A long time ago, my aunt made me a lovely Christmas wreath to hang on my front door. Sadly, over the years I haven’t taken the best care of it, and it’s gotten more bedraggled than I’d like. Since we moved to a new house I’ve been excited to decorate for the holidays, and updating the wreath was first on my list!
I wasn’t going to waste a perfectly good artificial wreath, but I did strip off all of the decorations and replace them with new gold and red berries, a whole 10-yard spool of red/green/gold plaid ribbon, and just for fun an adorable little owl. Isn’t he cute?
It was a fun project that only took an evening– the hardest part was getting the ribbon to lie just so when all I had to work with was a stapler and some extra twists of floral wire I scavenged from the original wreath. For the record, stapling the ribbon to make little dips/ripples (which I then tucked into the greenery and wired down) was the key to keeping it looking lush and not too stiff.
So I’ve finally finished the evening iteration of my convertible gown, and I’m seriously in love with it. It’s so dark and elegant– what with the black-on-black textures of the fabric (moire! velvet! tulle!), the subtly glittery beading, and the velvet bows– and I’m *dying* to wear it somewhere!
Sadly, I may not have the opportunity to do so for a while, nor can I find any appropriately dramatic location for a photo shoot right now, so you’ll have to be satisfied with the picture on the dress form…
I’ll admit now that although I’m posting about this nearly last, it was actually the first thing I worked on– it just took forever to finalize because 1) I was extremely indecisive about the design, and 2) That indecision forced me to place several separate orders for the various widths of ribbon, which took a while to arrive. But I finally figured out what I wanted to do, AND managed to get it done, so here goes!
As you recall, the plan was to stitch lengths of black velvet ribbon down the front of my skirt, with small gaps in the stitching to allow for attachment of ribbon bows when a dressier look was called for.
The first thing I did was go searching for velvet ribbon in various widths– I wanted the bows to be graduated in size, which meant I needed at least four different sizes to work with. After a bit of experimenting with ribbon I had in my stash I determined that the smallest bows would be made of 1.5″ ribbon, so that was a good starting point. I ended up doing my bows out of 1.5″, 2″, 3″, and 4″ ribbon. I also bought some 1″ with my initial order just in case I needed it (spoiler: I did not).
One I had all the structural elements done, it was time to decorate! To add interest to the bodice, I draped some more of my striped netting over the top of the bust and into the armscyes, tacking down pleats asymmetrically for texture. I pinned the netting in place while it was on the dress form, tried it on to ensure I liked it, and hand-stitched it all down, similar to the bodice on my wisteria gown.
For the back I took a slightly different approach– I wanted to hide the closure rather than having the tulle get all bulky from overlapping at center back, so I only tacked down the pleated tulle on the left side of the neckline, leaving the remainder loose. I pleated the loose side down to a short length of black twill tape and added two hooks so I could fasten it at the right shoulder with thread loops.
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.
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!
Once the gown was structurally complete, I had to finish the edges. I first cut out a standing collar from turquoise dupioni– the original collar went all the way around to close at center front, but I wanted to keep the lace ruffle visible at the neckline so I shortened it to more of a 3/4 collar that stopped at the front edges of the lapels.
The original instructions called for me to attach the facings first, then the collar, so I cut out facings from more turquoise dupioni and stitched it around the front opening of the gown. The problem, however, was that the lined Watteau pleats were so thick at the back of the neck (10 layers in the pleats alone at center back!) that once the facings were added it was almost impossible to turn the seam allowance to the inside. I could manage it, but it made an uncomfortable and unsightly ridge that dug into my neck.
Instead, I decided to change things a bit and sandwich the seam allowance of the Watteau pleats inside the collar rather than turning it over. The seam allowance can lie flat (pointing upwards) instead of being folded downwards, making it much more comfortable at the nape of the neck. I will note that I only did this along the center back section, where the pleats were– once I hit the shoulder seams I transitioned back to the regular method. I stitched the facing on after the collar was attached, so the facing would lie flat on the inside rather than flipping up like the seam allowance.
Every now and then I feel the need to rope my family into my historical costuming hobby… but it’s easier said than done. Men’s outfits are relatively straightforward, but getting a 6-year-old to dress up in something she doesn’t want to wear can be tough– and even if you can manage it, watching her go through her day blithely unaware of the various grass stains and other horrors she’s inflicting on your carefully-chosen outfit is just painful. For that reason, I’ve refrained from ever trying to put my daughter in any genuine antiques, or even things that I’ve made with complicated techniques or particularly nice fabrics. I just know she’ll spoil them and I don’t want to spend my day worrying about it instead of enjoying the event.
But what to do when you’re just dying to attend something as a family, in full get-up? You improvise.
Since I spent some time making a light and airy Edwardian picnic dress for myself, I figured that something similar was in order for the kid. While I’d love to make her a dress laden with hand-embroidery and antique insertion lace, as I mentioned before it’s just not in the cards right now– luckily, many extant dresses rely heavily on pre-embroidered fabric for decoration, which is still widely available, so I decided to go that route.
So to go with my 1915 picnic dress, I needed a hat to shade my delicate complexion from the sun (or something like that). I tried using my flowered Edwardian hat but it seemed too elaborate for the relatively casual dress, so I went looking for something new.
Since it’s summer there are plenty of straw hats available, but most of them are pretty floppy and that wasn’t what I was going for. I thought I’d start with something more boater-shaped, but apparently I was cutting it a bit close time-wise because most of the cheap boater options online had a 2-3 week shipping time, which was too late for my upcoming picnic.
I ended up with a costume gondolier hat, which is coarser straw than I would’ve liked, but it looked about right. Many purchasers complained that the crown was too shallow and the head circumference was too big, making it sit oddly on the head, but one reviewer (a woman after my own heart) noted that it was perfect for puffy Victorian/Edwardian hairstyles, which I thought made it worth a try.
To go with my 1840s day dress I knew I needed something to use as a head covering for Dickens Fair. Unfortunately, while the standard shape for an 1840s bonnet is really a “coal scuttle bonnet” with straight sides like this one:
… it was not possible to find one inexpensively on short notice. Further complicating the issue was the fact that I’d have to pack or ship the bonnet, which is a pain since bonnets are so bulky, so I couldn’t just make one at home and get it to California easily. What to do?