Sunday, November 20, 2011

18th Birthday Party: Steampunk

      My 18th birthday was this past Tuesday, on November 8. I had off from school because it was Election Day. I try to theme my parties mainly because that gives me an excuse to dress up, and I've been really interested in the Steampunk subculture lately, so I decided to do a Steampunk-themed party. I also chose Steampunk as my theme becuase I felt that in terms of wardrobe, it was very flexible, and easy for my guests to find SOMETHING in their closets to wear to my party.

      I myself made a really quick and dirty costume, all out of garments that I already had that I modified the night before the party. The brown underskirt is an 18th century petticoat that I wore underneath my Chemise a la Reine. The red velvet bustle overskirt was just a really long skirt that was too big on the hips for me. I took it in and ran gathering stitches over the side seams. I didn't expect it to come out this nice but it had a really nice shape. The velvet draped beautifully. The brown shirt I'm wearing is from Wetseal I think; the top part of it is super cute, but I'm wearing the vest for a reason. The shirt has all these weird gathers and horizontal ruching which doesn't make it particularly flattering. I already had a pattern for a vest that I wanted to make, but because of time constraints I decided to do something else. I have a neighbor who gives me a lot of her daughter's old clothes, and even though not everything is my style, and the clothes are usually too big, I can find a gem hidden in the pile. Take this vest, for example. It's a Forever21 size large. Normally, even the small at F21 is too big on me, so you can imagine how enormous this vest was. The morning of the party, I turned it inside out, folded the side panels inwards, and sewed them down to eliminate about 6 inches of extra fabric on the sides. I also did this to the halter neck. Ideally, I should of used my seam ripper to properly take the vest apart, but I didn't have time. Eventually I will properly take it in though.

      With this ensemble I'm wearing some very nice patterned tights--not a lace pattern, but a very loose pointelle pattern. The boots are Marc Jacobs, with a stacked heel, zippers, lacing, and buckles that I got as a Christmas gift last year (original price was $120, but with the clever use of coupons and sales my parents got them for only $60!).

Sorry for the sideways picture!

      In these pictures you can see the decor for the party. I placed 3 iron bistro tables side by side, and surrounded them with a bench and an assortment of chairs. I put out the matching cushions and pillows for the chairs because they were in tones of red, brown, and yellow, which I thought complemented the theme very well. I covered the table in a white damask tablecloth. I made a banner out of some black paper I got off a roll from the art supply closet at school and a skein of teal yarn I salvaged. I hung the banner across my backyard to define the space. I found an old lantern in the shed and plunked that on my table, as well as a basket to hold all the napkins and utensil. I took an old vase and quickly made a flower arrangement out of all the faux flowers I could find in my house, and tied a remnant of white ribbon around the vase.

      I sent out the invitations in old Air Mail envelopes. On the invitations, I required that my guests do their best to wear Steampunk attire, and I specified that birthday presents wouldn't be necessary to bring but would be greatly appreciated. I wasn't expecting my guests to participate so enthusiastically, and I was really floored when I saw them all dressed up.

Aprill and I looking like derps. And she's wearing a Timeturner!

Deborah and I, with my eyes closed of course.

Sarah with an enormous foam bullet gun! And a face of evil!

Bri and I, and how the flower arrangement suspiciously got there?

John and I. I look terribly awkward in all these pictures.

Bri replaced the shoulder straps on her jumper with handbag straps! How cool!

Here you can see the vintage lantern.

I have to stop making these weird faces. I think this was my face right before I started crying.

The group!

Pretending we're like normal high-schoolers: drinks in hand, tushes out.
      Unfortunately, one of my freinds couldn't make it, which was a shame because I know he would have had fun.

      My parents took me to Stop-n-Shop the day before to pick out a cake. I didn't get any good pictures of the cake, but it fit into the theme perfectly. It was some German chocolate Bavarian creme shredded coconut covered confection, and it tasted really good. It was decorated beautifully, all in browns and blacks and coppers, with the shredded coconut slathered onto the sides with some chocolate shavings.

Lots of candles!

We moved into my basement because it became cold outside.

Here you can see the decoration on the top of the cake.

A good picture of the cake, in all its chocolatey glory.
The menu also included some red velvet cupcakes (also bought from Stop-n-Shop), popcorn, chips, lemonade, apple-cranberry juice, water, and pizza with beef, peppers, and mushrooms. 

