Making a Christmas Angel Costume, Part One

I’m pretty sure this is the longest blog post i’ve ever written, which is pretty impressive considering my posts usually have a thousand words and thirty photos. There wasn’t a good way to break this up so I decided to leave it as one huge post!

I decided to make another Christmas Costume, I made one last year and it really got me in the festive mood. I love how Christmas contradicts all the things that winter represents, it’s a celebration and involves warm colors, lights, and cheery things in general.

It makes me happy and I wanted to make something that represented that. And I mean that quite literally, because my project idea involved making a dress light up.

I was sort of inspired by a christmas angel we had for our tree when I was younger. She wore an organza ivory dress trimmed with gold, and lights were mounted on the inside to make it glow. Sticking with that theme I decided on a gathered tulle bodice with braided trim to have almost a medieval saintly feeling.

I also wanted to pair it with a candle headpiece – it turns out there is a tradition to celebrate Saint Lucia that involves candelabra headpieces, so i’ll probably use those as reference when making mine.

The idea was – once again – using the tulle flower dress technique, but filling the hem with garlands and lights. This is probably the last time i’ll use this technique but it’s my favorite dress i’ve made using the method.

   I talk about some of the things I purchased for this dress here, and the petticoat that goes underneath it here.

Here are a few of my sketches for the project.

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The base of this dress is a half circle skirt, so I began by drafting that. My sewing room isn’t quite big enough for this project, so it was a bit of a challenge!

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The pattern is fifty-six inches long, which is the exact length of the organza I purchased.

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After the half circle was cut, I also cut an eight of a circle to create a base for the train.

The battery packs for the lights will be hidden by a tulle train at the back of the dress. The 1/8th circle creates something to build off of without taking any volume away from the dress.

Before I could do ANYTHING to my newly cut circle skirt I had to make the pockets for the battery packs. The lights are the main thing on this dress so I was thinking of them all the way along. I decided the best thing to do would be to make pockets to store them, then sew them into the back seam on the dress. I left one inch gaps in the pockets and seam which I could thread the lights through.

It sounds confusing, but it will all work out!

I bought three four meter long lengths of warm white LED lights from amazon, and two packs of star lights from Michaels.

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Since I have five strands I needed to make different sized pockets for each side of the dress – one will have two, the other will have three.

I made my pattern accordingly.

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I cut it out from christmas themed quilters cotton – this fabric was actually the main inspiration for the color scheme in this dress, but this is the only thing I actually used it for!

The edges got marked out and turned over twice to ensure they wouldn’t fray.

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Then I stitched zippers into the tops.

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And did up the sides with french seams.

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Then they got stitched into the seams of the dress. I was VERY careful to leave one inch openings every 1.5″ to ensure the lights could be threaded through the seam.

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Then I could finally begin work on the fun stuff! This is what my circle skirt looked like draped over the petticoat.

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I liked the shape but knew it would collapse down when I started adding to it. To give it a slight boost I hemmed it with horsehair braid, and on top of that I sewed gold wreath mesh into the hem for extra stiffness.

I actually did a super shitty job at this and ended up with a lot of puckers and stuff. The mesh moves a lot and I really should have pinned it in place prior to sewing it on.

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This is the skirt laid out flat, you can see the pockets for the battery packs on the right side!

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After I got it laid out I added the large, glittery garlands that I got from Michaels. I think I used about six sticks of hot glue for this because they really did not want to stay down!

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When I was done I had fifteen inches of garland left, so I cut it up and scattered the leaves around to make it look like they were climbing up the skirt. I also added a few dozen of the fake golden poinsettias.

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I tried it on my dress form again and was really pleased!

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Then I added the first layer of lights. I threaded the lights through the pockets and everything went as planned!

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I spread  the lights out and stitched them down by hand. This was very very time consuming because the thread kept getting caught on the garland. This first layer took me two hours to do!

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When that was done I noticed  the hem was a little uneven so I took it off the dress form and trimmed it while the skirt was laid flat. Since circle skirts have to be bias cut they will warp, especially if you weight the hem. To fix this you really need to trim the hem – but I couldn’t do that because the hem was covered in flowers. So I tried trimming it at the waist to resolve the problem.

