Purple Cotillion Gown of Doom

Just over a year ago a costumer friend of mine decided to have a fancy 1860s cotillion for her 30th birthday, complete with catered food, dances (with an instructor), and ball gowns, all in a Victorian B&B up in the Adirondacks. At the time she announced this, I was working three jobs, one of them a retail job, and the Christmas shopping season was just gearing up. At first I thought there was no way I’d be able to make a suitable gown to be able to attend this fancy cotillion.

But after a strong latte in a coffee shop one day, my creative impulses kicked in, as they are wont to do when I’ve had caffeine, and I decided that I was going, and that I would somehow make a dress. That very day I dragged my boifurendo to JoAnn fabric to see what I could get on a meager budget. Luck was on my side, and the Simplicity patterns were on sale. I picked up Simplicity 2881, even though, honestly, the example dress looked kind of awful. Yellow cotton gingham for a ball gown? But I decided the shape underneath all that extra trim was what I needed, so I could leave the trim off and use a more luxurious fabric. Silk was unfortunately out of my budget. I was hoping for a dark, rich green, but JoAnn’s was not forthcoming in that department. So I picked up a purple polyester shantung with very minor slubbing that did a fair imitation of silk.

Now, the reason I call this the gown of DOOM is that from here on out, it seemed like everything that could go wrong with this dress did go wrong. I bought boning from ebay and when it arrived it was very weak sew-through boning which was not at all what the photo in the listing said. I ran out of time to make a proper hoop skirt, and so had to buy one from ebay that unfortunately doesn’t quite have the circumference necessary.

Then I made a mock up of the bodice, noticed that it was a little big, and I adjusted the size of all of the pattern pieces. Once I cut the pattern pieces out of my fashion fabric and started sewing the bodice together, I noticed the bust was a bit loose, but I kept tricking myself into thinking that the bust was loose because I couldn’t hold it closed in the back properly at the top. It wasn’t until I finished the edges and put in the eyelets and laced it all the way closed that I realized the bust was huge. I could fit snacks down the bust of my bodice in case I got hungry on the dance floor if I wanted to. That was when I went back to the pattern and noticed for the first time this message:

Thanks for being upfront about the fact that your pattern is basically unusable, I guess?

Thanks for being upfront about the fact that your pattern is basically unusable, I guess?

The pattern specifically allows for six inches of ease in the bust. Six. Inches. For what is supposed to be a fitted bodice worn over a corset. I was furious. And panicked.

In a time crunch, and because it was just a fun dress for a friend’s party and not anything that I’d be like, taking to reenactments and trying to pass off as accurate, I ended up putting darts in the bodice starting at the bust line, going down toward the waistline. Not the best option for a well-fitting garment (or probably any garment), but once I added a v-shaped band and a bit of lace at the neckline, inspired by extant garments like this one, it hid the fit issues and came out looking acceptable. Then some of my eyelets started popping out, which is when I decided never to use the stupid eyelet anvil setup again, but at that point I had no time left to worry about the construction, it was time to dance.

The finished dress:

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Moral of the story: don’t use commercial patterns for historical costumes.

What I did learn from this dress, though, is that cartridge pleats are fun and not nearly as scary as I was thinking they were. I don’t know where I got the idea that cartridge pleats are scary. But they’re not. They’re fun. And they look awesome. The party was also a blast, and it was so awesome to have a fancy dress to hang out in. Now I’m thinking I need to do something fancy for my 30th…

Anyway, back to the present. I’ve returned to working on my Renaissance court gown, with the intention of getting it done for a new little local Ren Faire that is in three months, or at the latest, for the New York Renaissance Faire that starts the first weekend in August. So hopefully I will have some productive court gown updates soon!

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Victorian Day Dress Finished

Whew. Well, I spent the entirety of the Thanksgiving weekend finishing my Victorian gown and sewing a jacket to wear over it in the cold weather. I used my Netflix activity log to add it up (I usually binge on shows while I sew), and figured out that I spent about 40 hours sewing this outfit over the course of four days (not counting the 30+ hours I had put into it prior to Thanksgiving weekend).

I’m so glad this is done. For some reason near the end I was really stressing myself out about finishing it. The one thing I ran out of time for was the front closures on the bodice. I was going to do covered buttons, but realized that I wasn’t going to have time to do all of those button holes on top of making a jacket (which I ended up desperately needing). Instead I used hook and eye closures, and I’m not really happy with the effect, so I plan to go back and do the buttons like I wanted (in theory, at least).

I’m going to do a separate post about the jacket that I made, because I sort of threw the thing together by drafting up a pattern from the TV bodice pattern. Here are photos of my finished gown, though:

The front of the gown.

The front of the gown.

The front/left 3/4 view.

The front/left 3/4 view.

From the right.

From the right.

Back view.

Back view.

Underneath the skirt is the Imperial Tournure that you can see in my last post. I draped the overskirt myself, because I wasn’t crazy about the options that I could have purchased patterns for.

The complete list of materials I used for this is as follows:

  • Truly Victorian Alexandra bodice, Imperial skirt, and Imperial Tournure patterns
  • 8 yards grey cotton twill
  • 1 yard burgundy velvet
  • 1 yard black cotton sateen
  • 2 yards lining fabric and 2 yards of interlining
  • 14 sets of hook and eye closures and three sets of skirt tab closures
  • 2.5 yards black cotton and the Imperial Tournure wire kit from Truly Victorian

After all the work, it was quite easy to wear, and I was excited to have something perfectly period-appropriate for the two Victorian events last week. Unfortunately, with it being so cold, I had to keep my jacket on all the time, so no one could see the top half of the dress. I have one decent worn photo so far, with the jacket that I will cover in a later post:

Day Dress WornThe hat and muff are vintage, from local antique stores. Hopefully I will be able to get some worn photos without the jacket sometime in the future. I’m hoping I can find someone’s fancy Victorian living room to use as a backdrop.

Quick Victorian Day Dress Update

I seem to have semi-successfully switched gears and started working on my Victorian Day Dress that I need for the first week of December. I’ve been watching the RDJ Sherlock Holmes and Ripper Street and reading Gail Carriger in order to get myself into a Victorian mood.

I got all the pieces cut out and started assembling things. I seem to have a bit of ADD with this dress though. I’m not really going about it in any sort of order. Last week I sewed the panels of the skirt together, then started basting the bodice interlining to the shell pieces. Yesterday I started sewing the shell of the bodice together, and then this morning I started the tournure/bustle and then started attaching the waist band to the skirt. Everything is sort of being assembled all at once instead of concentrating on one piece or the other first. I just keep telling myself that any little bit of progress I make gets me closer to the finished garment, but I really feel like I’m all over the place with this one.

Here’s some photos. Sorry they’re all from my cell phone.

Cutting and prepping the tournure pieces.

Cutting and prepping the tournure pieces.

Preparing to baste the interlining onto the shell.

Preparing to baste the interlining onto the shell.

Testing the skirt panels on my dress form.

Testing the skirt panels on my dress form.

Bodice progress.

Bodice progress.

 

I can already see I’m going to have to readjust the fit of the bodice. Even when I test a pattern in muslin first, I always seem to have problems getting the fit right.

For the curious, the gray twill shell is cotton, the black vest is cotton sateen, the interlining is some cotton/poly canvas-like stuff that I felt up in the store and was like “yup, this is strong enough!” The burgundy contrast fabric is (I think) cotton velvet. The fabric for the tournure is also cotton. I’m making it in black because all of the white cottons were either too expensive or too thin. I almost did a fun color like lavender or mint, but when in doubt I tend to gravitate toward black.