This was a project that went TOTALLY astray, lol. If you’ve been following along you know I’ve been making “Fairytale”/Cinderella dresses. In the last post I had a red skirt that was a combination of two skirts–one ruched and one not–and I wanted to try to do a variation on that using a different ruched skirt.
I have had this blue dress FOREVER. I bought it years ago when the ballgown-style Prom dresses were first hitting the thrift stores. For $25 it was a steal . . . and it was . . . if someone ever wanted to wear it, lol. Which they did not. It also is tiny. Pure impulse buy, that is for sure. Long story short, it has been hanging out in my basement forever, so, why not?
The dress is a gorgeous shade of blue, actually called “peacock”. It is strapless, with a sweetheart neckline and beading along the top of the bodice. It has ruching with beaded medallions on the skirt. The back is a corset with a modesty panel that sits below the waist. It is fully lined and has a petticoat and a slight train.
Taking a look at the inside of the dress:
The corset loops are individually cut and inserted into the seam. There is no extra fabric in the back. There is a row of boning along the edge of the opening.
The skirt has a completely separate lining layer with petticoat net (above picture, right). The outer skirt has the fashion fabric, and then is completely lined with another layer to help support the ruching.
The bodice is fully lined with the boning in the lining layer. They are sewn together at the top edge, and along the back opening.
The first thing I wanted to do was cut out the lining with the petticoat net.
I decided to cut it off right above the netting. I will save this as it will be easy to add a strip of fabric along the top with an elastic or drawstring waistband to make a petticoat someday.
The next step was to take a look at the dress and see how it looked without the fullness underneath.
It was striking how different the dress looked without the petticoat underneath. At this point I had to stop and just look at the dress. If I had continued with the Fairytale upcycle, I would have had to split the skirt. I would have had to make decisions about how far up to split it, and, if I would just take it to a point at the top, or if I would cut the bodice off and make it two pieces, or, make a horizontal slit in the front and gather the new insert fabric into that space?? I really didn’t know. I also wasn’t super excited about the options I had found for an underskirt. Nothing seemed to “work”. And . . . the dress was saying “Titanic” and not “Fairytale”.
So I went to bed.
The next morning the dress looked even MORE Edwardian as it had collapsed down farther. Ok, go with the flow. I went searching . . . . and I found this dress. Originally it had been purchased largely for the buttons. It is a dark blue velour, button front dress with shoulder pads and a slightly scalloped neckline. The sleeves also have some gathered detailing.
I played around with various options:
And on impulse pulled it to the outside of the dress:
This looked pretty promising AND it helped cover up the back opening.
I wanted to ditch the corset back and close the dress in a different way. A huge consideration was the weight of the dress. In the original dress, the tight fit by way of the corseting helps support the weight of the dress and holds it above the hips. If I took that support away, I had to come up with another way to hold the dress up. Inspiration came in the form of an old bra (discarded due to a pokey underwire). It had all those nice hooks already sewn together!
I cut the back strap off right at the edge of the cup. The shoulder strap is cut off leaving a piece of the cup (and all the associated hardware). I pinned the bra strap to the side seam and then again at the back edge. The crossing back straps allow the placement of the front attachment quite a ways off to the side, which prevents the straps from falling off the shoulder.
Now comes the tricky part. I needed to sew the bra strap in right where all the beading was on the bodice. I was reluctant to hand sew it, and I recalled that one of my costuming volunteers told me that she sewed beaded fabric on her machine . . . she just went slow, and allowed the needle to slide off the beads, and pushed them out of the way as needed. At the time, I didn’t really believe her, but, I thought I’d give it a try.
It worked. Let me eat humble pie. I never would have believed it. The back strap was sewn at the side seam (which actually had very little beading). The front was attached right in the midst of a bunch of beads. The presser foot just sat on top of them, and I just worked around them. Amazing. Now, I won’t promise that you’ll never hit a bead wrong and have your needle go flying . . .but . . . it is worth a try. (I use pretty cheap needles, lol).
A little bit of velcro finished the job at the back waist.
Next came messing with the dress. The first thing was to cut out the shoulder pads. Along the way, I did consider an enhanced jacket look:
I will be completely honest and say it probably took me the better part of an hour messing with this dress. I tried folding it in various way, and various shaping on the front, and different ways of draping it around the back and sides. Eventually I settled on squishing the neckline over to the sides, and I sewed that in. Then I continued to mess with the rest.
In the end, I made casual (aka not all identical) rows of pleats along the sides, and then sort of pulled it up a bit in the back, giving it a sort of modified bustle look, but without the fullness.
Do keep in mind that my end goal is a theatrical costume and not an up-close-and-personal cosplay or other historical re-enactment outfit. I only do details that will show up from 20+ feet away.
I decided to trim the edges of the jacket with silver braid. This came from Tassel Depot. They have closeout section where you can find all kinds of fun stuff–cords and threads and the like.
Here I cut a few too many corners. I had the front roughly pinned, just folding all the fabric under (actually the whole jacket is shaped without cutting out any fabric–I trimmed later when I was sure I would like it). I should have taken the time to stay stitch the front. Instead, I just zig-zagged the braid on. The right side of the jacket looks fine, but the left side is pulled a bit, which I find regretful. But, for my purpose, it is OK.
To close the front, I utilized a piece of the corset tie and sewed it on one side, and used velcro to close it on the other. It disappears into the dress at a distance. Buttons were added to give a bit more detailing.
Overall, I am happy with this dress. I could see it being worn to a “Titanic” party. I could also see Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn wearing something similar in “Music Man”, or perhaps Mrs. Mullins in “Carousel”. Done in black and white it would be a good “Ascot” dress for “My Fair Lady”, and perhaps would even fit into a “Phantom” Carlotta look.
Something I really learned is the importance of taking out the petticoat! The shape of the dress is SO different.
One other advantage to taking out the petticoat to begin with, is that it makes storing these dresses a lot easier. The petticoat can be rolled up and squished down, or replaced with something else down the road. Space can often be at a premium in a costume room. It would be a simple matter to sew a “topper” on to the piece of petticoat and add a drawstring or elastic.
This project also reinforced to me the the drawbacks of purchasing a tiny dress.
Cost: blue prom dress $25, blue velour dress $3, silver cord: off a large spool.
Time: About 3 hours .. . and much of that was spent draping this way and that.
Next project: A matching hat, of course!
Addendum: We finally had a good picture taking day! Here they are!