Queen of Hearts Costume, Part IV: Hearts and Overskirt

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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.

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Queen of Hearts Costume, Part III: Neck Ruffle

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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:

q-hearts-ruff-diagram

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Queen of Hearts Costume, Part II: Tailoring the Underdress

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:

q-hearts-blackwhite  q-hearts-bw-fit

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Queen of Hearts Costume, Part I: Design and Fabric

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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!

Right?

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Painted 1920s Shoes

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:

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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.

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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.

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Belle Epoque Wisteria Gown, Part VIII: 3D Wisteria Blossoms

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Once I had the embroidered wisteria designs finished, I decided to create a few three-dimensional wisteria blossoms to use at the neckline of the gown. The problem was, I wasn’t sure how to do the stems– the blossoms would be simple, just looping seam binding and using thread to bind the tops together, but the stems were a puzzle. If I used regular embroidery floss they would be too droopy and wouldn’t have any structure. If I used wire they would be too stiff. I thought about fishing line, but then I’d have to tie it all up together and find some way to make it green, and it sounded like a huge hassle.

I finally bought some green cotton cord that was on clearance at my local craft store. It had some structure to it, and I figured that it would strike a nice balance between stiffness and flexibility.

Here’s the process for making the wisteria sprays:

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Belle Epoque Wisteria Gown, Part IV: Tea/Coffee Dyed Lace

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Part of my design for this gown included some frothy lace at the shoulders and bust, so I purchased a 25-yard length of lace on eBay for a really low price. Unfortunately, when it arrived it was blindingly white– something needed to be done. Well, something needed to be done to about 5 yards of it, anyway– I couldn’t imagine that I’d ever need more than that for the neckline of a dress…

I decided to tea-dye the lace to take the edge off of the white. I’ve never tea-dyed anything made from synthetic fibers before– only cotton– so to figure out how to dye my nylon lace I did some internet research first. I ended up following this tutorial by Cation Designs, which seemed to be exactly what I was looking for.

First I used Darjeeling tea, which seemed to be an appropriate color when brewed, but when I’d followed the dyeing process and rinsed the dyed lace, it looked awfully dark and orange. Like, rust-colored. I didn’t have any confidence that it would dry significantly lighter, so as long as I had all of my supplies out I tried another option– coffee. I basically followed the same steps as for tea, but using instant coffee instead. I didn’t let the lace sit in the coffee mixture for as long, removing it after only about 3 minutes, and it ended up not only lighter, but less orange-y in color.

Side by side of the wet lace (Tea on left, coffee on right):

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It was around this point when I started regretting not having done any test swatches– I decided to try again, this time starting with a relatively mild coffee solution (the equivalent of one cup of brewed coffee diluted with about 6 cups of water) as opposed to the full-strength coffee I’d been using before. Instead of adding the vinegar at the end I soaked the lace in a water-vinegar solution ahead of time, per this tutorial. Then I dipped it for a bare 30 seconds into the diluted coffee before removing it and rinsing it in cold water. A decent amount of the color came out in the rinse, but it still looked somewhat creamier in color than the original white lace, so I decided to dry it and see how it turned out.

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Much better! Perfect, in fact. So I’ve learned my lesson– for just a hint of creaminess, dip the lace quickly and get it OUT of the tea/coffee solution before it picks up too much color. This totally goes against my experience in dyeing the seam binding for the ribbon embroidery– the only thing I can think of is that the seam binding was almost sheer, so just wetting it made it look a lot darker. Unlike the lace, which has pretty opaque threads that look much the same dry as they do wet. Or maybe it’s just one of those things that I need to chalk up to experience.

In any case, I now have five yards of light ivory lace to use on my ballgown. Let’s go!

 

 

Belle Epoque Wisteria Gown, Part II: Dyeing Hug Snug

When I decided on wisteria as my theme I was hopeful that I could find some pre-embroidered appliques to use on the dress. Sadly, this was not to be– for some reason, wisteria just isn’t popular enough to make appliques out of. Next I looked for some embroidered wisteria decorator fabric, hoping to make my own appliques. No luck– there was some gorgeous fabric out there, but it was something like $300/yard. Not going to happen. Machine-embroidery would be too expensive to commission, hand-embroidery was out of the question due to time constraints, but then I thought of silk ribbon embroidery. It was a lot faster than regular embroidery due to the width of the ribbon, and it would look lovely and dimensional. Right?

Unfortunately, silk ribbon is SILK, and therefore prohibitively expensive when one is considering making life-sized wisteria blossoms all over the skirt of a ballgown. And regular (cheap) satin ribbon is just too thick to really use for embroidery, especially when embroidering onto a tightly-woven satin base. But then it hit me– Hug Snug seam binding. It’s extremely light and thin, it comes in a million different colors, and it’s CHEAP. I could get a 100-yd. roll for about $10, so I bought two rolls– one in “Orchid Pink” and one in “Moss Green.”

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Why pale pink, when wisteria blossoms are various shades of purple? Because I didn’t feel like buying multiple colors of purple and then switching back and forth in the middle of a wisteria spray. Instead, I dyed the whole spool in variegated shades of purple using Jacquard Dye-Na-Flow. It’s actually really easy to use, and unlike regular dye it doesn’t require a long soaking/boiling time to set. Here’s how I did it:

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Lemonade Concentrate (with Stevia)

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What’s better on a hot summer day than fresh-squeezed lemonade? Cool, tart, and refreshing, it’s perfect for sipping out on the porch or bring along to a picnic in the park or at the beach. But one doesn’t always have enough lemons on hand to make fresh lemonade, and if you’re bringing it on a picnic it can be pretty heavy to lug around enough for everyone. Enter homemade lemonade concentrate! It’s lightweight, simple to make, and convenient for all!

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Game of Graces

So I planned a historical costume picnic this summer, and as part of the picnic activities I wanted to supply some fun lawn games for people to play. A little searching revealed a game from the early 1800s called the Game of Graces— involving throwing and catching a wooden hoop with crossed sticks. It was supposed to promote gracefulness.

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Apparently the game was originally aimed at girls, not boys (what, boys don’t need to learn to be graceful?), but I thought it looked fun, easy, and appropriate for picnickers of both sexes.

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