Lady Macbeth Beetlewing Gown, Part XV: Final Thoughts

So after months of working on this costume, I thought I’d gather all the posts in one place and wrap up with some final thoughts.

Part I: Inspiration

Part II: Supplies

Part III: Patterning and Mockup

Part IV: Cutting

Part V: Bodice Construction

Part VI: Beetlewings

Part VII: More Beetlewings

Part VIII: Skirt

Part IX: Sleeves

Part X: Collar and Brooch

Part XI: Belt

Part XII: Wig Styling

Part XIII: Crown

Part XIV: Final Photos

Fabric: The original dress was made out of crocheted tinsel yarn, though I managed to find a decent approximation with what was listed as “crochet lace” (totally not crocheted, you can tell). In retrospect I think my fabric was just a bit heavy, but since my best alternative was much too light it was the best I could get. If you’re looking for something similar, you may want to try Aliexpress.com, where I saw some crochet lace with tiny sequins in it that might mimic the original tinsel better.

I lined the dress with cotton crinkle gauze because I wanted it to have some stretch to allow me to fit the bodice snugly without needing boning. It worked, but the gauze I used ended up feeling kind of thick overall– go for as light a gauze as you can, to avoid being too hot with all of the necessary layers.

Structure: Most of my decisions on structure were based on the desire to avoid the dress sagging/stretching downwards from the sheer weight of the skirt. The princess seams in the bodice were a good call, both to aid in shaping and minimize stretching, and they were hardly noticeable once the beetlewings were sewn on. I also definitely got it right with my idea for skirt structure– the extra support of the separate yoke really reassures me that this dress will not stretch out longer over time (like the My Fair Lady dress did), and on a similar note I’m glad that I underlined the crochet lace with tulle, which kept it from losing its shape as I sewed.

I will note that in the future I may opt to wear a corset under the dress for a properly hourglassy figure, even if Ellen Terry’s contemporaneous letters expressed joy about how she didn’t have to wear one under the dress onstage.

Beetlewings: All the write-ups of the original dress say that it used “1,000 beetlewings,” like that’s some sort of huge number. Don’t listen! I used more like 1700 and I could’ve added more to the skirt without it looking overdone. And since I’m fairly sure that the wings they used in the original dress were smaller than the ones I have now, I’m betting the original used at least that many as well. To save on cost, definitely buy them in bulk on Ebay from Thailand instead of trying to buy them in the U.S. And since you’ll have to drill extra holes in them yourself anyway and trim them to size, you may as well get them undrilled rather than spending the money on predrilled wings.

Sleeves: I know I got the sleeve shape right in terms of the elbow crook being at the underarm seam– it was clearly that way in the original– but honestly, I don’t like it. It makes the sleeves twist weirdly around your arms when you try to bend them, especially when you raise your arms in that iconic right-from-the-portrait pose, and it’s uncomfortable to wear. Really, the only way it works is when your arms are down by your sides. If I were doing this again I would move the curved seam to the top of the sleeve, relying on the crochet lace and beetlewings to disguise the seamline, historical accuracy be damned.

Trim: Despite my belated realization that I’d made my sleeve trim too wide and thereby messed up the proportions, I’m still at least 90% happy with it. If I could go back I might have purchased one more skein of gold cording to double up on the border lines (like in the original), but I don’t know if I’d have bothered to correct the trim width– couching that many gryphon motifs was difficult enough, I don’t even want to think about doing 30% more…

Belt: That being said, I do think I may redo the belt at some point. The links are just too big and they look costume-y, which I was trying to avoid (at least, as much as one can while wearing a giant wig and a dress sewn with shiny green beetlewings). And I’m considering getting some gold foil to glue over the links for a “real metal” look, rather than paint.

Wig: I’m definitely going to restyle the wig the next time I wear it– looking at the painting again, the gold ribbon was too wide and wasn’t wrapped as densely as it was in the picture. And I’ll probably get some diluted glue to smooth over the wig to avoid all the flyaways I ended up with by the end of the night. Or perhaps a bunch of hairnets?

Anyway, all in all this was a really fulfilling project– I was extremely happy with the final product and had a great time wearing it, and learned some new skills along the way!

