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 Gown, Part II: Supplies

So the most important part of this gown is clearly the beetlewings (technically elytra, or wing casings, but “beetlewings” is easier to understand). Luckily for me, elytra from sternocera aequisignata (the species of jewel beetle most commonly used for decoration) are readily available for sale on eBay at very reasonable prices. The original gown is said to have had 1,000 wings on it, but just to be safe I ordered 2,000– it wouldn’t do to run out and have to order more from Thailand, after all! I thought about purchasing them pre-drilled with holes at the top, but decided that if I was going to have to clip them to size and put additional holes in for sewing anyway, I might as well save a little money and get them undrilled.

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Lady Macbeth Beetlewing Gown, Part I: Inspiration

When I was in elementary school, there was a memorable occasion when the school hosted an exhibit of rare and exotic insects; they were displayed in glass cases in our cafeteria and each class of students got to go in and look at all of the interesting species. Personally, I was fascinated by the shiny/iridescent ones– the blue morpho butterflies and the gorgeously green beetles. I thought it would be so neat to have jewelry or something made out of them, but didn’t think it would actually be possible. It wasn’t until much later that I learned that the beetle carapaces, at least, were historically used to decorate clothing!

evening dresses ornamented with beetle wings White cotton gauze dress embroidered with beetle wings, embroidered in India for export, ca 1865, KSUM 1983.1.98.

Perhaps one of the most famous examples of a gown decorated with beetle wings (not really the wings, but the wing casings) is the Lady Macbeth costume designed by Alice Comyns Carr and worn by actress Ellen Terry in 1888. It made such a splash that it was immortalized by John Singer Sargent the following year:

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The original costume was recently restored by the Zenzie Tinker Conservation with funds donated to the National Trust, which means there are tons of closeup photos of the costume itself. It doesn’t look quite as fabulous as it does in the painting, or even as it looked over a hundred years ago, but then what does?

Back in 2009 I blogged about the “Beetlewing dress” worn by Victorian actress Ellen Terry to play Lady Macbeth- and the National Trust’s project to restore it. Well, the restored dress is now on di… Beetle-wing dress revisited | Glass of Fashion

Anyway, the reason for all this background is that I’m going to make my own version of the Lady Macbeth dress for Costume College this year. (a friend of mine has dubbed it “the Scottish Bug Dress” and now I can’t stop thinking of it that way) The event theme is “What’s That Fabric?” and as the original dress was actually crocheted out of sparkling blue and green yarn, then decorated with beetlewings (both rather unconventional choices), I thought it would work perfectly. Add to that the fact that a group of us is getting together to wear dresses inspired by famous paintings, and it was obvious that this dress had to be made!

Edited to add: There’s a great article written by the lead conservator on the restoration process that has some wonderful details, here!

Tutu Dresses for Mini Cinderellas

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My daughter recently watched the new live-action Cinderella movie and was immediately enthralled by the costumes (with good reason!). She adores the old Disney animated classic, but when I saw her eyes widen and her jaw drop upon seeing the new version of Cinderella’s ballgown I knew I’d be making one very shortly.

To be fair, I’d already planned out (just for fun) how I’d make one for myself if I ever had occasion to, but making something for a 3-year-old to wear is different. It needs to be comfortable, or she’ll never wear it. It needs to be washable (at least for spot-cleaning), or she’ll ruin it. And it needs to be reasonably cheap, or I’ll never make it. 😉 A tutu dress seemed to fit the bill admirably. It’s easy to make, inexpensive, very comfortable, stretchy so it’s practically one-size-fits-all, and simple to clean or repair if anything happens to it. And since the kidlet’s favorite color is purple I changed the color scheme to ensure she’d actually wear the dress.

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