CYNTHIA'S BALL GOWN
a Wives & Daughters inspired gown
Sense & Sensibility Regency pattern
and Jean Hunnisett's "Period Costume
for Stage and Screen"
poly shot taffeta, poly organza, poly chiffon
This was made when I was the Pattern Editor for In Timely Fashion (ITF). The theme of the update was the film Wives and Daughters so I decided to make a gown inspired by Cynthia's ball gown.
This diary was the basis for my subsequent article and pattern reviews. This marked my first experiment with using scaled patterns - they were scary back then! To make life simpler I used a friend as a model rather than fitting on myself.
Completed January 2004.
At my Jane Austen Twelfth Night Tea.
More pics from this event can be found here.
On my dress form.
The Dress Diary:
October 2003 - The Assignment
When I became involved with In Timely Fashion (ITF) last spring I made plans to make an outfit inspired by the film Wives and Daughters (then the current theme at ITF). It took much pondering and many months before inspiration struck for this project, but here I am.
I will be taking some of the elements of the clothes from W&D and making an outfit to showcase. I'll be writing an article for ITF on how I did it. So really this journal is just a first draft.
I began by writing down all the gown elements that I liked best in the costuming of this film. I had meant to combine several different dresses but, as fate would have it, most of my favorites were already combined in one costume: Cynthia's pink ball gown. ;I'm not going for an exact reproduction, but one that reflects the original and could be used for a modern formal.
The fabric is a poly taffeta that my Mom has had for years. We found it stuffed in a trunk a few weeks ago and it screamed out to be an 1820s gown. I can't vouch for the scan to the right, it's close on my computer but it is really a rather funky shade of pink. The warp threads are purple and the weft threads are pink. Unlike most "shot" fabrics, however, it doesn't really change color as it's moved, but the different colored threads give depth - something impossible to capture on my scanner.
The sheer fabric for the under sleeve will be a white poly chiffon that I have left over from another project.
October 1 2003 | Tracing and Cutting
I don't draft my own patterns: alter an existing pattern to death, yes but draft from scratch, no. I'm reading and learning but I'm not there yet. So I looked around for a commercial pattern suitable for Cynthia's dress. The very discouraging news is that there isn't one close.
I could have gone with a pattern from Jean Hunnisett's excellent "Period Costume for Stage and Screen" as there are several that would have been suitable in that book but I'm already using it for my entire Empire outfit and I'm a bit freaked out about that as it is. (I don't have much experience scaling up yet.) I do highly recommend reading through this book, however, if you want to make a dress in this style. It really helped me get a good idea of what shapes to look for in a commercial pattern.
I decided to use Old World Enterprises 1825 gown. This is a pattern we have had in our collection for many years. My Mom made for my sister once. It was a butt-ugly dress and Bridget hated it but I think I can make it work. I've cut out a toile of the bodice and will sew it together in the next few days ...
October 6 2003 | Trashing Toiles & Starting Over
It has been one of those days where I wonder why I bother with this sewing thing! *sigh* I arranged to meet with my friend Adie today to fit the toile to her, since my stays are in her size. The Old World Enterprises 1825 gown toile was only half finished due to a crazy weekend, so I got up early and finished it this morning. When I put it on Narcissa (my dress form) it looked awful!
It was badly drafted (way too big and the darts all wrong) and the sleeves (ugly ones at that) were off the shoulder - not at all what I wanted. This was after I'd already had issues with the poor directions and the (lack of) notches matching. So, if you want an 1825 dress, I won't bother with this pattern - I was not impressed.
With Adie on her way over, I threw that pattern / toile aside and started from scratch. I ended up going with S&S's Regency pattern for my base. After all, Cynthia's dress was a transitional garment from the Regency and having made up this pattern before, I knew it was a good one to deal with. I quickly threw together a toile before Adie arrived. I hate sewing in a rush! Oh well it's done and I think it will work.