Which made everything much worse. Because the weight in the hem was distorting it, everything seemed even when laid flat. When I lifted the skirt back onto the dress form there were parts that didn’t touch the ground and parts that were four inches longer than everything else. So my attempt to fix “bad” led to “huge disaster”

I ended up adding an extra inch of the gold mesh to the area that didn’t touch the ground. Aside from lifting the significantly longer area at the waist, there wasn’t much I could do about that.

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Speaking of the mesh, that was a huge issue too. The mesh has these evil barbs on them made from plastic. I’m one hundred percent sure they added these just to spite me because they are horrible. They get caught on, and try to tear any tulle that touches them. Which really sucks when you are using a tulle petticoat and want to add a tulle overlay.

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Luckily I had some gold ribbon which I stitched on the hem to cover that. Unfortunately a lot of the hem had flowers on it, so I had to rip them off just to attach the ribbon.

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When that was done I got out my glue gun and began re-attaching things. I added WAY more flowers, some extra glittery sprigs, and even some plastic ornaments I bought. I also used those things to hide the hem extension I added.

I ran out of flowers and still wanted to put more stuff to the hem, so I made a whole bunch of bows from gold ribbon and added those as well.

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Here is the new and improved skirt!

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And the first time lighting it up! So exciting!

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Then it was time for more lights! You can barely see them here because they were being lit up with rechargeable batteries, which didn’t end up working very well. Luckily this strand  only took an hour to sew on because they are higher up and the thread didn’t get caught as much.

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Here is the dress with layer two on!

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And then it was time for layer three – the final layer! I wasn’t sure how I wanted these to be positioned so I stitched them on while the skirt was on the dress form. To prevent myself from sewing the dress to the petticoat in the process of attaching the lights, I slipped a piece of paper underneath it.

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Here is the skirt with the final layer all lit up! The hem issue is really obvious here. Later on I ended up lifting that side one and a half inches, but that was the best I could do.

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After all the lights and glittery things were on I did up the back seam of the skirt. I also lint rolled it a dozen times to get off any threads, lint, hairs, and hot glue strings.

The next step was the tulle layer! I cut two pieces of 56″ x 360″ tulle, as well as two 56″ x 72″ pieces and a 56″ x 108″ layer – the latter three pieces will be used for the train.

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The two largest pieces of tulle were stitched together at the hem to create a piece that was 111″ x 360″, I couldn’t get good photo representation of this, but it was a massive amount of tulle!

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I actually wanted the piece to be 108″ long, so when I was gathering it down I left a three inch allowance on one side. This also means the seam attaching the pieces together will be hidden underneath the skirt, rather than being directly at the hem.

The other side of the skirt was gathered down with the normal half inch seam allowance.

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One side got sewn on to the outside of the skirt.

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And the other on the inside so the hem was encased in tulle.

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I basted the layers down at the back, and all my glittery stuff and lights were sealed in! I tried lighting everything up and was so pleased with how pretty it looked. This also fixed the hem length issue because the tulle forced everything to be 54″ long.

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So the next morning I go upstairs to work on my dress, and there was a slight snafu.

There was a spider inside my dress.

THERE WAS A SPIDER INSIDE MY DRESS.

SEALED INSIDE MY DRESS. INSIDE OF IT. BETWEEN THE TULLE AND ORGANZA. ON THE INSIDE.

I wouldn’t say i’m scared of spiders, but I strongly dislike them, luckily I don’t encounter them often. But my sewing room has been rearranged this week so it probably fled from behind a cabinet I moved. How the hell it got inside the dress, I have no idea. Maybe it was hiding in the garland before I put the tulle on (ew) or maybe it crawled through the basting stitches.

I sprayed it with water in an attempt to kill it – which didn’t work – but it did play dead up until I tried touching it. Which was great and not terrifying at all. There was a waterfall streaming down the side of my dress that could have drowned a small child yet the stupid spider seemed fine.

I ended up ripping out the stitches at the top so there was a 6″ opening at the waist. Then I stuck the vacuum extension into the dress and sucked it up.

DSC_0749 I stitched that closed and moved on.

I sewed together the remaining pieces of tulle and trimmed them into a “U” shape that I thought would make a nice train.

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I gathered it down to three inches, then pinned it to the back of the dress.

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And it looked…really sad, actually.

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So I made a liner for it from white tulle (didn’t have enough ivory left) which gave it a boost. I liked this much better, so I sewed them both in place!