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Chemise a la Reine

      I know I should've posted about this days ago, but homework and SATs and my 18th birthday got in the way. I didn't take any photos of the construction because I was rushing to finish the entire dress in two weeks (and don't forget I was making it while also juggling homework and practice for the Senior Play). I didn't use a pattern, but merely went with the vague directions I saw at other blogs, which basically were to sew a giant tube of fabric, and attach shoulder straps and sleeves with drawstring casings everywhere. So here I thought, oh this will be easy-peasy! I got the tube of fabric down and then it took me nearly a week to fiddle with the shoulder straps: since I don't own a dress form, I had to keep trying the dress on myself which considerably slowed me down.

      I made the tube part of this dress out of 4 yards of this wonderful fabric, which cost only $2 a yard. I got six yards of the fabric, and used the extra for making the sleeves. Which STILL had me with leftover fabric, so I can always attack this dress with ruffles or something. I actually made a neck ruffle for this dress but I wasn't crazy with how it turned out so I removed it.


The dress has two sleeve puffs, with a cuff made of double-fold bias tape on the last puff. The drawstring on the neckline is only in the front, as I tried to make the gathers in the back a little more fitted.  There is also a drawstring at the waist, and on the one sleeve puff. The dress has pocket slits in the side so that I can access my pockets. I hemmed it with a slight train in the back, although I wasn't accustomed to maneuvering crowded hallways without anyone putting their dirty paws on my train.

I also did my hair for this, not using a STRAND of hair that wasn't mine. I began by taking a shower the previous day, and braiding my hair into small braids all over except for an area in the back which was to become the curls. Halloween morning, I let out all the braids, then brushed them out. I took a piece of black netting, rolled it up, and pinned it above my hairline, then draped my hair over it. I continued to tease and drape and pin like a mad woman. Then I placed the ribbon in my hair (I made that too!), pinned it, and teased/ draped/ pinned the hair leftover from the sides over it. The trickiest part was making the curls, since I had to curl my hair with the curling iron and then carefully slide out the curl, trying to keep it intact while I pinned the living daylights out of it. I made two curls on each side, and this must've taken me the better part of an hour. Lastly, I stuck 3 black plumes in my 'do (these were from those wonky New Year's Eve tiaras) and two rosy artificial flowers. In these pictures I only have one flower, because the other fell off as I was walking to school.

My tousled hair after walking over a mile to and from school.

My black bra strap is showing...I worried that if I didn't wear a bra with this dress, I'd look like a shapeless marshmallow.

     Possibly the most frustrating thing is that the bolts of fabric at Wal-Mart are properly labeled, but the labels are covered by enormous orange price stickers! I mean really, you can't put the price sticker maybe a little to the side, so I can actually read this important information? No?

     I bought a yard of this GORGEOUS stiff pink satin for $2 to make the sash and the headband. I wasn't sure if the headband was period correct, but I did see similar matching headbands in some paintings.

Antoine Vestier, Portrait of a Lady with a Book, Next to a River Source, ca 1785

Vigée le Brun, Portrait of Izabela Lubomirska (Elzbieta Czartoryska) The Blue Marquise, 1782

     To make the sash, I cut from selvage to selvage twice, then sewed both lengths together, then folded and sewed again to make a tube, then sewed the edges inside to make it all clean and pretty. Maybe my masterpiece on Paint will clear it up for you:

Yeah...totally understandable right?
      I realized that I also needed another petticoat as multiple petticoats were the norm in the 18th century and because my dress needed more "poof". I bought a little more than a yard of this mystery fabric for about $2. I think in total I only spent $16 on fabric, then about $6 on trims. Talk about affordable! I made the second petticoat in the same manner I made my first, except by now I was all out of twill tape so I used some beige yarn I had leftover from another project as ties.

      I was a victim of the snowstorm that attacked the Northeast a few days before Halloween. Subsequently, our Town Halloween Parade was canceled (I wanted to compete in the costume contest!) and, most unfortunately, on Halloween, as I was walking to school in my costume, I slipped on a patch of black ice and fell onto my left elbow. My right hand was really scratched up, and it's only started scabbing now. I gathered all my books and papers, and crawled to the cars that were parked on the curb. For some reason, that whole area was covered in ice, even the cars. I held onto the icicled car door handles and kind of rag doll dragged myself for about half a block. I didn't even notice I was bleeding from my right hand until I saw red stains all over the pocket slits of my dress and all over my school papers. And what was worse, when I got to school, I had just missed the school's costume contest by a few minutes! And what was even worse than that but really not as bad, I realized I couldn't bend my left elbow. I guess when I landed on the ice, and when my books landed on my elbow, something inside moved. When I got to school I couldn't bend my arm up to fix my hair, nor could I straighten out my arm. Eventually I went to the school nurse for some ice and aspirin, but it took a whole week for my left arm to regain its bendability. Every time I tried to straighten out my arm, it felt like there was a rubber band inside that was super tense and couldn't stretch any more. But now its fine. I'm right-handed anyway.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

