Edwardian Caftan Conversion, Part IV: Final Photos!

I know it’s been ages since I finished this dress, but then I had to make a hat to go with it, and then I had to find a time to put on the whole outfit and get decent photos, which always takes forever. In any event, I finally got around to it one lovely September afternoon, pinning my hair into a makeshift Edwardian updo and grabbing an old edition of Pride and Prejudice for a prop. I wore my adapted Edwardian strappy shoes, though they weren’t particularly visible in most of the shots due to my poses.

I admit that I probably relied a bit too much on the book to pose with (I have soooo many pictures with me “reading”)– for some reason I just can’t come up with interesting poses that don’t look forced, and for this particular outfit I wanted to show off the columnar lines and button details, which constrained my angles a bit. But I had fun, and managed to get pictures taken before the last of our summer flowers wilted, so I’m counting it as a win!

Overall, I love this outfit– it’s so cool and comfortable, and perfect for a casual picnic or afternoon event. Now I just need to find one to attend!

Also, look how well the picture converts to black and white! Love this one…

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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Edwardian Caftan Conversion, Part III: Construction

Because of the way the dress was put together, I had to add most of the fussy details before actually constructing the dress (hence my “details” post coming first). Once I had the buttonholes and piping in, it was time to actually sew everything together.

The bodice is a basic kimono-sleeve, which I generally cut out in the same way as my pale peach Edwardian afternoon dress. When stitching it together, I left one side seam open for later insertion of the invisible zipper.

Above is a picture of the bodice piece before I attached the lower section of the back with the piped seam and buttonholes. I will note that while the waist is cut straight across here, after several tries I ended up curving it upwards at the sides so I could cut the back shorter and avoid excess blousing in the back. I added a 1″ waistband to the bodice, just in case I ever wanted to wear the dress without the belt. Due to the fabric layout I had to make the waistband out of two strips of fabric joined in the middle, and annoyingly (as you’ll see in the closeup below), I realized later that I’d cut the waistband so that the stripes were offset by one when you compared the front half to the back half. A tiny error, but I noticed.

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Edwardian Caftan Conversion, Part II: Details

While putting together this dress, I had a lot of fun putting in small, fiddly details that I think make it look more authentic. Many of them had to be planned and inserted before the dress was actually constructed, so I figured I’d post about them first.

For example, I added piping to the seams between the striped and blue fabrics– I made it out of the extra fabric I cut out of the sides, and because I’m insane I cut it on the bias, requiring me to piece together a few dozen short sections of fabric to get a long enough strip to make piping. (yes, I know it’s normal to make bias piping, but since this piping was only used in straight lines it really wasn’t necessary)

I also added a wholly unnecessary seam across the back of the bodice, which I piped before adding a row of fabric-covered buttons (size 36, if you’re curious) to it, just for fun. I stitched buttonholes, too, which are barely visible under the sewn-on buttons but which add to the illusion of a complicated Edwardian closure. I’m probably going to have to improve my posture now to avoid leaning back in a chair and hurting my back on those shank-back buttons…

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Edwardian Caftan Conversion, Part I: Inspiration

A year or two ago I happened across a post from someone who had found a vintage embroidered caftan at a secondhand store, and transformed it into a fabulous Edwardian-style dress! (Sadly, I can no longer find the post, but it was amazing) I think she basically just added a sash, and wore a lace guimpe under it– those two elements really changed the entire look, and I immediately started looking for a vintage caftan of my own to steal her idea.

Unfortunately, most of the vintage caftans I found were too tropical in style, and the embroidery was placed awkwardly for the look I was going for. Eventually, however, I found this new caftan— it’s got a vaguely nautical feel to it with the blue and white stripes, and the embroidery (while a bit modern in style) was still restrained enough to pass muster for what would be a pretty basic Edwardian-ish ensemble.

National Embroidered Caftan
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Multi-Use Petticoat

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One thing that I never seem to have the patience for when it comes to historical costuming is the underpinnings. As much as I like the idea of being dressed from the skin out in historically-accurate pieces, I can never muster up the energy to make them. Instead of chemises I wear modern cotton slips. Instead of corset covers I find lacy vintage-style cotton tank tops. Instead of a full crinoline and petticoats, I bought a cheap bridal hoop and safety-pinned an extra layer of stiff netting on top to disguise the bones. What can I say, it works!

