spring green 1770s gown

aka the “why the heck did I start this project now” gown.

this is something I worked on a few months ago, early in the year.  the only real reason is because I got this lovely emerald green colored taffeta at a perishing $1.50 a yard on clearance, and I was itching to do something with it.  I had visions of a ball gown in my head.

This gown took me the better part of three weeks to complete, working on and off, and was sewn entirely by hand (mostly due to the fact that most of the time I spent working on it was in the middle of the night.)  it’s 1770’s-ish, but I didn’t use any particular pattern or go for a certain style.  I wanted to make “just your basic 18th century gown” – something really simple in style and construction.

these pictures were all taken back in February, when we had one chance nice day in the midst of a really long streak of crummy weather.  it was super windy that day, but it was the first clear day we’d had in months.  in fact, it was so clear that the sun blinded me and I ended up making derpface in most of the pictures.  (this outfit did have a hat, I should mention, but I had forgotten it at home that day.  in any case, the wind was so strong that I’m not sure it would have stayed on my head!)

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we went out to the DeKoven Center, which is a nice historic site in the area, for pictures.  I wanted to find an old historical house to take some indoor pictures, but unfortunately none of the ones around here are open this time of year.

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we didn’t really plan ahead to do photos that day, so my outfit was really thrown together.  the gown still needs a little more work.  like I said, I forgot my hat, and I don’t have any accessories, just a black ribbon I happened to have in my bag to tie around my neck.  how sorely underdressed I was!  my wig wasn’t helping either; it looked fine to me when we left the house, but it went flat rather quickly once I was out and about.  definitely needs more poof!

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I went a little ways into the woods for some pictures.  I quickly regretted that.  I am about shin-deep in show here; I put my boots on to go walking (you can see my laces in the second pic!) but that didn’t prevent my feet from getting soaked.


I’m doing major derpface in this pic, but it’s one where you can see my shoes.  these shoes are not at all appropriate for being outside where we were, but they matched the outfit, so I put them on for a few shots.  they’re mules that I scored at the thrift store and refashioned for this outfit, and they’re really quite cute; I want to get some pictures with them once this outfit is really finished.

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here are some shots where you can see the bodice of the gown.  you can see how bare I am under the cape – no jewelry, no engageantes, a fichu or anything.  it needs some work still – you can see the sleeve coming off my shoulder.  I’m not sure if that was because my stays were laced a bit tighter that day than they had been when I was fitting the bodice, because it was a little too loose at the waist, as well, and the center overlapped more than it should have.

now, for the construction:

sorry to say, I haven’t any pictures of the work I did on this gown.  as I said, this was kind of a project I whipped together in spare moments when I was bored, or couldn’t sleep, and just felt like sewing.

I didn’t use a pattern, just draped pieces on my dress form until I had a bodice pattern that resembled patterns of that era.  the gown itself was draped on my dress form, and is cut en forreau – with the back bodice and skirt in one piece.  it didn’t come out perfect – my pleats are a little skewed to one side.  the top skirt, you can see as well, is a bit shorter than the petticoat underneath.

the bodice closes at the front center with pins – I plan to go back and add hooks eventually, but I don’t mind closing it with pins.

the sleeves gave me some trouble.  the first sleeves I drafted were too tight; I couldn’t squeeze my arms into them (I have fat upper arms :O)  I removed those, and then drew up a sleeve pattern by studying the ones in Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion I, and ended up with a much better fit.

I know I posted pictures of my cape some time ago, but I never covered the construction of it.  it’s so simple that there’s not much to say.  it’s basically a long rectangle, pleated at the neckline.  the fashion layer is red velvet; it’s inner-lined with flannel, and the lining is a soft maroon cotton.  the fur is thrifted from a faux-fur coat I found at a thrift store some time back.  tacking on the fur trim was the most time-consuming part of the whole piece, which I started and finished in two days.


I’m not considering this gown finished yet – it needs some fitting work, and some accessories to really call it an outfit.  but I’m afraid I won’t have time to revisit it probably until summer.  I’ve got too much going on between now and June to do as much as I’d like… >_>


Ciel gown – finished product

I found my camera (hiding in a bag of sewing junk – what a surprise) so I actually have some good photos of a project for once!  at least, as good as they get considering I’ve got no talent for photography.  If I take a picture without getting my thumb in front of the lens that’s pretty good for me!

anyhow, here it is – the Ciel “roses” ball gown for Anime Central 2014!


(it sits crooked on my dress form, I don’t know why.  I fussed with every layer for a half hour and couldn’t get it to lay right.  perhaps because it fits my body, which is not a dress form, perfectly?)

there are several layers to this costume.


first is the under petticoat and my “bustle” – a bum pad that I found in a box, I can’t for the life of me remember what costume I wore it with before!  the petticoat is my Jasmine petticoat from way back when.  I recall saying at the time that I might wear this over a bustle someday… I probably wasn’t imagining something like this costume, though!

