Lady Macbeth Beetlewing Gown, Part II: Supplies

So the most important part of this gown is clearly the beetlewings (technically elytra, or wing casings, but “beetlewings” is easier to understand). Luckily for me, elytra from sternocera aequisignata (the species of jewel beetle most commonly used for decoration) are readily available for sale on eBay at very reasonable prices. The original gown is said to have had 1,000 wings on it, but just to be safe I ordered 2,000– it wouldn’t do to run out and have to order more from Thailand, after all! I thought about purchasing them pre-drilled with holes at the top, but decided that if I was going to have to clip them to size and put additional holes in for sewing anyway, I might as well save a little money and get them undrilled.

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Lady Macbeth Beetlewing Gown, Part I: Inspiration

When I was in elementary school, there was a memorable occasion when the school hosted an exhibit of rare and exotic insects; they were displayed in glass cases in our cafeteria and each class of students got to go in and look at all of the interesting species. Personally, I was fascinated by the shiny/iridescent ones– the blue morpho butterflies and the gorgeously green beetles. I thought it would be so neat to have jewelry or something made out of them, but didn’t think it would actually be possible. It wasn’t until much later that I learned that the beetle carapaces, at least, were historically used to decorate clothing!

evening dresses ornamented with beetle wings White cotton gauze dress embroidered with beetle wings, embroidered in India for export, ca 1865, KSUM 1983.1.98.

Perhaps one of the most famous examples of a gown decorated with beetle wings (not really the wings, but the wing casings) is the Lady Macbeth costume designed by Alice Comyns Carr and worn by actress Ellen Terry in 1888. It made such a splash that it was immortalized by John Singer Sargent the following year:

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The original costume was recently restored by the Zenzie Tinker Conservation with funds donated to the National Trust, which means there are tons of closeup photos of the costume itself. It doesn’t look quite as fabulous as it does in the painting, or even as it looked over a hundred years ago, but then what does?

Back in 2009 I blogged about the “Beetlewing dress” worn by Victorian actress Ellen Terry to play Lady Macbeth- and the National Trust’s project to restore it. Well, the restored dress is now on di… Beetle-wing dress revisited | Glass of Fashion

Anyway, the reason for all this background is that I’m going to make my own version of the Lady Macbeth dress for Costume College this year. (a friend of mine has dubbed it “the Scottish Bug Dress” and now I can’t stop thinking of it that way) The event theme is “What’s That Fabric?” and as the original dress was actually crocheted out of sparkling blue and green yarn, then decorated with beetlewings (both rather unconventional choices), I thought it would work perfectly. Add to that the fact that a group of us is getting together to wear dresses inspired by famous paintings, and it was obvious that this dress had to be made!

Edited to add: There’s a great article written by the lead conservator on the restoration process that has some wonderful details, here!

Fun “Bar” Suit, Part VI: Final Photos!

So I got the chance to wear the entire Bar Suit outfit at CostumeCon 37– I figured that  my fellow costumers, if no one else, would immediately get the reference to the original suit and appreciate the joke. And I was right!

Here are some of the fun photos we got of the outfit– I love costumes I can have a good time with!

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Okay, so clearly I needed a bit more attitude in my hip position to really mimic the model’s pose, but otherwise I think it’s a pretty decent shot!

Fun “Bar” Suit, Part IV: Purse

To go with the “Bar” suit, I needed some bar-themed accessories that were in keeping with the overall look (so no shot-glass necklaces or coaster epaulettes).

I started with the handbag, which began life as an acrylic purse shaped like a perfume bottle.

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It’s also shaped almost exactly like a bottle of Disaronno liqueur, so I decided to replace the “Paris” label with a faux Disaronno label to keep with the “bar” theme.

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I took an image of the label and tweaked it to the proper dimensions (2.5″ wide x 2″ tall, in case you wanted to know), then printed it out onto ivory cardstock before filling in a few bits of color with a red pen.

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Fun “Bar” Suit, Part III: Jacket

With the skirt done it was time to start the jacket. I’d originally intended to modify a modern jacket by adding curvier seams, but then I found a vintage jacket on eBay that looked perfect:

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It had a nice hourglassy shape, what looked like generous hips (insert ominous music here), and it was the right color. Hoping that it would fit better or at least be easier to modify than a modern, boxier jacket, I bought it.

However, when it arrived it didn’t fit me very well– the torso was too long, making the bust section buckle unattractively, and the sleeves were too wide, which also made the armscye too low to allow for much arm movement. Overall I think it was probably made for a taller, larger-framed person (except the waist– I guess this means I don’t have the correct proportions for the look), so it needed some alteration. Spoiler: It ended up needing A LOT of alteration!

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Fun “Bar” Suit, Part II: Skirt

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I started with the skirt, since I can’t get to work on the jacket until I  know what I’ll be wearing it over.

Like I said, I’m using this fabric, and purchased three yards of it to ensure I had plenty to work with:

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I did a little measuring and determined that I could cut three panels of the fabric (44″ wide from selvedge to selvedge) for a total skirt width of 132″–  nice and full so it’ll have plenty of volume. Before doing that I cut off a piece about 1/2 yard wide to make my waistband and pockets (pockets are great!) out of. For the record, I’m 5’6″ and this made for a nice skirt length with a 2 1/2″ hem.

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Fun “Bar” Suit, Part I: Inspiration

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So I’m going to start off by warning you that this is not really a recreation of the iconic Dior Bar Suit— it’s more of a tongue-in-cheek version that I’m throwing together for fun. It may have the general look, but the details are purely for my own amusement.

I really do love the whole “new look” that came out after WWI– it’s so fluffy and fun and suits my body type much better than the long, lean looks of the first half of the 20th century. So I figured I’d have a good time making this outfit, which I’m hoping will be recognizable to my costuming friends at the various events I’ve got going this year.

My inspiration for the outfit came from this fabric:

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It’s from Northcott’s “Happy Hour” collection (“bar” suit, get it?) and I thought it would make a great base for the black skirt. From there the whole idea came together fairly easily.

I’m going to have a full skirt made of the Happy Hour fabric, and a plain ivory jacket up top with some kind of novelty buttons down the front. I have high hopes for the hat I’m planning– straw, like the one in the 1957 photo above– and I found a perfect purse, but I’ll save that for another post.

Let’s see how this works out!