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.
Fabric: The original dress was made out of crocheted tinsel yarn, though I managed to find a decent approximation with what was listed as “crochet lace” (totally not crocheted, you can tell). In retrospect I think my fabric was just a bit heavy, but since my best alternative was much too light it was the best I could get. If you’re looking for something similar, you may want to try Aliexpress.com, where I saw some crochet lace with tiny sequins in it that might mimic the original tinsel better.
I lined the dress with cotton crinkle gauze because I wanted it to have some stretch to allow me to fit the bodice snugly without needing boning. It worked, but the gauze I used ended up feeling kind of thick overall– go for as light a gauze as you can, to avoid being too hot with all of the necessary layers.
Structure: Most of my decisions on structure were based on the desire to avoid the dress sagging/stretching downwards from the sheer weight of the skirt. The princess seams in the bodice were a good call, both to aid in shaping and minimize stretching, and they were hardly noticeable once the beetlewings were sewn on. I also definitely got it right with my idea for skirt structure– the extra support of the separate yoke really reassures me that this dress will not stretch out longer over time (like the My Fair Lady dress did), and on a similar note I’m glad that I underlined the crochet lace with tulle, which kept it from losing its shape as I sewed.
I will note that in the future I may opt to wear a corset under the dress for a properly hourglassy figure, even if Ellen Terry’s contemporaneous letters expressed joy about how she didn’t have to wear one under the dress onstage.
Beetlewings: All the write-ups of the original dress say that it used “1,000 beetlewings,” like that’s some sort of huge number. Don’t listen! I used more like 1700 and I could’ve added more to the skirt without it looking overdone. And since I’m fairly sure that the wings they used in the original dress were smaller than the ones I have now, I’m betting the original used at least that many as well. To save on cost, definitely buy them in bulk on Ebay from Thailand instead of trying to buy them in the U.S. And since you’ll have to drill extra holes in them yourself anyway and trim them to size, you may as well get them undrilled rather than spending the money on predrilled wings.
Sleeves: I know I got the sleeve shape right in terms of the elbow crook being at the underarm seam– it was clearly that way in the original– but honestly, I don’t like it. It makes the sleeves twist weirdly around your arms when you try to bend them, especially when you raise your arms in that iconic right-from-the-portrait pose, and it’s uncomfortable to wear. Really, the only way it works is when your arms are down by your sides. If I were doing this again I would move the curved seam to the top of the sleeve, relying on the crochet lace and beetlewings to disguise the seamline, historical accuracy be damned.
Trim: Despite my belated realization that I’d made my sleeve trim too wide and thereby messed up the proportions, I’m still at least 90% happy with it. If I could go back I might have purchased one more skein of gold cording to double up on the border lines (like in the original), but I don’t know if I’d have bothered to correct the trim width– couching that many gryphon motifs was difficult enough, I don’t even want to think about doing 30% more…
Belt: That being said, I do think I may redo the belt at some point. The links are just too big and they look costume-y, which I was trying to avoid (at least, as much as one can while wearing a giant wig and a dress sewn with shiny green beetlewings). And I’m considering getting some gold foil to glue over the links for a “real metal” look, rather than paint.
Wig: I’m definitely going to restyle the wig the next time I wear it– looking at the painting again, the gold ribbon was too wide and wasn’t wrapped as densely as it was in the picture. And I’ll probably get some diluted glue to smooth over the wig to avoid all the flyaways I ended up with by the end of the night. Or perhaps a bunch of hairnets?
Anyway, all in all this was a really fulfilling project– I was extremely happy with the final product and had a great time wearing it, and learned some new skills along the way!
I had a great time wearing this whole ensemble to the Costume College gala this year– it didn’t fit the theme (“The Opulent Streets of Venice”), but it was indisputably the most fabulous of my costumes, so I had to wear it!
We took a bunch of photos all around the hotel, but it was tough to find just the right dramatic background…
But then darkness fell, and the hotel lit up their outdoor fountain with FIRE! I started off just posing near it, even going so far as to step up against the wall (taking care to keep my long sleeves and wig well away from the flames):
But by the end of the night I’d decided to literally take the plunge, stepping into the fountain itself to get some fabulous photos!
The water in the center was actually a lot deeper than I’d expected– about knee-deep– so my dress got pretty soaked! I wrung it out afterwards before going back up to my room to blot it with towels before turning the hair dryer on it so it would dry out enough to completely dry by morning.
I’m kind of kicking myself, though, because I neglected to remember that the Sargent painting portrays Ellen Terry slightly turned away from the viewer, rather than head-on the way I posed in the photos above. I only have a single photo of me in that position, and I wasn’t careful enough with the placement of my arms!
I’m definitely going to have to put on the outfit again to get better full-length photos at some point. I may even, as I mentioned in my belt post, re-do the belt someday to make the links smaller the way they are in real life. But that may have to wait until next year’s Costume College!
The first event at Costume College every year is a pool party, and while almost no one actually goes in the pool, it’s a great chance to show off a more casual outfit that’s suitable for hot weather. I think I’d been at the party last year for about an hour (sweating the whole time) before deciding that I totally wanted to wear a set of 1930s-style beach pajamas next time– they seemed so loose and comfortable, as opposed to the foam-armored corset I’d laced myself into at the time.
When they announced that this year’s pool party theme was “Garments of the Galaxy,” I decided to make my beach pajamas out of navy blue net embellished with silver glitter stars. Not quite authentic to the 1930s, but I thought it would at least be glamorous and fun.
Although there are patterns out there for 1930s-style beach pajamas, I ended up picking out a modern Vogue pattern (Vogue 9321) for a wide-legged jumpsuit, as the silhouette looked right, I liked the tie-back detail, and it was a lot less expensive than the vintage-style patterns were. Plus, it uses elastic instead of a zipper at the waist, which would make it easier to fit and sew. And it has pockets!
I made a few alterations to the construction process, specifically to fully line the whole thing– the original pattern only lines the back bodice section, but with my sheer fabric that was clearly not an option. I lined it with navy blue rayon challis, which is flowy and breathable.
After doing a quick mockup of just the bottom section to check the fit over the hips, I cut out my actual fabrics and got to work. I will note that I didn’t bother to pre-wash the rayon, since I was never going to be able to wash the jumpsuit anyway due to the glittered net. For the record, the glitter started shedding the moment I unwrapped the fabric and hasn’t stopped since– I’m going to have to pack it in a plastic bag to keep it from contaminating the rest of my luggage!
The pattern is categorized as “Very Easy,” so I wasn’t surprised when it went together fairly quickly– I sewed everything but the elastic waist and the hem in one evening. I bag-lined the top pieces of the jumpsuit so I’d have finished edges and clean insides (topstitching the edges to keep things flat), but left the bottom lining completely separate from the outer fabric except at the waist and the pockets so it the pant legs would flow nicely.
Due to the scratchy glitter fabric I did have to alter the back waistband, adding a strip of rayon where the outer layer was turned to the inside to form the elastic casing– otherwise the glitter would’ve been against my skin, which would have been very uncomfortable.
I also tacked down the bodice where the two pieces overlap– otherwise the neckline gaped open too much for comfort. I just stitched the pieces together along the overlap line to about 1/2″ below the top edge to keep things closed. Due to the tie-back design, once the front was stitched together I was able to wear a regular bra without it showing beneath the bodice, which was a definite plus!
I didn’t bother to hem the net layer of the pant legs– it wasn’t going to fray anyway– but I did hem the lining layer with a small rolled hem. Finally, because the elastic waistband was a bit bunchy-looking for my taste, I made a quick sash out of a long piece of net– tied to the side with the ends loose, it defined the waist a little bit and added some extra drama to the look. I added a belt loop at the center back to keep the sash from riding up higher than the waistline of the pants.
For the hat, I bought a wide-brimmed hat in sheer navy blue, and stitched a strand of white LEDs to the brim to mimic stars. Here it is before the LEDs:
Once the dress was structurally complete I got started on the belt (which had to sit a certain way over the dress to look right). The original belt for the gown appears to have been made of metal links with a raised design on them– the belt wraps twice around the waist and ties in front with a length of twisted fabric.
Initially I thought I’d repurpose some belly-dancing belts with similar metal links to make my own belt, but they were pretty expensive and didn’t have the right overall look– too much filigree, not quite the right shape. I decided to make my own, because deciding to spend ridiculous amounts of time and effort to closely replicate a costume element that I’d intended to shortcut is apparently what I do.
Since I didn’t have the time, knowledge, or supplies to make my own stamped metal links (yet), I opted to use thick black cardstock– it’s called “museum board” and it’s pretty stiff while still being cuttable. I figured that once painted with metallic paint, the links would be close enough to pass for a stage costume.
The theme for the Costume College afternoon tea this year is “The Haunted Mansion,” and I wanted something appropriately spooky to wear– but it couldn’t be too involved, since I already had tons of other work to do on my other costumes. After some brainstorming I decided to make a Victorian-ish black outfit with skeleton accents– in this case, a skeleton cameo brooch and a skeleton bodysuit worn under a sheer blouse, so the bones would (subtly) show through.
The brooch, blouse, and bodysuit were easily obtained, but I knew I needed a long, black skirt to complete the look. I considered finding a sheer black skirt to complete the “ghost” concept, but ultimately discarded that idea in favor of something more versatile– a black moiré skirt that I could re-use for other Victorian/early Edwardian ensembles.
I already had the perfect pattern in my stash– Truly Victorian 297, an 1898 flared skirt. I’d used it once before to make a tweed skirt for a steampunk outfit, so knew it was easy to put together.
So above the rounded neckline of the dress there’s a high ivory collar. It appears to be made of net, gathered for texture and sewn with lines of gold thread.
I actually had a bunch of ivory net in my stash, so I started off by cutting two layers. First, there’s a curved piece to serve as the base, then a top layer that’s cut larger and gathered down. It’s possible that the top layer was also a proportionally-cut curve that’s gathered to fit, but to make the process easier I just cut a big rectangle and relied on varied gathering to shape it into a curve.
I cut a base layer to fit around my actual neck rather than to match the curve of the dress neckline, which as you recall had a bit of a gap due to a previous error. I left plenty of room at the bottom, though, to ensure that I’d be able to stitch it to the dress with no pulling.
For the top layer, I made my piece about twice as long as the base to allow plenty of room for gathers. After pinning a hem in the top edge (so it would be caught by later seams) I ran six parallel lines of gathering stitches (machine-sewn for the tiniest gathers) along the length of the top layer and pulled up the threads until it fit the base. I know it should’ve been five layers, but I miscounted and figured it wouldn’t matter anyway.
To make a clean back closure I stitched the base and top layers together at the short ends, right sides together, then flipped them over and topstitched over the top gathering line to keep the two layers aligned.