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.
For Costume College this year I’m joining a group of other costumers in donning our very best 1920s daywear in imitation of the incomparable Miss Phryne Fisher! Aside from her undeniable stylishness, the comfort factor was a big influence on my decision to join the crowd– Los Angeles in July just cries out for flowy, comfortable clothing, and 1920s outfits fit the bill admirably.
I actually wore some 1920s daywear last year as well, but thought I’d mix it up a bit this year and go with a jacket-and-pants combo, since Miss Fisher makes it look so darned good. Rather than try to sew the main pieces myself (pants scare me), I did some judicious sourcing of pre-made pieces, one of which was this jacket!
This fabulous kimono-style jacket in embroidered chiffon looks oh-so-1920s and cost just about $20 on eBay. Score! It’s actually listed as an abaya— commonly worn by Muslim women– but it works perfectly as an over-jacket for this period. I’m a sucker for embroidery, and the style of this multicolored embroidery just hit the spot for an art deco-ish look.
Let me just say, this step took FOREVER because of all the embroidery, but I’m finally done! And now the dress is technically wearable and actually looks like THE DRESS (though still not finished)! I love it when that happens…
As I discussed in my patterning post, the sleeves are cut with the long edge at the shoulder and hang almost to the floor. That being said, I’m pretty sure that Sargent took some artistic license with his painting (he totally did; Ellen Terry was *not* as tall as he made her in the painting), because even with my sleeves cut down to a mere inch above the ground, they still weren’t as long as they look in the painting when I raised my arms. More like mid-thigh length, rather than below the knee.
One thing about the sleeves always bugged me (no pun intended): is the trim on the outside or the inside? The Sargent painting pretty clearly shows it on the outside, since you can see both the outer sleeve and its (plain) lining.
But there are definitely images of the dress showing the trim with both options.
Since the trim is curved, it can’t just be folded over and still lie smoothly, so it has to be one or the other.
After consulting with fellow costumers online I came to the conclusion that the dress in its original form had the trim on the outside, but that at some point during its history the trim must have been folded to the inside, with tiny darts taken to keep it smooth. Then, when the dress was restored they put it back in its original condition with the trim on the outside where it belonged. Mystery solved!
Anyway, as you recall I’d originally planned to use pre-embroidered trim cut from a vintage sari. However, the more I looked at it the more I was dissatisfied with this plan– the trim was too elaborate, it wasn’t curved so would need some work to fit the sleeve, and the background color was a different green than my lining fabric, which didn’t look right. I decided instead to switch gears and embroider the trim myself on extra green cotton gauze. Why do I always do this? I have no idea.
After a recent trip to Montreal I wanted to bake something as a thank-you for our catsitter– after spending time surrounded by images of maple leaves, a maple cake seemed like the perfect gift!
I wanted to be mindful of potential nut allergies, so I looked for a recipe without pecans or walnuts, both of which were very common pairings with maple syrup. I ended up with a recipe from King Arthur Flour that was billed as a pound cake, but which was ultimately too light and delicate to really count as a pound cake in my opinion. That being said, the texture of the cake was perfect for a layer cake, and I will absolutely be trying to figure out how to replicate it (without the use of maple syrup) for future adventures! Can I just note that the batter smelled amazing while baking? I’d be tempted to make this just to make my house smell good… and the finished cake was buttery and maple-y, very reminiscent of pancakes with syrup (in a good way). I sprinkled a touch of kosher salt on top, just to emphasize the sweet-salty combination.
I wanted to make a pretty bundt cake, but also wanted to make another cake to eat at home since I can never give something away without taste-testing first! I doubled the recipe to make an 8-cup bundt as well as a loaf cake. (quantities below are for a single recipe) Sadly, the bundt cake refused to release cleanly from the pan and it literally fell apart on me, so it was in no condition for gifting– we’ve been eating it out of the pan with a spoon, and it’s delicious that way too! Luckily I’d lined my loaf pan with a parchment sling, so the loaf was much easier to lift out in one piece!
More progress! These posts are getting farther apart due to the complexity of each step, but I promise that we’re nearing the light at the end of the tunnel!
As I mentioned in my patterning/mockup post, the underskirt was a simple A-line, but the overskirt was drafted differently for the front and back. The front was an A-line, while the back was a half-circle, both with gathers at the waistline for extra fullness.
I’d originally planned on attaching the skirt directly to a separate waistband at the natural waist, to let the weight of the skirt rest there rather than dragging down the bodice. However, because the bodice had a dropped waistline and was fitted to the hips there wasn’t room for all those fabric gathers between the natural waist and the dropped waistline. Instead, I made a fitted yoke out of cotton sateen (dyed in the same bath as my cotton gauze) that was set on a waistband.