Late Victorian / Early Edwardian Ball Gown

About 1 week before attending Costume College 2014, I decided I needed a more historically accurate costume, so I decided to make Simplicity 4078.

This was an insane idea. Just putting that out there up front, in case you were tempted to tell me something along those lines.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, here’s the front of the pattern envelope so you know just what I got myself into:

Simplicity 4078

No sweat!  Just blood and tears…and more blood…and more tears…but I get ahead of myself.

I started, of course, on the bodice.  Because I wasn’t about to make a corset on such short notice, I decided to add an extra layer of interlining and tons and tons of boning – 31 pieces in all.  Here’s shot of the front panel:

Simplicity 4078 bodice 01

For each bodice piece, I started by basting the lining (black cotton duck), inner interlining (white muslin) and outer interlining (navy denim).  Then I sewed boning channels where appropriate, seam ripped across the ends and slipped 1/4 inch featherlite boning into the channels (after rounding the ends with my dull scissors). Finally I sewed across the open ends and basted the facing (poly satin) to the other layers.

This is when I discovered that sewing boning channels is one of the most relaxing activities I’ve ever done, other than meditating, sleeping and napping. I’m sure that makes me even more of a weirdo, but whatever.

After each bodice piece was fully boned and basted, I started putting them together. Here’s a shot of the front and front sides:

Simplicity 4078 bodice 02

Once all the side seams were sewn I put in hook & eye tape for the back closure. Here I am taking a look at the huge gape in back. Apparently I can’t just sew the tape along the inner edge and expect the outer fabric to lie down flat along its outer edge.

ISimplicity 4078 bodice 03

Oh well, live & learn right? I ended up sewing very short horizontal stitches between each hook and each eye on either side, and this helped the outer fabric lie flatter.

Then I basted the armholes and neckline, not taking too much care because the sleeves would go into the armholes and there wold be lace covering up the neckline. Then I used hem tape to finish the bottom of the bodice, since that would be completely exposed and thus needed to look very nice.  Here I am sewing the folded edge of the hem tape to the right side of the fabric. I then folded the hem tape under so it was completely invisible and finished the entire bottom length of the bodice.

Simplicity 4078 bodice 04

Next I sewed a pretty lace trim to the neckline, because my neckline looked horrible and I needed to hide it. Here’s a shot of the lace:

Simplicity 4078 lace trim

I tucked the short side inside the neckline and sewed through the middle ribbon to attach it, then folded the longer side over the outside of the neckline and pressed it lightly. Here I am doing the sewing:

Simplicity 4078 bodice 05

Lastly, I ditched the big leg o’ mutton sleeves in the original pattern and made some pretty layered lace ones inspired by a late 19th century Charles Frederick Worth gown.  I used two different styles of lace in slightly different colors, one for the outer and innermost sleeve layer and the other for the middle layer.  Here’s one sleeve, layers sewn together and ready to be basted into the armhole:

Simplicity 4078 lace sleeves

And here’s the finished bodice:

Simplicity 4078 bodice 06

One sleeve is slightly longer than the other, but that can be easily fixed in post-production…right? Right?

Then there’s the skirt – 7 gores all sewn together, with gathering in the back to fit the waist. In case you are wondering, this is a metric crap-ton of fabric. To make things worse, the right side of my poly satin facing looks almost identical to the wrong side, so I ended up underlining two of the biggest pieces incorrectly and had to seam rip the whole dang thing, flip the facing and re-baste. I did not sound like a Victorian lady that day.

After finally correctly underlining each piece with the same white muslin used for the bodice to add a bit of heft (and to be PC) and then sewed them all together with a placket between the back two pieces that I secured with a very un-PC metal snap. Sorry, no pics, I forgot to take them. Maybe someday I’ll edit this post and add one.

Here’s a pic of the mostly finished bodice and the skirt:

Simplicity 4078 bodice skirt

The skirt is slightly longer in back because it’s designed to be worn with a bustle pad, traditional for the 1890s.  I didn’t make one, and instead I took a cheap short crinoline and pinned it back to create more fullness on top of my butt. It worked out ok, but as you can see the skirt is still a little too long in back:

Simplicity 4078 fake bustle padSimplicity 4078 skirt 01

I think what I really need is a full-length petticoat to fill out the entire skirt from top to bottom. I will probably make Truly Victorian 170 next.

