Upgrading a Costume Parasol, Part I: Changeable Cover

I’ll admit it, I was obsessed with parasols (and little white gloves, and tiaras, and all that stuff) as a child. I had a little white lace one, and a paper one painted with cherry blossoms, and I insisted that my rain umbrella have ruffles on it. So to go with my Squirrel Bustle Dress, I knew I wanted a coordinating parasol. Not just a coordinating parasol for this gown– a bunch of coordinating parasols for all of my future bustle gowns (whenever those may manifest). So I had to figure out how to make interchangeable covers. This was going to be interesting…

First, I had to get a basic parasol frame with a wooden handle. Unfortunately, nice parasols of the right kind are in short supply– there are plenty of Battenberg lace ones, but the handles were too short and they were kind of generic. Paper parasols didn’t get popular until the turn of the century. So I knew I’d have to find a different option. Luckily, you can get basic nylon parasols with long wooden shafts and handles from various sources for a reasonable price– I got mine from Oriental Trading Co. ($14.99 for me, with free shipping) They’re not particularly attractive, but they’ve got good bones.

The first thing I did was to remove the nylon cover and unpick the stitching along the edges of one of the six nylon fabric triangles. I ironed it flat to make a pattern for my new cover, taking into account an extra-wide seam allowance so I could use a “parasol seam” (explained below).

I cut new cover pieces out of a plum-colored quilting cotton, and then used some more of the fuchsia shot cotton from my Squirrel Bustle Dress to make a length of pintucked trim. For the trim, I cut two 10″ strips across the width of the fabric and seamed them together to make a 90″ strip, which I then sewed pintucks into. My pintucks were just about 3/8″ each, with about 1/2″ in between them– to keep the spacing even without having to mark off the fold lines, I made a template out of a strip of cardboard and just folded the fabric over it, slipping the cardboard out before pinning the fabric in place and stitching 3/8″ away from the fold.

I ironed my tucks flat after they were all stitched in.

Then I sliced the whole thing in half lengthwise with my rotary cutter to make two 5″ strips of trim. (okay, slightly less than 5″ since I had to even out the edges of the pintucked 10″ strip before slicing it, but it was more than wide enough)

Once I had my trim, I figured out how wide I wanted it to be on my parasol– definitely less than 5″, and I wanted more of the plum fabric at the bottom for contrast. I measured my triangles and carefully pinned my trim to each triangle, right sides together, so I could stitch it down and then flip it over for a clean seam. I trimmed the trim evenly with the lower edge of the triangle, and pinned it flat so I could assemble the parasol cover, carefully matching the sections of trim so they lined up at the seams.

So, in a “parasol seam,” you first fold over the seam allowance so the cut edge is just inside the seam line, and stitch through all four layers of fabric for a really strong seam. Because I wanted to ensure precise seam placement for a snug fit, I traced the seam line on the wrong side of my fabric so I could stitch directly along it.

Once the cover was sewn together, I took a long strip of plum fabric and bound the lower edge the same way I’d do for a quilt– I just used a strip cut on-grain rather than on the bias, since there were no curves to deal with and I wanted to avoid any stretching. I made it extra-wide just for proportion’s sake; in retrospect, I probably should have cut away the excess fuchsia trim from beneath the binding to keep it from getting too thick once folded over– the finished edge was kind of bulky this way. But since I’m not willing to unpick all of my hand-stitching on the inside, this will have to be good enough!

I ran a line of machine stitching all around the hole in the center of the cover for reinforcement, then did some buttonhole stitching by hand through all of the layers to make a reinforced circle that I will slip the top of the parasol through when I change out the covers. It could be neater, I admit, but no one is going to see it anyway.

Finally, I made a 3/4″ strap out of plum cotton, stitched it to the parasol, and put a button on one end and a buttonhole on the other– I’ll use it to keep my parasol closed when it’s not being used.

Next up, hardware!

1880s Hat Conversion

Once I’d finished my 1880s Squirrel Dress, I had to have a hat to go with it. I have yet to venture into completely handmade millinery, so I’m always eager to find existing hats that can be adapted to more historical uses. My favorite may always be the Regency Cowboy Hat bonnet, but this one is a close second– I made it from a children’s trilby hat in bright pink.

I was going for something along the lines of the hat in the center here:

Or this one, from the Met Museum.

Both are probably slightly too early in the period to match my dress, but they’re just so pretty that I decided to go for it anyway.

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Flowered Edwardian Hat

To top off my blue-striped Edwardian caftan dress, I naturally needed a hat. I’d made a few hats from the general period before– the simple straw hat with the peach bow, and the much fluffier, fancier hat with flowers and feathers— and wanted something in between the two in terms of style.

