Nellie Oleson’s Silk Polonaise Dress



Laura Ingalls Gunn


(click images to to enlarge)

Other Credits

Model: Alyssabeth Ingalls Sherman

Outline the story …

I started volunteering at various historical sites, including the Little House on the Prairie site in Kansas, approximately three years ago. During one drive back home to Texas a BIG idea flickered in my brain. Wouldn’t it be fun to recreate some of the clothing that Laura Ingalls Wilder so vividly described in her Little House books? I quickly pushed the thought out of my mind. I wasn’t qualified or good enough to take on such a task since I’d only been seriously sewing for a year or so. Months passed with the idea regularly rearing up and self-doubt pushing it down again. Then I started watching Cathy Hay’s videos and began to consider, “Why not me?” I was enthusiastic and willing. I pondered if any of the pioneering characters in the books possessed a doctorate in needlework. Nope, they were simply just brave. So I started with calico aprons and sunbonnets. Next were simple work dresses. But one dress above all others kept calling to me. “She wore a fawn-colored dress made with a polonaise. Deep pleated ruffles were around the bottom of the skirt, around her neck, and falling from the edges of the wide sleeves. At her throat was a full jabot of lace.”* Still I kept putting it off. It required skills I didn’t quite have. Then the theme for this year’s contest was announced and I knew it was now or never.

*Little Town on the Prairie, by Laura Ingalls Wilder, page 129

Outline the construction…

Nellie’s polonaise is beautifully depicted in a black and white drawing by artist Garth Williams, on page 131. The story’s timeline is approximately 1878-1880 which places the dress style in the Natural Form Era. As I am completely self-taught and have no idea how to drape I needed a pattern. The bodice from Butterick pattern B6572 was similar to the design I had in mind. After some research, I learned it was based on a dress found in Patterns of Fashion 2 by Janet Arnold. The neckline needed to be raised, which was a fairly easy task. A big challenge involved the sleeves that needed to be extended and widened at the wrist ~ a modified pagoda. My friend Dartanyan’s amazing engineering mind helped me create a new sleeve pattern. As I did not want a train I opted to use Truly Victorian 221 to construct the skirt. I decided what shade “fawn-colored” was by looking to nature and Dating Fabrics A Color Guide - 1800-1960 by Eileen Trestain. The lovely shot silk used was obtained in a trade. I had never worked with silk and quickly decided to flatline all pieces with a cotton muslin sheet using French seams to combat the fray factor. A combination of machine and hand stitching was used. All of the trim was pleated by hand. The lace jabot is based on extant pieces from the Met. It is made from three different antique lace pieces handstitched to Edwardian era netting.




  1. Avatar Joy Smith on March 11, 2021 at 7:37 pm

    Laura, your work is stunning!

  2. Avatar Bettyann on March 11, 2021 at 8:17 pm

    Beautiful work.

  3. Avatar Phyllis on March 11, 2021 at 8:39 pm

    Laura, the details in these garments are amazing. Your model looks great too.

  4. Avatar Laura Ingalls Gunn on March 11, 2021 at 8:50 pm

    Phyllis your kind words warm my heart!

  5. Avatar Patty Selenski on March 11, 2021 at 8:55 pm

    Wow it’s beautiful Laura! You did a fabulous job on your great great Aunts Frenemy’s dress. That would be perfect karma for you to win $400
    For this! Good Luck

  6. Avatar Leah Patton on March 11, 2021 at 9:12 pm

    Absolutely wonderful job!

  7. Avatar Durene Chavarria on March 11, 2021 at 9:29 pm

    Your work is beautiful! I can just see Nellie wearing it. You should win the $400.00 easy. If you don’t then you should have.

  8. Avatar Melissa S. on March 11, 2021 at 9:40 pm

    It’s just perfect! I’m so very impressed and if I had a vote it would most definitely go to you Laura. Well done.

