So one of the issues I noticed when I first tried on my black moiré skirt with a pair of heels was that it was too short.* I’d originally hemmed it to wear with flats and without tons of petticoats (for comfort), but for a glamorous evening gown I wanted to look tall and elegant, and that meant heels, plus a petticoat to fill out the skirt shape. All in all I needed almost another 3″ in length to make the skirt just brush the tops of my shoes.
*Note: This skirt pattern, Truly Victorian 297, is gorgeous but runs a little short in my opinion. I’m 5’6″ and in order to have the skirt long enough to wear with flats I only had 3/4″ left to turn over as a hem (1/4″ and then another 1/2″ for a finished edge). If I were making this again I would lengthen it, and I’d recommend the same to anyone over 5’6″, even if you’re going to wear flats.
The first thing I do for any new pattern these days is make at least a partial mockup– and in this particular case I’m extra-glad that I did, because the bodice was just WEIRD on me as originally drafted. I must have extremely square shoulders or something, because when I pulled the neckline out to the correct width, the center front got pulled up to make a really prominent bulgy area right at the bust.
At first I tried taking a fisheye dart right in the center to pinch out the extra fabric, but eventually I realized that it was a shoulder issue. Once I added a little extra space to the shoulder line (an extra size’s worth, front and back), that opened things up and smoothed out the center front. Whew! I suppose it might not have been a big deal anyway, given that the smoothly-fitted bodice lining is covered up by an over-layer, but I want the fit to be right even if I can’t see it. One more thing I did change was to add an extra 2″ to the side seams to allow for some expansion if required in the future.
Until recently I’d never much cared for the 1830s in terms of fashion– the giant sleeves were off-puttingly wide (unlike 1890s sleeves, which somehow seemed more normal, perhaps because they were higher on the shoulder?) the ankle-length skirts looked awkward, and the giant bonnets were insane. No, I thought, the doll-like silhouette was not for me. But while at Costume College last summer I attended a really fun class on crazy 1830s hair, and then I saw a bunch of attendees walking around in smashing 1830s day dresses, and before I knew it I was hooked!
I picked up Truly Victorian 455, the Romantic Era dress pattern, and started browsing through Pinterest for fabric ideas.
I’ll admit now that although I’m posting about this nearly last, it was actually the first thing I worked on– it just took forever to finalize because 1) I was extremely indecisive about the design, and 2) That indecision forced me to place several separate orders for the various widths of ribbon, which took a while to arrive. But I finally figured out what I wanted to do, AND managed to get it done, so here goes!
As you recall, the plan was to stitch lengths of black velvet ribbon down the front of my skirt, with small gaps in the stitching to allow for attachment of ribbon bows when a dressier look was called for.
The first thing I did was go searching for velvet ribbon in various widths– I wanted the bows to be graduated in size, which meant I needed at least four different sizes to work with. After a bit of experimenting with ribbon I had in my stash I determined that the smallest bows would be made of 1.5″ ribbon, so that was a good starting point. I ended up doing my bows out of 1.5″, 2″, 3″, and 4″ ribbon. I also bought some 1″ with my initial order just in case I needed it (spoiler: I did not).
One I had all the structural elements done, it was time to decorate! To add interest to the bodice, I draped some more of my striped netting over the top of the bust and into the armscyes, tacking down pleats asymmetrically for texture. I pinned the netting in place while it was on the dress form, tried it on to ensure I liked it, and hand-stitched it all down, similar to the bodice on my wisteria gown.
For the back I took a slightly different approach– I wanted to hide the closure rather than having the tulle get all bulky from overlapping at center back, so I only tacked down the pleated tulle on the left side of the neckline, leaving the remainder loose. I pleated the loose side down to a short length of black twill tape and added two hooks so I could fasten it at the right shoulder with thread loops.
Up next were sleeves. I wanted them to be puffed, to broaden the shoulder line, balance out the skirt, and make the waist look smaller by comparison. Before I changed my neckline back to off-shoulder I originally took my inspiration from the famous Worth ironwork gown– its sleeves are made of gathered tulle with velvet bows, and I thought they’d go well with the bows on my design.
