Since we were already going to be in Ben’s studio, and I already had my corset on, we took the opportunity to get photos of our costumes from last year’s North American Discworld Convention as well as the Ravenclaw gown.
Last September, we had the fun of going to a con entirely in celebration of our favorite fictional universe for our first anniversary, and winning the costume contest dressed as some of our favorite characters, Moist von Lipwig and Adora Belle Dearheart. Moist is a conman-turned-postmaster-general with a heart of gold, and Adora Belle his cynical but idealistic love interest on a mission to revenge herself on the man who swindled her family out of their business (amazingly in this case, not Moist).
These were some of my favorite costumes ever to work on, because instead of working off of a visual source, I was able to design them entirely using descriptions from the books in which they appear (Going Postal, Making Money, and Raising Steam), which is much more fun that simply copying someone else’s design.
I love how the photos turned out–if you know Discworld (and if you don’t, may I suggest you run out and track down a book RIGHT NOW), you may spot a few familiar names among the addressees of the letters on the floor. The one in Moist’s hand is, of course, the infamous S.W.A.L.K. letter to Antimony Parker. The last photo (Thanks, Ben!) is one of the only pictures of my profile that I LOVE! It just goes to show–if you want to feel great about yourself, go have your photo taken by Ben Marcum.
I made my entire outfit and Brandon’s coat, cravat and the wings and other modifications to his hat. Brandon made his waistcoat and trousers. My wig is from Custom Wig Company, styled by me, and is also the wig I use in my Snow White costume. Don’t worry! I don’t smoke. Adora Belle’s very necessary cigarette is a prop from New Rule FX. Moist’s Ankh-Morpork post office badge is from Discworld.com.
I didn’t find time to do any blogging about Brandon’s outfit, because we were desperately finishing it in the airport and hotel room, but you can read all about Adora Belle in the blog posts linked below.
It took almost exactly a year for the entire outfit to come together. Before that, though, I had been thinking, and researching, and planning, and sketching for nearly two years. At first it was just casual. At the time, my work consisted of four people: a Gryffindor, a Hufflepuff, a Slytherin, and me. So we cooked up a scheme to create four bustle gowns, one for each house. We wanted to make them, but mostly it was something to talk over in great detail over long days of tying hair. Unfortunately, the four house gowns never happened, but I couldn’t get the dress I wanted to create out of my head.
So I decided to do it anyway, despite the fact that I had nowhere to wear it, no goal in sight! I started planning in earnest: costing out silk, and saving money, shopping though patterns for good underthings, and base shapes, and thinking through the draping and drafting on elements that I knew I would have to do myself.
Now, more than a year later, I still have nowhere planned to wear it (hit me up with good events within a reasonable distance of Louisville, KY), but I do have something wonderful to share.
At the end of May, I had the fun of doing a photoshoot with the wonderful Ben Marcum Photography. I have done many kinds of shoots with Ben: headshots, my wedding portraits, beauty shoots, and cosplay. I can tell you this–if you are in Louisville, or coming through Louisville, and can find any excuse to have some professional photos done, go have your portrait taken by Ben. Especially if you hate having your photo taken. (Believe me, we also did some Adora Belle photos at the shoot, and next week I will reveal one of the only photos I’ve ever liked of my own profile!)
Even if you are nervous in front of a camera, Ben will make you laugh, make you comfortable, and make absolutely beautiful images of you every time. I always look forward to doing a shoot with him, because I know that I will have a great, goofy day, and come out of it feeling good about myself.
The wig I’m wearing is, of course, from Custom Wig Company, styled by yours truly. The beautiful cameos are from Dames à la Mode. The set was styled by Ben’s wife, my awesome boss, Heather Fleming. The books are a blend of antiques, and handmade replicas by Strano Books.
So without further ado:
You can read all about the ensemble’s construction, from beginning to end, on the blog.
Of course, I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t have ideas of ways to add to the ensemble! At some point, I would love to make an evening bodice to turn the gown into a stylish and practical day-to-night outfit. I also have ideas for a feather mantle wired with LED lights so that it glows from between the feathers.
The time has come! It is finished! Here we are, the final portion of my 1870s Ravenclaw-inspired outfit. You can read all about the gown that goes with this hat in my Ravenclaw Gown posts 1, 2, 3, and 4.
As soon as I decided I needed a hat, I knew exactly what kind I wanted. I absolutely adore these jaunty, curled-brim numbers. The first two images are where I got most of my inspiration.
