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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.

1760s Brunswick, 18th century, 18th century court dress, projects

1760s Brunswick (and brief court gown update)

Whew!  I am just coming to the end of my super crunch time at work, and I’ve barely had time to open emails, let alone keep up with anything else.  If I owe you an email/update about the court projects, don’t worry, I’ll be getting to that asap… plus posting a round-up of what’s going on out there in blog-land re: court gowns.  To tide you over, check out these great posts on French court dress from the Dreamstress, and Swedish court dress from Isis’ Wardrobe.

As another tide-you-over, I thought I should get around to finally posting pics of my REALLY finished 1760s Brunswick.  I’d needed to trim the skirt, and wear it to document said trimming!  Well, I got to the trimming a year or two back, and then finally had a chance to wear it when my 18th century group Lumieres went to a museum in San Francisco called the Legion of Honor, which is a copy of the French version in Paris.  They were having an exhibition on “Royal Treasures from the Louvre:  Louis XIV to Marie-Antoinette,” which was very appropriate!  The best part of the day was when we were having drinks and food in the museum cafe, the curator came out to see our costumes.  We all introduced ourselves as our characters, many of which are based on real French 18th century people, and the curator knew who all of us were!  (To me, the Duchesse de Polignac, he said “You naughty girl” – ha!).

So here are some pictures of the finished Brunswick in the courtyard of our local 18th century reproduction building:

1770s camisole, 18th century, projects, travel

Costumes at the Chateau pt. 4: the white ruffly camisole & petticoat

Last project to blog about from France!  For some reason this was the project I was most excited about making, and ended up loving the most while wearing — I think I just had a fixation on being WHITE and FROOFY and RUFFLY.  In all caps, natch.

I posted a bit about the early steps on the project here.  After that, it was all a matter of borrowing Trystan’s embroidery machine to sew the scalloped edges on the miles of windowpane ruffles.  I had a small crisis when I thought I’d run out of the windowpane before trimming the skirt, but managed to find a bit more of the fabric — I had to wing it on my machine for doing the scalloped edges, as I don’t have a fancy machine like Trystan, but it all worked out.  Minus the scallops, all of the rest is handsewn.

I added some striped lavender and white bows, from ribbon that’d been lurking in the stash for years, to the CF neckline and sleeves to bring some color to the ensemble.  And I wore it with the hat I originally made for Vaux le Vicomte, although I changed up the trimmings a bit to suit the lavender color scheme.

The one thing that’s bugging me is that, since I was worried about wearing stark white with my warm coloring, I used a slightly off-white lining for the jacket — and in these photos in the shade, it really changes the base color of the jacket.  I’m not positive it looks that off-white in regular lighting, but it’s annoying, as it’s made of the exact same fabric as the skirt!




Mrs. Meringue & Mrs. Marshmallow: Kendra & Sarah


1778 robe a la circassienne, 18th century, projects

Costumes at the Château pt. 3: robe a la circassienne!

Another new costume that I made for the trip to France was a robe a la circassienne.  I was initially thinking that the inspiration image was a robe a la turque — essentially, a later version of the robe a la polonaise, but with long undersleeves and short oversleeves — until I peered a bit more closely at the painting and noticed some of the purple banding on the skirt at the side back.  I can’t imagine how that would get there without it being the hem pulled up, which would make this a circassienne (the main difference between the two styles is that the circassienne has the skirt looped up):

Young Woman Admiring a Miniature by Wille, 1778. The red arrow is pointing at what I think is the hem banding, looped up.

This made me relatively happy, because although I was really excited about how pretty the initial drape looked with a long train, there is NOTHING practical about a train when you’re using white silk duchesse satin.

As I may have mentioned previously, draping this sucker was an EXPERIENCE.  I decided to do the totally-authentic thing and drape it on my dress form using the fashion fabric.  A great idea that’s worked out well in the past, but this time, there were MANY revisions as I futzed and futzed.  I was worried about having enough of the (expensive) fabric, and so trying to drape it in an economical way — but instead by revising it multiple times, I ended up wasting a lot of fabric (slashing the armhole, for example).  At least I was in love with the back pleats, so that kind of made up for things…

I decided to try some new approaches to the underbodice layer, so knowing that they used separate bodices (called “corsage” in French, I haven’t found an English term yet) I decided to go with that.  Plus, I was thinking that the overgown could work fabulously over a chemise a la reine (although more so when it had a train, maybe less so now?) — so I decided to attach the undersleeves to the bodice and only the oversleeves to the robe.  I have no idea if this is period, as I haven’t yet been able to identify an extant example, but this is experimental archaeology!

I posted a bit about draping the underbodice here, but to my supreme irritation, what was supposed to be a perfectly fitted back-opening bodice cut on the straight ended up with serious wrinkles.  I tried facing the front with some heavy linen fustian, but it was still wrinkly, so I ended up adding a piece of boning to the CF… after which it was still wrinkly.  I loved wearing the outfit, but I spent the whole time feeling embarrassed about my wrinkles!  You’ll see what I’m talking about in the final photos.

In progress - no sleeves. CF looks relatively smooth, but...!

In progress. The back is made of one layer of linen and closes with spiral lacing.

After attaching the undersleeves

I used bias strips of the purple to create the bands along the various edges (except at the bottom of the underbodice, where I really had to follow the line of the hem).  Comparing it all now with the original painting, they’re a little too narrow in places (especially the skirt), but I was in gotta-get-this-done mode, so it is what it is!