Lady Macbeth Beetlewing Gown, Part XIV: Final Photos!

I had a great time wearing this whole ensemble to the Costume College gala this year– it didn’t fit the theme (“The Opulent Streets of Venice”), but it was indisputably the most fabulous of my costumes, so I had to wear it!

We took a bunch of photos all around the hotel, but it was tough to find just the right dramatic background…

But then darkness fell, and the hotel lit up their outdoor fountain with FIRE! I started off just posing near it, even going so far as to step up against the wall (taking care to keep my long sleeves and wig well away from the flames):

But by the end of the night I’d decided to literally take the plunge, stepping into the fountain itself to get some fabulous photos!

The water in the center was actually a lot deeper than I’d expected– about knee-deep– so my dress got pretty soaked! I wrung it out afterwards before going back up to my room to blot it with towels before turning the hair dryer on it so it would dry out enough to completely dry by morning.

I’m kind of kicking myself, though, because I neglected to remember that the Sargent painting portrays Ellen Terry slightly turned away from the viewer, rather than head-on the way I posed in the photos above. I only have a single photo of me in that position, and I wasn’t careful enough with the placement of my arms!

I’m definitely going to have to put on the outfit again to get better full-length photos at some point. I may even, as I mentioned in my belt post, re-do the belt someday to make the links smaller the way they are in real life. But that may have to wait until next year’s Costume College!

Lady Macbeth Beetlewing Gown, Part XIII: Crown

The final touch for this costume was the crown, which Lady Macbeth is shown raising above her head in the Sargent painting.

That being said, the internet assures me that 1) this was supposed to be King Duncan’s crown, not hers, and 2) she never actually struck this pose in any of her performances of the play. But it’s still the most recognizable pose, so I had to make a crown to carry– and also to wear, since I wasn’t about to just carry it around all night.

Since I am not experienced in metalwork, I had three options: First, have a metal crown custom-made for me. That seemed awfully expensive for a prop. Second, make a fake metal crown out of craft foam and gold paint. That was definitely something I considered, but ultimately I wanted it to look really shiny and polished both inside and out, and I wasn’t confident I could do that in the time allotted. So I went with my last option, which was to find a reasonably decent-looking crown online and go with it.

Vinsco Baroque Crown Vintage Round Full Size Tiara Luxury Retro Headband Crystal Rhinestone Beads Hair Jewelry Decor for Queen Women Ladies Girls Bridal Bride Princess Birthday Wedding Pageant Party
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Lady Macbeth Beetlewing Gown, Part XII: Wig Styling

Once the dress was done, I turned my attention to the wig I’d need. I don’t know if Ellen Terry really had almost floor-length hair when she played Lady Macbeth or if she wore a wig, but it’s a prominent feature of her costume in the photos and in the painting, so I had to follow suit.

There were plenty of long (like, knee-length) cosplay red wigs available, but they were all perfectly straight and didn’t look particularly full– when divided into two plaits they were definitely not going to be sufficient for the look I was going for. Rather than try to figure out how to plump them up, I decided to go with a textured wig– or rather, two textured wigs that I’d cobble together.

I ended up with this one— it’s designed to be a Lady Melisandre wig from Game of Thrones and it’s a dark red color with lots of texture, so it definitely had the volume I was looking for. It also has a nice braiding detail at the top. I bought two.

Liz Wig Game of Thrones Character Melisandre Long Wavy Cosplay Wig 32" Wine Red

Once they arrived, I took apart one wig by cutting the wig cap into strips to make wefts. I cut the cap in sets of three wefts right up to the point where it started curving around the head, then cut that curved skullcap-ish section right up the center, for a total of four weft strips (two shorter, two longer) and two denser sections. Here’s a diagram of the cuts:

Then I divided my wearable wig into two sides (following this very useful tutorial to avoid showing the wig cap at the part) and divided each of those sides into an upper and lower section. The upper sections were clipped aside, while I worked on one lower section at a time.

I spread the hair on the lower section over the floor (which was covered in parchment paper to avoid glue getting on the hardwood). I glued the longer weft across the hair about 8″ up from the ends, then glued the dense skullcap section on top of that a few inches down. Finally, I glued the shorter weft section over the top of that, at the same level as the first one.

