Lady Macbeth Beetlewing Dress, Part X: Collar and Brooch

So above the rounded neckline of the dress there’s a high ivory collar. It appears to be made of net, gathered for texture and sewn with lines of gold thread.

I actually had a bunch of ivory net in my stash, so I started off by cutting two layers. First, there’s a curved piece to serve as the base, then a top layer that’s cut larger and gathered down. It’s possible that the top layer was also a proportionally-cut curve that’s gathered to fit, but to make the process easier I just cut a big rectangle and relied on varied gathering to shape it into a curve.

I cut a base layer to fit around my actual neck rather than to match the curve of the dress neckline, which as you recall had a bit of a gap due to a previous error. I left plenty of room at the bottom, though, to ensure that I’d be able to stitch it to the dress with no pulling.

For the top layer, I made my piece about twice as long as the base to allow plenty of room for gathers. After pinning a hem in the top edge (so it would be caught by later seams) I ran six parallel lines of gathering stitches (machine-sewn for the tiniest gathers) along the length of the top layer and pulled up the threads until it fit the base. I know it should’ve been five layers, but I miscounted and figured it wouldn’t matter anyway.

To make a clean back closure I stitched the base and top layers together at the short ends, right sides together, then flipped them over and topstitched over the top gathering line to keep the two layers aligned.

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Lady Macbeth Beetlewing Gown, Part IX: Sleeves

Let me just say, this step took FOREVER because of all the embroidery, but I’m finally done! And now the dress is technically wearable and actually looks like THE DRESS (though still not finished)! I love it when that happens…

As I discussed in my patterning post, the sleeves are cut with the long edge at the shoulder and hang almost to the floor. That being said, I’m pretty sure that Sargent took some artistic license with his painting (he totally did; Ellen Terry was *not* as tall as he made her in the painting), because even with my sleeves cut down to a mere inch above the ground, they still weren’t as long as they look in the painting when I raised my arms. More like mid-thigh length, rather than below the knee.

One thing about the sleeves always bugged me (no pun intended): is the trim on the outside or the inside? The Sargent painting pretty clearly shows it on the outside, since you can see both the outer sleeve and its (plain) lining.

Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth 1889 by John Singer Sargent 1856-1925

But there are definitely images of the dress showing the trim with both options.

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Inside
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Outside

Since the trim is curved, it can’t just be folded over and still lie smoothly, so it has to be one or the other.

After consulting with fellow costumers online I came to the conclusion that the dress in its original form had the trim on the outside, but that at some point during its history the trim must have been folded to the inside, with tiny darts taken to keep it smooth. Then, when the dress was restored they put it back in its original condition with the trim on the outside where it belonged. Mystery solved!

Anyway, as you recall I’d originally planned to use pre-embroidered trim cut from a vintage sari. However, the more I looked at it the more I was dissatisfied with this plan– the trim was too elaborate, it wasn’t curved so would need some work to fit the sleeve, and the background color was a different green than my lining fabric, which didn’t look right. I decided instead to switch gears and embroider the trim myself on extra green cotton gauze. Why do I always do this? I have no idea.

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Lady Macbeth Beetlewing Gown, Part VIII: Skirt

More progress! These posts are getting farther apart due to the complexity of each step, but I promise that we’re nearing the light at the end of the tunnel!

As I mentioned in my patterning/mockup post, the underskirt was a simple A-line, but the overskirt was drafted differently for the front and back. The front was an A-line, while the back was a half-circle, both with gathers at the waistline for extra fullness.

I’d originally planned on attaching the skirt directly to a separate waistband at the natural waist, to let the weight of the skirt rest there rather than dragging down the bodice. However, because the bodice had a dropped waistline and was fitted to the hips there wasn’t room for all those fabric gathers between the natural waist and the dropped waistline. Instead, I made a fitted yoke out of cotton sateen (dyed in the same bath as my cotton gauze) that was set on a waistband.

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Lady Macbeth Beetlewing Dress, Part VII: More Beetlewings…

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Not a real progress post, just a brief update to let you know that I’m still plugging away at attaching the beetlewings to the Lady Macbeth dress. The skirt is taking forever– there’s just so much fabric to cover in the half-circle back panel alone, that even though the wings are spaced about 2″ apart it’s a serious undertaking.

So far I’ve been giving each individual piece of the dress a margin of 4″ or more without any wings at all to make it easier to stitch things together during construction, and I’ve done most of the lower sleeves, the entire front skirt panel, and about 80% of the back skirt panel.

I still need to do the bodice and the upper sleeves, which I intend to stitch with wings that have been clipped down to size rather than the full wings– the original dress had this feature as well, which allowed for closer spacing of the wing bits and a more dramatic look on the bodice.

This photo shows how they used partial wings on the bodice– they’ve been clipped to a much blunter shape than the original pointed wing shape:

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And this one (unlike some others where the lighting’s softer) gives a really good look at the spacing of the wings on the bodice vs. the skirt:

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Judging from this photo I’ve actually spaced the wings on my skirt and sleeves a bit more closely than the original, but I really wanted to up the “wow” factor for this costume. I think I’ll probably go through most if not all of my original 1,000 wings in finishing the back skirt panel, so once that’s done I’ll open up the second 1,000 and start clipping them to the smaller size so I can get to work on the bodice. So much to do!