I patterned the hat myself, since that’s something I’ve been wanting to practice more. Mostly, this was done through a couple evenings of trial and error using posterboard mock-ups. With each try, I adjusted the width of the brim, the curve of the crown sides, and the size and shape of crown until I was happy.
Mocking-up the brim was a bit of a guess, since the poster board doesn’t hold curl the way that wired buckram does, so I had to basically guess that it would actually make the shape that I wanted once it was wired, since I couldn’t get the center front to bend down at the same time as the sides were curled up.
I used the posterboard pieces as the pattern to cut my buckram. Since I couldn’t find double buckram anywhere (apparently it has gone from this world?), I ended up using some buckram interfacing to beef up the heavyweight buckram I had, Two pieces each on the crown sides and crown top, and one piece on the outside of the brim.
I just basted the buckrams together, making sure to hold the crown sides and brim in their curled positions while I pinned and sewed to make sure there wouldn’t be any trouble getting the shapes.
When the buckram is prepared, there is a piece of millinery wire stitched around each edge except for the inner brim with a modified whip stitch. Instead of just wrapping the thread around, moving forward each time, there is a stitch around the wire, then a stitch around the wire moving forward, then a stitch around the wire in the same place, then a stitch around the wire moving forward, you get the idea.
In order to protect the outer layer of fabric from the potentially damaging buckram and wire, there are several barrier layers put in place. Firstly, each of the wires is covered with a piece of bias tape.
Once the bias tape is in place, the three pieces are ready to become one.
The seam allowance on the inner brim is clipped all around so that it can bend up inside the crown and be stitched down.
Now that the wire is in place, and the hat is all once piece, it’s time to really finalize the shape of the brim. I did this by curling the brim sides around a rolled up towel, and steaming the buckram with my iron. Since buckram is stiffened with a starchy glue, it softens up with steam, and hardens again as it dries. Bending the wire got the edges of the brim where I wanted them, and the steam helped get an elegant curve into the buckram itself.
The second layer of protection is called mulling, and usually consists of a layer of flannel or other soft fabric all over the buckram form.
Finally, after all this, it’s finally time to put the outer fabric on! In this case, the hat is covered with dark blue velveteen, except for the inner brim.
The brim is clipped at the seam allowance and stitched around the edge. I don’t love using glue for covering hats, so velveteen is a great material for me, since stitches disappear easily in to the pile. I used concentric rows of stitches to make sure that the velveteen stayed smooth against the inner curve of the brim.
The crown top is nice and easy. The velveteen is simply smoothed over the form and stitched around the edges.
The crown sides are also simple in concept, but more tricky in practice. The seam allowances are all pressed to the inside, and then everything gets smoothed down and stitched in place, with the center back seam edges carefully butting up against each other, not overlapping. All these layers create enough bulk without adding any extra.
The inner brim is a bit more fun, since it is covered with ruched bronze taffeta. It is simply a long strip of fabric, three times longer than the circumference of the crown/brim seam, with a gathering stitch run along each edge.
In order to cover up all those raw edges, the brim is bound with blue taffeta bias tape.
The inside of the crown is lined with linen, with a few loops of hem tape in the seam so that I have a way to pin the hat to my hairstyle.
After that, it’s all trimming!
The hatband is made from bronze taffeta, twisted and folded in order to create something a bit more interesting than a plain band. Let me tell you, it takes a lot of futzing around to make something look artfully disheveled.
The join in the back of the hatband is covered with a sort of half-bow in the same fabric–one loop, wrapped in another piece, with one long trailing tail.
Finally, I played around with feathers for a long while before I settled on one Lady Amherst pheasant tail feather, curled on a scissor blade like ribbon so that it follows the curve of the crown.
I gotta tell you, I am completely in love with this hat. It’s so exciting!
Keep an eye out on my social media in the next couple of weeks! Next Wednesday, I’ll be doing a big, fun photoshoot with both this gown and my Adora Belle Dearheart costume. It’s going to be an exciting day!
Wow… what I had hoped would be another week or two of work on this bodice has turned into months. To be fair, not all of that was working on the bodice, since the bodice work ran into prep time for the Fort Frederick Market Fair, and I had to take a break from the Victorian Era to spend some time in the 18th Century. I hope you’ll all agree that it was worth the wait!
Truly Victorian’s 1871 Day Bodice made the perfect blank canvas for me to play with. I modified the back pieces in order to create the peplum I wanted, but otherwise I used the pattern as-is.
Truly Victorian includes a system in the pattern booklet to help you get a fit as much like a custom garment as possible. Using certain measurements, you decide which pattern size to cut each different piece of your bodice. My back pieces were one size, my front and side another, and my sleeves a third. It seems weird at first, but it worked great. The mock-up fit well right out of the gate!