  9. Avatar Patricia on March 11, 2021 at 11:13 pm

    Just amazing! You are so talented!! Thank you so much for sharing this 😊

  10. Avatar Maureen on March 12, 2021 at 12:01 am

    The pleating is spectacular!

  11. Avatar Michele Massey on March 12, 2021 at 12:12 am

    This is such a neat idea! You really brought this dress to life. Your attention to detail is amazing. A beautiful job, friend.

  12. Avatar Julie Reardon on March 12, 2021 at 1:25 am

    Gorgeous work!! I love the meticulous attention you have paid to the details to make this dress accurate to the description in the book!!

  13. Avatar Connie Haaland on March 12, 2021 at 2:05 am

    The attention to detail is amazing. You ARE brave and fearless, keeping your goal and vision in your sight, always finding creative solutions to any challenge. Congratulations on a job well done, Laura

  14. Avatar Sandy on March 12, 2021 at 2:38 am

    Laura you have outdone yourself on this one it is just stunning!

  15. Avatar Kelly Klingman on March 12, 2021 at 3:20 am

    Absolutely amazing!! Your work is incredible!

  16. Avatar Susan K. on March 12, 2021 at 4:19 am

    You’re a winner in my book!

  17. Avatar Joelie Hicks on March 12, 2021 at 4:54 am

    I so admire your talent and tenacity

  18. Avatar Catharine on March 12, 2021 at 6:25 am

    This is PERFECTION swathed in Taffeta ruffles!!

  19. Avatar Holley Anthony on March 12, 2021 at 12:46 pm

    You did a wonderful job on that- as ALWAYS!

  20. Avatar Cristina on March 12, 2021 at 2:34 pm

    I love all your creations but this one may be my favorite! Alyssa models it beautifully.

  21. Avatar auntie em on March 12, 2021 at 3:52 pm

    Your eye for details and authenticity is perfect Laura! You are so skilled at adjusting and adapting patterns to make them workable for what ever you set out to create. I love the box pleats and the fit of her gown. The construction details are so skilled. I took sewing lessons from a well trained seamstress from Europe and your work has many of the finishing techniques she tried to teach me.
    Thank you for sharing your beautiful work and your lovely stories behind them. It makes each one even more special and endearing!

  22. Avatar Charlotte A Moore on March 12, 2021 at 3:57 pm

    I love this. Your talents — and perfectionism — always amaze me.

  23. Avatar Carol Rodarme on March 12, 2021 at 8:44 pm

    Laura, I don’t know how this dress could be improved upon – it is sheer perfection and my very favorite of all your beautiful creations. And to think you had to talk yourself into this challenge – you can do anything! Much luck on the contest – you have my vote!

  24. Avatar jeanie on March 12, 2021 at 10:06 pm

    This is stunning. The detail work in the pleating and the rosettes in the back are so elegant and precise. Beautiful.

  25. Avatar Nancy Brantley on March 12, 2021 at 10:09 pm

    You are an amazing seamstress!! Beautiful!

  26. Avatar Nancy Pacitto on March 13, 2021 at 12:16 am

    this is such a beautifully constructed gown. The attention to detail is exemplary.

  27. Avatar Frieda on March 13, 2021 at 12:39 am

    This dress is just exquisite and beautiful as well.
    Amazing detail and workmanship

  28. Avatar Dixie Lee on March 13, 2021 at 1:16 am

    Laura, I think this is one of your best efforts.

  29. Avatar Ellen Bayles on March 13, 2021 at 4:25 am

    Amazing work and finished result. Beautiful construction. Love the trim on the sleeves and skirt!

  30. Avatar Carol Hughey on March 14, 2021 at 6:13 pm

    Really nicely done. Your pleats are so crisp and even. I love the back detail. Well done!

  31. Avatar Laurie on March 19, 2021 at 8:01 pm

    This is lovely. So well made. Very authentic. Evokes sentiment and Little House, indeed.

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