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.
Up next were sleeves. I wanted them to be puffed, to broaden the shoulder line, balance out the skirt, and make the waist look smaller by comparison. Before I changed my neckline back to off-shoulder I originally took my inspiration from the famous Worth ironwork gown– its sleeves are made of gathered tulle with velvet bows, and I thought they’d go well with the bows on my design.
I ordered some black tulle with tiny stripes and spots on it to make my sleeves– I liked the subtle texture of the pattern, as opposed to plain black.
So remember how for Costume College 2019 I made an 1898 black moiré skirt to wear as part of a Haunted Mansion ensemble? And how I got tons of extra fabric to work with based on the cut of the pattern pieces and a lucky break in my online order? Well, I couldn’t let all that go to waste, so I decided to use it to make some coordinating pieces– first, a formal evening ensemble.
The skirt will be the base, of course, and I’m making a ballgown bodice to go with it. I wanted to make sure that the skirt was both fancy enough to be part of a fabulous evening gown and plain enough to be part of a day outfit; I toyed with the idea of detachable flounces or snap-on appliques before the idea hit me– bows.
Velvet bows, to be exact– bows that can be fitted with small snap-on straps (like lingerie stays in the shoulders of vintage dresses) that slip behind gaps in the stitching of a line of plain velvet ribbon. Without the bows, the skirt will have simple rows of black ribbon down the front, but with the bows it will be dressier and tie in (no pun intended) to the bodice decoration.
I’ve decided to keep the gown completely black and accent the bodice with some black point d’ espirit netting, more velvet ribbon, and some black beaded appliques. This way I’ll be able to wear it with my gigantic rhinestone choker from the My Fair Lady costume and really make things sparkle in contrast.
Rather than buy an entirely new bodice pattern I’m going to adapt the neckline of my Truly Victorian 442 bodice pattern to make it suitable for a later period– it fit me so perfectly it seems a shame not to take advantage of that. I’ll pull up the shoulders and revise the shape of the waistline, which shouldn’t be too difficult, and replace the back lacing with hooks and eyes.
Later on I’m hoping I can make a daytime bodice with leg-of-mutton sleeves, but that’ll depend on whether I have enough leftover moiré. Wish me luck!
As you may recall, for me the costuming highlight of the past two years has been attending Costume College– not just for the opportunity to meet up with like-minded costumers and learn new things, but because it provides a venue/excuse for me to make and wear some fabulous costumes that would otherwise languish in my imagination. The Saturday night Gala, especially, is the pinnacle of the weekend costume-wise, and I’ve always had a pretty clear idea of what I wanted to make and wear.
Not this year. The themes for 2020 have just been released– the Gala will be Titanic-themed– and I’m stuck. While I would have jumped at the chance back in high school when the Titanic movie first came out (and still think the costumes are lovely), in the intervening years it seems like everyone has already made their own versions of the costumes, so a reproduction of a movie outfit would be unoriginal at best. And while I could always just make something Edwardian in style and go with that, I just can’t seem to get excited about it without some kind of inspiration.
Looking back at my two previous Gala outfits (and many of my other favorite costumes), I tend towards very detailed reproductions of instantly recognizable but seldom-made gowns– heck, the Katniss dress was my first foray into blogging, and definitely fit the bill. I think that having a specific point of reference helps me stay on track in terms of figuring out what comes next in a complicated costume, and it’s nice to be able to feel that I’ve gotten things “right” at the end. On the other hand, I feel like I’d like to be able to break out of the box next year by making something original… I just don’t know if I like the Titanic theme enough to use it as my inspiration.
Complicating matters is the fact that I have a bunch of fabric in my stash that I really ought to get around to using, so I feel kind of compelled to at least try to make a Gala gown out of some of it… if only I could figure out exactly what I wanted to do with it!
So what say you, readers? Do I try to find some Edwardian inspiration to go with the Titanic theme after all? Do I dig into my stash (which really leans Victorian in terms of fabric) and try to be virtuous? Do I hold on and hope that a new film or TV series comes out with fabulous costumes I can reproduce in time for next year? Or do I sit here and waffle over what to do until it’s too late and I have to re-wear something from a previous Gala (not the worst fate in the world, but not nearly as much fun)?
