So remember last year when I was sewing my blue Regency dress, and I said that I already had a Regency ballgown that I’d intended to use for that dance event? Here’s the story: Back when I was in college, I was shopping at JC Penney’s when I came across these beautiful shower curtains that I immediately knew would make a perfect Regency gown. That’s right. Shower curtains = Regency gown. Sounds weird, but hear me out– they were made of ivory netting, embroidered all over with variegated pink roses and green vines, and they were so pretty and antique-y that I knew they’d work.
Of course, back then I didn’t have much experience sewing dresses from scratch, much less dealing with fiddly materials like embroidered net, so I found a seamstress online (Etsy was not a thing back then) and commissioned her to make me a gown based on a sketch I sent along with my fabrics. It turned out nicely, and I spent the next several weeks snipping out embroidered roses from the remaining fabric scraps and applique-ing them onto the gown with hand-embroidered vines to make it more embellished. The finished product was really beautiful. It always reminded me of Anne Shirley’s dress from Anne of the Island:
She had a particularly pretty gown on. Originally it had been only a simple little slip of cream silk with a chiffon overdress. But Phil had insisted on taking it home with her in the Christmas holidays and embroidering tiny rosebuds all over the chiffon. Phil’s fingers were deft, and the result was a dress which was the envy of every Redmond girl. Even Allie Boone, whose frocks came from Paris, was wont to look with longing eyes on that rosebud concoction as Anne trailed up the main staircase at Redmond in it.
Once the main dress was done, I made a set of detached sleeve-puff thingies to wear on my arms. I bought some black satin and stitched it in stripes with the extra red satin from the back side of the shawl. Once I had two long striped pieces, I cut out some equally long but much narrower pieces of red cotton and attached them to the striped sections as a lining.
The inner layer being narrower than the outer layer allowed the striped layer to puff out a bit along the vertical axis. Then I sewed narrow channels into the top and bottom edges and ran elastic through them, which gathered the sleeves horizontally into nice puffs that would stay up on my arms. I did have to stuff the puffs with fabric scraps to give them body– otherwise they were a bit droopy. Next time I’ll take the time to find some netting to do the stuffing– it would hold its shape better.
I finished off the costume with a tiara from eBay and a pair of black satin gloves. Hint: do not balance your tiara on your head just to see how it will look, then forget it’s not pinned on and bend over to look at something– it will fall off, clang on the floor, and lose half a dozen tiny rhinestones which you will then have to locate and glue back in. (sigh)
Stay tuned for pictures of the finished costume!
Once the basic black and white dress was done, it was time for embellishment. To make the hearts down the front I cut out some heart-shaped templates from paper and pinned them to the dress to get an idea of the correct sizes. Then I tweaked them until I had the correct size and shape.
To make the neck ruff I did a little research about different methods of construction. Most costumers agreed that to make an authentic ruff, one needed to use starched linen and make stacked pleats to create the swirly-edged look. I was not about to do that, and decided that regular pleats would do just fine.
For this post I will refer to the parts and edges of the ruff this way:
Once I had my materials assembled, the first thing I did was to make sure my black and white dress would fit me. I bought it on eBay and was more concerned with design and speed of delivery than with the precise size, so I ended up getting a dress that was a size or two too big. But better too big than too small, right?
While it would have been simpler to take the dress in only on the sides or at the side back seams, I decided to get a little creative and take it in at the front seams– this way I was able to alter the shape of the color-blocking to make it slightly less square and more tapered (and thus more flattering). Because the dress was lined, I took in only the outside layer so the lining would disguise the stitching on the inside. I also shortened the shoulder straps so the dress would sit better on my torso. See the before and after below:
For Halloween this year my daughter decided she wanted to be a kitty– not really a surprise, since she loves cats, but it was a bit more difficult to figure out what our family Halloween costume would have to be to coordinate with a cat. Could we all be cats? What about different animals? It all seemed kind of boring.
Then a friend suggested that she could be the Cheshire cat (pink and purple cat, talk about tailor-made for my kid’s preferences!) and my husband and I could do Alice in Wonderland-inspired costumes. It sounded like a great solution. My husband could be the Mad Hatter and would just need to add an outrageous top hat and maybe a cravat to a regular suit. As for me, since I’m not blonde and have no intention of wearing a wig, being Alice was out. But I do love fancy gowns (and have plenty of random accessories lying around), so I decided to be the Queen of Hearts. All I’d need would be a red dress to applique some hearts on, a crown, and maybe a plate of fake tarts to carry around, and I’d be all set! I even had my old high school prom dress, which was bright red satin with a full skirt. Perfect!
I can’t believe I never got around to posting about these shoes back when I was making the rest of the outfit! Okay, so these aren’t really 1920s shoes. They’re actually ballroom dance practice shoes– specifically, these:
I’d been looking for a pair of Oxford-style shoes that I could wear with my white 1920s dress to a lawn party, since it appears that the style was popular at the time.
I’d had my eye on some ballroom dance shoes because I liked the shape and the perforated leather and thought they’d look great with my outfit, but I couldn’t justify spending the money to get a new pair. Then, by sheer good fortune I found a used pair at my local Goodwill for $6 (basically a 1/10 of the original price), and they were exactly my size! I knew they’d be perfect, if not for one thing– the color.
I didn’t want black shoes– they wouldn’t go well at all with my summery white dress, and I was looking for something light and sporty. But they were so cheap and comfortable (can’t beat ballroom dance shoes for flexibility) that I decided that I would give paint a shot– after all, the shoes were inexpensive, they were leather (which meant they ought to be paintable), and it would only take an evening to finish the project.