The Sunflower Gown : Making a 1830’s Dress

Last Thursday I drove by the prettiest sunflower field, and was overwhelmed with the desire to make something inspired by it.

I also wanted to make something that could be photographed in the field.

Unfortunately, sunflower season is really short and I didn’t expect them to be around for another week.

Which meant I had to make a dress that week.

So I did!

I did the pattern drafting on Friday, and actual construction started on Saturday. I had the dress and a headpiece done and ready to be photographed by Sunday evening.

I think it turned out pretty well for two days of work!

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The idea for this was very much shaped by the fabric I had in my stash. In fact, at first I didn’t think I had any fabric that would be suitable for a sunflowery historical gown. I was planning on making a few 1950’s pieces in autumn tones that would suit the backdrop, and that is what I spent a good chunk of Thursday/Friday working on. But the further along I got, the more I wanted to make something historical instead.

So I went through my stash and came across a recently purchased silk shantung. I would lovingly call this fabric baby poop colored…But I still bought it, because it has a very strong gold/green shift, which is striking when light hits it.

It isn’t exactly sunflower colored – but it has yellow, green and black tones in it which is reminiscent.

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This was my original sketch, along with some skirt variations.

I designed this without researching references, but I did look to Costume in Detail* for construction notes regarding 1830’s dresses, which ended up being very helpful!

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The parts I was most excited about (like the big sleeves and gold petal overlays) ended up in the finished dress. But other plans had to be dropped due to fabric and time limitations.

Remember, I only had two days, and six yards of fabric, which isn’t a lot for a historical gown!

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The first idea I dropped, was the plan of having a pleated bertha collar. I decided it took too much fabric and time to create. Instead I draped and off the shoulder bodice which was shaped with gathering at the front and shoulder.

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I made a mockup for this, then got everything transferred to paper. I also drafted the sleeves right away, which is rare for me. I tend to leave sleeves for last (as in, after the whole bodice is done) because I hate them so much. But there was no time to procrastinate!

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The bodice pattern was cut out twice – once from a floral cotton which will serve as lining, and again from the silk. Boning channels were stitched into the seam allowance at the sides of the lining, and at the center seam.

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I stitched the layers together, with the right sides facing each other, all the way across the neckline.sunflowers (5 of 36)

I ironed the lining inward and stitched around the neckline by hand. At this point the side seams were still left open. And I wanted to leave them open until after sewing the sleeves on. Which meant I had to make sleeves.

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I cut the sleeves out from a layer of black cotton sateen, and a layer of floral embroidered glitter mesh.

I’m SO glad I remembered that I had this fabric in my stash. I don’t own a lot of black material and was quite frantic trying to find something for the sleeves that had a lot of texture, but wasn’t too thick or heavy (my previous candidate was velvet, which is both thick and heavy).

This ended up being perfect, and I had just enough left to work as an overlay.

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The sleeves were gathered down by hand. Originally I wanted these to be pleated, but I thought having pleated sleeves with a gathered bodice would look strange. So I gathered them instead.sunflowers (9 of 36)

I was going to pad these to get the amount of volume I wanted, but I decided to try stitching ribbon in first to see if that would help. I’m not sure what this is called (sleeve stays, maybe?) but it is often shown in sewing books.

The ribbon forces the sleeves to stay a certain length, which prevents them from sliding down the arm and losing their poof. These sleeves were about 13″ long in the center. And the longest piece of ribbon is 7″.

I didn’t have high hopes that this would work based on my test fitting…but it totally did! No need for sleeve pads here!

 

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But the sleeves weren’t done! I wanted the gold fabric to lay overtop of the puffed portion, almost like flower petals.

These petals were created with half circles of fabric, in various sizes.

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Each half circle was folded in half, and stitched together to form a quarter circle shape. The quarters were turned right side out and ironed. Then the rounded edge was gathered down by hand until it was an inch or two long.

Five of these will be used on each sleeve, which the longest petal at the center of the shoulder.

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This was stitched onto the top edge of the sleeve. I also finished the lower edge of the sleeves with matching gold piping.

