This is a photo diary of my costuming "travels"; where I've learned and struggled to make historical costumes for myself. They're not always pretty, but always fun. most of the time. And I want to share with others what I learn along the way. **You can find me on Facebook, or have my posts delivered to your email by signing up at the lower part of the right column.**

About Me

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HI, my name is Val. I'm a member of Costumer's Guild West in Los Angeles, Dean Emeritus of 2018 Costume College; member & Past President of the San Diego Costume Guild, member of Orange County Costume Guild, a representative of the San Diego History Center, & an honorary member of SITU (Someplace in Time, Unlimited) in Seattle. I make my own historical costumes but don't sell any unless I get tired of one.The eras I've made so far are 1770 up to 1918. My favorite is the 1880s bustle.


Saturday, August 17, 2013

1905 Purple Silk Voile Evening Dress

May –July 31, 2013
I made this dress for our UnGala Dinner at Costume College. My friends and I attend the Red Carpet procession beforehand in our own gowns and when everyone goes inside for their Gala dinner, we go to the hotel’s restaurant for ours. Afterwards we return, and the photo bombing is on!

This is one of those evolution stories; fabric bought for one dress and later I decided it wanted to be another. I bought this silk voile back in 2008 from Fabrics & Fabrics in the LA Garment District. It was on sale I think for $10 a yard. It was very light and sheer and the tiny two-toned purple flowers with light hunter green leaves were so appealing. At the time the only dress era that occurred to me was 1860s, so I bought 8 yards. 
Two years later I saw someone else had made an 1860s gown out of the same fabric so I knew that wouldn’t work showing up in the same gown. The fabric sat in the back of my stash shelf waiting. Finally last March I saw an extant gown from 1903 with little purple flowers and I remembered my purple silk voile & knew that’s what I would make mine from. I’d already made one gown from Truly Victorian’s pattern for this era, and it was super easy but I wanted to change it up this time. I planned on wearing it for an evening event, but didn’t want it to be strictly for evening, and not a ball gown. My first idea was three quarter length sleeves and an open neckline instead of a high collar. I gathered these photos of bodices and trims that I liked from the internet. I wanted lace and bows and frills on mine.

Most of these involved lace insertions, which is something I haven’t done yet but have taken a class on it. So I had an idea of how to do it. I also liked adding a dark ribbon trim down the front of the bodice. Actually the white trim down the front of the one dress & the black trim on the neckline of the gold dress in these photos is what I first wanted to do. But it didn’t give me an evening open neckline. The third photo of the entire chest area being lace was just too scary for a first attempt, and also cutting into a $10 yd fabric even scarier.

My first search was for some purple velvet ribbon, none of which I could find locally and I didn’t have time to drive the 2 hours to LA. I did some online searching, and came up with three colors from M&J Trims It’s hard to tell the colors on a computer screen but I had it narrowed down to a royal purple, plum, or lilac. You can buy samples but it’s a minimum 1 yard lengths. They’re not too expensive, depending on the width, from $1.29-$1.99 yd, and they’re listed in millimeters but they also give you an approximate width in inches. I was looking for about 3/4 inch, and ended up with the 16mm which is 5/8 inch, close enough. I’d waited on purchasing my ribbon in hopes I would still be able to find some locally and see the color, but time was running out. When I went back online to order, I noticed they had a color called Helio which looked almost exactly like the lighter color of the purple on my fabric. So I ordered that, and it came in about a week. It was perfect!

I started cutting my fabric out last May and flat lined it with a very lightweight white cotton.  I sewed the side seams and little skirt around the hem but in hindsight if I’d known I was going to be laying ribbon and lace on the front to cut out behind it, I wouldn’t have done that. When I did get around to actually working on it, I took out the shoulder seams to lay it flat. Then I started laying the ribbon down to come up with a pattern.

I liked the V-neck but it was too deep. And I also wanted to put lace behind it where I would be cutting out the purple fabric and that would make it too sheer. I had a length of antique lace that I inherited from a friend that was just the right width for it (the top piece in this photo from all the lace she gave me). *Thank you Mary!*
I widened the V and laid out the lace behind it, and came up with two rows of the ribbon instead of one. Like! The hand sewing was on! I did a short stitch diagonally across a length of ribbon to get the point at the bottom.

 I pinned the ribbon on, and then lightly basted it since this fabric likes to spit out the pins. I also backed the ribbon on the inside of the fabric with a wide grosgrain ribbon since the fabric doesn’t support it very well.

After two weeks I finally got the courage to cut out the fabric behind the lace and ribbon. But notice how the shoulder seam is shorter on the front than the back (to the left of the red pin holder)? I had to put a call out for help to my sewing friends on what to do with that. The consensus was turning the edge under on the back to create a curve that ends at the back placket.
I repeated the lace as a ruffle on the sleeve cuff and finished the top of it off with more purple ribbon. On my dress form it looks nice. Since it buttons in the back, I had to wait for Cindy to stop by and mark where the buttons and buttonholes would go and check the fit. I used some vintage shell buttons from my aunt’s stash.
Some of the prettier belts I’ve seen on this style dress have been a color that popped out. So instead of purple I found a hunter green taffeta that matched the tiny leaves for it. I thought maybe I’d put this rhinestone brooch at the center, like in the fashion print, but the overhanging bodice covered it. So that would have been a waste.

I like to use buckram for the inside of this type of belt to give it a firm support. Some of my friends use small pieces of boning. I used Truly Victorian’s E55 Dip Waist Belt pattern for it, with the point going down. I’m not sure if this is totally the way the pattern has you do it but I cut the fabric and buckram using the pattern pieces and then fold over the edge of the fabric on the buckram. I hand basted it on (since this is the back of the belt and won’t show) and turned the edge under of the front piece of fabric and slip stitched it on to the other side. I used hooks & bars for my back closure.
I really wanted to make a pretty hat for this. It looks so much like a dress you wore to a garden party. But it’s an evening style so a hair ornament was called for. These photos gave me some ideas. I had to have feathers, obviously. I thought feathers on either side of my head would be nice and balanced looking.

I had some very long ostrich feathers so I cut them down to a more manageable length after trying them on my head. I made a yo-yo from a length of cotton lace and sewed it to a piece of buckram for its base. Then I sewed the feathers firmly to it. The final touch was a crescent-shaped rhinestone brooch I’d bought at the Del Mar Antique show for $1.

Did you know ostrich feathers have a mind of their own? They want to hang in all different directions. It looked nice on my wig though.

So now it looks like everything is done and will get packed up in garment bags and hat boxes to go to Costume College. 
My next blog entry will be when I wore this, and what went wrong. And what I hopefully learned from it. 

1 comment:

  1. Val, I look forward to your blogs and love your dresses. I can relate to this one in that many times I will sit out an outfit that I plan to wear for a special occasion without having tried it on to see if all the pieces work together. Then as I am getting ready for the event panic sits in as I have to make adjustments.
    Rochelle, ATAA


I would love to hear if this was any help to you. Pretty please!