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19th century

19th century, balls, Bella Donna, events, projects

Vampire Ball – Bram Stoker’s Dracula group costume project

It’s been a crazy busy fall, what with work being busy plus TONS of Bella Donna performances.  Which accounts for my lack of posting around here, plus any court dress emails I haven’t responded to!

I did make something new, crazy me.  Bella Donna performs every year at the PEERS Vampire Ball, a fabulous event that is always right after Halloween.  It’s in a gorgeous hall and everyone brings out their gothy/historical best costumes.  We generally do two song sets of vampiric songs — we rewrite a lot of our English 16th & 18th c. songs into vampire lyrics, and this year we performed Thousand Years by Christina Perri (used in the most recent Twilight movie) and Love Song for a Vampire by Annie Lennox (from the 1992 Bram Stoker’s Dracula movie).

Usually we all wear whatever we’re in the mood for, but this year Karen had the crazy idea that we should do a group costume and go as the various characters from the 1992 Bram Stoker’s Dracula movie (the one directed by Coppola).  This was relatively crazy given how busy we all were, but it was such a good idea, and some of us had things already on hand that would work…

I went as one of the three brides of Dracula, along with Shawna and Tara.  Shawna and I bought ivory and gold cotton saris from Utsav Fashion, and I whipped them both into basic dresses.  For Shawna’s, we copied the dress worn by the redheaded bride in the movie; for mine, I just futzed until I liked it.

Here’s the inspiration:

Dracula's Brides from Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

Part of what made the costume seem do-able was that it was so simple, but of course you know me and hair — if it doesn’t have complicated hair, then I’m not interested!  So I immediately decided I wanted Monica Belluci’s fabulous high/braided hairstyle with cool headdress and veil.  So I bought a REALLY long wig and a bunch of half-braided pieces in a slightly darker color than I normally wear and got to work.  Things were going smoothly until I had to go on a work trip and left my bag that had all the braided hair, the headdress, my jewelry pliers, and my IPAD in a taxi.  I WAS SO PEEVED.  Multiple phone calls later, no bag, and I had to reorder all of that stuff.  Oh, plus the GORGEOUS vintage fan I was about to restore.  I am still the most bummed about that.

After that crisis… I made a wire form for the high portion of the wig, and then handsewed individual braids to it.  You’re thinking this sounds like it took a lot of time.  Yep!  I finally had to give up and accept that the back would be covered by the veil (a length of silk/metallic organza), and just bobby pin/roughly sew the braid ends down in back.  The headdress was made from various jewelry findings from Fire Mountain, plus a vintage Indian bullion applique.

So that, plus some custom-made fangs (yay!  I’ve wanted some forever!) and jewelry, and we ended up looking like this:

Dracula & Brides (Tara, Paul, & Kendra)

Dracula's Brides (Kendra, Shawna, & Tara)

I also managed to talk my husband Michael into coming (he loves Halloween, but the last few years he’s flaked out on this event).  To join in the group, he wanted to go as Renfield:

Tom Waits as Renfield |

I told him I could make his straightjacket for him, but he’d have to iron all the pleats into place because I didn’t have time to do it myself.  He bought the fabric, dyed it, and did all the pleating, and then I draped the straightjacket and hack sewed it together (thankfully it didn’t need to fit well or look well made!).  He then spent hours distressing it in the backyard while I napped!  Karen helped him achieve crazy hair, and he looked pretty great even tho we weren’t able to find him any good glasses:
Renfield (Michael)

Beyond that, we had Jenn as Mina in a gorgeous red bustle ballgown that she banged out the week before the ball, Karen as Lucy in her orange wafting-through-the-garden ensemble, Paul as young/hot Dracula, and Liam as Van Helsing.  All in all, I’m impressed what we came up with, and bonus — I think the colors on the singing group worked really well together, three of us in ivory/gold and the other two in orange and red!

Family Portrait

Mina (Jenn)

(C) David Bedno

(C) Laurie Tavan

You can see all of my pictures from that evening on Flickr, if you’re so inclined.

