Wednesday, May 6, 2020

La Vie en Chateau

Long before "social distancing" became a universal thing, there were dresses that forced people to stand, walk or dance several feet apart. Those dresses had structures beneath them called bustles which were made from wire, boning, crinoline and even pads and petticoats to help maintain their shape. And though silhouettes were greatly simplified and brought close to the body after World War I, some form of those wide garments have somehow survived. It lives on in the form of wedding dresses, debutante ball gowns, prom frocks and especially  red carpet formal wear. Though many of us remain confined in our homes with nowhere to do, there's no reason our dolls can't get all dressed up like the princesses they are and head to an imaginary ball.

Before we get started, I would like to explain... the technique in this tutorial is the way I create bustle dresses. It may or may not have anything to do with the manner in which its full scaled version. I would also like to point out that there is a difference between fashion and period costume. While the modern ballgown may flirt with the voluminous proportions of its 19th century ancestor, for these dresses to be considered fashion, they must respect modern proportions and aesthetics. In this case, it means softening things up so that the dress flows and is less rigid.

For this project, you will need a simple, evening length dress and a rectangle of matching or contrasting fabric. Depending on how full you want your silhouette will determine the width of your fabric. For this (Barbie) dress, the width of my fabric is 42" (106 cm). Same thing with the length. Though I chose a strapless sheath for this tutorial, your dress can be anything you want. It can have a full bodice, or sleeves. It can be slim or flared. What I like to do is build the bustle as a separate entity that can be pinned temporarily over the existing garment or stitched down permanently. I construct it like this as opposed to creating a single pattern with the volume worked in because this method allows me to better control the look and fit simply and quickly.

1. My dress begins with a simple strapless, sheath dress.
2. After determining the length and amount of fullness, I cut a rectangle of matching or contrasting fabric. Turn under the side edges as well as the hem. The top edge is gathered with a running stitch.
3. Draw the stitch into gathers so they fit from side to side across the back.
4. It's like a half-gathered "train" that only extends only across the back of the dress. Pin and adjust. Then remove and secure the gathers with another stitch so they don't move.

5. Next, create your own "bias tape" by cutting a strip of fabric diagonally on the fabric that measures a little more than the circumference of the doll's waist by 1" (2.5cm) tall. Note: This strip really have to be cut on the bias so that it curves around the waist smoothly!
6. Fold one side and the bottom edge under and press.
7. Pin the folded over the gathered edge of the "skirt," pin then stitch in place.
8. Fold the top edge down but just until it reaches the top edge of the gathered train Press but don't stitch it down yet.
Though I have a lot of fabric in this train already (42") it will need something to help the gathers maintain their fullness and not droop. You will need some sort of "padding."
For padding, you can use a stiff tulle or, as I've used here, you can recycle those used "dryer sheets."
09. My dress is pretty heavy, so I used two dryer sheets. Put them together and fold them in half lengthwise.
10. Make a gathering stitch along the top of the folded edge. Draw up the gathers so that this "padding" falls 1" (2.5cm) short of both sides of the train.
11. Cut another 1/2" (1cm) bias strip of fabric and stitch it to the top of the gathers.
12. Tuck both side edges inwards
13. Apply to the middle back of the gathered train.
14. Stitch the top folded edge of the train to the top edge of the ribbon on the padding. This is just to keep the padding from shifting.
15. Fold each side of the train inwards towards the center.
16. Pen both edges of the waistband together.
17. Stitch shut along the top and the bottom of the "waistband.". The end result will look like a gathered skirt where the waistline has been sewn shut.
18-19. Place over the train over the dress and make any needed adjustments needed on the front or back. Pin in place. I add some sort of embellishments to the train so that it comes together as a complete look. We will need to figure out how our doll gets in and out of the dress! At this point, you can decide whether you want this train to be permanent or simply pinned on. For this dress, I have decided to make the train a permanent part of the dress. It will be stitched onto half the back (to the opening) then attached to the other side with a hook and eye.
20. I still have some beaded lace. I cut out a few medallions to sew on the top of my train.
A. Sew the beaded lace medallions on top of the bias tape of the train.
B. Allow the medallions to extend over the side of the tape so that it will overlap and blend into the rest of the dress. When you have completed this, pin the dress to the dress for placement. Then stitch the train from the front of one side across the back to the center back closure. The doll must be able to get out of the dress, so I secure it only as far as the back opening. The remainder of the "waistband" will lay over the other back half of the doll's body then attach to the side front with hook and eye as explained in the next two steps.
C. Add a hook to the underside of the lace medallion.
D. Add the "eye" (in this case I made a crochet eye instead of the metal one) to the front of the dress where the medallion will attach to the dress.

