Just wanted to give you guys a look at the new outfit in all its glory! I took these photos at the Commonwealth Vintage Dancers’ Regency Dance Weekend, which culminates in a Grand Ball. The hall provided such a nice backdrop for the rich fabric of the dress– I’m very happy with it!
And then I stumbled upon a fabulous sofa that was crying out to be posed upon…
This is totally my new favorite picture of myself in Regency-wear!
Since my new Regency brocade gown is very on-trend for England’s historically imperialist love of all things exotic, I figured I’d make a matching turban to really set off the outfit. After making a moderately full skirt for my gown I still had a bit of fabric left, which included a decent amount of gold embroidered border, so I gave it a shot.
I didn’t want my head to get too hot, so I opted out of the full-cap turban. Instead, I wanted to do a structured ring-shaped base with twisted fabric around the outside to vaguely resemble a turban. Ideally I would’ve gotten buckram for the base, but I didn’t have any and there was no time to order any. Instead I found myself a sheet of that plastic grid stuff you use for hooked-yarn projects– I cut out two 1.5″ wide strips and stitched them into a ring.
I covered the ring in a layer of gold sari border, whipstitching the edges on the inside.
To attach the skirts to the bodice (the last major construction step) I worked with each skirt separately– the underskirt was narrower than the overskirt, and I wanted to pleat them separately so they’d flow more gracefully when I moved. I only achieved limited success with that due to the stiffness of the hem trims (as noted earlier), but I did the best I could.
I pinned and basted each skirt to the bodice before machine-stitching the final waist seam (praying I wouldn’t screw anything up), and whipstitched the bodice lining over the seam allowance so the inside would be neat.
For the bodice front, I’d originally intended to cut the front pieces with the sari borders along the top edges so the trim would be integrated into the bodice from the beginning, the way I did with my dupatta open robe. However, the angles of the neckline for the dress made it impossible to cut the sides as single pieces, so I decided to just add trim to a normal bodice front instead.
Anyway, I lined the bodice with more blue cotton, and (sneaky shortcut) lined the back bodice pieces with single-cut pieces of cotton rather than dealing with back seams on the inside. No one would ever see them anyway, right?
Once the basic bodice was put together, I attached trim around the neckline, hand-stitching it with invisible thread. I did this before putting in the sleeves because the trim was wider than the shoulder straps of the bodice, and I wanted to catch the edges in the sleeve seams to keep things looking neat.
So like I said earlier, I wanted to take full advantage of the beautiful embroidered sections of the sari when constructing my gown. As you’ll read below, this had its ups and downs…
First I removed the pallu of the sari (I admit I cringed at the first cut of the shears– what if I screwed it up?) and cut it lengthwise to make two even panels. I immediately ran a zig-zag stitch along the cut edges to prevent fraying. (I actually did this every time I cut an edge that wouldn’t be encased in fabric) The panels aren’t exactly the same– the design is upside-down on one piece because the pallu wasn’t vertically symmetrical, so when I flipped the top half over to act as the hem it didn’t quite match. I figure no one will notice, since that part will be down near my ankles anyway.
I made an underskirt out of dark blue cotton voile, making it only as wide as the pallu pieces at the bottom. I tapered the front panel slightly, but cut the back panel as a rectangle so I could do some– but not too much– pleating in the back. The goal was to reduce bulk at the waistline, but I needed at least *some* pleating in back so both layers of the skirt would fall into nice folds.
For the front panel of the overskirt I cut two 34″ skirt pieces from the part of the sari directly above the pallu– like I did with the cotton Regency sari gown, I wanted to use the side borders to form a double-width embellishment down the center front of the skirt. (Well, almost double-width– I decided it looked better if I omitted the border edges down the center) Additionally, the borders on this portion of the sari weren’t just brocade, they were also embellished with beads, so I wanted them front and center.* Once they were cut out I stitched them together to form a trapezoidal front skirt panel, and attached another long piece of border to the straight bottom edge. This would prove to be a mistake.
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!
One of the toughest parts about creating a costume is fabric– for an existing character the problem can be finding exactly what you need to replicate a specific look, but for a costume where you’re creating something out of whole cloth (pardon the pun) it can be even harder to choose among the vast array of available fabrics to decide what you like best.
And then there’s budget. I’ve got a relatively limited one for this costume, and unfortunately for most historical-style garb you really need something with a nice weight to it (translation: something expensive) if you want it to look good. I thought about stretch velvet, but I don’t have a lot of experience sewing knits and it’s pretty expensive if you don’t want to use panne (I don’t, it makes everything look like a cheap Halloween costume). I looked at saris, figuring they’d have some nice patterns and embellishment to work with, but they don’t often come in gray and almost never with silver accents. Most fashion fabric brocades looked too shiny and/or too modern, plain taffeta was too boring, and it was tough to find home decor brocades in solid gray.
When I finally found a 4-yard lot of 54″ wide muted silver embroidered drapery fabric on eBay for $18 (including shipping!) I couldn’t pass it up. I know fabrics don’t always look as good in person as they do on screen, but this ended up being gorgeous, and luckily not too stiff to drape nicely. According to my pattern it’s a little short to get a whole dress out of, but I’m hopeful that with judicious fabric placement I can get the majority of my dress cut.