Well, that’s pretty much it!  Here are a few shots of the finished outfit, accessorized with a somewhat PC hairstyle, not so PC   jewelry and vintage gloves:

Simplicity 4078 finished 01  Simplicity 4078 finished 02


Pendragon Desree Dress – Part 1

I went to the LA Renaissance Faire two weekends ago and while I was there I took the time to browse the costume stalls, as I usually do. The fanciest and priciest outfits belong to a vendor called Pendragon Costumes. I’ve been looking for a relatively easy costume for a while, and I noticed a particular outfit called the Desree Dress that looked pretty simple:

It’s basically a bodice sewn to an open front skirt with an underskirt. How hard could that be? I noticed theirs had no lining and boning only alongside the front grommets. That’s ok, I’m not so bad at doing lined bodices and adding boning to seam allowances.

I started with Butterick 5757 for the skirt, which I’ve worked with 3 times thus far with great results, allowing for an extra 6 inches of width along the fold so that the piece would wrap around partways in front like the Desiree picture. I cut two pieces so that one could be used as lining.

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Next I used McCall’s 4107 for the bodice, opting for the simplest option with front laces, and eliminating the back laces. I cut outer fabric to match the skirt above, as well as interfacing and lining (dark color to hide sweat stains better).

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Next I ironed the interfacing to the outer fabric:

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And then I began to sew the outer bodice, clipping around curves and praying to the sewing gods:

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Here’s the first two pieces, and then the finished outer bodice:

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I did the same to the inner bodice lining:

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Next up: tackling the boning!

Forgotten Project

I’m back! The craziness of my day job is finally subsiding, so now I can go from being antisocial due to work back to being antisocial due to my hobbies. 🙂

I was going through the mounds of fabric in my work room today, and I discovered something I’d set aside almost an entire year ago: a pile of completely cut pattern & fabric pieces for Simplicity 3637. Why I didn’t see this earlier in the year I have no idea. I even remember buying the green & gold damask fabric, a purchase I was particularly proud of given that I managed to nab all 22 yards for under $100.

This is not an intimidating pile of fabric at all.

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On the other hand, the part of sewing I hate most is pinning and cutting out the pieces, so I can either start from scratch with a simpler pattern and be miserable until the cutting is done, or I can get started with sewing on this insanely difficult pattern.

Decisions, decisions…

Another Fabric Windfall

Recently a friend of mine was cleaning out her deceased aunt’s house and came across the remainder of a bolt of old fabric and a length of aged white lace, both of which she offered to me since she does not sew regularly and I was the closest crazy sewing addict she knew. The fabric is a thin red, white and blue striped 50/50 cotton/poly blend, 44″ wide, and the lace is about 1.5 in wide and nice enough to be decorative for a day gown.

Normally this wouldn’t  be categorized as a windfall, but I measured the fabric and it’s roughly 17 yards long.  I haven’t measured the lace, but I’ve guesstimated that there are at least 10 yards of that too.

Guess who won’t be buying muslin for a while?

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Also, it’s kind of cool that the colors match my blog’s current color scheme. 🙂

Snow White Gown – Part 2

Finally cut out all the fabric! Ok, I still need to cut out the bow and the gauntlet facing, but otherwise it’s all cut. Here are a few pattern cutting pics: front underskirt (1 piece), side & back underskirt (4 pieces), sidefront & back bodice (2 pieces each of lining), and sidefront and sideback bodice (2 each of interfacing).

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Altogether it came to about 40 pieces, including 4 for pockets from a pattern piece I stole out of Butterick 5757 (peasant skirt). I strongly prefer not carrying a purse when I wear costumes so I try to build in pockets whenever possible.

After hacking at 2 of the pieces, I gave up on all 4 pairs of crappy scissors around the house and made a quick trip to JoAnn’s for some real cutting shears:

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Not the fanciest by far, but vastly superior in that I could use any portion of the blades to cut and not just whatever inch or so hadn’t yet gone dull.

Next I ironed the bodice interfacing to the facing. Only after I did this did I read the instructions and discover I should have ironed the interfacing to the lining. Oh well, gotta be a badass, right? Also, the contrast between the light and dark blue is really gorgeous!