21. When you are finished, it will look something like this from front to back
22. You can use almost anything for the embellishment like lace or tiny silk flowers!

23. My finished gown.

A variation of the above look using flowers. 

 You don't have to use a slim dress. You could start out with something more flared. And something more decorative!
 This is a princess lined, "faux embroidered" dress we made awhile ago. Notice it has an A-line silhouette. But what if we wanted something rounder, fuller....
I used the same technique as the first dress. Instead of the dryer sheets, I gathered a width of tulle which is about 2" (5cm) deep. It is applied exactly as we did to the train in the first dress. Instead of beads, I cut a bit of lace from an old shirt to add to the top of my train.
From the front, the difference appears to be more discreet but once you turn her a bit to the side and the back, you notice how much rounder the silhouette appears. For me, this will be temporary, which will give me the option of having two looks.

 This was a red carpet dress worn at the Golden Globes last year. It was a red silk strapless sheath dress with two small peplums on either side of the front.

This is the original Valentino red carpet dress worn by Jennifer Lawrence for the 2014 Oscars. It is a slim fitted strapless sheath with two gathered peplums, each placed just above the hips on both sides.
There are a couple of things happening here. First I created a train, using the above technique for the first dress. The top of it is placed just under the peplum at the side and wraps across the back to the other side, then tacked under the opposite peplum. 
Instead of adding the gathered tulle for padding, I took a length of chiffon and gathered it into a soft knot which was then added on top of the train. 
Each layer is longer than the other to create this most elegant silhouette.

Finally, this is the (Versace) gown Lady Gaga wore to the 2019 Golden Globes Award show. I was most intrigued by its "Marie Antoinette" allure. I did not have the time to make another, so I'll walk you through the steps I made to create this look. There are several things going on here. The dress is a strapless, princess line gown with a long (incorporated) train in the back. See "Train of Thought" for the instruction. The sleeves are separate  puff sleeves. The ribbons that wrap around her wrists are separate as wel.
To this dress I added little poufs created from the same fabric as the dress. Again, they are made by creating folding bits of fabric and gathering them into small pouches. I applied these to the sides and the back of the dress.

I made two panels. Each measures 24x12" (30x60 cm). The bottom edge was rounded and all sides, including the top of each panel were turned under and hemmed. At the top of each panel has been gathered to fit on either side of the back of the dress. Attach one panel to the right side of the dress, from the center back seam to the side. The left panel is slightly wider. It is stitched to the left back of the dress but there should be overlap that covers the right side by a 1/4" (6mm). They are held in place with a hook and eye.
The result is most regal!

Coming up next.... another Behind the Design look at Moschino's "Versailles" mini dress! In the meantime... Thank you for stopping by. Stay safe. Stay virus free!

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  1. Lovely, and lots of fun to make. Yes, film and theatre costumes are totally different to actual historical costumes, with the possible exception of clothes from the 18th century onwards because they are closer to our own time period I guess. Have you seen Janet Arnold's Patterns of Fashion? They are a mine of information if you are interested in the details.