The bodice, like the skirts, is made of silk taffeta, flat-lined with cotton organdy, apart from the sleeves, which are lined with cotton lawn for less stiffness. It has flat steel boning along the seams and darts.
The peplum also has a ruffle of feather-like shapes. You can see the gown that this was based on in my research post. I originally cut this with the shapes all one even length, then trimmed it down to a shape that I liked while it was draped over the bustle.
Before I could attach the ruffle though, lots of details had to fall into place!
Firstly, I made a triple row of piping in alternating colors to go around the bottom edge of the bodice.
Testing things out on the dress form:
The front edge of the bodice is faced with some of the blue taffeta:
And the neckline and sleeves are bias bound with more taffeta. It’s the easiest way to finish off the raw edges, and since they will be completely covered with trim, the binding will not be visible.
The feather peplum also has quite a few layers of decorative elements that needed to get done before it could be attached to the bodice.
The top, connected part of the peplum is covered with a layer of velvet, which extends partway down each of the feathers in a triangle shape that mimics the velvet appliqués on the skirts. Each of these triangles (of course), has its very own piece of bronze piping.
Using cord or braid to create a design on a garment was a popular embellishment technique throughout the 19th century. I used brown crochet thread to create more detail on each of the feathers.
When that was finished, I backed the feathers with another piece of taffeta to hide the stitches and complete the piping.
Ok, one section of embellishment finished, on to cuffs and collar!
There are rows of small knife pleats along the neckline and wrists, bound at the edge to match the pleats on the skirts.
The cuffs also have a band of feathers similar to the peplum, but in this case the chevron shapes are only at the feather tips, and since there is no velvet, I put a Fleur-de-lys in between each feather to fill in the empty space.
They are also backed with blue taffeta. There is a layer of organdy backing on the embroidered piece in order to help it keep its shape, since it will be defying gravity a bit.
Those raw edges were covered with a band of velveteen, piped with bronze taffeta.
The neckline didn’t get any feathers. They’re all done, thank goodness! But it does get a velveteen appliqué. This starts at the back as a reflection of the same shapes I used on the skirts, and the ends extend up over the shoulders and cross in the front, where they will be closed with a brooch.
I used pins to smooth out a piece of velveteen and sketch out the shape I was looking for.
I then piped the edges in bronze, and backed the parts that will not be sewn down with blue taffeta.
And then I stitched it down:
The final result:
For a fun contrast with the taffeta bodice, I covered the buttons with the velveteen, and embroidered a small feather on each with bronze silk thread.
The buttons, however, aren’t functioning. I was afraid that a velvet covering on such a small button would be too delicate to withstand a lot of use without shredding, so the bodice actually closes with hooks and eyes.
There we have it! It hasn’t quite hit me yet that this enormous, months long part of the project is finished.
All that’s left now is a hat!
Once that’s done, I’ll be doing a big photoshoot of the whole outfit with Ben Marcum Photography. I’m just showing the bodice for now because I want to do all the starching, and pressing, and adjustments, and get all the bits together with a beautiful backdrop and wig and everything before I spoil the effect!
Pant…pant…pant… It’s here! It has been six months since my last post about the Ravenclaw bustle gown due to more time-sensitive projects barging their way to the front of the line! When last we met here in Ravenclaw-land, I had just finished the underskirt, but that wasn’t the only thing going on the bottom half. Here we have…(drumroll)…the overskirt!
In the true spirit of bustle-era excess, I ask: why have only one skirt encrusted in intricate detail when you could have TWO?!
I started the overskirt by mocking it up in some very fun harlequin print quilting fabric that I had sitting around.
The mock-up was draped right on the dressform, just moving bits around and bunching things up until I was happy with how things looked.
In order to give myself a solid base on which to gather the polonaise (the puffed-up portion) at the back, I made an extra organdy lining to go inside the back.
The back piece is pleated into the side seams in order to give extra volume to the polonaise (the puffy portion) at the back.
I got the base of the skirt done pretty fast…
…and then had this thought that kept bugging me in the back of my brain. Wouldn’t those side seams look extra cute with a bit of bronze piping? So I tore it apart again.
Which wasn’t so bad, because I decided to put the trim in place before putting it back together so that I would only have to wrestle with one piece at a time.
The first stage of trimming involved figuring out the size and placement of the velveteen false turn-backs at the skirt front. I did this in the pretty non-scientific way of sketching a shape I sort of liked with a marking pencil onto the skirt front, and then cutting the velveteen to match, plus extra for hem allowance.