Finished robe and underbodice

I handsewed every stitch of the robe and underbodice, and really wanted to do the same for the petticoat, but I’d run out of time… and fabric!  One other reason I wanted to make this a circassienne was the much shorter hem, leaving me some more pieces of fabric to try to piece together to make the petticoat.  But I was stuck with a whole bunch of strips.  Initially I pictured the petticoat being all white with a purple band at the hem, but as I was looking for ways to piece things, I came across this fashion plate and decided it would be a good way to use up all those small pieces of fabric, PLUS it had an added je-ne-sais-quoi:

Circassienne de taffetas à bandes de rubans, Gallerie des Modes, 1779 |

I had to order a bit more of the white satin as well as the purple to make it work, and I think in the end I spent only a little less than if I’d just bought enough to make the whole thing white — but again, I think it adds some more flair to the outfit!

I made fabric-covered buttons with the purple silk, and purple lucet cord out of some silk embroidery floss, to loop up the skirt.  At the château, I accessorized it with way more jewelry than the inspiration image, plus a purple ribbon and feather (thanks Fanny for the feather!).  And a lot of stomach wrinkles:

Kendra's interpretation / Young Woman Admiring a Miniature by Wille, c. 1780


And yes, as Sarah kept pointing out, the painting has tons of stomach wrinkles. I DON’T CARE. I couldn’t stand it! After the first wearing, I took off the boning and fustian and took a horizontal tuck across the waistline of the bodice front… which only reduced the wrinkles a little bit. Harumph. So the front of the underbodice WILL get recut, hopefully before Costume College as I’m thinking this will be my gala gown (I have NO desire to take on any big projects anytime soon, after all that sewing for France!).

Here it is with the waist tuck, worn with a mask and bird cage for our masquerade evening:

Sarah & Kendra - masquerade evening

In the end, though, if I forget about the wrinkles, I really love it! Best of all it was perfect for dancing — poor Lisa and Cathy kept getting their trains stepped on, but I was free as a bird.

Francis, Cathy, Kendra, & Lisa dancing

18th century, Marie Antoinette redingote c. 1780, projects

Costumes at the Château pt. 2: Marie Antoinette redingote!

Next up, my interpretation of the c. 1780 redingote worn by Marie Antoinette:

Sketch of Marie Antoinette in a redingote, c. 1780 / Kendra's interpretation

Not an exact copy for sure, and I still need to add the random waist bow (is it a sash, do you think?) and various lace bits, plus I’d like to make a better cap more along the lines of the sketch.  But I’m quite pleased with it!

The last bits to do were all the trimmy bits.  For the zig-zaggy white taffeta bits, I measured the length of the skirt sides and drew out a template.  The angle and spacing of the zig-zags really changes on the sketch.  I’m not sure if that’s a perspective issue, or if the original really had such wonky trim, but I knew I couldn’t handle too much wonkiness!  I did change the spacing a bit as it moves down towards the hem, but that’s it — all the different angles would have driven me crazy.  I then cut lengths of pinked taffeta, which I gathered and sewed to the zig-zag edge, and then basted it all down.  On top of that is some kind of textured/pleated black ribbon.  I experimented with a number of different pleating techniques, all of which just didn’t read as anything, and finally ended up doing a zig-zagged gathering stitch on the ribbon and gathering it up.  Luckily I spent 3 days helping my husband vend at WonderCon, so I was able to sit with this thing in my lap the whole time and hand sew!  Finally, there were all those fabric covered buttons, which I made on the plane, on the train, and at the château… I used wooden button blanks from Burnley & Trowbridge, cut out all the circles of white taffeta while at home, and then sewed on various transports.  Buttons are a great thing to make while travelling, as they’re small, quick, and easily portable!

I wanted to try something new for the underbodice effect, so knowing they did use stomachers with this style, that’s what I went with.  It worked fine, especially since the fitted waist means that the robe doesn’t hang too much open.  My initial plan was to straight-pin the robe down at the waist, but since the fabric is relatively heavy, this was annoying — every time I lifted the robe to get in to my pockets, I’d pull out the pin, which would get bent and wonky and I’d have to repin it.  So for later wearings, I just gave up on pinning that point, and although the robe didn’t fit in quite as neatly at the waist, it wasn’t really a problem.

It was the perfect dress for traipsing about the grounds of the château — I felt very over-the-top with my train dragging in the dirt!  I basted on a thick cotton facing as a train guard and I’m glad I did, as it got VERY dirty — it was satisfying to just rip it off when I got home!





I’m planning to wear this at Costume College — hopefully with Merja in her version?  I was thinking about wearing it for the ice cream social, although I think the official redingote meet-up will be another day… I’m worried it’s too heavy to wear all day at CoCo in the heat and that I’ll quickly hit the wall!

18th century, embroidery, projects

Costumes at the Château pt. 1: tambour embroidery!

So I’m home, and I have so much to post about!  Many costumes were worn and fabulous times were had.

I’m kicking the wrap-up off with a quick post about my embroidery projects.  I did finish the tambour embroidered fichu:

Kendra's tambour embroidered fichu

Kendra's tambour embroidered fichu

And I also made a tambour embroidered waistcoat for Francis, using yellow silk taffeta and various colors of silk embroidery thread.  I based the design on this gorgeous piece from LACMA, which was super helpful as I could download high resolution images, and since it had never been made up, it printed off as a perfect pattern.  I just had to resize it a few times and move a few things around to make it fit Francis’s pattern shape.  I also simplified things a bit, in that I didn’t do all the embroidery along the buttonholes — I don’t understand how/why they would cut into the embroidery to make the buttonholes.  That seemed madness to me!

I was sewing the actual waistcoat on the plane, in Paris, and in the château, but I got it done in time for a number of wearings!  And it looked beautiful with his new green and gold suit.
Tambour embroidered waistcoat

Tambour embroidered waistcoat

Tambour embroidered waistcoat