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 one (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!

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Lady Macbeth Beetlewing Gown, Part IV: Cutting

Once I had my mockup, it was time to cut into my actual fabrics. Unfortunately, this was easier said than done. Due to the differing stretch of the fabrics along the vertical and horizontal axes I had to be careful to cut my pattern pieces in specific directions, which (given the size of some of my pieces) was tough and didn’t always allow me to maximize my use of the fabric’s area. Since my bodice pieces were the smallest of all, I resigned myself to fitting them in around the larger, more oddly-shaped pieces, which I cut out first.

I had 6 yards of my kelly green gauze (42″ wide after shrinking), and 7 yards of my dark green crochet lace (54″ wide). Sadly, while I ended up having just* enough crochet lace to cut out my dress (with judicious piecing of the two center back bodice panels), I did not have enough gauze to make my underskirt. After cutting the gigantic sleeves out there just wasn’t enough fabric to make the skirt flare properly, and since I’d decided in the interim to change my plans for the sleeve trim I needed extra for that as well. I’ve ordered more fabric to re-cut the underskirt and do the sleeve trim (4 yards to be extra safe) and I’ll have to try to dye it to match, which will be incredibly annoying, but not as annoying as if I’d had to match the crochet lace color. At least any slight color difference will be less obvious since it’ll be somewhat hidden by the extra folds of the overskirt.

That being said, I did manage to cut out everything from my crochet lace, and since I’d never worked with a full lace overlay before, much less fabric as weird as this one, I was a bit concerned that things could get ugly. I decided to take some precautions, underlining every single piece with tulle to minimize the lace pulling out of shape, and basting everything together as I went.

I cut my lining pieces first from the cotton gauze, and then laid out my crochet lace face down on the carpeted floor (the carpet really helped keep the fabric from slipping out of alignment), smoothing a layer of pale green tulle over it. Then I set my lining pieces on top of both layers of fabric and pinned them in place through all layers before cutting around them. Once they were cut I hand-basted around each piece to keep things from shifting.

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For the bodice, I basted through all three layers since I’ll be assembling the panels into a bodice before adding the beetlewings– I haven’t decided yet whether I’ll try to stitch the wings just to the top two layers, or go through all three, but either way the pieces are small enough that I can work with the bodice as a single piece without too much trouble. For the sleeves and skirt, however, I’ll be adding the wings before assembly, so I need to keep the lining pieces separate.

* FYI, here’s a photo of all of my scraps from the crochet lace. This is out of a full seven yards of 54″ wide fabric– when I say I had “just enough,” I mean it!

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Lady Macbeth Beetlewing Gown, Part I: Inspiration

When I was in elementary school, there was a memorable occasion when the school hosted an exhibit of rare and exotic insects; they were displayed in glass cases in our cafeteria and each class of students got to go in and look at all of the interesting species. Personally, I was fascinated by the shiny/iridescent ones– the blue morpho butterflies and the gorgeously green beetles. I thought it would be so neat to have jewelry or something made out of them, but didn’t think it would actually be possible. It wasn’t until much later that I learned that the beetle carapaces, at least, were historically used to decorate clothing!

evening dresses ornamented with beetle wings White cotton gauze dress embroidered with beetle wings, embroidered in India for export, ca 1865, KSUM 1983.1.98.

Perhaps one of the most famous examples of a gown decorated with beetle wings (not really the wings, but the wing casings) is the Lady Macbeth costume designed by Alice Comyns Carr and worn by actress Ellen Terry in 1888. It made such a splash that it was immortalized by John Singer Sargent the following year:

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The original costume was recently restored by the Zenzie Tinker Conservation with funds donated to the National Trust, which means there are tons of closeup photos of the costume itself. It doesn’t look quite as fabulous as it does in the painting, or even as it looked over a hundred years ago, but then what does?

