Insectoid Foam Corset

Many years ago I was obsessed with this dress by Luly Yang Couture:

Image result for monarch butterfly dress luly

I thought it was fabulous, I desperately wanted it, and I went so far as to custom-paint panels of yellow chiffon with diluted fabric paint (stretched over custom canvas stretchers) to match the butterfly-wing skirt panels so I could make one myself. But I never finished it, and I never had any place to wear it anyway, so it languished in the back of my closet, stuffed into a paper grocery bag with my other unfinished projects. And now, of course, replica dresses are available online and Spoonflower is a thing (and has basically the exact design available that I’d have wanted) so I wouldn’t have to hand-paint the fabric anyway. But I still have no place to wear it…

About four years ago I dug it out to use in a Halloween costume, stitching the panels to a red crinoline and painting a black bustier top with a hasty orange/yellow/gold design to tie in the colors and be a butterfly fairy. And then it went back in the closet.

insect-corset-before

However, when it was announced that the Costume College 2018 pool party theme would be “Realm of the Goblin King” it was clear to me that it was time to revive the costume, at least to give the fabulous skirt another outing. But the bodice would have to be re-done, because my quickie paint job was looking pretty amateurish in the harsh light of day.

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Regency Muslin Shift

regency-shift

When I made my first Regency dress, I wasn’t sure if I’d be sticking with the period for costuming so I didn’t bother making the necessary underpinnings. As a result, my outfit was nice but didn’t have the little details that make an outfit look really right. Now that I’ve really gotten into the sewing, however, I need to build the outfit from the inside out.

I have a mostly irrational fear of making structured/tailored garments, so I found an Etsy seller (Beth is awesome!) to make me a set of short stays– they turned out quite well, and I saved a little money by agreeing to hand-sew the thread eyelets myself. In the process, I learned how to do buttonhole stitch, so that was an added bonus!

But of course, once I had the stays I needed a shift to wear underneath them– not only to keep them clean, but also to keep things… er… contained up top. I picked up 3 yards of bleached fine muslin at the fabric store (not as nice as my sheer cotton voile, but much cheaper and probably sturdier), and got to work.

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The Grey Lady, Part VII: Invisible Zipper and Lacing

For the back closure I’m opting for an invisible zipper instead of a regular one, since I feel like having a bulky zipper underneath lacing would just look weird. To install it, I used a Universal Invisible Zipper Foot and followed one of the many tutorials online to install the 22″ zipper. Sorry, not going to do a step-by-step accounting here, this tutorial explains it much more clearly than I could.

Suffice it to say that the process was surprisingly easy, though my Universal Foot fell apart more than once, so I’m not a huge fan of the plastic bits. Also, at a few points on my zipper I actually ended up sewing too close to the zipper teeth, preventing it from zipping up, and had to unpick and re-sew those sections. I thought the foot was supposed to keep things at the perfect distance? If I were going to make a habit of using invisible zippers I’d probably just buy a real metal foot designed to fit my machine.

Once the zipper was installed, it was time to do the lacing. I admit that despite my plans to put in the lacing loops before sewing the dress together, I forgot all about it and inadvertently sewed up the back seams on my first sewing pass. But it did help me get a feel for what the finished dress would look like, so it wasn’t all bad. Anyway, I ripped out the back side seams from the neck to the hip at the point where the gores are inserted, then started making the loops.

I didn’t want to use ribbon to make them (not sturdy enough), so I ordered some double-fold 1/4″ bias tape in “Oyster.” Unfortunately, while the single-fold tape in my local store was labelled “Oyster” and looked like the perfect color (a light gray), my tape it arrived looking completely different (a light tan). It turns out the tape at the store was mislabeled. I eventually discovered that the correct color name was “Shadow,” but that they apparently don’t make double-fold tape in that color, so I ended up buying the single-fold and ironing it in half before stitching it closed. Then I cut it into 2 1/2″ lengths, folded them into loops, and basted them into the unpicked side back seams before re-sewing everything on the machine. I used eight loops on each side, and they were spaced 1 1/2″ apart.

GL basted loops

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The Grey Lady, Part III: Mockup

Knowing that I would be modifying the pattern for this dress, I decided to make a mockup first to ensure it would fit after I’d changed things up. I’d intended to use my lining fabric, figuring that I could make the mockup, cut the new pattern, and then re-sew the pieces for a lining, but once I decided to use the slippery polyester lining fabric I was reluctant to subject it to too much stress with basting and ripping and re-sewing. Instead, I purchased some pale yellow cotton shirting for $1/yard to serve as my muslin.

The first thing I did was cut out the paper pattern pieces and re-trace them onto butcher paper, then tape on extra pieces of paper to modify the pattern. I added about 5″ to the hem, drafted a full-length straight sleeve instead of the flowy one on the pattern, and drew a much higher neckline than called for, since I’ve heard this pattern can run short and be rather revealing.

I also experimented a bit with the back pattern pieces, since I want to add some lacing to the back side seams to allow for fit adjustment. The first thing I did was change the position of the back princess seams, since they curve out to the armscye instead of going up over the shoulder like the seams in the front, making it impossible to just add lacing and expect it to fit properly. Once I figured out how to redraw the seam lines I added width in the seams to allow for the panels to expand and fold in on themselves depending on how tightly they’re laced. I did leave the center back zipper in– I couldn’t remove it completely because I’m not adding enough extra space in the waistline to allow it to fit over my bust, even when unlaced. It’ll make lacing kind of a pain, since the laces will have to be done anew each time the zipper is zipped or unzipped, but I think it’ll be good to have the flexibility in sizing. It’ll also give me some wiggle room (literally) for when I sew up my seams and blithely eyeball the seam allowance.

GL mockup

You can see the folding back seams here– I’ve pinned them in place, as well as overlapping the back to simulate a zipper closure. Just imagine the lacing between the black threaded seams down the back.

GL mockup backGL mockup back close

Once the mockup was cut, basted, and on my dress form, a few issues became apparent. First, my added hem length was probably overkill– at most I’d need an inch or two extra, not the five I’d added. The back lacing alterations looked good for the most part, though I’m beginning to see why the back seams were drawn curved in the first place– there’s a weird little blousy area right over the shoulder blades that I’m sure wouldn’t have been there if I’d kept the original seam lines. However, since I can’t figure out how to fix it short of putting in darts, I’m just going to ignore it and hope no one notices. I also noticed that the sleeves weren’t set deeply enough into the bodice– the “shoulder strap” sections were so wide that they restricted my arm movement– so I ripped out the seams and re-set them on a deeper curve.

I drew out a new neckline and marked where my gores would fall on the skirt, front and back. I also tried it on just to be sure that things fit properly (my dress form isn’t perfectly matched to my measurements), and marked the correct hem length and where I wanted my sleeve puffs to fall on the arm.

Then I carefully ripped out the necessary seams and used the mockup pieces to modify my paper pattern pieces, including completely re-drawing the sleeve (you’ll see how later).

GL mockup sleeve

Now that my pattern pieces are set, it’s time to get cutting on the real stuff!