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I feel like the back looks a bit empty because it doesn’t have anything gold on it.

I did get this huge glittery bow, which is obnoxious. I love it for the obvious reasons: It’s a huge glittery bow, but I’m not completely sure it matches the ethereal feeling I was aiming for with this dress.

I might get rid of it completely or make it detachable. I’m torn.

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To finish up this skirt I folded the edges of the slit inward. I left a ten inch slit in all the layers to make sure it could easily go over my head. The skirt actually hides this slit really well since there is so much volume, but i’ll probably end up adding snaps to keep it shut just in case. I’m going to leave that for after I figure out the bodice closure.

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So that’s pretty much it! This is it from the side:

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From the front in a bright room.

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In a dim room. In these pictures I also turned on the star lights – the LEDS in these are white but look almost blue when turned on. I stitched them underneath the hem with hopes the gold mesh would filter them and give a warmer tone. It didn’t work, and I don’t love how they look turned on, so i’m not sure how much use they will get.

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And in a dark room.

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I think that covers everything! If you are interested in actually watching me making it, I have a video that shows most of the process. It’s posted HERE! And this video shows it all lit up with the lights on the twinkle setting, which is kind of cool.

I’m really happy with this dress so far. It came out just like I had envisioned, which is a really wonderful feeling!

Thank you for reading!

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109 thoughts on “Making a Christmas Angel Costume, Part One

  1. Ann says:

    People who matter need to see your work. I first thought Gaga but no, you have a more ethereal look , less ‘out there’, more marketable. Who? Katy Perry? Local theatre groups. You have such talent my friend. This work needs to be shared. Love, love love it.

  2. simplybea94 says:

    You are seriously AMAZING! I never go through with some of my more crazy ideas (practicality – I’m a student and dont have the time, money or space) so reading your costume pieces is always a treat! This one is amazing!

    Personally, I think the bow works, but then, it depends on the bodice I suppose. I think it kind of ties the train into the feel of the dress.

    LOVE THE LIGHTS!

    • Angela Clayton says:

      Thank you! I’m glad you are enjoying the posts. I like the bow too, especially from the back. I think i’m going to attach it with hooks, so then it can be removable and I can change it out if my opinion changes. Thanks for the input!

  3. Liv says:

    I love this. You should definitely check out an Irish dress designer called Claire Garvey. I had the privilege to work with her for an afternoon and she seriously blew my mind. Your piece reminds me of her work. It’s so beautiful.

  4. Jaguwar says:

    That is the most amazing thing I’ve EVER seen! Great work! That spider though… LOL Hilarious! I guess it felt right at home there, what with all the leaves and garlands and such. 😉

  5. Kailee says:

    Have you considered making one for someone else and getting paid for it? I have always wanted a winter wedding and this would be amazing.

    • Angela Clayton says:

      Not really, but I guess it would depend on the situation. I’m still learning, and there are always a lot of problems I run into with projects – as shown about with the hem. Usually I can overcome them, but sometimes the quality of work has to be sacrificed. I wouldn’t entirely comfortable making a wedding dress for someone knowing what could go wrong.

      If someone was aware of that, and still really wanted me to make them a wedding dress, I suppose we could talk about it!

  6. Tracey Walker says:

    First of all, you are so talented you make my heart hurt. Second…A spider. Oh holy hell. No no no. Third, I think you can do without the train. The gold around the skirt is so luscious, that it doesn’t really need it and I agree with you about the bow. Girl you are an inspiration.

    • Angela Clayton says:

      Aww, thank you so much! I definitely get what you are saying, I really think it needs the train though. I tried it with just the tulle liner (which is the same length as the rest of the skirt) and it looked unfinished, like I had run out of gold stuff. I don’t love how the train looks, but at least it looks intentional.

      I really appreciate the kind words!

  7. scififreak35 says:

    This is beautiful! And I straight thought this was a WEDDING dress. I was picturing a night time, outdoor wedding and someone in this walking down an aisle under a canopy of trees. I also really want to pin this on Pintrest.

    • Angela Clayton says:

      Thank you! I knew when I started that it would probably get labeled as one, large ivory dresses often get that title! Which is fine, it is kind of bridal-y.

