one love frivolous dress as much as the next fashion historian, but something must be said about practical costuming. The hem on this dress is shorter to prevent tripping, the addition of the long sleeves protects my skin from the heat of the flames, and the details and thickness of the front bodice hide the fact that I don't always wear a corset with this dress. These amendments to historical clothing are often not seen as valid in the pursuit of historical accuracy, but I challenge this by suggesting it is deeply important. Health, climate, and financial reasons are a sample of some barriers that affect us as hobby costumers in the modern world. I think that making changes to make our comfort a priority, especially when you're on your feet all day cooking in a historic house, is just as valid (and even as creative!) as accuracy.

Images Coming Soon.