I had a slight crisis-of-faith after cutting the first one, and tried out a couple of other shape variations with fabric scraps before deciding that I did like the first one best after all.
I folded the edge under, and backed the edge with an offset piece of the bronze taffeta for extra contrast against the main skirt body, then set these pieces aside to attach later.
The rest of the overskirt decorations are the same as the underskirt, so I will only go through them quickly.
Binding the hems of what will become the pleated ruffle:
Piping and attaching a strip of blue taffeta to cover the raw edges of the pleats and appliqués.
And then I attached the false turn-backs. I stitched along the edge of the velveteen, through all layers, so that the edge of the bronze isn’t held flat against the skirt.
The velveteen is hemmed to the inside of the front edges several inches in in the hopes that it will provide some weight to keep the skirt from flying open when I walk, and to provide a bit of coverage over the white organdy if it does.
The piping on the side seams extends past the seam and all the way down the edge of the back piece. The swallowtail at the lower half of the back is finished with a backing of blue taffeta to make sure the white organdy lining doesn’t show.
The inner edges of the swallowtail got a row of pleats, and one of the blue bands to finish the pleat tops, but no velvet appliqués.
Gathering in the back and stitching the waistband in place:
This waistband was out to get me. First a thread broke about a third of the way through. Then I ran out of bobbin thread another five inches after that. Then when I got to the end, I realized that the gathers hadn’t made it into the seam in two places, and had to go back and open it up to get the raw edges back inside the waistband. It was a lot of drama.
The final step was to put it on the dress-form, play around with the bustle area, and tack the polonaise in place when I liked how it looked!
I feel like this has taken me for-absolutely-ever (not the six month break, just building it took waaaay longer than I had anticipated). Hopefully the bodice will be a bit friendlier. I can’t wait to see what it all looks like together, though! Wish me luck!
I never feel as if I’ve done much in a year until I go back through the blog and see everything all in one place. Somehow at once 2017 flew by, but completing Snow White and Luna seem to have happened years ago. I was actually surprised when I looked back at the beginning of the year and saw them there! Go Figure. Here I’m going to look back at what I’ve done in the past twelve months, and tell you a bit about what’s coming in the next twelve!
I’m absolutely thrilled with how this cosplay came out! I’m going to add some wires to the front at some point so that the collar can be shaped more. It looks good in these photos because this is the first time I wore it, but it has gotten a bit crushed now. I did enter this one in the costume contest at Cincinnati Comic Con, but no luck! I may try it again elsewhere.
Brandon’s Christmas present from 2016! I finished the pants and made the coat in January 2017. We do have plans to add another row of buttonholes to the jacket so that it can be worn folded open as well as closed. Still adore that blue stripe down the pants. I’ve seen fashion plates with a red one too, so I’m tempted…
The second legwarmer is actually finished now! No good photos of this one yet, but we’re waiting to do a photoshoot until Meredith’s (you may remember her as Margaery) new Hermione wig is done so that we can do photos together!
The problem with bucket list projects that aren’t for any specific event, is they get shunted aside for things that are more time-sensitive. But Ravenclaw is back in gear this month, expect progress soon!
In preparation for the best 1st Anniversary we could ask for (The North American Discworld Con in New Orleans), Brandon and I cosplayed as two of our favorite characters! (Though I didn’t blog about it, I made Brandon’s coat and altered his hat, while he made his trousers and waistcoat.) We won Best Workmanship and Best Overall in the costume contest, and the Hall Contest as well! We can’t wait to hear where the next one will be!
I couldn’t be happier with my first foray into the 18th century–an era which has interested but intimidated me for so long. It was so fun to make and wear, and I can’t wait to wear it again!
Regency Shirt & Waistcoat for Brandon
The shirt was a desperate need, as his old one was literally disintegrating more and more with each wear. It’s the first one I’ve made entirely by hand, and I really enjoyed it! I may be posting a blog about it in the next few weeks. The waistcoat was Brandon’s birthday present, which I made in secret, and had his in-character mother give him as a Christmas present at our Christmas event at Locust Grove in early December. He was so surprised–it was really fun!
Coming up in 2018
Number 1: finish Ravenclaw!!! I draped the underskirt on Thursday, and should be cutting today! It’s really happening!
It’s going to be a historical heavy year, with only two cosplays planned: A female version of Colonel Mustard from Clue (part of a group that should be really fun!), and Daenerys’ landing dress from Season 7 of Game of Thrones, which I knew I had to have the moment that photos started appearing. There are fabric swatches on their way so that I can start finalizing my plans!
Other than that, it’s all historical, all the time! I have two new 18th century looks planned (another jacket & petticoat, and a Robe à l’Anglaise), and a whole pile of 1816 plans. I realized I haven’t made myself anything new for the era I spend the most time in since January 2016, and that has to change! I have plans for dresses, spencers, petticoats. The biggest historical project of the year is one I’ve been planning for quite some time, and am finally ready to bring to fruition. A tamboured net evening gown over a colored silk petticoat.
It’s going to take forever, but I’m really excited about it!
All-in-all, it should be a fun year for me, and I hope you’ll enjoy watching!
When I left off, the dress still needed a collar and sleeves. The collar is a simple standing collar, which was very popular in the 1890s. It is lined with the same red fabric as the rest of the dress, and interfaced with canvas to keep it stiff.
The sleeves are two-part with bent elbows. They are fitted through most of the arm, with a puff at the shoulder that gives them an almost spiky appearance.
They have false cuffs–meaning that an extra piece of fabric was superimposed onto the end of each sleeve piece before construction. This is merely decorative–the cuffs can’t fold down or anything, as they are permanently attached to the piece, and sewn into the sleeve seams.
The sleeve lining is cut to fit smoothly into the armscye, while the fashion fabric is cut to create the large poof. There is a piece of wadded up stiff netting inside the puff between fabric and lining to keep it, well, puffy.
I ended up having to tear out and re-pleat, reshape, and otherwise adjust the sleeves seven different times before I was satisfied with the look, but it turned out worth it!
With all the pieces attached, it was time for lots of finishing touches. That started with finishing off the raw edges of the crossover pieces. The neckline and armscye edges are simply turned under and overcast, but the shoulder seam edge has a piece of heavy cotton facing to give the buttonholes more stability.
At this point, I remembered that I wanted to add a pocket to this dress–never underestimate the importance of having a pocket in any costume you’re planning to wear at an all-day event!
The pocket sits flat inside the bulk at the back of the skirt, with an opening in the center back seam. It is just under the bum-pad, so that any bulk from items is completely hidden in the extra volume. It is made of three pieces–one back piece, and two front pieces, joined above and below a slit that matches up with the slit in the skirt.
Here is the pocket on the inside of the skirt. The ties keep the bulk of the skirt contained in a nice tail, so that it doesn’t just flop all over the place.
I swear I also hemmed the dress, though I seem to have forgotten to photograph that part. There is a cotton hem facing out of the same material as the one on the shoulder.
The final task was also one of the most daunting: buttonholes and buttons. I don’t normally have an issue with buttonholes, but this particular dress required 47 of them. I did have a contingency plan whereby if I drove myself mad doing buttonholes before they were finished, I would close the lower half of the skirt with hooks and eyes, and simply sew buttons over the top, but I really liked the look of a row of silk-bound buttonholes marching down the skirt, so I pressed on. Adora Belle is a character whose clothes should be a pain to get off.
It was so satisfying to get the last few on!
I wrestled and fought with this costume a lot as I was building it, but I am so thrilled with how it turned out! The fit is great, the crazy closure worked out properly, and the way it moves makes me want to turn in little circles with joy! (You can see it moving in a video on my Instagram, which is also linked on the right.)
Disclaimer: I do not smoke, but you can find New Rule FX’s fantastically realistic cigarette prop (available in filter or non-filter varieties), here.
If you are interested in the wig I’m wearing, which is hand-tied human hair, and can be styled in almost any way you can imagine (I have so far used it for Snow White from Once Upon a Time, 1840s, and Adora Belle/1890s, and plan to use it in many more ways in the future), check out my day job at Custom Wig Company!
You can see pictures of this wig in action in other styles on my Facebook page or Instagram. You can also read more about the process of making one of these versatile beauties in my post To Make a Wig.
Slideshow of detail shots, including me being very excited about my pocket! Also my super awesome black and red clocked stockings from Amazon Drygoods.
Only ten days left, so I’ll be fully immersed in Brandon’s golden jacket until we leave. I am so excited!!! In ten days, I depart for a city I’ve always wanted to go to (New Orleans), to attend an event celebrating my absolute favorite book series (Discworld), and just as an extra bonus, it’s my first anniversary! What could be better?
Edit to add a few photos from outside our hotel in New Orleans! (Including Brandon in his Moist Von Lipwig suit!)