Once I let down the upper section of hair and gathered the whole thing into a ponytail, the glued sections weren’t really visible except as a slightly thicker section of hair. I tied the long ponytail into segments using cut-up hair elastics (since trying to use them the normal way was next to impossible on such long hair), then wrapped the whole tied-up ponytail with gold ribbon. I stitched the ribbon in place using light brown thread to keep it from slipping out of position.

I’m actually really happy with how this turned out, and how easy it was, relatively speaking. Yes, it’s pretty heavy, and no, I don’t think it’ll stand up to much abuse, but it looks decent and it took me about an hour to style, so I’m counting it as a win!

Lady Macbeth Beetlewing Gown, Part XI: Belt

Once the dress was structurally complete I got started on the belt (which had to sit a certain way over the dress to look right). The original belt for the gown appears to have been made of metal links with a raised design on them– the belt wraps twice around the waist and ties in front with a length of twisted fabric.

Initially I thought I’d repurpose some belly-dancing belts with similar metal links to make my own belt, but they were pretty expensive and didn’t have the right overall look– too much filigree, not quite the right shape. I decided to make my own, because deciding to spend ridiculous amounts of time and effort to closely replicate a costume element that I’d intended to shortcut is apparently what I do.

Since I didn’t have the time, knowledge, or supplies to make my own stamped metal links (yet), I opted to use thick black cardstock– it’s called “museum board” and it’s pretty stiff while still being cuttable. I figured that once painted with metallic paint, the links would be close enough to pass for a stage costume.

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Lady Macbeth Beetlewing Dress, Part X: Collar and Brooch

So above the rounded neckline of the dress there’s a high ivory collar. It appears to be made of net, gathered for texture and sewn with lines of gold thread.

I actually had a bunch of ivory net in my stash, so I started off by cutting two layers. First, there’s a curved piece to serve as the base, then a top layer that’s cut larger and gathered down. It’s possible that the top layer was also a proportionally-cut curve that’s gathered to fit, but to make the process easier I just cut a big rectangle and relied on varied gathering to shape it into a curve.

I cut a base layer to fit around my actual neck rather than to match the curve of the dress neckline, which as you recall had a bit of a gap due to a previous error. I left plenty of room at the bottom, though, to ensure that I’d be able to stitch it to the dress with no pulling.

For the top layer, I made my piece about twice as long as the base to allow plenty of room for gathers. After pinning a hem in the top edge (so it would be caught by later seams) I ran six parallel lines of gathering stitches (machine-sewn for the tiniest gathers) along the length of the top layer and pulled up the threads until it fit the base. I know it should’ve been five layers, but I miscounted and figured it wouldn’t matter anyway.

To make a clean back closure I stitched the base and top layers together at the short ends, right sides together, then flipped them over and topstitched over the top gathering line to keep the two layers aligned.

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Lady Macbeth Beetlewing Gown, Part IX: Sleeves

Let me just say, this step took FOREVER because of all the embroidery, but I’m finally done! And now the dress is technically wearable and actually looks like THE DRESS (though still not finished)! I love it when that happens…

As I discussed in my patterning post, the sleeves are cut with the long edge at the shoulder and hang almost to the floor. That being said, I’m pretty sure that Sargent took some artistic license with his painting (he totally did; Ellen Terry was *not* as tall as he made her in the painting), because even with my sleeves cut down to a mere inch above the ground, they still weren’t as long as they look in the painting when I raised my arms. More like mid-thigh length, rather than below the knee.

One thing about the sleeves always bugged me (no pun intended): is the trim on the outside or the inside? The Sargent painting pretty clearly shows it on the outside, since you can see both the outer sleeve and its (plain) lining.

Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth 1889 by John Singer Sargent 1856-1925

But there are definitely images of the dress showing the trim with both options.

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Inside
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Outside

Since the trim is curved, it can’t just be folded over and still lie smoothly, so it has to be one or the other.

After consulting with fellow costumers online I came to the conclusion that the dress in its original form had the trim on the outside, but that at some point during its history the trim must have been folded to the inside, with tiny darts taken to keep it smooth. Then, when the dress was restored they put it back in its original condition with the trim on the outside where it belonged. Mystery solved!