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the underskirt.  I draped the pattern for this on my dress form; it’s pretty simple, two panels and two gores, with a small train.  the back is just pleated where the bustle sits.  the pleats on this sucker drove me nuts, and I ran out of fabric and luckily was able to get a little more in the same color.


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the top skirt, also draped on top of the other two skirts to ensure that the shape and the gathers were just right.  it was a fussy process, and I’m less pleased with the end result than I’d like, but I think I did as much as I could with my choice of fabric.  I wanted two layers of pleats on this skirt, too, but I simply didn’t have enough fabric.  I put a giant bow and some frills on the back just because.  this is supposed to be a big, frilly, girly dress.  nothing says girly like an ass bow with roses, right?

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the whole ensemble.  it is a little crooked, but not so much on me as it is in these pictures.  the back does lace shut.


I made the little choker/neck frill thing from scraps of my ivory fabric.  then I went digging through my bags and bags of ribbon stash, only to find that I don’t have a single thin pink ribbon.  I did, however, have this frilly pink piece of trim, so I went with it.

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and last but not least, the hat.  I covered a straw hat from Michael’s with the pink fabric.  by this point, I was nearly out of the ivory – down to scraps and worrying about how I was going to finish my pleats – but luckily, I had some really lovely silk in a nearly identical color, so the hat is lined with that and the bow is from silk.  I feel like the cotton would have looked a little cheap; the silk brings a nice fancy touch to the hat.  the roses under the brim only go round the front of the hat, and I stuck some in the back just for fun.  I still have some roses left over from that bouquet I butchered; I may do a little more trimming before I call this project complete.


whew!  now that this beast is past me, I’ve got another costume to get cracking on right away – my sister’s!  I worked on it a little already, but I’ll save it as a surprise, and cover it in another post once I’ve made some real progress.

Ciel – sneak peak

I’m in the midst of tidying up my workspace (which is a shameful mess after three weeks of hardcore sewing) and hopefully tomorrow I’ll be able to do all the proper pictures of my Ciel gown.  It’s just about finished; I had to make an emergency run to the craft store today for trim and black ribbon, which stopped me from finishing it today.

anyway, have a little sneak preview:



“Ciel takes a selfie in the bathroom (complete with retro filter)”

I ordered this wig off Ebay for pretty cheap.  I weighed the price of an ultra-cheap black wig against the hassle it would be to style it properly (I’m not shakes with hair, real or fake) and decided to just go with the Ciel cosplay wig, which I’m satisfied with.  although I thought it would be more of a gray-black, it’s pretty blueish in real life.

anyway, the wig came in the mail this week, so naturally I had to try it on.  then once I had it on, of course I had to do a make-up run to make sure I knew what I was doing.  and once I got that far, I figured I might as well try the hat on, too, in case it was going to fall right off my head.  and eventually, I ended up with the whole shebang on.

I’ll do the proper write-up of this costume tomorrow.  then, after that, I have another costume to start on right away!  keeping myself busy, yes?

sweet sheet stays

I’ve been bad, I know; I haven’t been taking pictures of anything I’ve been making.  I mentioned some time ago that I have a brand spankin new set of 18th century underthings.  I was going through my camera roll today, and realized that I didn’t take one single picture of the making of any of them!  however, I do have one decent (I guess) photo of my stays, so today I’ll talk about those.


and here they are.  (I look positively thrilled to be having my picture taken, no?)  a few weeks ago, I got all dolled up and went out into the very picturesque, yet hella cold snow to take some pictures.  this one was taken in the midst of me getting ready.

I drafted the pattern myself, starting with a basic conical block and adding seams to get the proper look of the mid-18th century stays.  I won’t go into detail about the pattern drafting, because I’m no good at explaining it, but Sidney Eileen has an excellent article on how to draft a conical block, which does a much better job explaining the process than I ever could.  I do mine basically the same way.  I made them strapless just because I didn’t have a pair of strapless stays yet, so why not?

these stays are fully boned with zip ties – my favorite – between two layers of heavy calico (this was, by the way, another stash project, and so I wasn’t much fussed about historical accuracy,) and the fashion layer is an old sheet that I thought was pretty.  it has this nice striped pattern with flowers, and so I smacked a big old flower right in the center.  pretty, girly – I love it.  in this picture, the stays still weren’t lined, but they now have been lined with a soft light blue linen.

the final product is imperfect.  the back needs to be higher – I was thinking that since I was omitting straps, I didn’t need to cut it as high, but in fact I do; the back tends to slide itself down under my shoulder blades if I slouch.  however, that aside, these stays are crazy comfortable – a lot more so than my other pair, which I think I might retire.  the shape of these stays is suited best to early to mid 18th century; very straight, flat, conical.  I’d still like to make a pair suited to the later part of the century, with that distinctive thrust shape.

oh, and as for the lacing… well, I had to dress myself, and the only way to accomplish that was to lace the stays loosely, slip them on, and then tighten from the middle, a la corsets of the next century.  so you can see the lacings tied around my waist.  I know that’s not period proper, but hey, what about this project was?