However, even modern substitutes take up space, and especially when one is planning on attending a multi-day event with different outfits (can’t wait for Costume College 2021!), space is at a premium. I realized that what I really needed was a petticoat that I could use for different silhouettes depending on the occasion. Something that I could adjust at will, without compromising the integrity of the original.

I’ll say at the outset that the finished petticoat turned out reasonably well, with all of the necessary features, but if I could go back in time I’d do a few things differently. Read on to see how things worked out…

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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!

In need of Gala inspiration…

As you may recall, for me the costuming highlight of the past two years has been attending Costume College– not just for the opportunity to meet up with like-minded costumers and learn new things, but because it provides a venue/excuse for me to make and wear some fabulous costumes that would otherwise languish in my imagination. The Saturday night Gala, especially, is the pinnacle of the weekend costume-wise, and I’ve always had a pretty clear idea of what I wanted to make and wear.

Costume College Gala 2018– My Fair Lady embassy ballgown
Costume College Gala 2019- Lady Macbeth by John Singer Sargent

Not this year. The themes for 2020 have just been released– the Gala will be Titanic-themed– and I’m stuck. While I would have jumped at the chance back in high school when the Titanic movie first came out (and still think the costumes are lovely), in the intervening years it seems like everyone has already made their own versions of the costumes, so a reproduction of a movie outfit would be unoriginal at best. And while I could always just make something Edwardian in style and go with that, I just can’t seem to get excited about it without some kind of inspiration.

Looking back at my two previous Gala outfits (and many of my other favorite costumes), I tend towards very detailed reproductions of instantly recognizable but seldom-made gowns– heck, the Katniss dress was my first foray into blogging, and definitely fit the bill. I think that having a specific point of reference helps me stay on track in terms of figuring out what comes next in a complicated costume, and it’s nice to be able to feel that I’ve gotten things “right” at the end. On the other hand, I feel like I’d like to be able to break out of the box next year by making something original… I just don’t know if I like the Titanic theme enough to use it as my inspiration.

Complicating matters is the fact that I have a bunch of fabric in my stash that I really ought to get around to using, so I feel kind of compelled to at least try to make a Gala gown out of some of it… if only I could figure out exactly what I wanted to do with it!

So what say you, readers? Do I try to find some Edwardian inspiration to go with the Titanic theme after all? Do I dig into my stash (which really leans Victorian in terms of fabric) and try to be virtuous? Do I hold on and hope that a new film or TV series comes out with fabulous costumes I can reproduce in time for next year? Or do I sit here and waffle over what to do until it’s too late and I have to re-wear something from a previous Gala (not the worst fate in the world, but not nearly as much fun)?

Flashback: Mary Poppins and Bert

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It’s no secret that I enjoy making elaborate Halloween costumes. But the first Halloween with our baby daughter,┬áto my surprise, my husband agreed right off the bat to my first idea for a family costume– Mary Poppins and Bert, with the baby as one of the dancing penguins in the Jolly Holiday animated scene.

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1915 Picnic Dress: Done!

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So the outfit is finished at last! Here I’m wearing it over a modern sleeveless cotton blouse that passes as a corset cover, and an antique Edwardian petticoat. (I’d planned to wear a corset but ditched it at the last minute because I thought it would be uncomfortable to wear while sitting on the ground) I accessorized with my Edwardian pumps, my bow-bedecked hat, and a paper parasol. Here are some shots of the full outfit!

Channeling my inner Lady Mary… I’m totally judging whatever it is I’m looking at off in the distance.

Image may contain: Tanya Austin, standing, hat and outdoor

With the family, including my little girl in her white eyelet dress!

Image may contain: 3 people, including Wes Austin and Tanya Austin, people smiling, people standing, hat, tree and outdoor

As I’ve said before, I always do appreciate when a dress turns out exactly as I’d pictured it. It doesn’t always turn out that way, which is sometimes a good thing, but there’s just something so satisfying about comparing the sketch to the real thing and seeing it come to life.

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