I did some Pinterest searching to find out what shape hats would be worn with the kind of streamlined afternoon dress I already had– there were a lot of different styles, but it looked like they were often reasonably wide, with some decent volume in the crown to give them some height and drama.

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Semi-DIY Chatelaine

When writing this post, I initially started writing about how a problem facing many historical costumers is carrying all of our bits and bobs when many dresses come without pockets, and how finding appropriately period purses can be difficult. And I was going to talk about how that’s what prompted me to want a chatelaine, which was basically a multi-tool for 19th century women… but then I had to admit to myself that my desire for a chatelaine really had nothing to do with needing to carry stuff with me, and everything to do with it just looking really cool.

So what is a chatelaine? Basically it’s a hook or pin that women would attach to their belt/waistband. It would have several chains hanging from it, and dangling from the chains would be an assortment of useful items– pencils, watches, perfume vials, buttonhooks, needle cases, notebooks, coin purses… basically anything a woman might want to have handy.

Of course, these items weren’t strictly utilitarian– many chatelaines were made of silver, gorgeously embellished, and just generally decorative. Here are some of my favorites, mostly from the 1880s-1890s:

Image result for silver chatelaine
Image result for silver chatelaine
Image result for silver chatelaine

So, with all of this beautiful inspiration, is it any wonder I wanted one for myself?

The problem, of course, is that antique chatelaines with any attachments at all tend to sell for no less than $200, and easily reaching $2,000 depending on condition and complexity. I wasn’t about to spend that much, so I had to improvise.

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Historical Spectacles

Okay, this isn’t an “I made this” post so much as an “I found this” post. It’s about eyeglasses. That is, reasonably historical-looking eyeglasses for those of us who are visually challenged but don’t want to wear contacts all the time. If you’re looking for an inexpensive source for glasses that look pretty decent for dates after 1800 or so, try these:

sku-810014 eyeglasses front view

I found them at Zenni Optical, and after a lot of comparison shopping at similar discount-glasses sites I determined that they were the best-priced pair I could find. The basic prescription glasses, with standard coatings and thickness, cost me under $12 (plus another $5 in shipping). They come in gold and silver, as well as a few less historical-looking colors.

I also picked up this pair (which I don’t like as much on my face because they’re kind of big, but which would still work). They were only $3 more and also come in other colors.

sku-450014 eyeglasses front view

(I will note that both of these pairs have plastic nosepads, which are not historically accurate, but in general this is about as close as you’re going to get without actually seeking out reproduction frames.)

Get some the next time you feel the urge to stare disapprovingly over your spectacles at someone!

Lady Macbeth Beetlewing Gown, Part XIII: Crown

The final touch for this costume was the crown, which Lady Macbeth is shown raising above her head in the Sargent painting.

That being said, the internet assures me that 1) this was supposed to be King Duncan’s crown, not hers, and 2) she never actually struck this pose in any of her performances of the play. But it’s still the most recognizable pose, so I had to make a crown to carry– and also to wear, since I wasn’t about to just carry it around all night.

Since I am not experienced in metalwork, I had three options: First, have a metal crown custom-made for me. That seemed awfully expensive for a prop. Second, make a fake metal crown out of craft foam and gold paint. That was definitely something I considered, but ultimately I wanted it to look really shiny and polished both inside and out, and I wasn’t confident I could do that in the time allotted. So I went with my last option, which was to find a reasonably decent-looking crown online and go with it.

Vinsco Baroque Crown Vintage Round Full Size Tiara Luxury Retro Headband Crystal Rhinestone Beads Hair Jewelry Decor for Queen Women Ladies Girls Bridal Bride Princess Birthday Wedding Pageant Party
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Lady Macbeth Beetlewing Gown, Part XII: Wig Styling

Once the dress was done, I turned my attention to the wig I’d need. I don’t know if Ellen Terry really had almost floor-length hair when she played Lady Macbeth or if she wore a wig, but it’s a prominent feature of her costume in the photos and in the painting, so I had to follow suit.

There were plenty of long (like, knee-length) cosplay red wigs available, but they were all perfectly straight and didn’t look particularly full– when divided into two plaits they were definitely not going to be sufficient for the look I was going for. Rather than try to figure out how to plump them up, I decided to go with a textured wig– or rather, two textured wigs that I’d cobble together.

I ended up with this one— it’s designed to be a Lady Melisandre wig from Game of Thrones and it’s a dark red color with lots of texture, so it definitely had the volume I was looking for. It also has a nice braiding detail at the top. I bought two.