Lady Macbeth Beetlewing Gown, Part VI: Beetlewings!

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Taking a break from construction, it was time to get started on the most distinctive feature of the costume– the beetlewings! (a.k.a. elytra)

Most sources online agreed that beetlewings are too brittle to trim without steaming them first to soften them, so I was all set to start the steaming process…  But I decided on a whim to skip the steaming and see if a pair of regular nail clippers would do the trick. And hey, they worked!

beetlewing-clipping

I found that as long as I didn’t try to clip across the entire curve of the wing at once– instead putting the clipper only halfway across the curve at a time– the wings would clip cleanly the same way fingernails do. Since I was going for a really basic trim, just to remove the pointy end and the gnarly stuff at the wide end of the wing, this process worked perfectly. I think if I’d wanted to shape the wings more I might have needed steaming so I could use scissors, but as it was, I was just happy to avoid one more step.

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Lady Macbeth Beetlewing Gown, Part V: Bodice Construction

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I decided that rather than trying to stitch the beetlewings onto the individual bodice sections before assembly, I’d put the bodice together first to ensure proper fit and placement of the beetlewings. I was actually really excited for this step, because my pieces were finally starting to look like an actual dress after months of collecting supplies, dyeing, patterning, etc.

As noted before, the bodice was cut with princess seams to add stability. I basted the pieces together by hand to make sure that everything went together smoothly (had a moment of panic when my first iteration seemed to be HUGE, then realized I hadn’t used wide enough seam allowances), then machine-stitched the seams. They were kind of bulky with all the layers in there, so I trimmed down the seam allowances before folding one of the gauze layers over and flat-felling each seam. It wasn’t the neatest process, but it helped clean up the inside and kept the somewhat scratchy tulle layer from irritating my skin.

I was originally going to add a waist stay to support the weight of the skirt, but decided instead that I would mount the skirt on an entirely separate waistband, which would then be tacked to the bodice like a waist stay, so I let that step go for now.

I installed a 22″ long invisible zipper down the center back (would’ve been better to have a 24″ zipper but I couldn’t find one), leaving a 2″ seam allowance on each side to allow for sizing adjustments later on if necessary. I was happy to see that it appeared to fit perfectly, likely helped along by the slight stretch in all of my fabrics. Now I just have to hope that the skirt won’t mess up the line of the bodice after I’ve attached it…

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Lady Macbeth Beetlewing Gown, Part IV: Cutting

Once I had my mockup, it was time to cut into my actual fabrics. Unfortunately, this was easier said than done. Due to the differing stretch of the fabrics along the vertical and horizontal axes I had to be careful to cut my pattern pieces in specific directions, which (given the size of some of my pieces) was tough and didn’t always allow me to maximize my use of the fabric’s area. Since my bodice pieces were the smallest of all, I resigned myself to fitting them in around the larger, more oddly-shaped pieces, which I cut out first.

I had 6 yards of my kelly green gauze (42″ wide after shrinking), and 7 yards of my dark green crochet lace (54″ wide). Sadly, while I ended up having just* enough crochet lace to cut out my dress (with judicious piecing of the two center back bodice panels), I did not have enough gauze to make my underskirt. After cutting the gigantic sleeves out there just wasn’t enough fabric to make the skirt flare properly, and since I’d decided in the interim to change my plans for the sleeve trim I needed extra for that as well. I’ve ordered more fabric to re-cut the underskirt and do the sleeve trim (4 yards to be extra safe) and I’ll have to try to dye it to match, which will be incredibly annoying, but not as annoying as if I’d had to match the crochet lace color. At least any slight color difference will be less obvious since it’ll be somewhat hidden by the extra folds of the overskirt.

That being said, I did manage to cut out everything from my crochet lace, and since I’d never worked with a full lace overlay before, much less fabric as weird as this one, I was a bit concerned that things could get ugly. I decided to take some precautions, underlining every single piece with tulle to minimize the lace pulling out of shape, and basting everything together as I went.

I cut my lining pieces first from the cotton gauze, and then laid out my crochet lace face down on the carpeted floor (the carpet really helped keep the fabric from slipping out of alignment), smoothing a layer of pale green tulle over it. Then I set my lining pieces on top of both layers of fabric and pinned them in place through all layers before cutting around them. Once they were cut I hand-basted around each piece to keep things from shifting.

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For the bodice, I basted through all three layers since I’ll be assembling the panels into a bodice before adding the beetlewings– I haven’t decided yet whether I’ll try to stitch the wings just to the top two layers, or go through all three, but either way the pieces are small enough that I can work with the bodice as a single piece without too much trouble. For the sleeves and skirt, however, I’ll be adding the wings before assembly, so I need to keep the lining pieces separate.

* FYI, here’s a photo of all of my scraps from the crochet lace. This is out of a full seven yards of 54″ wide fabric– when I say I had “just enough,” I mean it!

beetlewing-scraps