I never intended to make an 1860s ballgown– despite my Dickens Fair adventure into the 1840s for a casual daytime dress, the ruffled berthas that appeared on virtually all of the 1860s ballgowns just didn’t appeal to my sense of aesthetics. So imagine my surprise when I came across a fabric lot on eBay and immediately thought “this would look fabulous as an 1860s ballgown.” And then it was just a short step from “AN 1860s ballgown” to “MY 1860s ballgown.”
The fabric is ivory embroidered with blue flowers* and wheat-colored leaves (label says it’s a rayon-acetate blend). It actually came in a set of four panels, each 48″ wide and 3.5 yards long, and cost me $50 including shipping– meaning that I got 14 yards of fabric for under $3/yard! Score! Especially since the still-affixed tag had each panel priced at $80 on sale!
Interestingly, the fabric is shiny on one side and matte– almost dupioni-ish– on the other, and the embroidery is on the matte side. I didn’t realize this at first, but I think I like it this way– too much shine (however much it would’ve been loved historically) just reads as “cheap” in modern times.
The panels were originally intended to be curtains, so the embroidered design is set up to hang at the base of each curtain, making for a total of about 172″ of embroidery across the four panels (accounting for the blank borders on the edges). As soon as I saw it I could envision that embroidery around the hem of a full skirt, and I knew that the remaining length of each panel would be plenty for constructing a ballgown bodice with all the trimmings.
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.
I’ve already mentioned my propensity towards urging my friends to attend historical costume events with me, so it should be no surprise that for an upcoming Victorian ball I managed to convince a friend to let me outfit her in something appropriate– in this case, an altered modern ballgown (of course).
I’m taking a quick break from the Embassy ballgown to post about another project I recently started– a Regency ballgown that I’m going to wear to a dance weekend at the beginning of April. While I do plan on wearing my burgundy dupatta open robe for the first night, I’m ready to make something new for the Grand Ball the next evening!
I do love beautiful textiles. Even when I was a kid I’d go to fabric/craft stores and buy beautiful ribbon by the quarter-yard just to have it, not necessarily to make anything with it (yeah, the people at the cutting counter just *loved* me, I’m sure). And some of the most beautiful fabrics in the world are Indian saris, at least in my humble opinion. I was on a sari-buying kick a while back, figuring that I’d use them to make Edwardian or Regency gowns, and while I’ve managed to use a cotton sari and a silk dupatta, the rest have languished in my closet for far too long.
But no more! For this project I’m going to use a gorgeous navy blue and gold sari– it has a fabulous pallu that’s not only brocaded, but also embroidered with bullion thread and sewn with tiny pearl beads. It’s just begging to be shown off at a fancy event!
As I said in my earlier post, I had just finished the sequined swags on the sides of the gown (which took a few tweaks to get right), and was about to start embellishing the center panel when I realized that I had a problem. While some of the movie stills quite clearly show that the center panel is covered in sequins, other shots make it look like there are far fewer sequins, and still others imply that any sequins aren’t really that prominent at all.
Here, there are tons of sequins visible, all looking the same color silver as the side swags:
I know, you’re probably curious to know what happened with the sequins, but you’ll need to wait until later because I had to get the center panel’s appliqués done first. The larger floral appliqués I ordered were some of the last components to arrive, which is why I had to leave it for so long. I bought both venise and alencon lace appliqués because I wasn’t sure which would work better– neither were quite in the same style as the other trims, but I thought they’d work out all right.
You can see in the reference images below that there are leafy floral motifs at the center front and sides of the center panel, and smallish motifs at the high points of the swags of trim around the hem.
As I mentioned earlier, the original gown appears to be sewn all over with beads and silver sequins– while I briefly considered doing the same, I knew it would take absolutely FOREVER and I really didn’t want to deal with the time and effort involved. Instead, I decided to use glue to attach silver sequins to the dress.
As previously noted, I purchased six thousand 4mm flat silver sequins for this dress. You can see in the photographs that the sequins are concentrated around the lines of trim on the side sections, and are basically everywhere in the center section, so I figured I’d need a lot of them.
Taking the advice in this tutorial (excellent tips, by the way), I bought Gem-Tac glue to attach my sequins and rhinestones, and made myself a big cardboard backing to use as a base for attaching things. I covered it in parchment paper and used binder clips (cushioned with paper towel to prevent snagging or creasing) to clip the edges of my fabric to it.