I know, you’re probably curious to know what happened with the sequins, but you’ll need to wait until later because I had to get the center panel’s appliqués done first. The larger floral appliqués I ordered were some of the last components to arrive, which is why I had to leave it for so long. I bought both venise and alencon lace appliqués because I wasn’t sure which would work better– neither were quite in the same style as the other trims, but I thought they’d work out all right.
You can see in the reference images below that there are leafy floral motifs at the center front and sides of the center panel, and smallish motifs at the high points of the swags of trim around the hem.
As I mentioned earlier, the original gown appears to be sewn all over with beads and silver sequins– while I briefly considered doing the same, I knew it would take absolutely FOREVER and I really didn’t want to deal with the time and effort involved. Instead, I decided to use glue to attach silver sequins to the dress.
As previously noted, I purchased six thousand 4mm flat silver sequins for this dress. You can see in the photographs that the sequins are concentrated around the lines of trim on the side sections, and are basically everywhere in the center section, so I figured I’d need a lot of them.
Taking the advice in this tutorial (excellent tips, by the way), I bought Gem-Tac glue to attach my sequins and rhinestones, and made myself a big cardboard backing to use as a base for attaching things. I covered it in parchment paper and used binder clips (cushioned with paper towel to prevent snagging or creasing) to clip the edges of my fabric to it.
After I attached the beaded fringe on the neckline and sleeves of the dress, I did some hand-stitching of sequins. I had not originally realized that this would be involved, but closer examination of the sleeve decoration showed that the straight lines (and by extension, the straight line segments at the neckline and hem of the dress) were not baguette sequins or beads, but were actually alternating lines of sequins and what looked like stylized vines with sequin leaves. See?
So I bought a bunch of clear 4mm sequins to go with my silver 4mm sequins, and got to work. Again, to assist in accurate placement I ran basting stitches of white thread to mark the lines. Then I used ivory embroidery thread to stitch down lines of silver sequins and to make the central vines for the clear sequins. I used a basic running stitch– since the net is see-through, the stitching looks like a solid line. I then used regular white sewing thread (finer but still visible to match the original) to stitch clear sequins along the edges of the vines.
For one of the accessories for this outfit I had to find an appropriate small tiara. It was actually harder than it sounds– while there are tiaras galore on eBay, most are much larger than the delicate piece Eliza Doolittle wears in her gigantic updo. The few smaller ones weren’t much better– they were usually too rounded and none had the tiny dangles you can see in the original. I finally came to the conclusion that I’d need to cobble one together myself. Luckily, after much searching I found this comb, which had the radiating tines decorated with rhinestones, even if it was in the wrong color. I removed the heart from the front and snipped off the extra tines so there were only seven, just like the movie version. I had to bend them into the correct position to make them look like they were radiating from a wider base, as well.
So as I was working on the dress, I thought I’d see how it looked with the rhinestone shoulder chain that had first inspired the project– by itself it looked reasonably good, but once I tried the choker on the dress form (more on that later) it was clear that the combination of the two was just too much. Too gaudy, too garish, not so much a replica of the original as an over-the-top version you might see on stage. Plus, it wasn’t quite long enough to drape properly over the shoulders, which (while fixable) just pushed it over the edge into “nope” territory.
So despite being initially inspired by the rhinestone shoulder chain, I decided that it had to go. (Luckily for me, since it had arrived broken I got an almost complete refund from the seller, so I only ended up paying $6 for it– not a huge waste of money) But what to replace it with?
With the basic net overgown sewn, it’s time to start decorating! If you recall, this is the layout I drew up for the placement of the trims:
I read somewhere that the embassy ballgown in My Fair Lady was actually an antique gown that was modified for the movie– given that, I assume that the overgown is made of silk tulle or something similar that was in more common use back in the early 1910s. However, there was just no way I could afford to work with something that pricey, so not being overburdened with the need for historical accuracy I decided to go with plain old nylon English net. It’s basically a step up from regular tulle– I discovered the name of the fabric during my jaunt to NYC’s Garment District and it helped immensely in my search, since before that I’d been calling it “soft netting” and kept getting directed to either the crappy tulle bolts or to the stretchy power mesh stuff. I picked up four yards of it in ivory (and immediately second-guessed myself, wondering if I should’ve chosen white instead, but whatever).
When I first started draping the net over my dress form to get the shape of the gown, I just gathered a bunch of it in the center front– however, it immediately became apparent that this would not provide the correct shape– far too poofy, not nearly enough elegant drape. I switched over to the idea of a circular skirt– when the center section draped down from a single point (or really a few closely-spaced points) to a full hem, it looked much better.