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Sewing the bodice wasn’t too difficult: clip between the notches along the breast (you can see them on the right side of the piece pictured immediately above), and sew with notches matched up. Same for the lining, except I also had to add 9 pieces of 1/4 inch plastic boning, pictured below:

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I did this by first removing the bone and trimming it so there was about half a centimeter of extra casing on both top and bottom, then sewing across the bottom of the casing. I then sewed one side of the casing to the lining, inserted the bone, and then sewed both the bottom and top of the casing to the fabric. I also made sure to dull the edges of the bones so they were less likely to poke through in the future.  Note: chewing on the bone ends helps dull the edges while also taking the edge off your hunger, preventing you from wasting precious time on a snack break!

Here’s a closeup of me sewing the boning casing to the lining:

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You may be wondering why the lining looks purple here instead of the royal blue in the cutting pic near the top of this post. This is because I do most of my sewing at my parents’ house, and most of my cutting at my house, and I forgot to transport the lining pieces with me when I made the trip from point A to point B. Luckily I had the bodice pattern pieces on me and some leftover purple lining from the Ever After inspired gown lying around, so I just cut them out again.

I then sewed the lining to the facing/interfacing along the neck line with right sides together, flipped it over so right sides were facing out, and pressed the neckline. And finally, I basted the lining to the facing/interfacing along the sides and bottom. Result below:

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You can see a hint of purple along the neckline but that’s ok because the neck will be trimmed with white lace.

The astute reader will also notice that I chose to sew some pretty lace to the center bodice piece instead of doing the smocking found on the original movie costume. This is because I spent several hours Saturday night discovering the hard way that smocking by hand is not for noobs like me.

Well that’s it for this week. I’m pretty proud that I sewed the bodice in about 5 hours, including the half hour it took me to cut out the replacement lining pieces. Next weekend I will hem the bodice and baste the armholes, then start on the sleeves.

Before I sign off, I want to share that I found someone else who sewed this dress a few months ago, and she was nice enough to post close up pics of the detailing she did on the orange gauntlets, for which she used matching sheer orange ribbon. I think I’ll be copying this pattern:

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Ok, goodnight everyone!

Snow White Gown – Part 1

My latest project is Snow White’s wedding gown from the film Mirror Mirror. Here are several screen shots from the movie:

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Here’s my favorite pic, from a publicity shoot. It’s high resolution so you can zoom in and really see the detailing up close:


And here are some pictures of the costume on display. I was especially happy to find one of the petticoat and the shoes:

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Luckily, Simplicity makes a pattern for this dress! Unluckily, it’s not a true pattern: it omits the overskirt (a HUGE oversight IMHO), uses lace on the front of the bodice instead of honeycomb smocking, and has puff sleeves instead of knife pleats.


I’ve decided to restore the overskirt and the pleated sleeves—it’ll be fun figuring out these!—but I’m not keen on hand smocking that honeycomb pattern, so lace it is for the bodice front.

Here are the fabrics I’m using:

Duchesse satin for the bodice and overskirt, with crocheted lace (for the hem). I didn’t even bother trying to replicate the original hem, opting instead for something that struck me as appropriate and approximately the right color.

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Costume satin for the bodice lining

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Satin taffeta for the sleeves & underskirt (taffeta is good for giving structure to the full skirt)

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Lace for the bodice front

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Costume satin for the gauntlets & bow. I would have preferred a heavier satin, but this was the only orange shade I liked. I can always line it with interfacing for stiffness.

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Here are all the fabrics together:

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I still haven’t decided on the lace for the collar and sleeves. The original costume has very white & pointy lace, and I might be taking a trip into LA’s garment district to see if I can find something similar.  The points on the lace are rather crucial to the impact this dress made on me when I first saw it, so I’d like to get as close to that as possible.

I will also be making the bow as large as the original dress, which will require a ton of interfacing and possibly some wire.

More next weekend when I start cutting out pattern pieces.

Ever After Gown – Part 4

Sewing the lining for the underskirt. As you can see I did a stellar job cutting out these pattern pieces on the line.



And sewing the overskirt. This took FOREVER, and I unfortunately forgot an entire piece, and then I also forgot to leave a seam open in the back for the zipper!  ARGH!



Then a miracle occurred…

No, kidding. I just forgot to take pictures because I was too stressed out. The last steps were (1) sewing the overskirt to the underskirt, (2) sewing the skirt to the bodice, and (3) sewing the zipper. Since the zipper traveses the green skirt and the gold bodice, I had to use green thread on the bottom half of the zipper and then gold thread on the top half. Very glad I remembered this before I started sewing the zipper!

Here’s the finished gown from front, side and back:


And here’s a side-by-side comparison of my gown with the Ever After gown that inspired it: