I’ve already mentioned my propensity towards urging my friends to attend historical costume events with me, so it should be no surprise that for an upcoming Victorian ball I managed to convince a friend to let me outfit her in something appropriate– in this case, an altered modern ballgown (of course).
Don’t you think “guimpe” is a weird word? It’s a French term that got adopted into English, and it can refer to anything from a full underblouse to a dickey-type thing that just fills in the neckline, like a chemisette.
Anyway, my guimpe is made of a combination of ivory embroidered net and strips of ivory embroidered lace trim. I had to do some serious maneuvering to eke out my pattern pieces from the materials I had– take a look at the tiny scraps I had left of the net once I was done cutting! Nothing wider than 3″!
Since I was making this outfit as separates, I decided to really maximize the sizing and mix-and-match potential by making the lace underskirt a separate piece as well– two skirts total. This way I can use the underskirt for another outfit somewhere down the road.
I started with a base skirt made of thin ivory cotton, which I based on the original pattern’s underskirt– I just cut it a bit larger in the back and added some small knife pleats to take up the extra fabric at the waist (for ease of size adjustment). I also evened out the waist height to hit at the natural waist in back rather than the artificially raised level of the original, and added a flat waistband. I omitted the hem facings from the pattern because this is an underskirt that’s going to be covered in lace– no one will see a machine-stitched small hem. I hemmed it to fall right at the ankle, figuring that I’d want the lace to fall slightly below that level.
This is the lace that started it all. Really, I had a totally different idea for my next afternoon-tea outfit– it was going to be a tiered white cotton Edwardian dress with embroidered navy trim– and then I saw this lace on Etsy and immediately knew I wanted to go in another direction.
Anyway, the Etsy seller also had a coordinating narrower lace, plus an even narrower one that looked like it was somewhat similar, so I bought some of all three. I’ll use the widest stuff sparingly, since it’s the most expensive– mostly for the lace collar and the decoration across the front of the bodice. The medium width will be used on the dress cuffs and also on the collar, and I’ll use the narrowest stuff to trim the cuffs of the undersleeves.
I know, you’re probably curious to know what happened with the sequins, but you’ll need to wait until later because I had to get the center panel’s appliqués done first. The larger floral appliqués I ordered were some of the last components to arrive, which is why I had to leave it for so long. I bought both venise and alencon lace appliqués because I wasn’t sure which would work better– neither were quite in the same style as the other trims, but I thought they’d work out all right.
You can see in the reference images below that there are leafy floral motifs at the center front and sides of the center panel, and smallish motifs at the high points of the swags of trim around the hem.
When I first started this projects I started bookmarking every applique, trim, rhinestone, or other embellishment that I thought might be useful in recreating the lavishly beaded overgown. There were so many options!
It looks as though there are a few different types of embellishment:
- Narrow trim down the center front that outlines the central panel. This appears vaguely floral in design and may or may not also be used to outline swags around the hem of the dress. It looks to be about 1/2″ wide.
- Circular embroidered motifs that are graduated in size– the largest appear to be about 1.5″ in diameter, and it looks as though the largest few sizes are pad-stitched with a bead or rhinestone in the center.
- Narrow embroidered trim around the very bottom edge of the hem. It appears scalloped on a large scale, but it’s tough to see detail.
- Filler appliques of some kind to embellish specific points on the gown– for example, the center front of the skirt and the high points of the swags I mentioned earlier.
- Clear rhinestones, sequins, and beads in various sizes.
- Baguette beads or sequins sewn in straight, short lines.
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: