Saturday, May 1, 2010

A Springtime Ball Gown Costume

Happy May!! :D

It is pleasant to sew in the afternoons, though with spring coming upon us it is getting harder and harder to stay indoors! Still, it is necessary to get projects finished up. And this week we have had a colder spell and what with that and the wind it has been no very great loss to spend a few hours each day in the sunshine of the west bedroom - a.k.a. the "office/sewing room".

The past few weeks I've been working with a lovely lady who came to me with a finished skirt, a bolt of fabric and a desire for a ballgown bodice to wear to dances. The person who made her skirt was not able to make her bodice also so we had a few sessions of fittings, sketching and deciding on styles. In the end, we made two bodices that can be worn with the same skirt. One has a shallow scoop neckline with puff sleeves and the other has a squared neckline with loose bell sleeves. The lady desired her sleeves to be about elbow length. The fabric is a beautiful teal colored material with satin stripes and a geometric pattern of fern-like sprigs. The finished bodices and the skirt are more "costume" than "reproduction clothing" but I have enjoyed making some of these types of gowns for several local ladies. There are several local dance performance groups where the goal is a lovely appearance and good dancing. Strict authenticity not required. :)
Believe it or not, I ended up using Sense and Sensibility's Romantic Era Gown pattern for these bodices. It is against copyright laws to use most commercial patterns in paid dressmaking but Mrs. Chancey has graciously given permission for home dressmakers to use her patterns to make clothing to sell without a licensing fee. Sense and Sensibilty patterns are usually pretty good with sizing (the only issues I've had before with their gown patterns is a gappy neckline, but I think that is a personal fitting issue rather than anything wrong with the pattern itself!) and are a good base to start from when you don't want to drape a pattern from scratch. I cut the pattern for a back closing bodice and added a lot of extra length the front bodice so we could make a pointed front. With a combination of draping and drafting and an hour or so of fitting we came up with a good base pattern. Instead of using darts to fit the bodice I drafted the darts into a single princess seam that comes from the neckline down across the point of the bust to the waist. This helps create a very smooth fitted line, helps accentuate the feminine curve of the bosom and helps give the fashionable appearance of a tiny waist. As usual the bodices are flatlined with white cotton and the fronts are boned.

The puff sleeve bodice is trimmed simply with an airy ruffling of lace around the sleeve cuffs and also around the neckline. A matching teal satin ribbon drawstring is run through eyelets in the neckline ruffle to draw it up against the skin to prevent accidental glimpses down the front of the bodice! This particular bodice is my favorite. It is so sweet and old fashioned and feminine.
The other bodice is more smooth and tailored in line. The sleeves fit rather closely around the upper arm and then flare out in a graceful curve at just below elbow level. The trim is also more sleek and tailored than the other bodice. Flat lace and braid trim is applied around the neckline, sleeve edges and along the front princess seam lines.
I think this lady will be quite eye catching in this lovely color! It is the perfect fabric and hue for springtime dances, I think.




  1. They are beautiful (as always!), Sarah! I think the second one would b especially fun to wear. :) I was wondering, if I might put in a little blog request? I was wondering if you might consider sharing more of your recipes? I have made your meet and mushroom pie and my family LOVED it, and those cinnamon rolls look amazing, and much nicer than the ones I recently tried. I've been thinking about doing something where I share all of the recipes I used for each day on my blog...maybe you would like to join me? Just think about it and let me know (on my blog, or FB is fine!) what you think! :)
    Happy Mayday!

  2. Very pretty! I really love seeing your handiwork :-)

    I hope you are enjoying this first day of May.

    Lots of love,

  3. So amazing!
    I love the color.

  4. Lovely! That is one of my favourite colours - in fact the skirt I'm wearing today is very similar in hue! I usually pair it with black but I love the white accents for a spring gown. Your work is beautiful as always :)

  5. that is an amazinggg dress!
    and i want to start doing my hair like that now!


  6. I left you a really long comment the day you wrote this post but I guess blogger ate it. It never showed up.
    Or did you not post it?

    Anyway, I was laughing because I am doing a very similar project right now. A friend of mine dances with a local performance troupe. They do a lot of 1860's era dancing. Someone gave her a gown, with no trim. The weird thing is that it is almost the same colour and fabric as this. The only differences are that it is greener than your friend's dress and the print is a little bigger. My friend bought lace and ribbon to make rosettes and together we are decorating the dress. She wants it to be pretty fancy, since most of the other women in the dance troupe wear pretty fancy gowns. I am having fun with it because, although I do not know much about 1860's attire, period accuracy is not important. She just wants to look pretty while she performs her dancing.

    I am enjoying your posts about your corset construction. This friend and I are thinking about doing a corset for her, and I am a little scared. She is currently wearing a modern bustier under her dresses. It looks okay but she wants the real thing.


Thank you for your lovely thoughts!