Burgundy Regency Sari Dress, Attempt and Failure

With a Dickens-themed holiday ball coming up in December, I decided to make a new dress for the occasion– a Regency dress, partly because the event specified that Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig (from A Christmas Carol) would be in attendance and the Regency period would be correct for the Fezziwigs’ Christmas party portrayed in the book, and partly because Regency gowns are just so much easier to sew than any other period.

For fabric, I decided to go with a vintage embroidered silk sari– it was originally a medium coral color, but I planned to use Crimson iDye to deepen the shade to a nice deep red. I really liked the subtle tone-on-tone effect of the embroidery. It reminded me of the dresses made of Kashmiri shawls back in the Regency period, and I hoped the dye would leave the different shades intact.

Unfortunately, I made a rookie mistake in dyeing my sari– I followed the instructions on the package rather than using my own common sense. So when the instructions said to allow the fabric to agitate in the washing machine with the dye for an extra-long cycle to allow the color to set properly, what I should have done was stop and think to myself, “this is vintage silk with delicate embroidery. I should probably just let the fabric soak in a perfectly still washing machine instead of messing it up and whirling it around and generally risking disaster.”

So which option did I choose? Yup. Disaster.

burgundy-sari-before

burgundy-sari-after

Not only did the dye not darken the color of the sari much at all, but the agitation completely ruined the embroidery– all of the thread basically unravelled and formed a giant tangle, which had to be cut away to even let me unwind the fabric from its tight, wadded-up ball. Totally unsalvageable.

The only reason I’m not devastated by all this is that the dye clearly didn’t work and wouldn’t have worked even if I’d soaked the fabric carefully– I didn’t like the original color of the sari and wouldn’t have wanted to wear it as-is, so I didn’t really lose anything in my attempt to improve it. I suppose in a perfect world I could’ve overdyed it again with the perfect blend of brown and red, but it probably would’ve taken forever to get it right in any case. So I’m going to cut my losses and try something different for the Dickens Ball.

If only I had any idea of what that would be…

 

 

Altering an Edwardian Dress

edwardian-white-before

So that antique Edwardian dress I mentioned earlier? Before I could wear it (shown above before I did anything to it), it needed to be altered. It just needs a few inches of extra room to make it perfect, and since I can’t make up the difference with a corset (there’s only so far you can cinch down your waist… or your ribcage), I’ll have to do it the hard way.

I know, I know… there will be people out there gasping in horror at how I could dare to alter an antique— but come on, people have been repurposing older garments forever, including making over old dresses to suit new modes of fashion, so I hardly think that merely tweaking a dress to enlarge it and make it wearable for the modern figure is that much of a problem.

Besides, it’s not like I’m repeating the mistakes I made in college when I actually went so far as to add an elastic waistband to an antique embroidered skirt (still cringe about that one). Anyway, here’s how I did it:

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Belle Epoque Wisteria Gown, Finished!

Tanya Wisteria 2

It’s done! Done and– dare I say–gorgeous. I really love the way it turned out– it’s pretty close to exactly what I pictured from the beginning, and I had such a wonderful time wearing it to an 1890s-themed ball. The skirt has such a great swirl to it from all of the fullness in the back, and the dimensionality of the embroidery really makes it stand out in a crowd!

To recap the process:

Part I: Design

Part II: Dyeing Hug Snug

Part III: Modifying Bridesmaids Dresses

Part IV: Tea/Coffee Dyed Lace

Part V: Petticoats

Part VI: Neckline Embellishment

Part VII: Embroidery

Part VIII: 3D Wisteria Blossoms

 

Belle Epoque Wisteria Gown, Part VII: Embroidery

Once I finished the neckline, I moved on to the important part– the wisteria embroidery. Of course, I’d never really done ribbon embroidery before, so I was a little nervous about how it would go. As always, I researched tutorials online and learned a few basic stitches. I also learned that I couldn’t use just any needle– the 1/2″ seam binding was far too thick to pull through the fabric with even a large-eyed standard embroidery needle– but that I should get a “chenille needle,” designed for use in chenille embroidery. It was recommended that I use size 13 (apparently the largest available), which was a whopping 2.9 mm in diameter.

wisteria-needle

To map out the design, I used masking tape to section off where the blossom motifs would go on the bodice and skirt, adjusting until it looked good from a distance. Then I basted a line of stitching along each piece of tape, so I could remove the tape and do the ribbon embroidery directly over the (easily removable) thread.

wisteria-gown-tape

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White 1920s Dress, Part II: Insertion

1920s-insertion-done

While I adore the look of insertion in Edwardian lingerie dresses, I’d never actually tried sewing it myself until I decided that this 1920s dress needed something special to add visual interest on the main body. With this insertion trim I figured that the entredeux would make it slightly more difficult to sew, since apparently there’s a specific technique involved to make sure the ladder-like parts look right. I was a bit worried about what I’d gotten myself into, and I read many tutorials and watched videos to be sure I was getting it right. Once I’d gotten the trim stitched down to the main fabric I was tempted to just leave it as-is without cutting out the base layer– it was pretty anyway– but decided in the end to just go for it. I’m glad I did!