      I don’t mind my work being posted as pinterest as long as i’m linked as the source!

  8. Space_wolf says:

    The bow at the back might not go with the ethereal saint idea you had, but it might work if you keep thinking of it as a Christmas Angel dress – as the angels are doll like and the bow adds a touch of that into the outfit. I guess you’ll need to see how it looks with the bodice, but sorry to hear the project’s been a bit of a nightmare.

  9. Julie Wilmes says:

    OH MY GOD! I love this!

    I’m terrible at sewing but I would love to make something similar for a photo session I’m planning, now to find someone I know who is good at sewing, you’ve inspired me so much!

  10. bloodyginger says:

    This is beyond words!!!!11!11! I have one question, didn’t those led lamps get heat or sth? I’m thinking about making my wedding dress like this, but I don’t wanna turn to dust in my wedding lol

    • Angela Clayton says:

      LED’s don’t get very hot, at least not the ones i’m using. I’ve had them on for 3+ hours and they never became warm to the touch, so unless something sparks/malfunctions horribly, you should be fine.

      Larger ones that plug into the wall (which my family uses on our christmas tree) get slightly warm, so you might want to stay away from those.

  11. Karen K. says:

    Oh, My Gaud! The spider thing would have killed me! I probably would have burned the whole dress then and there! I am so glad you didn’t though because it is so incredible!! I adore the lights!! I agree about the star ones being too blue, which is a big bummer. I think the bow looks nice and adds a bit of “floof” to the back of the dress. Maybe use some of the gold ribbon as long tendrils coming off of the bow to be the same length as the train to add a little extra sparkle and blend it a bit with the rest of the skirt? I actually think it is lovely just the way it is! Beautiful work as always!!

  12. Caitlin says:

    I’m not sure if this would be available presently, but you may be able to power a future dress with miniature solar panels. I saw some recently that are stickers, which would be much lighter than batteries!

  13. smittenness says:

    This is gorgeous. You really need to come to a Sink the Pink show if you’re ever in London. The other costume guy (very experienced) was just making a light up outfit the other week and spending a lot of time trying to talk the performer out of it. He’ll go nuts for this!

  14. Jenn says:

    I like the bow. The rest of the dress seems like it’s the natural attire of a Christmas Angel, but the bow she puts on for “special occasions.” This is absolutely breathtakingly beautiful.

  15. Kate says:

    This is absolutely stunning, it looks amazing in the dark room especially. How long did it take you? I’m a textiles student, and for my final piece, I always wanted to put lights into whatever I’m going to create. Is it extremely difficult?

    • Angela Clayton says:

      Thank you very much! I spent maybe a week planning it, and it took a week to make it. But I worked on it a lot over that week, it probably has forty hours of time into it.

      There are five strands of lights, they took maybe six hours to sew on. It’s just a basic hand sewing stitch to attach them, so it isn’t too bad!

  16. Molly Brooks says:

    wow. It’s so beautiful! I LOVE the idea of the lights. I would love this as my wedding dress, or even just to dance around the house in, feeling like some sort of fairy, lol. That spider would freak me out too…that’s just creepy. where did you attach the battery compartment for the lights?

  17. Taasha says:

    That is incredibly gorgeous. I just, wow, the amount of effort and detail you put into the dress to make it so stunning is incredible. Will there be a bodice made to match, and maybe pictures of you in the completed outfit to come? It looks glorious.

  18. Dawn says:

    That is amazing. I love that you share all of the oops, and mistakes, and “hmm that didn’t really work” comments! Your finished products are so enviable, that for costumers who envy your level of skill, seeing all of your OOPS is very reassuring that all of our OOPS are totally fine too – if you can have the same kinds of issues, and have such beautiful final results 🙂

    • Angela Clayton says:

      Thank you! Haha some people tell me I focus too much on the negatives when I write about the problems I run into, but mistakes are such a big part of learning so I think it’s important to talk about them. I’m glad you enjoy those bits!

      And from your other comment, I didn’t realize ruffler feet had a gathering setting. I may have to reevaluate my opinion on them!

  19. Megan Heafner says:

    I seriously have been searching everywhere to see where i could buy this dress to wear to the military ball this year but its handmade and i suck at making clothes so i can’t make it. 😦 I really wish there was a way to buy/order one of these dresses because it is so beautiful!