18th Century Undergarments: Chemise, Petticoat, and Pockets

       For my Chemise a la Reine, I of course need the proper undergarments. I began with making a chemise, or shift. I used these websites as my sources:

However, I felt that at some points the instructions for putting together the chemise were too difficult to follow, so after I had all my pieces cut out, I kind of guesstimated the construction. In the end, the chemise actually looks very nice, and it's remarkably comfortable and flattering. For the sake of time and money, I machine sewed most of it. Also, instead of making it out of linen, I made it out of cotton because I had several yards of white cotton in my stash. Oh well!

Isn't that a cute little fan? A friend bought it for me, I think from Uzbekistan.

I bought the socks in Portugal, for about 6 euros. They're from the Spanish brand Stradivarius.
Detail of the sleeve gusset.

Detail of the back.

      Naturally, I also made a few petticoats to go underneath my Chemise a la Reine. I realize now that instead of pleating outward, I pleated inward! But I don't think it makes much of a difference. I also realize that I could have spared a little more fabric towards the construction of this petticoat. I made my first petticoat out of an old rust colored sheet. The petticoat has pocket slits in the side, and I figure that if I ever need an outfit for any sort of Steampunk soiree, I could just sew some pleats or ruffles to the bottom. It comes to just above my ankle, at a really perfect height.

I used these websites when making my petticoat:

I also made pockets! I know, I know, they're very simple--I chose not to embroider them for the sake of time--but they are great and really useful and clean and pretty and, above all, practical! These are also white cotton, bound with some olive green double found bias tape I had leftover from a previous project.  I love the contrast of the white and the olive green, and overall I'm happy that I have a repository for all my modern-day crap so I won't have to lug around a purse.

 In your opinion, what is the most practical historical garment you've ever made or seen?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

My Completely Handsewn Alice In Wonderland Costume

Image via Google
So as I mentioned, last Halloween I took on my first real sewing endeavor/ attempt at sewing suicide (I've been sewing doll clothes and accessories since I was 5...but stuff on a larger scale? Well there's a time for everything....). I was inspired by Tim Burton's film Alice in Wonderland, mostly because I felt he didn't just retell a story that's been told too many times already, but that he interpreted it in a different light, and for the COSTUMES!!!! I'm adding Colleen Atwood up there next to Worth and Mcqueen....Anyway, I was originally going to thrift store my way into a Mad Hatter costume when, halfway through making the accessories, I realized this creation would be too expensive for my leftover lunch money to finance. I realized I could do my own take on Alice's costume instead of an exact replica (I mean, what's going on with that weird seam in the middle of her skirt anyway?!?!)

And so, I asked my parents for permission. And they said no. So I did the only thing a sensible, hardworking, and dedicated teenager would do.

I made the costume. The Wal-mart in my town is about 2.50 miles from my house, according to Mapquest. Let me tell you, I was one hell of a determined kid. I begged a group of friends to walk with me all the way there, so I wouldn't get mugged or abducted by aliens or anything since there's a swampy industrial area near the Wal-mart. We made about 3 trips in total. I asked my guy friend, John, if he could please give me an early birthday gift so that I could make the costume, and with that, I had about $45 to spend.

I bought this pattern for the bodice of my Alice dress:

McCall's 4107. I used View E, and a little bit of View F.

Notice that I decided to replace the buttons in the original Alice dress with corset lacing, for a better fit (the bodice also corsets a little at the back).

I used a nice blue cotton, that was about $2/yard I think, for the bodice, and the same cotton in white for the lining. I used black grosgrain ribbon to lace it up. I modified the sleeves from the pattern so that they were all floaty and dainty like the one's on Alice's dress from the film. I had purchased a package of really pretty bridal lace trim for another element of the costume, but I used some of it as trim on the double-layered sleeves (yeah I highly doubt I constructed them correctly, I kind of guesstimated with the sleeves) by cutting the lace so that I had a strip of straight lace trim and a strip of lacey lace trim. Maybe a photo will make this easier to understand?