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The lower edge looks a bit messy from the interior, and the top edge is kind of…uh…girthy? It’s almost a cm thick at points! So I decided not to finish this edge, since any stitching or binding would just add to that.

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Even though it was quite thick, my sewing machine stitched through it like a champ.

Once the sleeves were on, I sewed up the side seams. I also added boning to the front seam (it stops just below the gathering) and the side seams. Leaving me with this!

It looked so much better than I had expected it would – which really got me feeling excited about the project!

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Though the sleeves were the hard part of this project, they were made easier by the fact I had a clear vision. Where my thoughts towards the skirt were murky at best.

I knew I wanted some visual interest on the skirt – I recently made two 1840’s dresses with plain rectangle skirts, and I’m a bit bored with them. Not the shape, just the lack of trimming.

And the 30’s were famous from elaborately trimmed skirts, so I felt this project would be incomplete without something.

My first idea was pintucking the skirt, then decorating it with sunflowers. But the skirt would have been too short if I did that (I was working with the fabrics horizontal width for the skirt, about 45″).

Then I decided to trim the hem with large triangles, made from black velvet and piped with matching shantung. These could be stitched to the underside of the hem and turn outward, like petals. They could also serve as frames for hand made sunflowers. This idea is seen in my original sketch.

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I was pretty committed to this idea, so much so that I wasted 1/2 yard of my precious silk to create the piping. I also cut out a dozen velvet triangles, and  poly shantung for lining.

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The piping was stitched to the lining, with the wrong sides facing outward. Then velvet was pinned on top with the edges tucked inward, covering the frayed edges of the shantung.

These looked OK, but I didn’t love it. The velvet lacked texture since it was so dark, and the piping blended into the skirt. I thought it was too harsh and clashed with the bodice. sunflowers (33 of 36)

So I decided to dress the skirt up with lace instead. I had 12 yards of 7″ wide chantilly lace that I bought on etsy a while back. I figured I could sacrifice a few yards for this, and still have enough leftover for a civil war era gown (which I’m pretty sure was my original intention for it).

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Despite my intentions for something different, the skirt for this was just a rectangle. But I had a reason for it! On top of fabric limitations, this fabric has a very different sheen and coloring depending on the grain line. Cutting the skirt as a rectangle means the grain is the same all the way across, and ensures the sheen will look even.

The rectangle for this was 3.5 yards wide, and the full width of the fabric.

I marked a line two inches away from the selvedge, and ironed the lower edge up so it touched that line.

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Then I hemmed it with a super sloppy, very wide catch stitch.

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The chantilly lace was placed 6.5″ away from the finished hem, and stitched on by hand with running stitches. sunflowers (21 of 36)

The top edge was gathered down by hand to match the waist of the bodice, then stitched on by machine.

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After that, I turned the back edges inward. I had about 1.5″ of allowance on either edge, but I wanted them to overlap so I wouldn’t have to add a modesty panel. I also wanted to stitch boning into both edges without any visible topstitching.

I honestly don’t even remember how I went about doing this, but I know the end result was far from symmetrical and not too pretty in terms of construction. But it looked okay from the outside…which is all I can really ask for when making a dress in two days!

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I stitched hooks and bars into the back to serve as closures.sunflowers (26 of 36)

I also added a belt. I debated about this a lot, but strongly felt the dress needed something to break up the bodice and skirt. I pinned a velvet waistband on first, but wanted something with more texture. So I ended up making a waistband from black cotton sateen, then fussy cutting bits of beaded lace out and stitching them on.

This looks a bit messy up close since the lace has a large wandering floral pattern, and really isn’t made to be cut into tiny pieces. But from a distance it still has visible texture and adds a bit of sparkly!

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Now with my limited fabric and time remaining, I decided to make sunflowers. These were created from dozens of 4″ wide circles. Each one was cut out, then ironed into quarters. Like with the sleeves, the curved edge is gathered down.

Except this time they were sewn on to a circular base of interfacing.

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The bases were covered with velvet, and more butchered black lace. I wanted the centers to have a lot of texture to mimic sunflowers, but I didn’t have time (or enough black beads) to embellish the centers fully.