16th century, 17th century, 18th century, 19th century, 20th century, interesting reading

History of Patches & Regency Court Costume

Two random links of interest!

Madame Isis has posted a fabulous write-up on the history of the beauty patch covering the 16th to the 20th centuries on her historical toilette blog.

Reading Natalie Garbett’s post on on studying and producing historical costume referred me to the free Chateau de Malmaison (the former home of Empress Josephine) costume app, which has some stunning images of Regency court costume.  Did I mention it’s free?

19th century, costume in cinema

TV Review: The Paradise (2012-)

Starring Joanna Vanderham, Emun Elliott, and Elaine Cassidy.  Costumes designed by Joanna Eatwell.

Buy this and other costume films from Amazon and support this site

Based on a novel by Emile Zola, this series tells the story of poor, country girl Denise, who comes to London in the 1870s and finds a job at a department store called The Paradise.  You follow her transition from country mouse to city girl who turns out to have a flair for the burgeoning world of shopping and selling, plus learn about the various characters whose lives connect through the store.  In particular, these include her handsome, charming boss, the older manager of her department who tries to stifle her, and various co-workers, some of whom support her and some who compete. The plot-lines are very interesting and it’s all a great premise, as there’s many different characters and stories to follow.

The costuming is overall really quite good, probably an A-.  I LOVE the shopgirl uniforms, which are these stunning black natural form dresses with little Chinese brocade shrugs. The store owner’s love interest (played by Elaine Cassidy), the wealthiest female character, is a mixed bag. Some of her dresses seem too limp, like they need more petticoats/a better bustle, and sometimes the trimming seems too heavy handed. Other times, she wears very chic dresses with cute little waistcoat effects.  By mid-season, I was starting to get annoyed that ALL of her dresses were (at base) white, and wondering if they were just retrimming a couple of white dresses; but near the end of the season, her character goes through some changes that are reflected in her costumes, so I now believe it was a conscious, thoughtful choice.  They also did a great job creating the department store, which is absolutely gorgeous!

My review:  5 (out of 5)

If you like this era, you might want to check out my other Victorian costume movie reviews. For more bustle prettiness, I specifically recommend The Buccaneers (1995), Daniel Deronda (2002), and Portrait of a Lady (1996).

19th century, events, GBACG, Gwendolen

GBACG Holiday Tea

At the very end of December, the Greater Bay Area Costumers Guild held a bustle-era tea at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco.  The Palace is super fancy and dates from 1875 but was rebuilt after the 1906 earthquake — the restaurant where tea is served is what used to be where carriages would pull in and is just beautiful:

Palace Hotel, San Francisco

The tea was hosted by Mrs. Vanderbilt (Cynthia) and THE Mrs. Astor (Catherine), both tres chic in their bustle gowns:

Mrs. Vanderbilt & Mrs. Astor

Costumes ranged from the 1870s to the 1890s:


Teresa and Bridget were both super pregnant and super cute with their unbuttoned bodices:

Teresa & Bridget

There was lots of gorgeous beading and fabulous hats:


And a lovely lady wearing an actual antique late 1860s/early 1870s gown:


I wore my purple and white striped Gwendolen dress, this time without the lower hoops as I wasn’t in the mood to wrestle them on BART (our local commuter train).  The bodice appears to have (ahem) shrunk, but luckily I saved scraps of the fabric and hit on the faaabulous idea of adding a V striped false waistcoat front — I’m so glad there are two runs of buttons on each side of the bodice opening!


Sadly the hat I made to go with the outfit just doesn’t want to work over 1870s hair.  I could have jammed it on my head and not liked the effect, so I chose to go without (shocking!).

Tea was scrummy — I couldn’t even finish all of my sweets and had to take some home! And the hotel had lots of beautiful photo spots:


All in all, a lovely afternoon!  You can see a few more photos in my Flickr set.

1886 fancy dress "champagne", 19th century, Dickens Fair, events, projects

1886 “Champagne” Fancy Dress: Done!

Hey, I finished something!  Even better, this albatross!

Of course, I was up pretty late the nights before I wore this in order to get it done.  I widened the center front and reattached the trim, only to realize that it was STILL too narrow.  Ain’t nothing like doing it the hard way!