Liz Wig Game of Thrones Character Melisandre Long Wavy Cosplay Wig 32" Wine Red

Once they arrived, I took apart one wig by cutting the wig cap into strips to make wefts. I cut the cap in sets of three wefts right up to the point where it started curving around the head, then cut that curved skullcap-ish section right up the center, for a total of four weft strips (two shorter, two longer) and two denser sections. Here’s a diagram of the cuts:

Then I divided my wearable wig into two sides (following this very useful tutorial to avoid showing the wig cap at the part) and divided each of those sides into an upper and lower section. The upper sections were clipped aside, while I worked on one lower section at a time.

I spread the hair on the lower section over the floor (which was covered in parchment paper to avoid glue getting on the hardwood). I glued the longer weft across the hair about 8″ up from the ends, then glued the dense skullcap section on top of that a few inches down. Finally, I glued the shorter weft section over the top of that, at the same level as the first one.

Once I let down the upper section of hair and gathered the whole thing into a ponytail, the glued sections weren’t really visible except as a slightly thicker section of hair. I tied the long ponytail into segments using cut-up hair elastics (since trying to use them the normal way was next to impossible on such long hair), then wrapped the whole tied-up ponytail with gold ribbon. I stitched the ribbon in place using light brown thread to keep it from slipping out of position.

I’m actually really happy with how this turned out, and how easy it was, relatively speaking. Yes, it’s pretty heavy, and no, I don’t think it’ll stand up to much abuse, but it looks decent and it took me about an hour to style, so I’m counting it as a win!

Lady Macbeth Beetlewing Gown, Part XI: Belt

Once the dress was structurally complete I got started on the belt (which had to sit a certain way over the dress to look right). The original belt for the gown appears to have been made of metal links with a raised design on them– the belt wraps twice around the waist and ties in front with a length of twisted fabric.

Initially I thought I’d repurpose some belly-dancing belts with similar metal links to make my own belt, but they were pretty expensive and didn’t have the right overall look– too much filigree, not quite the right shape. I decided to make my own, because deciding to spend ridiculous amounts of time and effort to closely replicate a costume element that I’d intended to shortcut is apparently what I do.

Since I didn’t have the time, knowledge, or supplies to make my own stamped metal links (yet), I opted to use thick black cardstock– it’s called “museum board” and it’s pretty stiff while still being cuttable. I figured that once painted with metallic paint, the links would be close enough to pass for a stage costume.

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Lady Macbeth Beetlewing Dress, Part X: Collar and Brooch

So above the rounded neckline of the dress there’s a high ivory collar. It appears to be made of net, gathered for texture and sewn with lines of gold thread.

I actually had a bunch of ivory net in my stash, so I started off by cutting two layers. First, there’s a curved piece to serve as the base, then a top layer that’s cut larger and gathered down. It’s possible that the top layer was also a proportionally-cut curve that’s gathered to fit, but to make the process easier I just cut a big rectangle and relied on varied gathering to shape it into a curve.

I cut a base layer to fit around my actual neck rather than to match the curve of the dress neckline, which as you recall had a bit of a gap due to a previous error. I left plenty of room at the bottom, though, to ensure that I’d be able to stitch it to the dress with no pulling.

For the top layer, I made my piece about twice as long as the base to allow plenty of room for gathers. After pinning a hem in the top edge (so it would be caught by later seams) I ran six parallel lines of gathering stitches (machine-sewn for the tiniest gathers) along the length of the top layer and pulled up the threads until it fit the base. I know it should’ve been five layers, but I miscounted and figured it wouldn’t matter anyway.

To make a clean back closure I stitched the base and top layers together at the short ends, right sides together, then flipped them over and topstitched over the top gathering line to keep the two layers aligned.

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Fun “Bar” Suit, Part V: Hat and Olive Hatpin

Next up was the hat. The original hat (or a least one of the original hats shown in photos– there appear to be a few) was an almost lampshade-shaped straw hat:

www.revival-retro.com

Tough to find, particularly in winter, and hats can be expensive in vintage shops. Luckily, I found something very similar in the costume section on Ebay! It’s called a “coolie” hat (which I find kind of racist, for what it’s worth) and the photo was pretty close in terms of shape.

s-l1600

Of course, when it arrived it was a lot flimsier than the original hat looked to be, plus being more conical with a less defined crown. I decided to add some wire around the brim to stiffen it up– I unpicked the stitches holding the straw edge binding, then cut off about 3/4″ all around the edge (it was just a bit too big for my taste) before stitching some thick brass wire around the underside and reattaching the binding with hot glue.

bar-hat-edge

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