The lace was a way to quickly get the effect I wanted, and it worked perfectly!

The lace had to be stitched on by hand, and while I was at it I stitched on some larger black beads, and some gold sequins. The sequins were a random addition because I love sequins. But I’m so glad I decided to use them, the contrast of the gold against the black makes them look lit up, regardless of the lighting.sunflowers (22 of 36)

I pinned the sunflowers onto the dress while it was on my form, before sewing up the back seam. This way I could remove the dress from the form and stitch the flowers on while the skirt was completely flat.

Even though that made the sewing process easier, I didn’t do the best job of this. They were *really* roughly stitched on with whip stitches at the underside of the fabric. I tried to stitch through the edge of the interfacing centers, since that is the heaviest part of the flowers.

I wish the stitching was cleaner, but I’m actually pleased with the placement of the stitches. Since I didn’t tack down the petals, they flip outward slightly, making them look more natural. sunflowers (29 of 36)sunflowers (28 of 36)

That was the dress done! But I knew I wanted to make a headpiece too.

This ended up consisting of two gathered strips of the black mesh, and a bunch of the small flower “petals”. These were stitched into a a single strip.

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That I hot glued onto a headband and backed with boning and felt. Am I proud of the quantity of hot glue on this? No. But it looked good in photos and took less than 10 minutes to make.

The “finishing touches” included pinning my petticoats so they hung above my ankle. And pinning fabric sunflowers onto my funtasma shoes* so it was less obvious that I don’t have any 1830’s appropriate footwear.

1830’s footwear is supposedly the easiest to fake, since they wore square toed flats. But I do not own a single pair of flats because they make my feet look massive.

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And that was it! Also for those curious, this was worn over my recently completed 1840’s corset based on a pattern from Norah Waugh’s Corsets and Crinolines*. I have a couple  photos of this on instagram (here, here, and here) and I can vouch for this pattern being awesome – I love the shape of it, and it is pretty comfy!

For petticoats, I wore a cotton/net full length petti that I made a few years ago. It is full length, so I had to pin it up by about 6″ for this photoshoot. And that was stacked on top of two knee length tulle petticoats (specifically, this one).

I’ve been really unhappy with the volume in my other 40s/30s skirts and I thought this would be a good solution. And I was right, look at that poof!

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And as always, thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed!

 

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Making an 1890’s Day Dress, the “Pumpkin” Gown, Part One

Today I’ll be talking about making another 1890’s day dress from taffeta. But this time around my posts will be a lot more positive since i’ve already finished this dress and i’m really happy with the end result. The finished dress actually fits, and isn’t too long, which might be a first for me!

Before talking about construction I wanted to explain the design of this, because if you’ve seen the movie Crimson Peak it may look familiar!

If you read this blog post you’ll know my foray into 1890’s fashion was originally inspired by what Edith wore in the film, specifically this gorgeous coat. Back in January I bought fabric for a coat based on that design, and material for a dress to wear underneath it. Even though I really liked the dress Edith wore with the jacket in the film, I chose to create an original design instead.

And it failed horribly.

The design wasn’t the reason why that project failed, but I didn’t want to be reminded of it when attempting another project from this period. So I settled on a simpler design, which features the most common skirt and bodice design from the 1890’s, and the signature puff sleeves. You can see similar designs in Victorian Fashions and Costumes from Harper’s Bazar* which I had open while sketching this ensemble.

Since my last dress was very heavy I chose to leave this one free of embellishments and trim, with the only decoration being buttons down the front and a brooch. This was the only thing I intended on copying from the dress in Crimson Peak. But when I compared my sketch to the costume from the film, I realized they were pretty much identical!

This was made even more apparent because the fabric I purchased for this project is quite similar to what was used for Edith’s dress. But I like the design, and I like the dress from the film, so i’m okay with them being really similar, even if that wasn’t my original intention.

As I said, I used Victorian Fashions and Costumes from Harper’s Bazar* as a reference, along with a bunch of things i’ve pinned and the gown from the film.

