It’s done! Done and– dare I say–gorgeous. I really love the way it turned out– it’s pretty close to exactly what I pictured from the beginning, and I had such a wonderful time wearing it to an 1890s-themed ball. The skirt has such a great swirl to it from all of the fullness in the back, and the dimensionality of the embroidery really makes it stand out in a crowd!
To recap the process:
Part I: Design
Part II: Dyeing Hug Snug
Part III: Modifying Bridesmaids Dresses
Part IV: Tea/Coffee Dyed Lace
Part V: Petticoats
Part VI: Neckline Embellishment
Part VII: Embroidery
Part VIII: 3D Wisteria Blossoms
Once I had the embroidered wisteria designs finished, I decided to create a few three-dimensional wisteria blossoms to use at the neckline of the gown. The problem was, I wasn’t sure how to do the stems– the blossoms would be simple, just looping seam binding and using thread to bind the tops together, but the stems were a puzzle. If I used regular embroidery floss they would be too droopy and wouldn’t have any structure. If I used wire they would be too stiff. I thought about fishing line, but then I’d have to tie it all up together and find some way to make it green, and it sounded like a huge hassle.
I finally bought some green cotton cord that was on clearance at my local craft store. It had some structure to it, and I figured that it would strike a nice balance between stiffness and flexibility.
Here’s the process for making the wisteria sprays:
Once I finished the neckline, I moved on to the important part– the wisteria embroidery. Of course, I’d never really done ribbon embroidery before, so I was a little nervous about how it would go. As always, I researched tutorials online and learned a few basic stitches. I also learned that I couldn’t use just any needle– the 1/2″ seam binding was far too thick to pull through the fabric with even a large-eyed standard embroidery needle– but that I should get a “chenille needle,” designed for use in chenille embroidery. It was recommended that I use size 13 (apparently the largest available), which was a whopping 2.9 mm in diameter.
To map out the design, I used masking tape to section off where the blossom motifs would go on the bodice and skirt, adjusting until it looked good from a distance. Then I basted a line of stitching along each piece of tape, so I could remove the tape and do the ribbon embroidery directly over the (easily removable) thread.
One of the things that all of the illustrations and photos I saw of my favorite Belle Epoque ballgowns had in common was an embellished neckline– usually involving pleats and lace and other froofy stuff, it served not only to draw the attention upwards but also to make the waist look even tinier by comparison. So I knew I’d have to do something interesting on my gown.
Of course, my original sketch was kind of, well, sketchy when it came to the neckline. I knew I wanted some pleating across the front, and some lace, and hopefully some 3D wisteria blossoms at the shoulders. But how to put it together?
Originally I’d planned on making the gown from scratch using some Truly Victorian patterns, but when I realized that the event was only a month away I nixed that idea as too difficult. Instead, as I’ve so often done before, I turned to eBay to locate an appropriate pre-existing dress that I could modify. Or rather, dresses (plural) because unless I found an absolutely perfect gown I was going to need some serious extra fabric to make the design work.
Luckily, I hit the jackpot with two identical dusty lilac gowns that had most of the required elements: boned bodice with center-pointed waist, faux two-piece design so I could completely separate the bodice from the skirt, and lots and lots of skirt fabric to work with. The spaghetti straps were a problem, but I figured that I could add shoulder straps and raise the back of the dress to an appropriate height, and rely on neckline decoration to disguise the joins.
When I decided on wisteria as my theme I was hopeful that I could find some pre-embroidered appliques to use on the dress. Sadly, this was not to be– for some reason, wisteria just isn’t popular enough to make appliques out of. Next I looked for some embroidered wisteria decorator fabric, hoping to make my own appliques. No luck– there was some gorgeous fabric out there, but it was something like $300/yard. Not going to happen. Machine-embroidery would be too expensive to commission, hand-embroidery was out of the question due to time constraints, but then I thought of silk ribbon embroidery. It was a lot faster than regular embroidery due to the width of the ribbon, and it would look lovely and dimensional. Right?
Unfortunately, silk ribbon is SILK, and therefore prohibitively expensive when one is considering making life-sized wisteria blossoms all over the skirt of a ballgown. And regular (cheap) satin ribbon is just too thick to really use for embroidery, especially when embroidering onto a tightly-woven satin base. But then it hit me– Hug Snug seam binding. It’s extremely light and thin, it comes in a million different colors, and it’s CHEAP. I could get a 100-yd. roll for about $10, so I bought two rolls– one in “Orchid Pink” and one in “Moss Green.”
Why pale pink, when wisteria blossoms are various shades of purple? Because I didn’t feel like buying multiple colors of purple and then switching back and forth in the middle of a wisteria spray. Instead, I dyed the whole spool in variegated shades of purple using Jacquard Dye-Na-Flow. It’s actually really easy to use, and unlike regular dye it doesn’t require a long soaking/boiling time to set. Here’s how I did it: