Remember Patty Simcox from “Grease”? The annoyingly perky, happy Cheerleader who pretended to befriend newcomer Sandy . . all the while trying to get Danny for herself? Patty is your all-American, apple-pie eating, goody-goody, yearbook editor . . . and she needed to look girl-next-door . . so what better than a white dress?
Here is the story of her costume:
The original dress was a white, full length, Mori Lee brand, strapless corset back Prom dress. It had multiple layers of tulle, a full skirt, some white flowers at the waistline, and was embellished with a scattering of sequins on the bodice. (I do not have an original picture).
The dress needed to be shortened about 8″ for the cast member portraying Patty. Patty also needed to be able to do some vigorous dancing, so it needed straps (Note for costuming: importance of talking with your choreographer)
Traditionally, dresses are shortened by cutting fabric off the bottom edge or folding excess fabric up and then sewing a new hem. However, when you take a very full skirted dress, made with gore panels, if you cut off the bottom, you are cutting off most of the fullness. I wanted to preserve that fullness for the 1950’s look. Therefore, the extra length needed to be taken off of the TOP of the skirt.
This is how I explained it to my volunteer sewers: On this diagram, I have indicated the waistline, and what I call the “altering line”. The idea is to move the “altering line” up to the waistline. To figure out where the altering line should be, measure the length of the skirt from the waistline to the hemline. Then, subtract the “desired skirt length”. This difference gives you the amount that needs to be removed from the dress . For this dress it was 8″.
As we worked our way through the multitude of dresses that we upcycled, the volunteer sewers came up with various ways to accomplish this. There is no one “right” or “easiest” way . . . it all depends upon the construction of the original dress, the dress details, and the fabric. Lots of variables, and lots of ways to accomplish the end goal!
For this particular dress, the first thing that I did was shorten the lining. This was fairly straightforward. I pinned a 4″ tuck (4″ + 4″ = 8″ shortened) in the lining, and sewed along that line, making little tucks to compensate for the difference in width between the top of the tuck and the bottom of the tuck (due to the wedge shape of the fabric). This is lining—no one is going to see it, it doesn’t have to be gorgeous. To keep it from “pulling”, make sure to pin the tuck at identifiable intervals–ie the seams, and keep the fullness in the fabric between the corresponding pins.
The next thing I wanted to do was shorten the skirt. This dress had many layers of tulle. I put the dress on the ironing board, and straightened the layers as best I could, and then pinned them together at 8″ down from the waist (the amount I wanted to shorten the dress). I then sewed a line of zig-zag stitches around the dress, sewing all of the layers of tulle together. I now had a very visible “altering line”.
The next step is to raise the waistline. For this, I decided to use pleats. If you read many posts in this blog, you will quickly figure out that I love pleats because they are so quick and easy. I can pleat a skirt (or something) in a fraction of the amount of time that I can put in gathers. To do this, again, first pin identifiable landmarks (like the center front & seams). Pleats can either be put in as a continuous circle around a skirt, or, can go out from the center front pleat in a mirror image (my preferred choice)
For this skirt, I folded the zig-zag “altering line” up to the waist line and pinned it flat. I started at the center front, and worked my way to the sides, making pleats of about the same size and pinning them down. I then went back to the center front and worked my way around the other side. No need to measure–just eyeball the pleat size. This is a costume, it is a white-on-white design, and it will only be seen from about a 20′ distance.
Once that was done, I used a fairly large zig-zag and just sewed the pleats down to the dress. Ta-dah! The altering line has now been raised to the waistline, and the skirt is 8″ shorter.
At this point, depending upon the dress, you may want to trim out the excess fabric from the inside. Since this was a 1950’s inspired dress, the end goal included poof, and it did not affect the line of the dress, so it is all still in there.
The next step was to figure out the back opening. Since this was a corset, I didn’t have to worry about the zipper. I just made a line of close zig-zag in a “V” shape at the bottom of the corset and then just slit it down far enough to open so the cast member could get it on.
To make costume changes faster, the cast member laced the corset backwards, so the tie was at the top, and then just tucked the ends into the top of the bodice. Excess corset tie was used to make straps (attached at center front, and then the back in a “V” shape–this helped keep the dress on during dance moves).
The choreographer had “Patty” doing a flip, so we picked a hot pink petticoat, and added a matching embellishment to the front (made with some premade pink fabric flowers and tulle).
Cost of this project: Dress: $16, flowers and tulle: less than $1