I purchased seven yards of an orange silk for this dress, and plan on wearing it with this beautiful moth brooch I got for two dollars on ebay. I’ve been wanting to include it in a costume for ages, and I feel like this is my chance – even though brooches this bold aren’t really historically accurate, ecspecially on a day ensemble.

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And a more developed sketch.

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 I started off by draping the pattern. It’s a pretty simple design, but it took a bit of fiddling to get the amount of volume I wanted while keeping the shoulder and sides perfectly smooth.

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Here you can see it transferred to paper with the seam allowances added. This picture was taken after I made my first mock up and some pattern changes. Those changes included making the waistband longer, taking the collar in by an inch, adding a dart to the front, and raising the waistline.

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Just to be safe, since the fit of my first 1890’s day dress was so bad, I decided to cut out and assemble the lining of the bodice first. This would serve as a second mock up of sorts, and allow me to make minor changes before cutting into the silk. I’m SO glad I did this, because some weird issues popped up.

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The collar was too big (I think I took it in by a full inch), the gathers at the front were gaping, and there was a lot of wrinkling and bunching in collarbone/shoulder area. The wrinkling was weird, since every other part of the bodice seemed to fit fine.

I couldn’t find a solution online, or in Patternmaking for Fashion Design* (which everyone says has all the answers) but luckily I found a handy diagram in one of the 1920’s textbooks from the Woman’s Institute of Domestic Arts and Sciences which my Great Aunt gave me.

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I was skeptical about their solution, since the shoulder seam fit quite tightly, and if anything there was more excess fabric near the collar than the shoulder, but it totally worked! The shoulder seam just needed to be on more of an angle. I guess I’ve never run into this problem before since I don’t make high collar bodices very often.

In addition to that, I also took the collar in and sewed a strip of material across the front to control the gathers. In the future I would make a separate lining pattern that isn’t gathered, which would avoid this problem.

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Here you can see the strip I sewed to the front. After this was done I tried the bodice on again, and it fit well enough that I felt comfortable with moving forward. So I sewed a few boning channels into the lining, then filled them with plastic bones.

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It’s the wrong fabric and color, but it looks the way I wanted!

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Now I cut the bodice out from silk. Here is the front panel before I gathered it down.

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And here it is after being gathered!

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And sewn onto the back panels – can we just take a moment to appreciate how the seams on this fabric are practically invisible? I was so worried about making a full dress from silk, since the last silk I used was a VERY finicky dupioni that puckered horribly any time a needle passed through it.  But this fabric doesn’t have that issue, It sews beautifully and seams disappear after ironing.

Plus it has a gorgeous two tone look to it, and the weight is perfect – light enough that it is easy to manipulate, but heavy enough that I didn’t have to interface or flat line it. I want to own this fabric in every color and use it for everything, it’s wonderful.

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I sewed up the shoulder seams and added the waistband. Notice how the front and back panels have the same sheen to them? That’s because I paid attention to grainlines this time around…

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And a quick test on the dress form to make sure the gathered looked okay.

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Now it was time to add the closures. I chose to make the dress close down the back, and decided to go for something that would be decorative and functional: buttons and loops. I don’t think this is historically accurate, but i’ve wanted to make a dress with this type of closure for years and this seemed like a perfect opportunity.

To make the loops I cut out one inch wide strips of silk on the fabrics bias. Then I sewed them into tubes with a quarter inch seam allowance.

When it came to turning the tubes the right way out, things got tricky. I tried to turn the first one by hand, with the help of pliers. Which worked, but damaged the fabric and took ages – like three hours to finish one thirty inch long tube. It was ridiculous. For the other two I used the safety pin method of pinning it to one end, then threading it through the tube and pulling it out the other side. This worked way better and took less than ten minutes, so I should have done that in the first place!

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I ended up cutting the tubes into two inch lengths, then ironing them into the shape seen below. These were pinned onto ribbon, then sewn to the ribbon by machine.

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The ribbon was then pinned onto the back of the bodice.

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And sewn on by hand. Not my prettiest hand work, but I went over each loop several times to make sure they are really secure.