For lacing rings, I didn’t have time to get some real soldered rings, so I headed off to the hardware store and looked at random bits and bobs until I found some small-ish keyrings — hey, they worked!

I had one small issue when I put the gold ball trim on the CF, which is that I got to finish putting on the trim and realized I had about a half-ball-width hole, so I had to decide between a slight gap or trying to squeeze one more ball in.  I ended up squeezing one more in, which meant that the trim in front ended up looking kind of wonky.

I ran out of time to do anything useful with the champagne label, so I had to safety pin it on.  Looking back, I should have basted it on in the car, because it looks a little bit lame.  But oh well!

Last thing, I didn’t want to wear my hat until we got to fair because it was raining, and I hadn’t really planned out my hair.  So while I pictured wearing the hat on the top/side of my head, the only thing I could find to attach a hat pin too was way back/side — so I ended up looking pretty frowzy hat-wise, but everyone agreed that it was appropriate for a champagne bottle!

It’s not my best work, but it’s a whole lot better than the first try, and it was fun (and practical) to wear!  I had a great time at the fair, running into all sorts of friends wearing fabulous costumes and having a lovely tea. Oh, and most everyone got the costume, which was a good thing!

Me and Tara, who went in a beautiful bee-themed fancy dress ensemble.

So what’s next?  A whole lot of 18th century, but that’s another post!

1886 fancy dress "champagne", 19th century, projects

Champagne: Nearing the Finish Line

I’ve been sewing away on the champagne costume and am nearly there.  I managed to get the sleeves and trim on the bodice, add the gold netting to the neckline, and make the gold netting underplacket.  I’ve been wibbling about how to close things — I want to do whatever is lazy and easy, but none of my options seem to be either!  I want the LOOK of a laced bodice as in the original fashion plate — I like the contrast of the ribbon on the netting.  I kept thinking about ways to fake it, but they seemed harder than just sewing lacing rings on the damn thing.  Only problem is I only have 6 lacing rings on hand, so I decided to try using some of the flat sides of grommets as well — essentially works, but they are wide, and long story short I had to take them all off anyway, so I may hit the hardware store tonight and see if I can find some other kind of substitute.

Here’s the crappy late night cameraphone try-on pics, in which you can see my problem (other than the one lacing ring that snapped off, hence the wonky lacing) — it’s too big!  Not if I close it all the way, but I was conservative in how much I cut out of the front to make the lacing gap, because nothing is worse than thinking you want an X wide gap and then you try it on and that X has doubled, but the thing closes edge to edge.  I tried lacing it a little bit loosely, especially on the top half, just to see the effect of the netting and lacing, then in a fit of craziness took off the gold balls along the front edge, cut off a bit more from the CF, and resewed it all (all while watching “Sparkle,” which I can report is pretty shlock-tastic).

Front, a little wonky because of the too-big issue!

Le side!

Back, looking a little limp below the waist b/c of no bustle/skirts.

Also, the cats report that Mom wandering the house with a really long ribbon trailing from her bodice = GOOD TIMES.

The sleeves took a couple of tries just to figure out what I was going to do.  Originally I thought whatever I’d use as the gold netting would be the sleeve too, as in the fashion plate, but after scouring Joann’s I couldn’t find anything in the right shade.  I’m weird, but I love the caramel-y gold color of the taffeta I’m using for the hat, and all of the nettings I could find were either too yellow-gold or too brown or not sparkly.  Whatever, Joann’s!  And here I thought you were a bastion of sparkly synthetic craptastic fabric.  I even checked the casa collection aisle, which was terrifying!

So first I decided to make the sleeves in the same gold taffeta as the hat, and even got so far as patterning the same shape from the fashion plate (narrow cap, wide hem) and hemming it, only to discover that my armscye was WAY bigger than my sleeve sloper’s armscye.  As I was pondering my options, I was worrying about having a dark green dress with random gold sleeves, and hit on the idea of doing an overlapping tulip sleeve in the few scraps of the green velvet that I had left, and then trimming it with Yet More Gold Balls.