I’m nearly finished with the Ciel ball gown; just finishing up with some trim tonight.  so my next post will be about that!

the Ciel “roses” gown – part one

I mentioned in my last post that I’ll be going to Anime Central in May.  I haven’t been to an anime convention in at least ten years, but it’s a wonderful chance to dress up and show off my costumes, so I’m going this year!  I started working on my costume this week, and I’ve made pretty good progress, if I do say so myself!

I’m going with my little sister, and she was the one who picked our characters.


I’ll be going as the girl version of Ciel from Black Butler.  which means I get to build a big, frilly ball gown!

I planned things out, and decided what changes I wanted to make to the original idea.  the story is set in the Victorian era, in the late 1880s, so I wanted to make my costume more reflective of that period of fashion than it is in the anime.  even the best-made versions of this gown I’ve seen still look… well, costumey, so I aimed to make mine look more like a real outfit from that time, a formal gown that a woman might have worn at that time.  also, I wanted to change the color scheme from pink and white to pink and ivory, just out of personal preference.

I went fabric shopping this weekend… and really was disappointed, even more so than I usually am by my local fabric store.  they didn’t have much in the colors I was looking for.  as for fabric, I was determined to avoid satin – again out of personal preference; I don’t like shiny fabrics – and in the end I went with cotton calico, because they had both the colors and yardage I needed.  it’s not as fancy as I’d have liked, but then again, this is a costume – something I’m going to be traipsing around in for hours, something that’s going to get dirty and probably stepped on.

I started working on the bodice on Sunday.

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this was my first draft, which ended up fitting the best.  I pinned it on my dress form with canvas, and then cut a mock-up out of a lighter weight cotton.  the only alteration it needed was to cut the armhole a little smaller, so I was good to go!


the inner layer of the bodice is two layers of a heavier cotton calico that I had laying around.  I put two bones at every seam and along the darts.  I used cable ties for a few reasons: I had some available, for one, and I didn’t want this thing to be as heavy as a corset.  the inner lining is heavy enough to keep the bodice up on its own, but the bones give it that little extra support.  the shape was important to me, because a gown like this would have been worn over a corset in period, but I didn’t want to actually have to wear a corset under my costume, for reasons of comfort.


here’s the bodice with the outer layer attached.  I made a mistake, and cut the fashion fabric using my first un-altered pattern, and so the arm holes were a little too deep.  I didn’t realize until I had the thing put together.  I left it that way because I didn’t feel like taking it apart, and because it doesn’t make a difference in how the bodice fits.

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the pleated trim was just a tube of the ivory fabric turned inside out and pleated to fit.  I somehow miscalculated and ended up with twice the length I needed for the top of the bodice… but no worries, because I need a mile of pleats for the underskirt, so I’m a bit ahead of the game there.

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the bodice is finished!  it looks bad on my dress form, but it fits me to a tee.  it laces up the back with grommets.  I debated a back-lacing bodice versus one that closed in the front, and went with back-lacing for two reasons: the gown in the anime does have a corset-ish black ribbon decoration up the back, and I thought it would look better than a front-closing gown with all that stuff right smack in the front.  plus, I have seen a fashion plate with a back-lacing bodice on a ball gown, so I can call it period accurate 😀

I bought a grommet setter, and this project was the first time I used it.  I’ve always used an awl and a hammer to set grommets in the past, but after slicing my hand open for the third time with my awl, I got frustrated, and decided to give the tool a try.  I’m pleased with the way it works, after I got the hang of it!  (my first few grommets came out pretty ugly, though!)  I still don’t like the idea of punching holes in fabric – I think the awl is better – but it sure is quicker.

the black trim is grosgrain ribbon.  the rose comes from a bouquet I deconstructed.  the bow is the same ivory cotton which I painted with black fabric paint to get the stripes just right.  I never thought of using fabric paint in this way before, but I’m pleased with the end result.

next week, I’ll tackle the skirts.  I already have the ivory underskirt pattern made, and the skirt is finished except for needing hemming.  then I have to figure out how to drape the pink overskirt, and of course I have to trim the both of them with a gajillion pleats.  the pleating and the trim is going to be the worst part of the whole outfit, so if I can get it done on my next off week, I’ll be golden!