    1. Hi Jools. So happy to see you. No, I have not seen that book, though it sounds quite interesting. In undergraduate fashion programs, students are taught to produce things current silhouettes that will end up in the stores. Students who lean towards costumes are encouraged to continue on to grad school which gets into the intricacies of historical costume history. I must admit, though, if I had the money, I would love to take courses in haute couture at Paris' Chambre Syndicale de Couture school. (They have summer programs!) On this blog, my mission has been to keep it simple. Because people of different skill sets--including those who are picking up a needle and thread for the first time-- visit this blog, I try to find simple solutions. More "fast fashion" in terms of techniques as opposed to couture. It's all in the name of having fun and.....doll play! Thank you so much for stopping by. Big hugs.

    2. Delighted. Wouldn't that be the bomb!, going to the Chambre Syndicale de Couture school. Janet Arnold did four or five books of historical fashions drawn to scale on graph paper - they are A3 landscape books. She was allowed access to historical clothe in English museums I believe. I total agree with you about keeping it simple. At 1/6 scale there are a lot of details (and fabrics) that just don't work. Have recently ruined a gorgeous piece of vintage silk by trying to squeeze it onto a 1/6 IT doll... I should have known it was too heavy :). Will now have to see what I can salvage for a 16 Inch. Good thing about dolls is you can try anything and not be afraid to make mistakes.

  2. Replies
    1. Thank you so much Chris. Glad you enjoyed this post.

  3. Replies
    1. Thank you Dlubaniny. At this time, when the world is in lockdown and we pass our days, perhaps in jogging pants or pyjamas.... it is good to fall back in the land of make believe balls and all the frills that go with it. Big hugs.

  4. Dziękuję bardzo!
    Znalazłam tu tyle pomysłów i inspiracji, że nic, tylko szyć!
    Uwielbiam takie kreacje i - moim zdaniem - to najbardziej imponujące stroje! Masz niesamowite pomysły! Dysponujesz taką ilością fantastycznych tkanin i dodatków, że każdy ubiór to "poemat", który się podziwia z zapartym tchem!
    Pozdrawiam i dziękuję za tutoriale! Na pewno z nich skorzystam!
    Bądź zdrowa ♥

    1. Olla wrote: Thank you very much!
      I found here so many ideas and inspirations that nothing but sew!
      I love such creations and - in my opinion - these are the most impressive costumes! You have amazing ideas! You have so many fantastic fabrics and accessories that every outfit is a "poem" that you admire with bated breath!
      Best regards and thank you for the tutorials! I will definitely use them!
      Be healthy ♥

      Oh Olla, thank you for such wonderful comments. If you found inspiration in this post, I am really happy (and very flattered)! I think this is a good time to look away from the real world and all its problems and challenges and do something that makes us happy. Yes, it is escapism.... but how wonderful to escape back to a more poetic time when ladies dressed up in beautiful dresses and danced to lovely music. We may be stuck indoors...or as far as our backyards.... but through the magic of our dolls.... we can go anywhere....all dressed up! Thank you so much for stopping by. Big hugs. Stay safe.

  5. Wonderful work April! I love such gowns. Thank you for the tutorial!!! The colours you used are also beautiful, and very chic looking. Stay safe as well, and healthy! Hugs X

    1. Thank you Linda for your lovely comments. This seemed to be just the right thing to uplift the spirit during such trying times. Every morning when I wake up and see my girls, they make me smile. Getting them all dressed up takes me back to a more carefree time when my biggest dilemma was what I'd wear to some "must go" dance! Big hugs and stay safe.

  6. Lady Gaga's dress in your version is outstanding, I'm delighted with it, again. So, so beautiful!
    Very useful tips, thank you for sharing! :)

    1. Oh Kamelia.... I too still love that Lady Gaga dress. I didn't have taffeta but was surprised how the acetate lining fabric had the same allure. Thank you so much for your lovely comment. Big hugs. Stay safe.


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