Back in 2009 I blogged about the “Beetlewing dress” worn by Victorian actress Ellen Terry to play Lady Macbeth- and the National Trust’s project to restore it. Well, the restored dress is now on di… Beetle-wing dress revisited | Glass of Fashion

Anyway, the reason for all this background is that I’m going to make my own version of the Lady Macbeth dress for Costume College this year. (a friend of mine has dubbed it “the Scottish Bug Dress” and now I can’t stop thinking of it that way) The event theme is “What’s That Fabric?” and as the original dress was actually crocheted out of sparkling blue and green yarn, then decorated with beetlewings (both rather unconventional choices), I thought it would work perfectly. Add to that the fact that a group of us is getting together to wear dresses inspired by famous paintings, and it was obvious that this dress had to be made!

Edited to add: There’s a great article written by the lead conservator on the restoration process that has some wonderful details, here!

Vermont Regency Weekend

So recently I had the opportunity to spend the weekend at a historic home (now an inn) in Vermont for a Sense and Sensibility-themed event. I’ll be honest, as an event it left something to be desired– there were very few activities and the scheduled sleigh ride was cancelled due to weather– but I did enjoy getting to dress up with all of my gowns and accessories and take photos with some more period-looking furniture than I can find here at home!

Here’s me channeling Mary Bennet while wearing the very first Regency gown I ever made, plus the new day cap.

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Here are the velvet capote and fur-trimmed wrap in action!

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Here’s the red pashmina dress with the ruffled chemisette:

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And just for fun, I finally got photos of my 1882 tea gown in action! (I couldn’t resist putting a painting filter over one of them, though it’s not obvious at first glance)

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I think this one below is my favorite…

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Admittedly, there are a lot of pictures of me reading books (this one is an antique edition of The Lady of the Lake and there’s a handwritten inscription on the flyleaf dated 1899), but I needed a prop so I could do something other than smile at the camera!

1860s Embroidered Ballgown, Part VIII: Finished!

So at last my 1860s ballgown is finished! I got to wear it, hoop skirt and all, to a Victorian ball this summer, and it was a hit! It took a little getting used to, dancing with such a gigantic skirt, but it was just so much fun!

Besides my floral hair wreath, I accessorized with some simple pearl earrings (leverback, so not technically historically accurate, but close enough) and a blue cameo strung on a black velvet ribbon. I also had short white gloves, but had abandoned them by the time these pictures were taken– just as well, they kind of made my hands blend into my skirts, which looked weird.

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All in all I’m very happy with the dress– it’s got just the right silhouette and the embroidery makes it extra-special. Looking forward to wearing it again sometime!

1860s Embroidered Ballgown, Part VI: Finishing the Bodice

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So as you recall, I had some issues with the seams rippling in my bodice— I wasn’t sure what was causing it, but after some consultation with other costumers online we determined that it was likely due to the bodice being too long. The extra length was being pushed up and forwards by the curve of my skirt, causing the seams to buckle.

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One way to remedy this issue is to fix the shape of the bottom of the bodice– since the original pattern hadn’t provided a stitching line or directions for how to shape it, I’d just done a basic pointed bodice, front and back. However, closer examination of the fashion plates and extant gowns showed that pointed bodices back then had an entirely different shape– much more curved, with a distinctly long front point when compared to the rest of the bodice. This allows the skirt more room to bell out without pushing out the bodice edges.

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I removed my piping and adjusted the shaping of my bodice hem to get it closer to that high arch on each side of center front– I couldn’t make it nearly as extreme as the example above, but I think it’s a little better– besides, not all period gowns had the extreme arch shape anyway.

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Costume College 2018!

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In case you hadn’t noticed, my recent spate of costume posts was inspired by my upcoming trip to Costume College this year. I went this past weekend and it was fabulous! Also, my daughter sent her Cat-icorn (above) with me to keep me and my tiaras company.

These are totally my people– detail-obsessed lovers of gorgeous and/or hilarious outfits, willing to discuss the intricacies of fabric design or corsetry at the drop of a hat, and always appreciative of the work we all put into these things! I can’t wait to go back next year!

I did take a few photos of randomly beautiful costumes, but not nearly as many as I should have. Also, I was wearing gloves for two of the big events and it’s a lot harder to manage taking pictures with my phone that way. Next year, fewer gloves = more pictures!

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