I ordered some black tulle with tiny stripes and spots on it to make my sleeves– I liked the subtle texture of the pattern, as opposed to plain black.
To make the evening bodice for this outfit, I could’ve bought a whole new pattern but decided (after some conversation with Heather from Truly Victorian at Costume College last year) to modify my Truly Victorian 442 ballgown bodice, which is dated to 1860. I’d used it for my embroidered ballgown before and knew that it fit me well through the torso, so it was a good starting point.
I wanted to lengthen the bodice slightly at the sides to flare out just a bit over the hip, and also change the neckline to bring it up onto the shoulder, because I’d read that an on-shoulder neckline was correct for the period.
I had a whole post written out about how I adjusted the off-shoulder neckline to be on-shoulder instead, then cut out a squared-off neckline to complement the puffed sleeves I had planned– I even made the whole bodice and bound off the neckline, basted in the sleeves, and took pictures for this post!
And then I saw a fashion plate from 1899 with an off-shoulder neckline and instantly started picturing how my gown would look better with a wider shoulder to make my waist look smaller in comparison. I spent an afternoon trying to convince myself that my (already finished) bodice was just fine, but eventually I caved and decided to fix it. In other words, to undo almost all of my pattern modification and hard work. (sigh)
So remember how for Costume College 2019 I made an 1898 black moiré skirt to wear as part of a Haunted Mansion ensemble? And how I got tons of extra fabric to work with based on the cut of the pattern pieces and a lucky break in my online order? Well, I couldn’t let all that go to waste, so I decided to use it to make some coordinating pieces– first, a formal evening ensemble.
The skirt will be the base, of course, and I’m making a ballgown bodice to go with it. I wanted to make sure that the skirt was both fancy enough to be part of a fabulous evening gown and plain enough to be part of a day outfit; I toyed with the idea of detachable flounces or snap-on appliques before the idea hit me– bows.
Velvet bows, to be exact– bows that can be fitted with small snap-on straps (like lingerie stays in the shoulders of vintage dresses) that slip behind gaps in the stitching of a line of plain velvet ribbon. Without the bows, the skirt will have simple rows of black ribbon down the front, but with the bows it will be dressier and tie in (no pun intended) to the bodice decoration.
I’ve decided to keep the gown completely black and accent the bodice with some black point d’ espirit netting, more velvet ribbon, and some black beaded appliques. This way I’ll be able to wear it with my gigantic rhinestone choker from the My Fair Lady costume and really make things sparkle in contrast.
Rather than buy an entirely new bodice pattern I’m going to adapt the neckline of my Truly Victorian 442 bodice pattern to make it suitable for a later period– it fit me so perfectly it seems a shame not to take advantage of that. I’ll pull up the shoulders and revise the shape of the waistline, which shouldn’t be too difficult, and replace the back lacing with hooks and eyes.
Later on I’m hoping I can make a daytime bodice with leg-of-mutton sleeves, but that’ll depend on whether I have enough leftover moiré. Wish me luck!
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.
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)?
As I’ve mentioned before, I like to make baby blankets as gifts for friends and family with new babies. The quilted kind is fun, since I get to pick a bunch of cute coordinating fabrics, but I also love cut chenille blankets– they may be a bit more trouble to make (okay, a lot more trouble), but the results are just amazing.
Making cut chenille is easy, but time-consuming. You’ll need:
Main fabric (the cute one that’s going to show)
4 layers of flannel in coordinating colors*
Thread in a color that’s unnoticeable when stitched on top of your main fabric.
Thread in a color that’s unnoticeable when stitched on top of your backing fabric.
1/2 yard fabric to make binding
*I’ve previously used three layers only, but then you sometimes end up seeing the back side of your main cotton fabric between the rows of chenille. I’d prefer not to, so I’m using four layers this time and only cutting through three of them.