  20. reazjw@yahoo.com says:

    Your work is beautiful.

    You are a talented and inspired person. I read that you do not like classes, the purpose of classes is reduce technical mistakes, giving you more time for the creative element. I personally am glad that I did my studies. They gave my ideas wings with which to fly. The time it takes me to create a product is less and the product better. For example, one of my quilting classes taught me about a thimble that has a rim around the top, it has made my embroidery better and less painful.

    I wish you continued success and great things in the future.

    • Angela Clayton says:

      Thank you!

      I definitely understand that. I wouldn’t mind taking classes now to improve at things i’m poor at, but i’m really glad a lot of my knowledge comes from being self taught. The people I know who studied at FIT and such are very good at specific things but tend to lack problem solving abilities and are less flexible since they were trained in such a specific way. Of course that doesn’t apply to everyone, though!

      Thank you for the kind words!

  21. Neen says:

    I’d like to try this, but my sewing skills are elementary at best. I wonder if I could use a dress for a base and then do the effects with the tulle and lights? I’m getting married on Halloween and this would be perfect for the ‘costume’ I have in mind….except I want red and white instead of gold and white………and sleeves….I love bell sleeves…..or detachable bell sleeves, that would be cool. You are a very talented young lady with a very creative mind. I’ll have to share this with my daughter whom is also 17 ^_^

  22. Heather Kaelin says:

    I love this. Do you think it would work well with a different color fabric and tulle? In thinking of using for my wedding dress but I’m not doing a white dress. Maybe light blue or green.

  23. Wendy-Beth Minton says:

    I have a cocktail dress I made out of pink satin with a black lace overlay and a bunch of sewable electronics from Adafruit.LEDs are sewn into the skirt, and change colors/blink as I move. I LOVE the dress. It’s a larp costume, but I’ve always wondered if the approach could be used on a wedding dress, when the time comes to make one. You just proved to me it can be, and it looks gorgeous!

  24. Lindsey says:

    Wow… I love the look of this 🙂 I would actually consider having my wedding dress made in this way with lights and natural dried flowers/leaves. Our wedding is also a tribute to our daughter who passed away at 5 months old, and although she was young, she loved the movie “Epic”, so we are doing an enchanted like forest theme. This actually brought tears to my eyes 🙂 Good job, and thank you for this inspiration.

    • Angela Clayton says:

      Thank you for the kind words! You are very kind. I’m sorry for your loss, but it is lovely that you are honoring her in that way. Just be careful with dried flowers, i’ve used them in projects before and even when being careful they tend to disintegrate. That’s why I tend to reach for fake flowers instead!

  25. Neena Maddox says:

    OMG.. I love your work. I have made costumes like yours. You have given me some great ideas. And I find too that hand sewing helps in putting together a great dress. I made a Glinda the Good Witch Dress and won in a costume contest. Then I helped made a Queen Elisabeth Dress for a student at school. She got second place. And that’s because she gave me a weekend to put it together. People don’t understand how long and how much work goes into those dresses. I love your work. I am going to follow your post.

  26. Tiffany says:

    So I wanted to make a dress similar to this for a concert with the lights and everything. I was wondering if there was any way I could recreate this with out sewing because I don’t sew.
    Thanks

  27. Stephanie says:

    love it. I know nothing about sewing but am very creative. Was wondering if the skirt part would be difficult for a beginner??

  28. suzanne says:

    Your gown is just gorgeous! I loved reading your tutorial on the making of it. The spider (little weaver that she is) was no doubt impressed with your handy work and decided to get a closer look. She was probably trying to figure out how to put those sparkling lights in her web. You are a very talented young lady. Never stop what you are doing….see your dreams through.

  29. Kiriiko says:

    Hi!! U did an increadible job with the lights n the dress! Its beautiful!
    I am really curious how do u switch the lights on??
    Where’s the switch??? Did u put it under the skirt or in the skirt????

  30. teerhannah says:

    Hi! I’d really like to try and recreate this for my mother nature Halloween costume. I was wondering how much of each material you purchased? I’m going to use green and brown garland and some other flowers as well as maybe green tulle or green organza. Could you perhaps share some tips as well? Thank you so so much!!

