Gray Dress: Variation #1 (Fairytale)

In the production of “Cinderella” that my sister is costuming, the Director determined that each of the Stepsisters and the Stepmother should have their own identifying color.  These are not particularly easy-to-find colors and include lime green and bright orange.  It is one thing to find/make one costume in a crazy color, but, to have a series of costumes for multiple characters . . .  well, let’s just say that could greatly strain resources of time & money.

After playing with the purple dress in my last post, I began to wonder about making a “component” type costume.  Could you use a base piece and change out parts of it to make it enough different that it could be used in multiple scenes?  Could it go from everyday dress to ballgown?  After starting this project, I’ve also been mentally playing around with some other possibilities to change it to different periods/looks . . so that will be a future post!

I went down and looked through my stash of dresses for an inspiration.  I picked this size 5 Jessica McClintock strapless sheath dress with a bubble skirt.  It has a wrapped/ruched bodice and a zipper back.  The front is embellished with a line of rectangular clear “diamond-like” jewels  (my daughter describes them as “those horrible gems”).  This dress was a $3 purchase at a thrift store.  One of those . .”I don’t need it, I don’t know what I would DO with this . . .but it is ONLY $3!” deals.

I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do with this dress, so first I played around with possible “looks”.  First I added a small hoopskirt to help with the visualization.  This hoop is one that is made with attached ruffles that cover the hoops at the bottom.  I really like this kind of hoop because it eliminates the need for an extra petticoat to cover the hoop (extra costume costs PLUS trying to convince high school kids they HAVE to put it on)  and the ruffles keep the the hoop-lines from showing.  I wouldn’t have particularly paid attention to this except that I saw a production a couple of years ago and found the visible hoop lines in the skirts to be highly distracting.

If I pulled the skirt up and added a bumroll .. it had potential to make a (subdued) Marie Antoinette sort of look.  I don’t have a bumroll, but I quickly rolled up a piece of an old crib bumper pad to improvise.  I think with added pocket hoops, or a more period elliptical shaped hoop it would look better, however, there might not be enough width in the base of the skirt to support that.


The next skirt possibility was a more traditional hip-poofs  look, which I’ve shown in the front and back.  I also looked at the skirt just “plain”, and also with some little drapes on the bottom.  I really liked the last look, but decided that was too much like the purple dress so I decided to go with something different.  Of note, all of these differences could be achieved on a temporary basis with either safety pins or some large basting stitches, not necessarily in the time frame  between scene changes, but, more thinking of different shows and applications.

Having learned from some errors in the past . . .at this point, I decided to take a look at the INSIDE of the dress.

The top of the dress was completely lined and the “bubble” at the bottom was attached with a separate lining.  It does feel like there is some extra net for bulk in the skirt.  The inside of the dress is accessible through a seam (see last picture).  I didn’t need to access the inside of the dress for this project.

The first thing I wanted to do was prepare the bubble part of the skirt for detachment from the dress.  In a hanging position, I pinned all of the layers together.  The main thing to pay attention to is keeping the layers straight so you don’t end up with twisting/pulling.  I think it is easier to do when the dress is hanging (or on a dress form) if possible.    It can be done on a flat surface or ironing board if you have to, but it is harder to keep the lining from shifting.


Once this was done I ran a row of fairly large zig-zag stitches above the seam line.


It pays to take your time and make sure to move the bulk of the dress along with you as you sew to help prevent folding & pulling on the bottom layer.  I did have some folds I took out and re-sewed.  How picky you are depends on your end goal.  I didn’t have a clear plan for the fabric I would be removing, and so I wanted to preserve as much as possible in case I DID come up with a good idea, lol.

Once that was done the next step was to decide how I wanted to raise the skirt.  The first step is to determine where the waist falls on the dress.  To find the waistline, tie a string around the person/dress model.  I then mark the string line on both sides with safety pins.  I like safety pins because they don’t fall out.  When I am doing a mass fitting at school, I have found this to be the best way to make sure I don’t lose the information I need.  I will do a quick double check of the measurement by comparing the distance from the underarm to the pin.  If it is markedly different it might require a re-do, but, it tends to be pretty close, and I just split the difference.

The next step is to look at the back, and see where the zipper falls and try to get a vision on how to deal with it.  The previous post on 50’s upcycles described a few different ways.  I decided that I would have the back of the skirt dip about to the base of the zipper.  It just seemed the best way to handle the gathers along center back.  In the end, the skirt doesn’t go quite to the base of the zipper, so I quit sewing about and inch to either side of the zipper.  I can get it on and off the dress form, so I think it should be fine in “real life”.  If not, my option is to make a small slit in the skirt along the center back seam to give it a bit more space.

Next came the decision on what the front waist should look like.

After looking at some illustrations of different time periods, I decided the most “generic” look would be a slightly dropped front.  So, at this point I finally got around to cutting the bubble skirt off the bottom of the dress.  I used a pinking shears so that it wouldn’t ravel (this was a Christmas present to myself, and I have been enjoying it).

13226694_10209973876570003_5803890871356983096_n (1)

The next step was to pin the skirt to the dress.  This actually proved to be a harder task than I thought.  You can see from the picture above, that in this dress, the gathering of the skirt to to the dress was not done evenly.  The skirt is fuller in the front and center back, and basically flat along the side seams.  When I pinned it to the dress, it actually looked better when it was sideways, which put the fullness on the sides (and this would help if you wanted that 17th century look or to make hip poofs).  In the end though, I really didn’t like the seam down the center front, so put the seams on the sides.  In the pictures below you can see the difference with the fullness on the sides.

Once I had decided how the skirt would be positioned, I pinned it to the dress top.  I opted to fold under the zig-zagged edge, and then top stitch to attach the skirt.  The second picture shows where I skipped over the zipper in the back.  The third is the attached skirt.  I was struck at this point at how useable the dress would be as a 50’s party dress, or, if you added a little  jacket, gloves & a hat you could probably pull off a church outfit.  But, I digress 🙂

Once that was done and I was happy with it, I cut the extra fabric out from under the skirt.


The next step was to add an underskirt.  I had a pretty shower curtain of striped  gray and black.  It has some shimmer of silver and a bit of texture (despite the horrid picture–I sometimes forget to proof them on my camera).


I had an idea, and I knew I was going to want some extra fabric to make a bow, so I opted to cut off the top edge that has the wider hem where the shower curtain rings attach.


The next step was to decide how to divide up the shower curtain.  From the purple Fairytale dress project, I knew two widths would be enough for the bottom, but I thought it would be nice to have it a bit fuller.  I measured the distance from the bottom of the gray dress to the floor, which was about 20″.  I determined that I had enough fabric to divide the shower curtain into thirds, allowing for a narrow hem at the bottom.

For the top of the underskirt I could have made a simple gathered top, just making sure the bottom width was wide enough  to accommodate the hoop.  Instead, I opted to dig through my box of “petticoat starters” and find a skirt that would work (I have a really hard time leaving a full basic white skirt, especially on sale, at a thrift store).  This one was a big large, so I rolled the top edge over to make a casing and ran some elastic through it.  It was also a bit longer than I needed, so I atttached the underskirt fashion fabric along the seam between the bottom two layers.  This also provided some extra stability since the skirt was a really soft cotton.  I used my normal “divide-in-quarters and pleat” method of distributing the extra fabric.

I was pretty happy with how the dress was looking up to this point.


So, my adaptation for this post is to create a “day dress”.  I imagine that it might be a start for a “Little Women” costume, or perhaps a school dress for Anna in the “King and I”.   The hoop really isn’t full enough for the excessively massive skirts you think of Anna wearing  . . . but, it gives a starting point for an idea.

I knew I wanted a bow for the front to cover the bling.  I had approximately 3″ strip left from the skirt, plus the hem I had cut off.  After messing with the two pieces for awhile, I ended up using the hem as it already had body.  I cut the piece in half and zig-zagged it together by just butting the two edges together.  The zig-zag is set on a 6 or 7 width.


I made a basic bow shape and pinned it to the dress.  From this prototype, I decided that I didn’t like the square ends on the “ribbon”, so I folded the ends to make a pointed end and sewed it down.  This was better but not enough, so I sewed some 1/8″ black ribbon around the edge to give the bow a little bit of definition.  I shaped it like a do a basic cheer bow and secured the center with a zip tie.  I wrapped a piece of black satin ribbon around the center and tacked it together.  The bow is pinned to the front of the dress and nicely covers the bling.  As you can see in the picture, the zig-zag that is sewing the two pieces together is clearly visible.  I don’t care because this is a STAGE costume and is designed to be viewed from at least 20′ away (if not more).  If you were doing this for a “wear to a party” costume,  you might choose a different method.13220865_10209973869329822_5164398175970865051_n

I quickly added a high necked white blouse that I had to get the final effect.  I think a long sleeved blouse would be better . . . I can even imagine one with some little bows made out of my last scrap of the gray shower curtain .  . . maybe I’ll get that far in this project!


Overall, I was pleased with how this turned out.  My next step will be to try to create a more “go-to-the-ball” look.   I have ideas for a couple different styles of shirts to change the look, and I want to try taking the hoop out and seeing how that will affect the look.  The dress will never be a “peasant” dress since it starts with a shiny fabric, but, I do think that it can be “dressed down”.

Cost:  gray dress $3, shower curtain $1.69, white skirt $1.79.  Additional items:  black ribbon in two widths, elastic

Time:  I think I have about 4 hours in the project to this point.

Addendum:  We finally had a good picture taking day!


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