The Grey Lady, Part XIII: Finished!

Here it is, the final outfit in action at Misti-Con 2015! I’m very happy with how it turned out– it’s always nice when something looks almost exactly as you’d pictured it (even if it did take a lot of alteration to get that way). Sure, there are a few tiny differences, but the costume was very well-received and I had a lot of fun wearing it. Definitely worth making, though if I attend the convention in 2017 I am definitely bringing more costumes with me– got to keep up with all the amazing fans there!

GL rocks

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The Grey Lady, Part XII: Hemming and Trim

Once all of the structural elements of the dress were done with all the seams finished, I finally hemmed it. The first step was putting it on the dress form and doing a preliminary pinning, but then I put it on myself and had my husband adjust the height of the hem so it actually worked for me (not making the same mistake I did with the bodice here). I trimmed the extra fabric and used the seam binding to bind the raw edge of the hem, then used that edge to machine-hem the dress with a blind stitch. The video below explains it fairly well.

You don’t really need a blind hem foot to do this– just keep a close watch on where your stitches are landing relative to the folded edge. Especially with a more textured fabric, it won’t matter if your stitches are a little bigger than expected.

GL hem

So I’ve got the main dress done, but I wanted to add a little something to embellish it at the neckline. I wasn’t about to do any hand-embroidery or beading in my limited timeframe, so I looked for some nice appliques instead. I looked at a lot of different types, including venise lace, soutache, and even sari trim, but eventually I decided on some silver embroidered appliques in a vaguely floral pattern. They’re not too shiny and not too ornate, so they embellish without overpowering.

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The Grey Lady, Part X: Sleeves

So, I know that the “proper” way to get the sleeve-puff look is to sew a separate chemise and allow it to puff through openings in the oversleeve. I’m not going to do that. Instead, blatantly borrowing from numerous online tutorials on constructing sleeves for “Merida” costumes, I’ve constructed the puff and non-puff sections of the sleeves separately, and sewn them in a column to form the sleeve.

To draft the sleeve pattern, I took the basic straight sleeve and marked where I wanted my puffs to be. Then I cut along the lines and re-drew each piece, adding in seam allowances. The elbow puff is tapered at the inside elbow joint so it won’t bunch when I bend my arm. Similarly, the shoulder puff is cut right at the section of the sleeve under the armpit to avoid bunching.

GL sleeve drawn pattern

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The Grey Lady, Part IX: Bindings, Facings, and Topstitching

Okay, so remember how I went to all the trouble of picking out lavender lining fabric and cutting all my pattern pieces out of it before moving on to my embroidered fabric? I honestly did intend to do a lining at that point, but after trying the dress on I realized that the inside really wasn’t all that scratchy after all. Plus, as the weather has warmed up I’ve realized that it’s going to be awfully hot at the end of May, and I won’t really want another layer of non-breathable fabric next to my skin to hold the sweat in. So I’ve decided to skip the lining. I’m going to put in a neckline facing to finish that edge, and since the inner seams will now be exposed (at least from the inside) I’m binding them with Hug Snug, a rayon seam binding that will finish the edges and prevent them from fraying.

First up is the seam binding. While more experienced sewers may be able to simply iron it in half and sew both sides at once, I opted to go with the more cautious method and first stitched one side of the binding to one side of the seam allowance, then turned it over and did the other side. It took FOREVER, but it made the inside of the dress look infinitely better than it did before.

GL seam binding

Once those were done I finalized the neckline of my dress, then traced it out on paper to draft a pattern for the facing pieces. I made the facing out of material from the gores (interfaced with lightweight iron-on interfacing), and then sewed it, right sides together, to the neckline. Then I flipped it over and understitched it to keep it lying flat.

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The Grey Lady, Part VII: Invisible Zipper and Lacing

For the back closure I’m opting for an invisible zipper instead of a regular one, since I feel like having a bulky zipper underneath lacing would just look weird. To install it, I used a Universal Invisible Zipper Foot and followed one of the many tutorials online to install the 22″ zipper. Sorry, not going to do a step-by-step accounting here, this tutorial explains it much more clearly than I could.

Suffice it to say that the process was surprisingly easy, though my Universal Foot fell apart more than once, so I’m not a huge fan of the plastic bits. Also, at a few points on my zipper I actually ended up sewing too close to the zipper teeth, preventing it from zipping up, and had to unpick and re-sew those sections. I thought the foot was supposed to keep things at the perfect distance? If I were going to make a habit of using invisible zippers I’d probably just buy a real metal foot designed to fit my machine.

Once the zipper was installed, it was time to do the lacing. I admit that despite my plans to put in the lacing loops before sewing the dress together, I forgot all about it and inadvertently sewed up the back seams on my first sewing pass. But it did help me get a feel for what the finished dress would look like, so it wasn’t all bad. Anyway, I ripped out the back side seams from the neck to the hip at the point where the gores are inserted, then started making the loops.

I didn’t want to use ribbon to make them (not sturdy enough), so I ordered some double-fold 1/4″ bias tape in “Oyster.” Unfortunately, while the single-fold tape in my local store was labelled “Oyster” and looked like the perfect color (a light gray), my tape it arrived looking completely different (a light tan). It turns out the tape at the store was mislabeled. I eventually discovered that the correct color name was “Shadow,” but that they apparently don’t make double-fold tape in that color, so I ended up buying the single-fold and ironing it in half before stitching it closed. Then I cut it into 2 1/2″ lengths, folded them into loops, and basted them into the unpicked side back seams before re-sewing everything on the machine. I used eight loops on each side, and they were spaced 1 1/2″ apart.

GL basted loops

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The Grey Lady, Part VI: Gores and Princess Seams

Before assembling the dress itself, I had to make the gores to be inserted in the seams. The gores were easy– I just cut 45-degree arcs of fabric with a radius the same length as the skirt section, then stitched one side of each gore to the side front panels. After that, I just ran all of the princess seams through the sewing machine to assemble the body of the dress.

GL gores

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The Grey Lady, Part V: Cutting!

Before I cut into my fancy fabric I cut out my pattern pieces from the lavender polyester lining, just to see how the final pattern changes had affected the cutting layout and yardage requirements. When I cut out my mockup I had just enough fabric to do it at 6 yards of 45″ material, which is exactly what the pattern said I’d use for that width. However, after making my changes for the lining I actually have almost a full yard left from my original 6 yards, so it’s apparent that reducing the hem length back down and cutting the sleeve in separate pieces had quite an effect on the yardage.

I’ve still been pretty nervous about whether I have enough embroidered fabric to make this dress. The pattern says that I can use 4 yards of 60″ wide fabric, but instead I have 4 1/3 yards of 54″ wide. I’ve studied the cutting layout but it’s not really much help– I’m just glad that the embroidery design is omni-directional, so it won’t matter if I cut some pieces upside-down. So here it is, the moment of truth…

GL cutting layout

It works! Good thing I cut the hem shorter, it never would’ve worked with all that extra length. I do have a little wiggle room on cutting out the sleeve pieces, but it was really close otherwise. So glad that turned out all right!

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!