It's me and my best friend Bri!! Can you guess why she's dressed as the White Rabbit?!?
See? I'm a very resourceful girl.

On to the skirt. For the skirt, I really wanted something more whimsical and less stiff than Colleen Atwood's design. And I wanted something cheap and simple to make, because did I mention? I had about two weeks until Halloween to complete this. WITHOUT A SEWING MACHINE. Yes, the ENTIRE costume is handsewn. I told you it was sewing suicide... I decided to make a tutu skirt, because you can't get more whimsical, cheap, or easy than a tutu!!! I chose a powder blue tulle that was about $1/ yard to match the blue cotton and bought about 8 yards of it; I gathered all the tulle and sewed it into a waistband made of 1" cream grosgrain ribber that I had in my stash. Ahh, but the costume from the film has embroidery at the bottom!

Image via Google
How about we fix that with some black wired RIBBON?!?!?

There's another point for resourcefulness. And I loved how floaty the whole concept looked

Now, see how in the original costume, there's that white crochet trim with a black ribbon strong through it along the neckline? It's a very nice element, except that since my bodice had lacing down the front, this was going to be a challenge. And I was also faced with the potential problem of my bra showing through the spaces between the corset laces. So what did I do? I made a sort of chemise to go underneath the dress!!

I used about a yard-ish of the white cotton, and made a sort of big rectangle. I sewed up one side, and sewed in a zipper into the other. I left the sleeves unfinished, because the shift/ chemise is so wonderfully hand finished that I'd like to sew in a set of hooks and eyes or something so that way I could interchange sleeves and thus the shift/ chemise could serve for different time periods. I sewed the lace trim all around the neckline, then carefully laced it with the same black grosgrain ribbon I used for lacing up my bodice. Next to the bodice, the chemise was the garment that took the most long to make. Okay, I lied. I didn't even finish it in time for what I was gonna wear it to (my birthday party, in November, but that's a different post (; ). My best friend Bri was up in my room with me, minutes before the party, sewing me into my chemise. I ended up finishing it at a later date and wore the whole costume out to breakfast with my parents. A little 3-year-old girl called me a princess. Awww!!!

As for the accessories: the striped gloves were made from an old pair of socks; I wore a vintage locket; bloomers, crochet stockings, and a short petticoat I had on hand; and the boots were borrowed from Bri.

Considering I sewed the whole entire ensemble by hand, in two weeks, still baffles me, because my stitches were so straight and perfect. So straight and perfect, in fact, that my Grandma saw them and decided to buy me a sewing machine. AFTER I had sewed everything!!!

Detail of the chemise. If you look closely enough, you can see my tears.

The bodice appears so wrinkly because it was supposed to have boning, but due to time and money constraints, I omitted it. And thus I have a very wrinkly bodice. Sigh.

Now remember how I said that my parents weren't too keen with the idea of me making a costume for myself? Well, a week before Halloween, I sat in my closet cutting fabric and interfacing. I waited for my parents to leave the house, and I went downstairs and began ironing on interfacing and basting the bodice together. And imagine their surprise, when they came home, to find their kitchen table covered in blue fabric, and myself innocently sewing together my bodice?

If you can imagine, they were not happy. Especially about how I had asked my friend for an advanced birthday present. They didn't let me work on it for a few days, and so the costume wasn't finished for Halloween, but that was okay. Since Halloween was on a Sunday that year, and my school district has an uncanny taste for insipid, drab uniforms (black dress pants and a khaki-colored polo, for those in high school, and khaki pants and a navy polo for those in the elementary system), we weren't allowed to wear costumes on the Friday before. But we WERE allowed to dress down, yet wear a wig or makeup or whatever from the neck up (?!?!), for which I styled my hair in an 18th century pompadour hairstyle. And on the actual day of Halloween, my uncle, who is very against the "satanic" holiday, celebrated his 60th birthday. Another missed opportunity! But I told myself not to worry, because MY birthday is on November 8th, and I felt a themed party coming up...

The moral of the story is, well, is there a moral to the story? Besides that this was my first major sewing task since sewing clothes and bedding for my Barbie dolls? And the fact that I hand sewed a completely lined costume in two weeks? Yeah, I guess the moral of the story is that it's okay to be determined and insane at the same time for the sake of creativity. I'm sure all the best seamstresses and costumers are. <3  

Something interesting was happening in the distance, but here you can see the boots I wore

A rather shy Talking Flower and Cheshire Cat

An awkward pose. You can see our East Coast autumn on the ground.

Curioser and curioser!