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!

The Grey Lady, Part II: Fabric

One of the toughest parts about creating a costume is fabric– for an existing character the problem can be finding exactly what you need to replicate a specific look, but for a costume where you’re creating something out of whole cloth (pardon the pun) it can be even harder to choose among the vast array of available fabrics to decide what you like best.

And then there’s budget. I’ve got a relatively limited one for this costume, and unfortunately for most historical-style garb you really need something with a nice weight to it (translation: something expensive) if you want it to look good. I thought about stretch velvet, but I don’t have a lot of experience sewing knits and it’s pretty expensive if you don’t want to use panne (I don’t, it makes everything look like a cheap Halloween costume). I looked at saris, figuring they’d have some nice patterns and embellishment to work with, but they don’t often come in gray and almost never with silver accents. Most fashion fabric brocades looked too shiny and/or too modern, plain taffeta was too boring, and it was tough to find home decor brocades in solid gray.

When I finally found a 4-yard lot of 54″ wide muted silver embroidered drapery fabric on eBay for $18 (including shipping!) I couldn’t pass it up. I know fabrics don’t always look as good in person as they do on screen, but this ended up being gorgeous, and luckily not too stiff to drape nicely. According to my pattern it’s a little short to get a whole dress out of, but I’m hopeful that with judicious fabric placement I can get the majority of my dress cut.

For the gores and sleeve puffs I’m using several yards of silvery gray fabric gifted to me by a friend and which is basically “mystery fabric.” I’m fairly sure it’s polyester, it has a subtle texture to it and it drapes well, but apart from that I have no idea. It coordinates perfectly with the embroidered fabric, though, and is heavy enough for a skirt gore but light enough for a sleeve puff. It’s miles better than any of the other options I was looking at online, so I’m thrilled to have it.

GL fabric

Since I’m dealing for the most part with drapery rather than apparel fabric, I’m going to line the whole dress in to mitigate the roughness of the wrong side. The pattern doesn’t call for a lining, but I’m sure I can figure something out. I’d intended to go with white, but ended up picking out a pale lavender lining fabric instead– it coordinates with the gray and I thought it would be pretty, even if no one else will see it.

The Grey Lady, Part I: Sketches

Just as I finish one costume, an opportunity appears for another one…

So there’s a big Harry Potter event coming up over Memorial Day weekend (yay, Misti-Con!), and I’ve made plans to attend! Of course, I need a fabulous costume to wear and some basic Hogwarts robes just won’t cut it, not least because I’m way too old to be playing a high school student, no matter what sitcom casting directors would like you to believe. I racked my brain for an in-canon idea, and came up with the idea of being Helena Ravenclaw, a.k.a., The Grey Lady (House Ravenclaw’s ghost).

The book is short on descriptions, noting only that she wears gray and has long hair and a long cloak. The movies show her in two different outfits– the first is kind of Renaissance German in style (forgive me, fashion historians, this is my closest approximation of the era), with massively puffed sleeves and a full skirt, while the second (in a much longer scene) is rather medieval. I decided to split the difference– I don’t have the time or the resources to sew a Renaissance gown and all its underpinnings, but I’m making something a bit more complicated than a basic medieval-style outfit.

GL movie gownGL movie gown 2

As is my wont, I first tried to find an appropriate dress somewhere else to modify with extra fabric and trims. There were a few possibilities, but most were pretty expensive and none were just what I wanted. I finally decided that I would have to make one myself, which required a bit more creativity. Here are a few of my ideas, which incorporate the various elements that caught my eye:

GL sketches

I definitely want to princess-seam the dress to keep the lines sweeping, and I like the idea of having extra gores in some flowy fabric to add to the ghostliness of the look and provide more movement to the skirt. I’ve also become attached to the “Merida” style sleeve puffs, since they kind of suggest the puffed-sleeve look from the first movie scene, but keep the slimmer lines of the second. No historical accuracy here, that’s for sure.

To start, I found a Simplicity 9891 sewing pattern in the $1 bin at my local fabric store, and snapped it up to use as a base for my dress. It’s got the basic shape, and if the online reviews are any indication it can be easily modified.

Up next: fabrics!