If you read this blog, you’ve probably noticed that I’m a bit of a geek. You’ve seen me build Harry Potter cosplays, Game of Thrones cosplays, Once Upon a Time cosplays. You’ve heard me geek out about the wonders of historical garment construction techniques, and apply both sides of that geekery to the beginnings of a Hogwarts-themed 1870s bustle gown.
Well, I’m doing it again. No kind of costume makes me happier than when I get to combine my love of historical costume with the fun of cosplay, and I am now working on another one of these ultimate mash-ups. More than that, it’s a character from my all-time favorite fandom: Terry Pratchett’s Discworld.
The first four days of September this year will be the North American Discworld Convention in New Orleans–since that Sunday will be our first wedding anniversary, Brandon and I are splurging on a trip to celebrate our favorite fantasy world. Of course a big part of this venture is the costumes! We will be dressing as two of our favorite characters: Moist Von Lipwig and Adora Belle Dearheart.
Brandon’s golden suit will be coming along shortly, but today I’m here to talk about Adora Belle. Miss Dearheart was played to snarky perfection by Claire Foy in the 2010 adaption.
But while I absolutely adore this movie, I didn’t actually want to use their Adora Belle design. With Discworld, I’d rather work straight from the source.
Like all of the Discworld books, Going Postal is a brilliant piece of satire: engaging, thought-provoking, and hysterically funny. It features the adventures of Moist Von Lipwig, the unfortunately-named con-man-turned-postmaster-general, after the ruler of the disc’s largest city, Ankh-Morpork, resurrects him from the noose in order to revive the collapsed and out-of-date postal service. Just as Lord Vetinari suspected, Moist’s endless bag of huxter’s tricks and boundless charisma are just the shock the system needed, but it turns out there’s much more to reviving the post office than delivering some letters, and Moist is soon at war with some deadly competition.
Adora Belle Dearheart (a name that will surgically remove any woman’s sense of humor), is Moist’s sardonic love interest. The daughter of the inventor of the clacks system (a telegraph-ish method of communication using towers mounted with semaphore arms or, later, light boxes that flash a coded grid), Adora Belle has even more of a bone to pick with the post office’s main competition than Moist does. The current owners of the clacks swindled her family out of their property and worse.
Terry Pratchett’s character descriptions tend to be short, but vivid. In Going Postal, Adora Belle is described as having “coal black hair plastered down and forced into a tight bun at the back, so that she looked like a peg doll.” Her clothing is very consistent. Unlike in the movie, where she wears black velvet, the Adora Belle of the books always wears grey. Moist comments in Raising Steam (the third book to feature these characters) “She had bought a most attractive and therefore expensive gown for the evening. It was still grey, of course, but with a kind of luster to it that made it seem almost festive” (Emphasis mine). In her first appearance in Going Postal, she wears a “tight, grey, woolen dress,” prompting Moist to realize “how well some women could look in a severely plain dress”. Which brings us to one of the most illuminating descriptions of Adora Belle’s general appearance. This one is from the second book about Moist and Adora Belle, Making Money, “The heels helped, of course, but Spike [Adora Belle] could move like a snake trying to sashay, and the severe, tight, and ostensibly modest dresses she wore left everything to the imagination, which is much more inflammatory than leaving nothing. Speculation is always more interesting than facts.”
Here ends the scholarly portion of this post, so let’s get to the actual design I went with. The “industrial revolution” period on the Disc is generally depicted with a late 19th century aesthetic. But, of course there are lots of different looks to choose from in the late 19th century. Sir Terry does give us one clue though. Earlier in Going Postal, Moist observes that “Bustles were back in fashion in the city for some inexplicable reason.” And if we follow Roundworld fashion history, that one sentence narrows us down to one period of less than ten years. It can’t be the 1870s, because bustles have already been in fashion at least once, so it must be somewhere in the second bustle period, about 1883-1890. I couldn’t really see Adora Belle in the full-on centaur bustles of the mid-1880s, so I decided to focus my research right around 1889-90, when most would still have been wearing bustles, but the more fashion-forward were beginning to deflate their rears into the sweeping A-line shape of the 1890s. It was perfect: I could keep the narrow, severe front of an 1880s gown, but lose the massive bustle for a more graceful volume supported only by a small bum pad to give my backside a bit of extra oomph.
Once I had that image in my head, I knew when to focus my research:
But it wasn’t until I found this gown, that everything really came together:
It was perfect! The sleek silhouette, the slinky train, the power shoulders. I loved that it was one piece, instead of a bodice and skirt–I didn’t want to break up the line of the dress. Without the embellishment, it was everything the books describe–tight, plain, severe, but still unbelievably sexy. I couldn’t have asked for a better piece of inspiration.
