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.

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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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