Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Little House on the Prairie Dress-up Clothes

A long time ago (as the book begins), when I was a little girl my crew of farm cousins/neighbors/friends was absolutely obsessed with Little House on the Prairie. Egged on by the books and the TV show we would divvy up the parts and play for hours. My mom made calico dresses, aprons, and bonnets in multiple sizes (my aunt made them for her girls too), and we had a vest and peasant shirt for my brother to flesh out our fantasy. We hitched two hay bales (Pet & Patty) up to an old wagon in my uncle's shed and pretended we were headed west with all our worldly possessions, fording rivers, and evading Indians. I used to pack a metal pale with blocks wrapped in a tidy bandanna and pretend it was my one room school house lunch. We used to climb to the top of the steep pastures then run down the tall grass on the hill pretending to fall just like Carrie does in the opening credits of the TV show. My childhood didn't involve poverty, or upheaval, or prairie crossing, but I identified with the agrarian, nature loving lifestyle of the fictional Laura Ingalls (as opposed to the actual Laura Ingalls whose story would break your heart!). 

My city kids have to imagine even harder to put themselves under prairie winds and big skies, but looking the part always helps. Last summer L asked for a sunbonnet and an apron she could gather things in. For Christmas I gave her those two things, and a dress and petticoat for good measure.

The dress is heavily inspired by the beautiful garments of Taylor's Scarlet Threads. Had I waded into the weeds of this project with more time to spare, I might have just ordered an outfit. For what I spent on fabric, The Scarlet Thread dresses are beautiful and a relative bargain. But, I started with less than 48 hours to finish, and there is joy in the making. I wanted something that could be mixed and matched for pretend play, and worn alone to church. My dress is based on the Violette Field Threads Zoey dress. I bought it for the simple gathered sleeve and relaxed fit at the waist (hoping it will fit for a while). I added a button placket (rather than the snap front) and a round neck opening. I used the width of the skirt from the pattern, but modified the length, and didn't use the ruffle. I made 3 one inch growth pleats in the skirt, and 2 half inch growth pleats in the sleeve. L measured a girls size 10, but I bought the tween pattern (a little bigger in the chest only) so I could make the design again as she grows. I love that VFT offers tween sizes, I think older girls would love the designs (totally not reflected in my demure translation!). I'm perfectly pleased with the VFT line of patterns, and have a first communion dress design picked out for spring. 

The dress fabric is Robert Kaufmann Sevenberry Petit Fleurs Stems Midnight from Fabric.com. From the moment I unwrapped it, I loved it. It's exactly the scale and colors I was hoping for. Pretty but believably historic. The cotton shirting is suited to garment making, and has a very satisfying rustle that L (and I) love. 

The bonnet is from McCalls M7231 that I originally bought with the intent to modify into this dress. The bonnet is just fine, but a little too big.  I have nothing good to say about the dress pattern, so I'll keep my comments to myself. The pattern is probably better suited to someone brand new to sewing.

The bonnet fabric is also Robert Kaufmann from Fabric.com. The body is 1/8" Carolina Gingham in Chocolate, the visor lining is Sevenberry Petit Fleurs Tiny Flower Midnight. Next time I would skip the second fabric, the combination is a little busy for my taste. 

The apron and petticoat are improvised based on the final length of the dress. I will make a second apron. This one already had a run in with some hot apple cider in a togo cup. Who knew apple cider stained! 

The apron fabric is (of course!) Robert Kaufman Essex Linen, the choice for a big ol' apron. The petticoat was a late addition made from cotton eyelet, and lace trim I given to me from my mother in law's vintage stash. 
My husband got me Prairie Fires the Caroline Fraser biography of Laura Ingalls for Christmas (although he may have regretted it when we were on our way to Christmas dinner and I was weeping over Pa's death). The chapters on her childhood, and early marriage are tough to read. I read the First Four Years (and haven't let my kids read it yet, wanting to foster the magic before the reality come crashing down), I know life was hard. I knew the books weren't all facts, and any blogger knows we present ourselves in the way we want to be seen, not necessarily in the way we actually are. But, when I read how hard parts of her life were I was heart broken. I felt like a dear friend had withheld something from me. Thank God she pulled herself up by her bootstraps in the end! 

The book is fantastic, and puts the Ingalls/Wilder experience in a useful national context based on historical events and the work of other writers. It also clears up the tricky business of how much influence her daughter Rose had on the children's series. I'm not quite finished, but it's a good read!
I was a little worried the 8 y.o. mind might file dress-up clothes in the reviled clothing category of gift, the one that gets tossed aside before the lid is even fully off the box. Luckily, I was wrong. Given the choice between this costume, and the pink crushed velvet dress I made for her birthday, she's chosen this dress every day since Christmas. It saw 4 days of continuous wear from the second she unwrapped it. She wore it to grandmom's for Christmas dinner, and stuffed it into snow pants to go sledding, leaving me one very satisfied maker. 

Dress Fabric: Kaufman Sevenberry Petit Fleurs Stems Midnight from Fabric.com
Dress Pattern: Modified Zoey Dress from Violette Field Threads
Apron Fabric: Kaufman Essex Linen Blend White from Fabric.com
Apron Pattern: My Own
Bonnet Fabric: Kaufman 1/8" Carolina Gingham in Chocolate available at Fabric.com
Bonnet Lining: Kaufman Sevenberry Petit Fleurs Tiny Flower Midnight from Fabric.com
Bonnet Pattern: McCalls M7231
Petticoat Fabric & Trim: Vintage, from my Mother-in-law's vast fabric archives.

* Fabric.com links are affiliate links. I paid for all of the fabrics, and only recommend what I like.


  1. I LOVE IT!!!! I was a hardcore Laura Ingalls/Anne Shirley dress-up fan as a kid, and have the same memories of many happy hours spent. I love reading Little House in the Big Woods to my class whenever I teach about pioneers. I'm glad your daughter loves the costume!

    1. Thank you! I didn't even think about Anne of Green Gables!!! So many good stories to go along with one simple dress.

  2. Wonderful dress-up clothes, and one of my favorite book series/play fantasies as a girl -a long time ago! As a 4th grade teacher we read "Farmer Boy" which was enjoyed by both boys and girls (and took place in our NY State). Can't wait to read "Prairie Fires". (Tissues at the ready. Reality sometimes sucks.)

    I look forward to more of your posts in 2018. Happy New Year!

    1. We also love Farmer Boy. I grew up on a farm in the same house as my Grandma. While she was at least one generation younger than Wilder, her stories had so many similarities. I think I appreciate the book more now than I did as a kid.

      And thank you for following along!

  3. I love it! Growing up I watched Little House on the Prairie everyday and I still watch it now. Wonderful dress!!

  4. Hi, this is beautiful! Can I ask roughly how long it took to sew the dress? I have a daughter the same age/size-ish here and wondering if I can somehow crank out something like this before this weekend for halloween or if I should just find something similar to buy! Thanks!