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With the loops on, I went ahead and sewed in the lining.

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Now it was starting to look like something!

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But it was still missing all the buttons, which meant I had to make some. I bought a tool for covering 5/8″ buttons, along with fifty loop back sets. These were purchased on etsy for a grand total of nine bucks.

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A few hours later I had an adequate number of buttons. Though I had to make more later for the sleeves and skirt.

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Buttons were sewn onto the back, which unfortunately I didn’t take a picture of, and the front, which looks like this!

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The gathered front of the bodice has a tendency to flop over and hide my beautiful buttons, so I’ll have to do something to fix that. But aside from that I really like it! I love how clean it looks, with the focus being on the color and buttons. It’s interesting working on something that is so bold (a lot bolder than my usual projects) yet really simple by comparison.

Speaking of that bold color, i’ve nicknamed this the pumpkin dress because of it! The color probably reminds me of cheetos more than pumpkins, but I think “pumpkin” is a slightly more glamorous name for it.

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And that’s it for this post! Thanks for reading!

Making a Structured Chemise a la Reine, Part Two

The adventure of making a horribly inaccurate chemise a la reine continues! Part one shows the process of making the sleeves and skirt and can be read here.

Step one was making a pattern. I actually used the pattern for my “Glittery Gothic” dress as a base, then added seams and changed the neckline. I made a mock up of this before finalizing the pattern but still ended up running into problems with the fit.

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The bodice is made from two layers of polyester shantung, the lower layer serves as a base for the boning and doubles as lining. This is the lower layer, you can tell because all the channels are marked out in colored pencil!

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I made the boning channel from bias cut strips of shantung. This was a bad idea. At the time I had forgotten how much shantung puckers.

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Even after spending half an hour with my iron on the highest setting and a spray bottle of starch I couldn’t get all the puckers out. Such evil fabric.

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After I was done ironing I sewed the pieces together and pressed the seams open. Then I made marks one inch away from the neckline, these serve as a guide for getting an even half inch hem.

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The boning was inserted and each raw edge got pinned in place. I used a large running stitch to sew all the edges down.

I repeated this process with the top layer of fabric, but used much smaller stitches to secure the edges.

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Then I cut long strips of shantung and hemmed one edge – I used my sewing machine to hem this, which is quite the rarity for me these days! I gathered the top to create a long ruffle which eventually got sewn on to the bodice neckline.

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Then the lining was pinned in place. Since I did all the steps in the right order the lining covers the raw edge of the ruffles. I sewed the lining in with small whip stitches but made sure to leave the lower edge open.

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Look at how pretty it is!

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I embroidered eyelets up the back, then attached the sleeves. I used my usual method of combining the running stitch and whip stitch together to make sure they are really secure.

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Now that it had sleeves and eyelets I could try it on! At this point I realized the major fit issue, it’s too small at the shoulders and pulls in an uncomfortable way. It doesn’t look that bad, and I can deal with it, but i’m sad I didn’t notice it sooner.

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The ruffle on this dress was kind of crazy so I used long stitches to tack it down.

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Then it was time to add the skirt! I left the bottom of the bodice open intentionally so I could slip the skirt underneath the lining and keep things looking pretty. I sewed the skirt to the lining with a running stitch, then whip stitched it to the front and back.

It’s hard to explain but the end result looks nice!

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All the dress needed was a sash! I made this from a bias cut piece of silk taffeta. I did rolled hems on both edges and hand stitched them in place to avoid puckering.

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This is the finished dress on my dress form.

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And this is how it looks on me!

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I really love the shape of this dress, and aside from the problems with the shoulders i’m quite happy with it! I would still like to make a more accurate version at some point, but this definitely satisfied my urge to make a Chemise a la Reine.

I paired it with a black wig. I curled the wig with a 3/4″ curling iron, then recoiled most of the curls and secured them with bobby pins. I teased the front sections until I liked the volume and pinned them in place. I decorated the wig with fake flowers and things since I didn’t have enough fabric leftover for a headpiece.

I like the finished ensemble. The colors make me think of snow and wintery things!

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Thanks for reading!