In case you hadn’t noticed, my recent spate of costume posts was inspired by my upcoming trip to Costume College this year. I went this past weekend and it was fabulous! Also, my daughter sent her Cat-icorn (above) with me to keep me and my tiaras company.
These are totally my people– detail-obsessed lovers of gorgeous and/or hilarious outfits, willing to discuss the intricacies of fabric design or corsetry at the drop of a hat, and always appreciative of the work we all put into these things! I can’t wait to go back next year!
I did take a few photos of randomly beautiful costumes, but not nearly as many as I should have. Also, I was wearing gloves for two of the big events and it’s a lot harder to manage taking pictures with my phone that way. Next year, fewer gloves = more pictures!
Many years ago I was obsessed with this dress by Luly Yang Couture:
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.
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.
As I mentioned earlier, the inspiration for this suit came from these dragonfly hair clips, which I found on eBay. I think they look pretty awesome as-is, but one thing I wanted to change was the transparency of the wings– with the exception of some printed veins they’re completely clear, making them almost invisible from most angles.
I decided to get some iridescent paint to add just a bit more dimension to the wings. I used two thin layers of diluted shimmery white paint– Art Deco Dazzling Metallics White Pearl— to make them slightly more opaque. The paint got a little streaky, to my dismay, but I really didn’t have the time or the inclination to figure out how to fix it, so I left them as-is. I’m going to clip one to my suit lapel and create thread loops to clip the other to my chest.
The most important part of the suit embellishment was the appliqué. To create the design, I eyeballed the dimensions of the suit and started cutting some grass shapes out of paper and placing them on the suit.
I traced the shapes onto tissue paper and numbered the pieces from left to right, assigning them each a color so I could get an idea of how to distribute the four shades of green– I had a light spring green, a medium spring green, an olive green, and a teal, and I wanted to use all of them pretty much equally.
For Costume College I got tickets to the Fantasy Tea, and the theme this year is “Victorian Fancy Dress.” The thing is, I had a hard time reconciling the idea of fancy dress– which was popular for evening balls in the Victorian era and involved some seriously involved costumes– with an afternoon tea, which implies “prim and proper” attire. I couldn’t figure out how to make a Victorian-style fancy dress outfit that was still appropriate for daytime and teatime, not to mention the fact that I didn’t think I could handle yet another elaborate outfit made from scratch (or pack it in my limited luggage)
And then it came to me– I didn’t have to do Victorian at all! Instead, I decided to embrace the “afternoon tea” theme and go with a 1950s-style skirt suit, gussying it up to be appropriate for a fancy-dress event. After some brainstorming I chose to focus my costume on these lovely dragonfly hairclips– I’d had my eye on them for ages on eBay, but hadn’t had any excuse at all for purchasing them. I bought four.
Once the gown was structurally complete, I had to finish the edges. I first cut out a standing collar from turquoise dupioni– the original collar went all the way around to close at center front, but I wanted to keep the lace ruffle visible at the neckline so I shortened it to more of a 3/4 collar that stopped at the front edges of the lapels.
The original instructions called for me to attach the facings first, then the collar, so I cut out facings from more turquoise dupioni and stitched it around the front opening of the gown. The problem, however, was that the lined Watteau pleats were so thick at the back of the neck (10 layers in the pleats alone at center back!) that once the facings were added it was almost impossible to turn the seam allowance to the inside. I could manage it, but it made an uncomfortable and unsightly ridge that dug into my neck.
Instead, I decided to change things a bit and sandwich the seam allowance of the Watteau pleats inside the collar rather than turning it over. The seam allowance can lie flat (pointing upwards) instead of being folded downwards, making it much more comfortable at the nape of the neck. I will note that I only did this along the center back section, where the pleats were– once I hit the shoulder seams I transitioned back to the regular method. I stitched the facing on after the collar was attached, so the facing would lie flat on the inside rather than flipping up like the seam allowance.
After stitching together the body of the tea gown, it was time for the center panel. I cut my center panel lining out of my favorite ivory cotton sateen (I bought 12 yards of it a while back and it’s perfect for this kind of thing). It was actually cut in two pieces with an extremely large seam allowance in the center, just in case I need to let the gown out in the future. I hemmed the top and bottom edges with a narrow hem.
I cut the bodice and skirt sections of lace separately, figuring that I’d want a lot more fullness in the skirt. Then I ran a line of hand-stitched gathering stitches along the top and bottom of the bodice section, then at the top of the skirt section. I laid the panels wrong side up over the cotton lining, set my hems so the border matched up at the bottom and top, then drew the gathering threads up until they matched the dimensions of the lining at the neck and waist. I hand-basted the top and bottom lace pieces together through the gathers at the waistline, then trimmed the excess.