Anyway, as you recall I’d originally planned to use pre-embroidered trim cut from a vintage sari. However, the more I looked at it the more I was dissatisfied with this plan– the trim was too elaborate, it wasn’t curved so would need some work to fit the sleeve, and the background color was a different green than my lining fabric, which didn’t look right. I decided instead to switch gears and embroider the trim myself on extra green cotton gauze. Why do I always do this? I have no idea.

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Lady Macbeth Beetlewing Gown, Part VIII: Skirt

More progress! These posts are getting farther apart due to the complexity of each step, but I promise that we’re nearing the light at the end of the tunnel!

As I mentioned in my patterning/mockup post, the underskirt was a simple A-line, but the overskirt was drafted differently for the front and back. The front was an A-line, while the back was a half-circle, both with gathers at the waistline for extra fullness.

I’d originally planned on attaching the skirt directly to a separate waistband at the natural waist, to let the weight of the skirt rest there rather than dragging down the bodice. However, because the bodice had a dropped waistline and was fitted to the hips there wasn’t room for all those fabric gathers between the natural waist and the dropped waistline. Instead, I made a fitted yoke out of cotton sateen (dyed in the same bath as my cotton gauze) that was set on a waistband.

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Lady Macbeth Beetlewing Dress, Part VII: More Beetlewings…

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Not a real progress post, just a brief update to let you know that I’m still plugging away at attaching the beetlewings to the Lady Macbeth dress. The skirt is taking forever– there’s just so much fabric to cover in the half-circle back panel alone, that even though the wings are spaced about 2″ apart it’s a serious undertaking.

So far I’ve been giving each individual piece of the dress a margin of 4″ or more without any wings at all to make it easier to stitch things together during construction, and I’ve done most of the lower sleeves, the entire front skirt panel, and about 80% of the back skirt panel.

I still need to do the bodice and the upper sleeves, which I intend to stitch with wings that have been clipped down to size rather than the full wings– the original dress had this feature as well, which allowed for closer spacing of the wing bits and a more dramatic look on the bodice.

This photo shows how they used partial wings on the bodice– they’ve been clipped to a much blunter shape than the original pointed wing shape:

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And this oneĀ (unlike some others where the lighting’s softer) gives a really good look at the spacing of the wings on the bodice vs. the skirt:

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Judging from this photo I’ve actually spaced the wings on my skirt and sleeves a bit more closely than the original, but I really wanted to up the “wow” factor for this costume. I think I’ll probably go through most if not all of my original 1,000 wings in finishing the back skirt panel, so once that’s done I’ll open up the second 1,000 and start clipping them to the smaller size so I can get to work on the bodice. So much to do!

Lady Macbeth Beetlewing Gown, Part V: Bodice Construction

beetlewing-bodice-done.jpg

I decided that rather than trying to stitch the beetlewings onto the individual bodice sections before assembly, I’d put the bodice together first to ensure proper fit and placement of the beetlewings. I was actually really excited for this step, because my pieces were finally starting to look like an actual dress after months of collecting supplies, dyeing, patterning, etc.

As noted before, the bodice was cut with princess seams to add stability. IĀ basted the pieces together by hand to make sure that everything went together smoothly (had a moment of panic when my first iteration seemed to be HUGE, then realized I hadn’t used wide enough seam allowances), then machine-stitched the seams. They were kind of bulky with all the layers in there, so I trimmed down the seam allowances before folding one of the gauze layers over and flat-felling each seam. It wasn’t the neatest process, but it helped clean up the inside and kept the somewhat scratchy tulle layer from irritating my skin.

I was originally going to add a waist stay to support the weight of the skirt, but decided instead that I would mount the skirt on an entirely separate waistband, which would then be tacked to the bodice like a waist stay, so I let that step go for now.

I installed a 22″ long invisible zipper down the center back (would’ve been better to have a 24″ zipper but I couldn’t find one), leaving a 2″ seam allowance on each side to allow for sizing adjustments later on if necessary. I was happy to see that it appeared to fit perfectly, likely helped along by the slight stretch in all of my fabrics. Now I just have to hope that the skirt won’t mess up the line of the bodice after I’ve attached it…

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