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.
One of my favorite things about this gown is that although the top layer is loose and flowy, the very fitted underdress showing through the sheer layer keeps it from looking too tent-like. If I had to guess I would say that the movie gown’s underdress (seen clearly above) is tight-fitting satin with some extra fullness below the knee to allow for movement. Since I don’t have Audrey Hepburn’s stick-thin figure and have no intention of spending an evening in a dress so tight I can’t move freely, I’ve decided to go in a different direction and use a bias-cut underdress.
Once the basic black and white dress was done, it was time for embellishment. To make the hearts down the front I cut out some heart-shaped templates from paper and pinned them to the dress to get an idea of the correct sizes. Then I tweaked them until I had the correct size and shape.
Once I had my materials assembled, the first thing I did was to make sure my black and white dress would fit me. I bought it on eBay and was more concerned with design and speed of delivery than with the precise size, so I ended up getting a dress that was a size or two too big. But better too big than too small, right?
While it would have been simpler to take the dress in only on the sides or at the side back seams, I decided to get a little creative and take it in at the front seams– this way I was able to alter the shape of the color-blocking to make it slightly less square and more tapered (and thus more flattering). Because the dress was lined, I took in only the outside layer so the lining would disguise the stitching on the inside. I also shortened the shoulder straps so the dress would sit better on my torso. See the before and after below:
For Halloween this year my daughter decided she wanted to be a kitty– not really a surprise, since she loves cats, but it was a bit more difficult to figure out what our family Halloween costume would have to be to coordinate with a cat. Could we all be cats? What about different animals? It all seemed kind of boring.
Then a friend suggested that she could be the Cheshire cat (pink and purple cat, talk about tailor-made for my kid’s preferences!) and my husband and I could do Alice in Wonderland-inspired costumes. It sounded like a great solution. My husband could be the Mad Hatter and would just need to add an outrageous top hat and maybe a cravat to a regular suit. As for me, since I’m not blonde and have no intention of wearing a wig, being Alice was out. But I do love fancy gowns (and have plenty of random accessories lying around), so I decided to be the Queen of Hearts. All I’d need would be a red dress to applique some hearts on, a crown, and maybe a plate of fake tarts to carry around, and I’d be all set! I even had my old high school prom dress, which was bright red satin with a full skirt. Perfect!
It’s done! Done and– dare I say–gorgeous. I really love the way it turned out– it’s pretty close to exactly what I pictured from the beginning, and I had such a wonderful time wearing it to an 1890s-themed ball. The skirt has such a great swirl to it from all of the fullness in the back, and the dimensionality of the embroidery really makes it stand out in a crowd!
To recap the process:
Part I: Design
Part II: Dyeing Hug Snug
Part III: Modifying Bridesmaids Dresses
Part IV: Tea/Coffee Dyed Lace
Part V: Petticoats
Part VI: Neckline Embellishment
Part VII: Embroidery
Part VIII: 3D Wisteria Blossoms
One of the things that all of the illustrations and photos I saw of my favorite Belle Epoque ballgowns had in common was an embellished neckline– usually involving pleats and lace and other froofy stuff, it served not only to draw the attention upwards but also to make the waist look even tinier by comparison. So I knew I’d have to do something interesting on my gown.
Of course, my original sketch was kind of, well, sketchy when it came to the neckline. I knew I wanted some pleating across the front, and some lace, and hopefully some 3D wisteria blossoms at the shoulders. But how to put it together?