As I’ve mentioned before, I like to make baby blankets as gifts for friends and family with new babies. The quilted kind is fun, since I get to pick a bunch of cute coordinating fabrics, but I also love cut chenille blankets– they may be a bit more trouble to make (okay, a lot more trouble), but the results are just amazing.
Making cut chenille is easy, but time-consuming. You’ll need:
Main fabric (the cute one that’s going to show)
4 layers of flannel in coordinating colors*
Thread in a color that’s unnoticeable when stitched on top of your main fabric.
Thread in a color that’s unnoticeable when stitched on top of your backing fabric.
1/2 yard fabric to make binding
*I’ve previously used three layers only, but then you sometimes end up seeing the back side of your main cotton fabric between the rows of chenille. I’d prefer not to, so I’m using four layers this time and only cutting through three of them.
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!
The first event at Costume College every year is a pool party, and while almost no one actually goes in the pool, it’s a great chance to show off a more casual outfit that’s suitable for hot weather. I think I’d been at the party last year for about an hour (sweating the whole time) before deciding that I totally wanted to wear a set of 1930s-style beach pajamas next time– they seemed so loose and comfortable, as opposed to the foam-armored corset I’d laced myself into at the time.
When they announced that this year’s pool party theme was “Garments of the Galaxy,” I decided to make my beach pajamas out of navy blue net embellished with silver glitter stars. Not quite authentic to the 1930s, but I thought it would at least be glamorous and fun.
Although there are patterns out there for 1930s-style beach pajamas, I ended up picking out a modern Vogue pattern (Vogue 9321) for a wide-legged jumpsuit, as the silhouette looked right, I liked the tie-back detail, and it was a lot less expensive than the vintage-style patterns were. Plus, it uses elastic instead of a zipper at the waist, which would make it easier to fit and sew. And it has pockets!
I made a few alterations to the construction process, specifically to fully line the whole thing– the original pattern only lines the back bodice section, but with my sheer fabric that was clearly not an option. I lined it with navy blue rayon challis, which is flowy and breathable.
After doing a quick mockup of just the bottom section to check the fit over the hips, I cut out my actual fabrics and got to work. I will note that I didn’t bother to pre-wash the rayon, since I was never going to be able to wash the jumpsuit anyway due to the glittered net. For the record, the glitter started shedding the moment I unwrapped the fabric and hasn’t stopped since– I’m going to have to pack it in a plastic bag to keep it from contaminating the rest of my luggage!
The pattern is categorized as “Very Easy,” so I wasn’t surprised when it went together fairly quickly– I sewed everything but the elastic waist and the hem in one evening. I bag-lined the top pieces of the jumpsuit so I’d have finished edges and clean insides (topstitching the edges to keep things flat), but left the bottom lining completely separate from the outer fabric except at the waist and the pockets so it the pant legs would flow nicely.
Due to the scratchy glitter fabric I did have to alter the back waistband, adding a strip of rayon where the outer layer was turned to the inside to form the elastic casing– otherwise the glitter would’ve been against my skin, which would have been very uncomfortable.
I also tacked down the bodice where the two pieces overlap– otherwise the neckline gaped open too much for comfort. I just stitched the pieces together along the overlap line to about 1/2″ below the top edge to keep things closed. Due to the tie-back design, once the front was stitched together I was able to wear a regular bra without it showing beneath the bodice, which was a definite plus!
I didn’t bother to hem the net layer of the pant legs– it wasn’t going to fray anyway– but I did hem the lining layer with a small rolled hem. Finally, because the elastic waistband was a bit bunchy-looking for my taste, I made a quick sash out of a long piece of net– tied to the side with the ends loose, it defined the waist a little bit and added some extra drama to the look. I added a belt loop at the center back to keep the sash from riding up higher than the waistline of the pants.
For the hat, I bought a wide-brimmed hat in sheer navy blue, and stitched a strand of white LEDs to the brim to mimic stars. Here it is before the LEDs: