1840s Day Dress, Part I: Pattern and Fabric Mishaps (or, Adventures in Indecision)

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Given my love of historical costuming, I often bemoan the fact that despite growing up in Northern California, which appears in retrospect to have been a Mecca of costuming resources and events, the only thing I took advantage of at the time was attending the Northern California Renaissance Faire (which was admittedly awesome). Now I’m in Massachusetts, where costuming events are less abundant and fabric stores are harder to get to. But as luck would have it, I’m going home for Christmas this year and I’ll be in the area for the last day of the San Francisco Dickens Fair!

As soon as I made plans to go, I knew I’d need a dress– nothing too complicated, and hopefully something that could be shoved into a suitcase without taking up too much space or sustaining lasting damage. Unfortunately, the event’s stated period (1842-1863) is smack dab in the middle of a gap in my costuming portfolio– I have nothing between 1815 and 1890. So I have to make something new.

Let’s just say it did not start off well.

I swear, this post took forever to write because every time I thought I had finalized my pattern/fabric choices, something happened to mess it up and I had to go back and update. Anyway, read on for the saga of “the Dickens Fair dress of indecision”…

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Princess Play Dress #3: Mulan

For her third and final Disney dress, my daughter picked Mulan.

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I again started off with a solid yellow dress from Primary.com, and decided to make a top to go over it.

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Princess Play Dress #2: Isabel (of Avalor)

After Elena of Avalor, the next princess my daughter was dying to be was her sister, Isabel.

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This one was the easiest of the three dresses– I just found a basic blue dress with puffed sleeves and ruffles (sadly, Primary.com didn’t have anything that worked, so I had to get it on Amazon), and used some gold fabric paint to make the gold trim on the bodice and the swirls on the ruffled parts.

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Princess Play Dress #1: Elena of Avalor

Our family is going to Disneyworld this fall, and my daughter is (of course) really excited about it. Not just the rides and attractions, but the prospect of meeting Disney princesses. When we first booked the tickets, in a fit of recklessness I promised to make her some princess dresses to wear to the park, so here we are. These aren’t going to be full costume-quality dresses– rather, they’re going to be soft and comfortable knit dresses she can play all day in, with some nods to the princess style.

Her very favorite princess right now is Elena of Avalor, so it was a given that one of her dresses would be Elena’s.

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Ninjalino Costume

For Halloween this year my daughter emphatically declared that she wanted to be a ninjalino. What is a “ninjalino,” you ask?

So there’s this kids’ show called PJ Masks, involving three kids who fight crime at night while wearing outfits that transform from footie pajamas into superhero costumes. The kids fight a rotating series of super-villain kids, one of whom is Night Ninja, and Night Ninja’s minions (slightly smaller ninjas) are called “ninjalinos.” I’m not exactly sure why my daughter has opted to be a sidekick rather than a villain or hero, but I think it has something to do with the fact that the ninjalinos wear purple (her favorite color) while Night Ninja wears navy blue (boring). In any case, this is what I had to work with this year:

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Green 1920s Dupatta Dress

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So last year I whipped up a quick 1920s evening dress using a vintage silk dupatta and a basic One-Hour Dress pattern. It was fast, easy, and the fabric made it interesting despite its shapelessness. I learned that I really enjoy sewing with vintage saris and dupattas, simply because of all the fantastic details that are already present in the fabric– no extra embellishment needed!

That being said, you knew I couldn’t stop there, right? Having made a bunch of 1920s-style day dresses, I decided to revisit the evening dress and my love of vintage dupattas to make a glamorous emerald green flapper-style dress. While I don’t ordinarily wear a lot of green, I admit to having been inspired by Cyd Charisse’s sultry green costume from Singin’ In the Rain– I may not be quite as fabulous as she was, but I can aspire!

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Obviously, Charisse’s costume isn’t anywhere near historically accurate, but it’s the feel I’m going for more than the actual look.

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Purple Regency Sari Gown

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I know, I know, I’ve already made several Regency gowns out of saris, but they’re just so perfect for this kind of thing! Besides, this one isn’t for me, it’s for a friend of mine who is (luckily) short enough to use the width of the sari as her skirt length, so I used a slightly different cutting layout than I have in the past.

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