Changing the Pattern
I did, of course, have to alter the pattern. I lengthen the bottom of each bodice piece 5 inches. This turned out to be way too much for Adie's petite figure but better safe than sorry.
I also experimented with the sleeves. I cut one sleeve from the "short sleeve" pattern. This one I did not alter but made up "as is". The second sleeve I cut from the "long sleeve" pattern. This one I shortened, making it more ¾ sleeves and adding the sleeve band to the bottom.
For some reason, the bodice was a bit tight in the underarm / bust area. Perhaps because of the corset? Anyway, enlarging the armhole should take care of that. *crossing fingers*
I had originally intended to use darts in the bodice front but when I looked at it I decided not to. Instead, I will use princess seams and create an inset, like on the original dress. I simply drew up the fabric, like a dart, and pinned. I will cut along that line, discard the access and add a seam allowance to make the princess seams. It was by far the simplest option, especially as I hate dealing with darts. If I were to go will darts I think two would be better than one.
The neckline also needed adjusting. I squared it off and will add an extra inch for modesty (also to ensure the chemise will not show).
October 15 2003 | Second Toile
My second toile is ready to be fitted. I cut the new bodices pieces, creating an inset and bodice side fronts and correcting the other little things. The only thing I didn't mess with was the sleeves. I'm still not sure how I want to do them so I figured I should give it "a think" before I cut and sew more sleeves.
Now I just need to arrange a fitting session with Miss Adie ...
October 19 2003 | Second Toile Fitted
I fitted the second toile to Adie this afternoon. It fit just about perfectly. It just needed some taking in at the waist along the inset seams. I'm ready to cut out my fabric now (after I figure out what I'm going to use for a lining that is).
October 28 2003 | Sleeve Toiles
Okay, so I wasn't quite ready to cut out my fabric yet. I had forgotten about the sleeves when I wrote that entry.
It took some pondering but I decided to go with a three-layered construction. The bottom or first layer, made of white organdy, will serve as the base of the sleeve. The second layer is white poly chiffon, the layer that is all "puff". The third layer consists of pink taffeta bands. All of the layers will be joined at the arm hole and finished with a sleeve band.
I spent this evening playing around with sleeve toiles, working out my design ideas with fabric.The first (organdy) layer was easy. I used the altered long sleeve toile that I made up a few weeks ago. The S&S long sleeve pattern has a cut line right below the arch. This line is actually for cutting the bottom off for use as a detachable sleeve but it came in handy for me, as it gave me a straight line to shorten the sleeve by. I measured 3¼" down from that mark to create the correct length.
The middle "puff" layer took the most effort. For the first toile, I used the "first layer" pattern, adding 11¾" in length. I then ran gathering stitches up the length of the piece, sewed the sleeve together and pinned it on Narcissa. It looked dumb. Close but really funky.
For the second toile I again used the "first layer" pattern, but this time I split it in three pieces (as shown on S&S) and added 8¾" in total to the width. I again added 11¾" in length, ran 4 gathering stitches, sewed the sleeve together and pinned it on Narcissa. Oh much better! In fact it might even be too full, but I'm going to wait and see what the chiffon looks like. I can always trim it down later.
The bands will be strips of fabric but as a temporary measure, I went through the ribbon stash and tried a few widths to see which I liked best. The 1" width won out in the end. Oh they do look good if I say so myself!!
October 31 2003 | Cutting Fabric & Sleeve Construction
I've been very busy working on this project the past few days. I started cutting out the dress on Wednesday, finishing that up yesterday. It wasn't that time-consuming but I had other things to cut out, the chiffon took a while (such a pain!!) and when I got ready to cut out the skirt I realized I hadn't given any thought as to how I was going to do it! I can be so pathetic sometimes!
"Drafting" the Skirt Pattern
I decided to base my skirt on the c1820 skirt in the Hunnisett book (I love that book!). The skirt consisted of a slightly shaped front panel, a shaped side panel and a square back panel - simple enough. I didn't want to stop and actually scale up the pattern so I faked it.
For the front panel, I measured 2" in from the bodice side seam and used that measurement (10½") for the top width. I then compared the Hunnisett pattern's top and bottom and the difference was 1½". I added that to my top measurement (= 13") to make my bottom width. I added seam allowances, divided all the numbers in half (so I could place the center front on the fold) and marked the top and bottom. Using a yard stick, I then drew a line between the two measurements and cut away. Easy!
For the side panel I used the S&S back lining piece. It was basically the correct shape and "close enough" worked for me! The only change I made was to draft out the shaped curve at the top. I made it a straight line to better match the Hunnisett pieces. The back panel was a simple piece, length measurement by fabric width.
I was so excited to see that pink fabric cut out that I started immediately on the construction. I decided to start with the most complicated bit: the sleeves. It took forever to sew all the gathering stitches on the chiffon layer. When I designed the layer to be gathered just about everywhere, I forgot what a pain it is to work with chiffon - icky!
I managed to get one full sleeve completed, sleeve bands and all. To be honest, I'm not sure I like it. It's pretty but it doesn't look quite right to me. I think it should be a bit shorter in length and the bands should be wider. It just doesn't quite look like Cynthia's. However, I'm not sure want to go through the bother of re-doing it. It really was time consuming and something of a pain to construct that sleeve - taking me about 2½ hours, start to finish. *sigh*
I don't know. What is it my sis says ... oh, "better is the enemy of good enough". No, she hasn't been in the costuming world much. Perhaps I'll move on to the bodice and see how the sleeve strikes me with a completed bodice before I make up my mind about it.
November 2 2003 | Working on the Bodice
I spent last evening sewing up the bodice. It is finished except for the hook & eyes in back and, of course the sleeves. Adie was hanging at my house today so I had her try on the bodice and sleeve. The length looks okay but those thin 1" bands continue to bug me. I'm still not sure what I'm going to do about them so I'm just going to move on to the skirt next. Why worry when you can procrastinate?!
December 23 - Skirts and Sleeves
Almost two months and no work done on this dress. I know - I'm good at procrastinating, huh? I put together the second sleeve and worked on the skirt today. In the end I decided that I could live with the narrow bands on the sleeve. They are not quite "right" but they are pretty. Actually they look more like my sketch now.
The skirt was simple to put together. I used French seams, because the taffeta I'm using has serious fray issues. There are only four seams so it was no big deal to do the fancy seam finish, despite my time restraints. I attached the skirt to the bodice across the front (side seam to side seam). The remainder of the skirt will be cartridge pleated and attached by hand. *fun, fun*
December 31 2003 | Almost There
I finished up the cartridge pleating earlier this week and finally got those pesky sleeves attached - yay! Just the hem to go ...
January 3 2004 | - Masking Tape is Beautiful Stuff!
I've given up on getting the hem done for my party. I don't have time and I don't want to guess on the marking. So I go to the old reenactment stand-by ... masking tape! When Adie comes over to dress for the party I'll quickly mark and press the hem then apply masking tape to keep it up. I'll worry about actually doing a hem later ... much later ...
January 15 2004 | hair how to
Below are pictures of how my sis and I did Adie's hair.
Her hair is short so we purchased a hank of fake hair and a hair doughnut. The fake hair was divided into sections, some curled (boil perm method).
Adie's hair was pulled back into a high ponytail.
The ponytail was put through the hair doughnut then was brought over and bobby-pinned to hide the doughnut.
A large braid was wrapped around the bottom of the doughnut to cover the seam and loose ends, while the other braids and curls were looped and pinned all around the bun. Two pearl necklaces were added for embellishment.
July 10 2004 | article online
The article I made this gown for has been posted to the In Timely Fashion site. The article features additional pics; and a more polished account of this dress diary. Enjoy!