Here’s the process:

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White 1920s Dress, Part I: Supplies and Design

Going off momentarily in a different direction, I also started on a 1920s-style day dress for yet another vintage-themed event I’m attending this month…

I admit it– I’ve never really been a fan of the standard 1920s silhouette. It basically makes everyone look shapeless and dumpy– I mean, if even the ladies of Downton Abbey look like they’re wearing gussied-up hospital gowns, what chance do the rest of us have? But when I got the chance to attend a 1920s lawn party I figured I may as well give the look a shot– after all, the columnar silhouette was popular for years, it couldn’t be all bad!

I even had the beginnings of a day dress in my fabric stash already– some vintage pre-embroidered white cotton that had originally been set up to make a Victorian or Edwardian blouse out of. I couldn’t be sure of the precise time period, but the padded satin stitch embroidery just screamed “turn of the century” to me. I found it on eBay and bought it for a song, and it was just long enough to make a knee-length dress out of! (photo darkened so you can see the embroidery pattern)

1920s-white-fabric

I decided against using the embroidered neckline as an actual neckline– it was too wide and drew too much attention to the bust– so I turned the whole thing upside down and decided to use it as a hem decoration. There were also some smaller areas of embroidery that I could use to decorate other parts of the dress. I sketched out my basic design, planning on using a variation of the One-Hour Dress I’d seen online.

1920s-white-sketch

I bought some vintage insertion trim to add some interest to the body of the dress– it has an area of central embroidery and cutwork, with entredeux on either side. What is entredeux, you may ask? It’s basically an embroidered ladder-like trim, often inserted between fabrics to make a decorative line of openwork. It helps make the embroidered insertion look more deliberate, in my opinion, and less as if it was just pieced in.

1920s-white-trim

So, let’s see how it works out!

Regency Rose Reticule

regency-reticule

Once I had my clothes set for the Regency event, I wanted a reticule (small purse) to carry things in, so as not to spoil the effect with a modern bag. I decided to make mine out of an ivory velveteen remnant from my Velvet Pumpkin project, and lined it with a scrap of sage green faux dupioni I picked up for a dollar at the fabric store. I figured that the ivory-and-sage color combination was sufficiently neutral that it would work with either one of my outfits without being too matchy-matchy.

After some internet browsing, which indicated that many reticules were covered in elaborate floral embroidery, I decided to decorate it with the ribbon flowers left over from my daughter’s flower-embellished holiday dress— they looked vaguely period and it was a good excuse to use them up. I placed them on the fabric, but they looked kind of bare.

regency-reticule-roses

I needed some form of leaf or vine to connect them, so I decided to use some sheer sage-green ribbon (purchased as an option for the Birthday Princess Dress but never used), which I sewed on using a couching technique.

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Upcycled Birthday Princess Dress, Part VI: Basic Bodice

When making the bodice it took me a while to decide how best to display the embroidery on the fabric. After much vacillating and even more pinning, I decided to use the existing bottom hem of the bodice, which would forfeit the pretty design along the top edge but which would let me have a more structured bottom edge. I took a deep breath and started disassembling the bodice.

birthday-dress-bodice-pieces

Once I’d figured out what I was going to do, I had to prepare the bodice for cutting– that meant slitting open the side seams and removing the boning from the front, and then re-shaping the bodice entirely to change it from being curved over the bust to being flat (as 4-year-olds are not known for their curved bustlines).

birthday-dress-boning

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Upcycled Birthday Princess Dress, Part III: Revising the Design

So, now that I’ve bought the bridesmaid dress to use for my purple fabric I’ve had to adjust my previous design sketches a bit. Partly because the fabric is so pretty that I can’t bear the thought of this being a one-use dress, so I’ll have to make the size adjustable– that’ll require some structural changes. The other reason is that the embroidery on the bodice just cries out to be displayed properly, which I wouldn’t have been able to do with my original design even if it had been adjustable to begin with. So I’m scrapping the bodice part of it, at least, and starting over.

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Upcycled Birthday Princess Dress, Part II: Fabric

birthday-dress-purple-wrap

Once I had my basic design idea I started looking for fabric. I originally figured that I’d get some lavender-colored jacquard or satin, possibly a lace or embroidered sheer for a skirt front panel, and call it a day. If I’d had easy access to a decent fabric store this wouldn’t have been a problem; however, my local store is hit-or-miss, so I turned to the internet. In searching online for the best price for jacquard (shipping is so expensive!) I had another idea– cannibalizing an old prom or bridesmaid’s dress.

Pre-worn formal dresses, particularly pastel satin ones that are clearly bridesmaid’s dresses, have a limited shelf life and an even more limited price range, whether at Goodwill or on eBay. With a full enough skirt the price-per-yard can end up being significantly lower than buying it off the bolt– and the dresses often come with beading or embroidery that’s just not practical to do by hand. I started sifting through auctions online, and found the perfect gown.

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