I was slightly tripped up about the mysterious closure–the only hint to it is a slight rippling on the left-hand side. Luckily, Janet Arnold breaks down a jacket that closes the same way in Patterns of Fashion 2. The dress is from the Fashion Museum in Bath.
It gave me a couple more little details that I think are perfect for Adora Belle. I like the idea of having her dress be very plain from afar, and then, as you get closer, little details start to jump out. This dress, instead of closing with invisible hook and eyes, has a row of little buttons along the shoulder and down the side–what could be more severe yet scintillating? It also has a little row of feathered embroidery along each dart to hold the extra fabric still. In tone-on-tone, this will be invisible until someone is standing near it, but give a nice bit of depth to an otherwise plain ensemble.
The Janet Arnold pattern was a godsend. I was able to use the jacket as a jumping-off point to draft the pattern for the full dress.
I sewed the grid interfacing into a mockup I could try on, and made further adjustments from there, but I didn’t take any photos of that fitting.
After much searching, a picked out a charcoal grey linen/wool twill from Fashion Fabrics Club. It took me a long time to find a fabric I was happy with, because I wanted as dark a grey as I could find, and I wanted it to have some texture to it–twill, herringbone, pinstripe, anything to add a bit of depth. I was very pleased to find the linen/wool blend because it looks and feels like wool, but will hopefully breathe as much as possible in the New Orleans heat.
The pieces are flat-lined with a plain red cotton, which helps support the twill. I didn’t line the skirt portion of the center back, though, because I wanted it to keep its fluid drape.
Testing out the drape on the back.
The front lining is done in two pieces, with a piece of hook and eye tape between them. This will attach to an overlapping lining from the other side to help keep everything in place.
There are two darts on either side of the front to help it shape around my waist. These will be accented with tone-on-tone embroidery later.
This is the ‘underlap’ for lack of a better word. It is a glorified piece of lining that gives the left sleeve and collar something to attach to when the dress is open, and is hidden by the front piece when the dress is closed. It is made of lining material, with a facing of the grey twill only where it is possible that it will peek out from behind the actual front.
Once the underlap was attached, we did a quick fitting, and I had to adjust the waist and darts a bit.
Conveniently, I had some vintage seam binding sitting around in my stash. I used it to finish the raw, open left side of the skirt. It will give some nice stability where the buttons are attached.
A piece of twill tape around the inside waistline of the gown helps support the fabric. The waist will be taking strain both because it is so tight, and because of the weight of the skirt, so it needs all the help it can get from the inflexible twill tape.
And then it was time for another fitting–this time to check my adjustments were right, test the placement of the closure, pin up the hem, and test a collar.
I’ll be back soon with sleeves, buttons, and other embellishments!
I finally have some real progress to share on the Ravenclaw gown! Things have been going slower than I had planned, but we are moving forwards (though things will slow down even more with Jane Austen Festival this weekend)!
The gown is actually three parts: underskirt, overskirt, and bodice, and I have now finished the underskirt.
The upper part of the skirt is very plain, since it will be almost completely covered by the overskirt, while the hem is heavily embellished.
I used the Truly Victorian 1870s Underskirt pattern (TV 201). The skirt is a great basic shape, and fits perfectly on top of Truly Victorian’s early bustles and petticoats.
The construction is quite basic: one front panel, one back panel, two each side back and side front panels, and a waistband (and a pocket, which is very exciting!). I flat-lined the entire thing with cotton organdy to help it hold its shape and volume.
Instead of shortening the skirt when I cut the pieces originally, I added a bit of functional decoration with three tucks around knee level.
The waistband is the last bit before the fun of embellishing begins!
The first component of the hem embellishment is a deep, knife-pleated ruffle in bronze-colored taffeta.
Instead of a hem, the ruffle is bound at the bottom with bias strips of the blue taffeta.
I used ye olde stitch-in-the-ditch technique to finish the binding, because there was no way I was going to hand finish the binding on ten yards of ruffle that’s going to be on the ground anyway!
If you and the people around you are interested in sewing, you may have seen a video a few months back of someone very cleverly using a fork to form pleats by sliding one tine under the fabric, twisting the fork so that the fabric wrapped around all the tines, removing the fork, and sewing over the newly-formed pleat. I got to go one better. When my husband saw me heading to my sewing machine with a piece of cutlery, he understandably asked what on earth I was doing. Once I explained the technique, he promptly took the fork away and headed out to the garage, where he fabricated these nifty little devices so that I can now make even pleats in multiple sizes without the need to waste time on measuring or pinning! They made pleating a breeze!
