So at last my 1860s ballgown is finished! I got to wear it, hoop skirt and all, to a Victorian ball this summer, and it was a hit! It took a little getting used to, dancing with such a gigantic skirt, but it was just so much fun!
Besides my floral hair wreath, I accessorized with some simple pearl earrings (leverback, so not technically historically accurate, but close enough) and a blue cameo strung on a black velvet ribbon. I also had short white gloves, but had abandoned them by the time these pictures were taken– just as well, they kind of made my hands blend into my skirts, which looked weird.
All in all I’m very happy with the dress– it’s got just the right silhouette and the embroidery makes it extra-special. Looking forward to wearing it again sometime!
I started by cheating.
Yes, cheating. I knew that I couldn’t get started on my dress until I had the correct underpinnings, and I didn’t have the energy to make myself a hoop skirt from scratch, so I bought the biggest one I could find on eBay– a 6-hoop skirt that was at least made from cotton, so it wasn’t quite as bad as shiny polyester. Don’t I get credit for that much?
Anyway, I knew from experience that the hoops on these cheap skirts are adjustable in size, so once it arrived I tried it on and took a look to see what needed to be done. Continue reading
Given my love of historical costuming, I often bemoan the fact that despite growing up in Northern California, which appears in retrospect to have been a Mecca of costuming resources and events, the only thing I took advantage of at the time was attending the Northern California Renaissance Faire (which was admittedly awesome). Now I’m in Massachusetts, where costuming events are less abundant and fabric stores are harder to get to. But as luck would have it, I’m going home for Christmas this year and I’ll be in the area for the last day of the San Francisco Dickens Fair!
As soon as I made plans to go, I knew I’d need a dress– nothing too complicated, and hopefully something that could be shoved into a suitcase without taking up too much space or sustaining lasting damage. Unfortunately, the event’s stated period (1842-1863) is smack dab in the middle of a gap in my costuming portfolio– I have nothing between 1815 and 1890. So I have to make something new.
Let’s just say it did not start off well.
I swear, this post took forever to write because every time I thought I had finalized my pattern/fabric choices, something happened to mess it up and I had to go back and update. Anyway, read on for the saga of “the Dickens Fair dress of indecision”…
Moving forward, I’ve realized that I’m never going to be able to simultaneously have the dress be attractive and display the tentacles as they’re currently sewn on the underlying skirt. Solution? Move the tentacles.(Warning: the word “tentacles” is used so often in this post that it’s starting to sound weird, even to me)
I permanently installed a narrow hoop skirt inside the tentacle skirt, using the hoop at the bottom to puff out the lower hem enough that it would both give me some space to walk and bring the tentacles out far enough to extend past the hem circumference of the wedding dress. Then I detached all the tentacles and unwound them from each other so I could reposition them on the skirt. I experimented with different placements, trying to figure out how best to display the tentacles on the outside of the dress. I figured that if I brought the ends of the tentacles up over the hem of the wedding dress, they’d be visible but not interfere with the lines of the dress itself.
I pinned the tentacles in place around the black underskirt, arranging them over the white dress to get the best effect. Once they were pinned appropriately, I marked the new hem of the dress and unpinned everything so I could do the final hemming, as well as the pressing and trimming of seams. I wanted to add pockets to the dress (always useful), but the skirt didn’t have side seams and I had to dispense with that idea.
I sewed the base of each tentacle in place to the black underskirt, stitching through both the black skirt and the hoop skirt and using the hoops themselves as anchors for some of the tentacles to add support. I also threaded some bent coat hangers through some of the tentacles to use as supports. Here’s the tentacle skirt before and after:
Once the bases were set in place, I put the wedding dress on over the tentacle skirt and sewed the tips of some tentacles directly to the dress with white embroidery floss (stronger than thread), extending the thread through the white fabric and anchoring it to the black satin underskirt and hoop skirt for added support. At each layer of fabric I added a few stitches on a patch of interfacing to strengthen the tension points and prevent anything from ripping due to the weight of the tentacle. Some of the tentacles actually had a “floating” effect, where I let several inches of floss play out between the tentacle and the skirt layers– I was going to use fishing line, but the floss was easier to work with. I used white floss so I could stitch on the surface of the dress invisibly, but then colored the exposed parts black with a permanent marker to make them less visible.
I still need to re-do the center draping panel and the skirt ruffles before I can attach the last two tentacles, but since I’ve already done it once it shouldn’t be too tough to do it again (knock wood). Here’s a picture of the current state of the dress:
CORRECTION: this is a photo of the dress with the tentacles pinned before attaching– I forgot to take a picture of the dress in its current state. More photos in the next post.