So, what’s left:  find more lacing rings, sew those on, add one more row of gold ball trim to the skirt, widen the skirt waistband about .5″, and throw together a necklace out of yet more gold balls.  Oh, and figure out how I’m attaching the champagne label — I think I’ll just tack it to the underskirt and call it done!

1886 fancy dress "champagne", 19th century, projects

Pulling Teeth, or, Reattempting the 1886 Champagne Fancy Dress Costume

“Pulling teeth,” because that’s what writing this blog post has become.  Gah!  It was another busy fall semester with little sewing, and I’ve gotten out of the habit of blogging.  I have been noodling on my embroidered fichu, but I’m not going to bore you with “embroidered another flower” posts.

This Saturday I’m heading to the Dickens Fair in San Francisco to see friends and for GBACG day. I was waffling on whether or not to go, because I couldn’t think of anything I wanted to wear… mid-Victorian is just a total butterchurn-y snoozefest to me.  Bonnets! High necklines! Giant sleeves! Giant skirts!  I feel like it’s all too much, and as a tall girl with a lot of padding, the last thing I need is to add more pouf in all directions.  But when I remembered the Champagne project and what I initially WANTED it to be (not what it ended up as), I got a little more into it.
Thanks to everyone who gave me feedback on what didn’t work (besides the lack of trim) a few months back.  I took your suggestions and basically took the whole thing apart… ditched the bodice, took the skirt apart.  So here’s the new plan:
First, I’m going back to the original fashion plate inspiration, which is just so perfect for turning into a “champagne” costume:

Original fashion plate inspiration.

I decided to make the whole dress out of dark green velvet, and keep the gold/foil/cork part for my head.  So I took off all that lighter green silk on the skirt and replaced it with green velvet.  Only problem was, I had some dark green velvet in my stash, but it was a yellower green than the blue/green I’d used for the original skirt pieces.  I decided to try overdyeing the stash fabric with a bit of blue, and to my amazement it came out to a perfect match, so off I went merrily… until I tried taking a picture of the pile-o-velvet that is the bodice and skirt and the colors are coming out totally differently.  I swear to god, they match 99% in real life… knowing my luck, all pictures taken of me will totally show the different velvet colors. Sigh.

The pile-o-velvet that is the finished skirt and almost finished bodice. In real life, the velvet colors match. Sigh.

So the plan is to follow the fashion plate and trim the bodice and skirt with some kind of gold ball trim to evoke the idea of champagne bubbles.  Last year I searched and wibbled and prevaricated and never ended up finding a trim I liked.  This time, I managed to find some cheap xmas garlands at my local hardware store (after scouring the craft store — weird!) and am Just Going With It.

Gold ball christmas garlands.

Pulling them apart to make trim.

I’m going to string them (on wire, I guess?) and sew them on to many of the edges.  I’m also planning to put some gold netting in the center front of the bodice and around the neckline, again hoping to evoke foil and champagne bubbles. We’ll see! It works in my head.

I want my head to be cork/foil part, so I bought a mini-top hat frame off of Jenn to recover.  Because I realized after the last try that I need to be Really Obvious for this costume to work, after I covered the hat in pretty gold silk taffeta, I fabric-glued champagne corks all around the brim:

Mini top hat frame.

The covered and be-corked hat.

All of this brings me to… most of the time I’ve been a costumer, I’ve been a relative purist about historical accuracy.  Oh sure, on some costumes I may cut some corners, and I’m pretty religious about wearing some kind of makeup with costumes for the last few years, but I’ve never wanted to make totally non-historical stuff.  Something about making the Marie Antoinette dress this summer has changed that, and that and the Pierrot/maja costume have been the most fun things I’ve worn in a long time!  Suddenly doing (most) straight historical costumes is seeming boring, and I’m finding myself wondering what I can add to costumes to put them over the top.  This is new and weird!

To that end, I bought a bunch of gold makeup that I plan on using this weekend, plus I’m contemplating crazy hair (it seems like champagne hair should be curly and frizzy and UP, am I right?  I’m thinking about getting my Helena Bonham Carter on — what do you think?).