  31. Tonya Barnes says:

    love this Christmas dress I am looking for something similar to this for my daughter for a Christmas pageant …do you make for people

  32. Loréna says:

    Holy Mother of Hell… your dress is absolutely amazing *.*
    So cute and gorges at the same time is difficult to achieve, I love your take on the Christmas Angel look 🙂
    By the way, I’ve been looking around for those battery powered lights for one of my own costumes but couldnt find any, any help to find them would be very kind of you 🙂

  33. Skylar says:

    I plan to make a version of this and one of your flower dresses (specifically putting blue,black,purple like flowers instead of garland) and a little shorter for my senior prom. I also plan to go to fashion school and think this would be an awesome way to end my high school life!

  34. ela avsar says:

    i really love the skirt that u made, it looks amazing!
    How long did it take for you to complete the dress to its current great standard?.. also where did you buy the fabrics and garlands from?

  35. Laura says:

    Oh my ! It’s beauitful! And funny story not laughing at you with you lol. I would love to make a skirt/ dress like this thanks so much for shareing!

  36. Arianna James says:

    I love this soooo much!!! It has inspired my wedding dress! I’ve watched the video so many times and am super happy you blogged it too! I just have a couple of questions…

    How heavy did everything get? Especially with the battery packs. I plan to do mine behind a hoop skirt to back-light the caging for effect and those get pretty heavy with steel hoops.

    Instead of the tulle overlay, would the lights shine through organza, ya think?

    Thanks in advance if you can answer! Again, sooooo love this! Your work is inspiring and beautiful!

  37. Meriam Chaima'a says:

    I want to try making something like this for Christmas this year. My friend has a dress up day in school for Christmas and it is her last year, would you say this dress is suitable to a while day of wear or is it more ornamental? It really is an amazing dress xx

  38. carol says:

    Your gown is amazing and I commend you for taking the challenge I certainly would have done it. I own a dressmaking/design shop that I have had for 41 years and just about every design puzzle has crossed through my doors. I want to give you a few tips to make your next gown less frustrating and time consuming. Next time you make this gown cut a lining of taffeta in gores that are straight on grain, you might need 8. They need to equal the waist measurement at the top and the measurement around your hem. Being straight on grain you will not have the ups and downs you had when you cut a half or quarter circle. No bias. So now you have a stable base to work on to apply all your tulle and embellishments. Your horsehair was a must. I have even gone so far as to use plastic lawn bender board in a costume to hold out a skirt….was like a hula hoop and just floated when the customer walked. Sew your lights on first or put them on through slits under the lining. That sewing and getting your thread caught is such a pain. You can cut slits and seal them with “Fray Check” Good luck and keep creating.

  39. Bethany fenton says:

    This is truly beautiful , I’d love to get married in something like this 😍😍😍!!!! (Minus the spider lol) xxx

  40. Annette Matthews says:

    This is gorgeous, would you consider making it and selling one?? Just wondering. I am not very talented and do not have have the time to make anything this intricate and elaborate.

  41. Courtney Boose says:

    Wow! This dress is beautiful and you have inspired me Angela with being self taught.. I have been sewing for years but have not really progressed much, the perfectionist in me tends to stop me from diving into things! This dress is so unique and by golly, who wouldn’t like an angel or fairy like dress!!

  42. Brooke says:

    Wow, this dress is incredible!!
    Im getting married in a year, and this would be my ideal dress. I was wondering if you could potentially help me with patterns at all? I would love this dress with a lower waistline, and a sleeveless sweetheart neckline. Your work is so gorgeous and inspirational!!

  43. Virginia says:

    This is absolutely gorgeous, I’ve seen this a while back and my daughter came to me a few days ago and said mom can you make this for me for my senior prom. Well I couldn’t say no, so I really hope I can pull this one off..

  44. Heather Boyle says:

    This is one of the most remarkable gorgeous Christmas costume dresses I have ever seen! I started going to SantaCon parties about 5 years ago, and made a very beautiful Snow Queen cape that’s white with fur trim (and lined with a silver camping blanket for sparkle), but seeing your amazing light up Angel skirt has just upped the stakes. It’s only August now, so I’d better get started. Thank you so much for the inspiration!

  45. yvonne gabella says:

    bonjour, j’aimerai savoir ou vous avez trouvé les feuilles dorées , j’ai cherché mais rien . la robe est magnifique , beau travail

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