For the gores and sleeve puffs I’m using several yards of silvery gray fabric gifted to me by a friend and which is basically “mystery fabric.” I’m fairly sure it’s polyester, it has a subtle texture to it and it drapes well, but apart from that I have no idea. It coordinates perfectly with the embroidered fabric, though, and is heavy enough for a skirt gore but light enough for a sleeve puff. It’s miles better than any of the other options I was looking at online, so I’m thrilled to have it.
Since I’m dealing for the most part with drapery rather than apparel fabric, I’m going to line the whole dress in to mitigate the roughness of the wrong side. The pattern doesn’t call for a lining, but I’m sure I can figure something out. I’d intended to go with white, but ended up picking out a pale lavender lining fabric instead– it coordinates with the gray and I thought it would be pretty, even if no one else will see it.
Going to Anime Boston this year reminded me that I haven’t told you all about my hat project. THE hat project. The big one. The mother of all projects. The project that spanned years, involved international commerce, and still has remnants floating around my house. And it all started with a single hat. Or, the lack of one.
A few years back, as the steampunk trend was just on the upswing, I decided to make myself a steampunk costume for Anime Boston. It would have a tweed skirt, a brocade bustier, some interesting leather doodads and brass thingies, and of course a miniature top hat. The problem was, I couldn’t find a hat that I liked– the pre-decorated ones were insanely expensive and the craft-store felt ones were really cheap looking, being more like flocked plastic than real felt and too small for what I had in mind. I did try to place an order for the largest available cheap felt hat from an online supply store, but they were out of stock. That, I think, was the turning point in the whole endeavor, because I had to think outside of the box. (why I didn’t just make a hat out of cardboard and cover it in fabric, I have no idea…)
As you know, if you do an in-depth search for an item on eBay the regular results eventually give way to hits for overseas wholesalers who will sell you bulk quantities of said item. While I personally had no need for huge numbers of tiny hats, it occurred to me that if I was having a problem locating a reasonably priced, decent-quality mini top hat, other people might be having the same problem. Pretty soon I had an email conversation going with a hat company in China that could ship me 150 black felt mini top hats for what worked out to be just under $4.00 a hat, including shipping (which was the most expensive part).
Sparing you the logistics, eventually I ended up with two giant cardboard boxes of hats and about 3 months in which to prepare them for sale at an Artist’s Alley table at Anime Boston.
So, I’ve finally finished the dress for real! I bought another sheer curtain panel and cut another giant arc out of it to make the front drape, and attached the longer ruffles to the sides as before. This time, though, I tapered the ruffles towards the top to better mimic the lines of the movie dress. Then I stitched it all to the front of the dress, sweeping the ruffles out towards the hem in a slight curve. Since I couldn’t finish the hem of the drape until it was attached and I knew how it would fall, I trimmed it to the right length afterwards and melted the edges with my heat gun instead of trying to sew a hem.
I had to do a little fiddling to get the tentacles attached properly, since I had an extra layer of fabric to contend with and I didn’t want the pull of the tentacle to disturb the draping. I ended up treating the draping layer as if it weren’t there, simply running the thread through it without trying to stitch onto it, and that worked out all right.
I swear, this dress is ridiculously heavy, and if not for the hoop skirt I wouldn’t be able to move at anything above a slow shuffle. As it is, I still walk carefully to avoid jostling the tentacles too much– I don’t want to make any sudden sharp jerks that might put extra tension on the attachment points. Sitting down is also difficult, and going through doorways is something to be undertaken with great caution.
I’m very happy with how it turned out, though– this tentacle design is much better than my original idea, though of course it was a lot more work than I’d anticipated. Everything always is, it seems…
Now that I’m finished hyperventilating over the possibility that I’ve forever ruined this costume through my heedless hacking, I’ve started doing some damage control.
The first thing is to reattach as much fabric as possible to bring the dress back to a wearable state. I took the largest piece of the fabric I’d originally cut off the front that I could find, and sewed it as a front panel to the skirt. It has an ugly seam at the attachment point, but it can eventually be covered up with the draped layer. It’s a little shorter than I wanted, but again, the draped layer will take care of that. Then I used pieces of the cut-off train to make tapered panels on the sides, bringing the hem down to a respectable length. Just to be safe I’m not going to do any trimming of seam allowances or attaching of details (ruffles, sheers) until I’ve finished the tentacles and know for sure how long the dress needs to be.
I finally got past my trauma to take a picture of the post-cutting dress, to compare to the restored dress. The first picture doesn’t even come close to capturing the horror that it was in person.
It’s not perfect (though it’ll be better once I press all the seams and add the center panel to cover up a lot of the patchwork). Aside from the visible seams, the fabric doesn’t quite match up in color– the fabric for the side panels was stained enough that I had to hand-wash it, and the washing and drying made the smooth satiny parts of the brocade look a little dull. Also, the train must have faded a little differently than the rest of the dress, so you can definitely tell that the patching was done after the fact.
Whew! Let this be a lesson to everyone– don’t go hacking away at a perfectly nice dress without a specific plan, and possibly some taped-off cutting lines so you can really visualize the final product ahead of time.