Four Score and seven years ago, okay 1.5 years ago, the theme for the Friday night ball we were attending at Gettysburg’s Remembrance day was “Fancy Dress” and when browsing through fashion plates of fancy dress ideas I found the dress of my dreams. The Alphabet Dress. Incase you’re unfamiliar with what IS fancy dress, it’s basically the Victorians playing dress up. Imagine a halloween party, but not at halloween, and with no “sexy” everything.
Why am I just writing a blog from a costume that is over a year old you ask? well first of all stop nagging I’m a slow writer, and secondly because there were exactly zero good photos at Gettysburg but I just got to re-wear it to a fancy dress party and got actual photos.
I started with easy foundations, I used a bridal hoop I bought off e-bay and cut the bottom hoop off of, my standard 1860s off the shoulder chemise, and my 1860s corset which is from the Redthreaded pattern (highly recommend).
I stared at the skirt for a long time deciding what was the best method of construction. I debated appliquéing grey stripes onto an orange skirt but I just didn’t think I’d be able to get them straight enough for my OCD. So I went with what I deemed the easiest method.
Prepare for incoming math: I figured out my pattern by measuring the circumference of my bottom hoop then divided it by 3. I wanted the grey stripes to be half as wide as the orange. So circumference divided by 3 = grey width, and circumference divided by 3 times 2 = orange width. I made patterns out of poster board and cut away.
I assembled in bulk. First I sewed every orange stripe to a grey friend, then I sewed the pairs together, then into quads etc etc until I had a whole skirt.
I had a really limited amount of the orange silk I was using (it was a generous gift from Jenny-Rose that she got in the LA garment district) actually I had a limited amount of both fabrics as the grey was a generous gift from Adrienne. (it really takes a village to dress this Robin). To save on fabric instead of turning up a hem I faced it with a bias facing made of a different orange silk I had. No I do not have an orange problem, I have an orange solution!
For the bodice pattern I used the Truly Victorian ballgown bodice. It’s a very versatile pattern. I cut the point off and piped it all with double piping. Because piping is my faaavorite detail. It’s flat lined with cotton broadcloth and boned at the center front, darts, sides and back. The finished bodice is sewn to the waistband to prevent gapping. I used to leave them separate in my 1860s outfits but they ALWAYS gap when I move so now I join them.
The bertha is black cotton sateen that I am 90% sure Amanda draped on me but it was so long ago I can’t remember (this is why you’re supposed to blog right after the first wearing) I free handed the design onto it with gold fabric paint.
The sleevey things are just strips of silk organza gathered to the armscye, I again hand painted the letters, and if I’m honest they’re the part of this ensemble I’m least happy with. I may revisit them again, if this ever gets a third wearing.
I was planning to print the letters on printer paper and pin them on. They used lots of cardboard in fancy dress costumes, remember it was a throw away outfit. But Mr. Sewloud was HORRIFIED that I’d put that much effort into the dress and just phone in the letters.
They’re a layer of painted silk backed with muslin and tacked in two places. and yes there are 26 of them. Can we discuss how fun turning all those corners was?
There’s a really tragic derth of orange boots on the market (please American Duchess get on that) so I was left with a bit of a quandary about what to put on my feet. I settled on using white dance boots that I bought from Amazon and dying them with RIT in my washer.
They were pretty perfect visually but have the distinct downside of not being waterproof so on a snowy day in DC you have to wear rainboots to the party then change there. Not the end of the world, but not my classiest grand entrance.
The first time I wore it in Gettysburg I ran out of time to make the tiara and just wore a generic one, but for the second wearing I really wanted to try to replicate the fun Alpha, Omega tiara. Sewcialist Revolution convinced me to try using Worbla and I’m glad she did. It was actually pretty easy and I was very happy with the result.
The Dress in Action
This is probably the most work I’ve ever put into a dress so please forgive me as I’m about to spam you with a bunch of photos from the party at The Modern Mantua Maker’s house in DC.
So that’s my most ambitious and lest blogged about project finished! What’s your big wish project? What should I tackle next?