today, I got a chance to visit a drapery/upholstery warehouse that was having a moving sale… and hit the jackpot, fabric-wise!  I honestly didn’t expect my haul to be as good as it was.  I now have fabric for my next three or four projects… that is, of course, after I finish the two that I’m currently working on!

none of these fabrics were labeled, and unfortunately the guy couldn’t tell me what they were for certain, so I made some guesses.  also, I had to use my iPad for pictures again (I seem to have misplaced my camera…) so the colors aren’t very true.


these feel like dupioni silk to me, but I can’t be sure until I set fire to them.  I’ve got about two yards of the chocolate brown, and roughly three of the ivory.


this piece is by far my best score.  it’s a gorgeous spring green and yellow changeable… well, something.  it feels like taffeta to me but it’s a little stiff.  it’s pretty heavy, too.  anyhow, I’ve got a beautiful ten yards of it, and the only problem I foresee is deciding what type of costume I want to make with it!


this velvet is fabulous to see in person – my crummy iPad pictures don’t do the color justice.  it’s actually a bit darker than this, with a kind of orange-ish hue at a certain angle.


my other super score – just over ten yards of the softest, sheerest cotton voile I’ve ever seen!  you can see that even through several layers of fabric, my rug is still visible.  it’s wonderfully light and floaty.  perfect for that chemise a la reine that I’ve been wanting to make for some time now.


this fabric is really a mystery to me.  it’s really light and crisp, like a silk taffeta.  it’s also slightly crinkled and just a bit stretchy.  it appears to be originally a slate-blue sort of color that has been hand painted with shades of gold.  I’ve got a little more than a yard of this.  it was so interesting to look at and feel that I couldn’t leave it behind.

I also snagged a handful of remnants, amounting to between one and two yards each, as well as twenty-five yards of trim of all varieties.  and I probably would have left with more, except my checkbook – and the trunk of my car – wouldn’t permit it.

I’ll be pretty busy over the next few weeks, mainly with two things – one is the costume I’m working on at the moment, which I’ll hopefully be wearing to Anime Central in May (providing I finish it before then!)  I just started on it this week, which is leaving it a bit late, considering all that I have going on between now and then.  the other thing is that I’m doing some costumes for the summer show at the theater, which happens to be Les Mis.  between those two projects, and the fact that I’m going to LA in April, I’ll probably work myself to insanity… but look forward to some great costumes!


sorry, no pictures or sewing projects in this post (although I am just waiting for some pictures to come back so I can make a post about the big project I worked on over the past month.)  just a bit of news.

if you look through my blog, it’s pretty apparent that I am a sporadic costumer at best.  a few months ago, my schedule at work changed (for the better,) which is leaving me with a much better chunk of time for costuming and sewing – and I’ve been making the most of it, believe me!  but up until that point, sewing and costuming for me was just a hobby, and an intermittent one at that, and couldn’t be anything more than that due to time and budget restraints.

I’m now aiming to make it more a part of my life.  for years now, I’ve been sewing for people – costumes, formal wear, pretty much anything anyone needed I could whip up for them.  so I’ve had people telling me for ages that I should make it a business.  now, I’m at a point where I’m ready to do that.  I’ve opened up an Etsy shop, and though there’s nothing in it yet, I’ll be slowly adding things over the next few weeks that I’ve been working on recently.

the issue I have with costuming is that I love to sew and make things far more than I like to or have occasion to wear them.  in fact, very little of what I sew is for myself, besides just clothing.  I’d rather see other people happily wearing what I make.  going into the costuming business seems like the perfect solution to this problem!

I’m unsure yet which direction I want to take my sewing, but you can expect to see anything from period clothing to cosplay to refashions to one-of-a-kind items crop up.  my interests range very far when it comes to sewing, and what I choose to make and sell all depends on my mood from week to week.  what I’m best at is costuming on a budget – sometimes on an extreme budget – so I’ll probably make that my focus to begin with.  (I’m actually in the middle of a project at the moment that I’m making out of a thrifted gown of black velvet that I completely tore apart for fabric, if that gives you an idea of what I mean.)

I may or may not blog about some of the things I make to sell, it probably depends on how much time I spend on them and how well I document my process.  but I’d urge you not to base your judgement of quality or technique on what you see on this blog – like I said, most of what I’ve been making up until now was for other people, and I don’t post that stuff to my blog.  what goes on here is mainly the least of my forays into costuming – things I make for myself, things I use as an experiment or to test patterns or techniques (including, of course, the ones that fail!)


anyway, you can go ahead and check me out at BlueSparrowClothing.etsy.com (once I get some things listed,) and please keep me in mind for all your custom costuming (on a budget) needs. 🙂