Brandon also helped me pin the pleated ruffle in place, so that we could make sure it hung at exactly the right point when the skirt was being worn.
Next came the velveteen appliqué shapes that go above the ruffle. I made a quick template out of paper, and cut out 18 shapes to fit around the entire skirt.
Placing and stitching the shapes:
I watched a lot of Bleak House while working on these appliqués!
You can see in the pictures above that the raw edges of both the ruffle and the appliqués are showing in the center, so I needed something to cover them up. I used a bias band of the blue taffeta with a row of brown piping along the top edge, where it will contrast with the blue velveteen.
If you’re interested, you can read more about making your own piping in my blog about making Luna Lovegood’s iconic pink coat, here.
I was able to machine stitch one side of this band to the skirt by sewing right in between the blue fabric and the brown piping so that the stitches disappeared into the seam between the two colors.
The other side had to be hand finished (more Bleak House!).
Voilà! I’m very excited about how the embellishments turned out! They really look like my sketch, which is so satisfying! But in full color, it’s even better!
The next step on this project will be the overskirt, and I’m salivating to see how it turns out, but it’s going to have to wait.
The North American Discworld Convention is happening at the top of September, and Brandon and I need costumes in which to celebrate both our first anniversary, and our favorite fictional universe. I’ll be taking a break from the Ravenclaw gown in order to work on our Adora Belle Dearheart and Moist Von Lipwig costumes, which will be inspired both by the book descriptions and by the fashions of the early 1890s. Can’t wait to show you progress on those! I both dread only having only 6 weeks to work on them (though both of us will be sewing), and think September can’t come soon enough! (If you don’t know Discworld, go find some now! Your life can only be improved by Terry Pratchett’s hilarious satirical look at life, the universe, and everything.)
When anyone asks “what is your dream project?” I can’t answer because of all the bustle dresses battling in my mind. There is something about the more-is-absolutely-more level of detail, and the unique silhouettes that gets my creative juices flowing. This dress started as an idea that we were batting around at work several years ago: Hogwarts themed bustle dresses! Hogwarts houses are a fun bit of inspiration because they are associated with three different things: a color scheme, an animal, and a personality type. Now, if you’re going to design a Hogwarts house themed dress, you obviously have to start with your own house. In my case: Ravenclaw, hands-down. So for Ravenclaw, that means:
Color scheme: Blue and Bronze (yes it was blue and silver in the movies, don’t get me started)
Personality type: studious, bookish, intelligent, witty, driven by knowledge above all
It was fun to imagine a muggle-born Ravenclaw witch paying calls to her muggle family while sporting her house colors. I’d imagine Victorian witches pioneered the idea of hiding wands inside of umbrellas.
I started by digging through photographs of extant dresses from the early 1870s for ideas of ways to use color, and for bird and feather-like details.
Those tiny knife pleats around the neck are wonderfully feathery, but the real kicker here are the wing-like foldbacks of the overskirt front. I knew I wanted an overskirt, but there was something about the apron-y look of many of them that just didn’t stand out to me for this dress. The overskirt here was a breakthrough for me.
This dress gave me the perfect swallow-tail back to go with my winged overskirt!
I love the amount of contrast bias edging on these ruffles! This photo also shows just the silhouette I’m going for.
I love the skirt trim on this–knife pleats on the bottom, scallop-y shapes on top, with what seems to be a velvet ribbon in-between.
I’m having trouble finding the exact documentation on this dress, but the shapes look right for the time period, and that feather-y trim everywhere was too good to resist looking at!
I also looked at lots of fashion plates in books like this one:
And I’ve been absolutely loving the book Embellishments: Constructing Victorian Detail, which not only has wonderful detail shots of extant gowns, but also teaches you how to create some of the most common yourself! Unfortunately, it seems to have gone out of print, but you can find used copies around. Edit–the author has since let me know that a few more copies of the book will be available when they come back from an exhibition at the end of August! Keep an eye out for them here.
After putting all of this information into my brain, and stirring it around, this is the design I came up with:
I wanted to keep the bodice plain–a bit uptight and schoolmarm-y, and then make the skirt magical and bird-like.
It will be made in Midnight Blue and Cocoa Brown Silk Taffetas with Navy Cotton Velveteen details. All of the fabrics come from Renaissance Fabrics.
I’m currently working on bringing the underskirt into being, and in the meantime you can read all about the making of my Victorian understructure: