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Venetian Gown

This dress, like many of my other projects, started out as something completely different. I work at Hobby Lobby; I used to be a cashier and then got transferred to the fabric/needleworks department earlier this year. As such, I get to be the second or third person to know when the home dec fabrics go on clearance. I scored five yards of 54" wide 100% silk brocade in a shimmery gold color for, oh, $3.99/yard. That, my friends, is a fantastic price, even though I could easily have used six or seven yards for what this dress ended up being.

Because the fabric was gold, I originally thought that I wanted to make a version of Danielle's gold court gown from Ever After. I tucked it away for a few weeks while I made a corded corset (that's a whole 'nother page, though,) and fiddled with muslins for the Gold Gown bodice. It was coming along nicely, and I think it would've worked, except for that I pulled the fabric out to pet it a few weeks later and decided that the pattern was too large and too regular to look good as the gold gown. Here's a picture, one of the few, in which you can see the pattern on the brocade:

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Now...wait a second, Katie. You said you bought gold fabric, right? Are you color blind or just insane?

Sigh. Nope, not colorblind. That would make me insane. Which I am. Because you know what I did? I decided, "Hey, I'm going to look really bad in gold. Maybe I should dye my fabric."

Being a tricksy lass, I waited until my family went camping down at Warren Dunes to go buy my bottle of Wine RIT dye, because my mother once told me "no fabric dyeing in the house!" Well, I couldn't disobey her, so clearly I had to circumvent this slight complication. Okay, so I briefly entertained the idea of using the washing machine, but I knew I'd be in deep trouble if it broke, or I didn't get all the dye out and we all ended up with pink-tinged underwear.

When my sister and I were little, we used to play Barbies. We didn't play normal Barbies, though. Oh, no. When mom went to choir practice, we would get all our dolls together, kidnap our dad, and set up a base camp in the play room, where our Barbies and his G.I. Joes weathered sandstorms and ran spy missions. (This has a point, I swear.) Anyway, when we weren't "Playing Joes," as we called it, all the Barbies and Joes and etc. went into a fifty-quart Sterilite tub that now lives in the downstairs hall closet. Upon recalling this providential fact, I immediately ran downstairs and emptied the contents of this big tub into one of the many Girl-Scout Cookie boxes that we have lying around from the days where mom was a leader of her own daughters' troops and we kept everything that went through the house because she might need it for a Scout project. L'anyhoodle, it all fit, so I had the tub in which I was to do my dyeing. Yay!

I set up in the driveway, on the trailer pad, on a very, very hot day at the end of June. I laid down a tarp and weighted it with one of mom's many stained-glass stepping stones. I then got out the two biggest pots in the kitchen and began heating water. Here's my roughed-out math, courtesy of an entry I made in my xanga account before commencing operations:

"How crazy am I? So crazy. I went out and bought a bottle of liquid RIT fabric dye to see if I can't get my gold silk to be more of a russet color. So currently, following the directions on the bottle, I am heating six gallons of water to dye two lb. of fabric with. Now, this involves two large spaghetti pots boiling merrily away on the stove whilst it is 79 degrees outside and 82 degrees in the house. I also lack a Huge Pot of Doom, so I'm heating these six gallons in batches of 12 cups per pot, in two pots. I need 96 cups. Do the math. That's eight pots full of water, rotating between stove and driveway (where the rubbermaid tub is), and I'm busy being wilted like a romaine leaf in Wolfgang Puck's frypan. Oh, and did I mention...I have no idea how this is going to turn out."

I only ended up doing six pots of water, which is still quite a lot. The neighbors were kind of starting to peek warily out of their windows by the time I got them all done, which was amusing. Here's the account of the first dye adventure, courtesy of my LiveJournal:

"I decided to go for thirty minutes, since I thought that that was all I could stand to crouch by the big plastic tub in the middle of the driveway and swish fabric in scalding hot water with a spoon and my bare hands. I was right. Actually, I didn't even last thirty minutes. With about four minutes left to go, I started lifting the fabric out and wringing excess water/dyebath out and chunking it into my waiting laundry basket. I then transported the whole soggy, maroon lot into the upstairs bathroom, where I plopped it in the tub and rinsed. And rinsed. And rinsed. And then rinsed some more. Something is screwy with the drain in the tub, so at one point I was stuck with half a tubfull of fuschia water that wasn't going anywhere. So I turned the tap off and let it drain, swishing my fabric in the pink H2O until it was suitably lowered in level to let me use the shower head (We have the kind on a hose that you can unclip from the wall and wave around) to rinse it from the back of the tub so that the water flowed toward the drain. That worked pretty well, except that I had problems manipulating the shower head and the fabric with only two hands. So, I rolled my jeans up and proceeded to do the wine-making dance on my fabric, holding the shower head at about my knee level and leaning on the side of the tub so that I didn't fall and crack my head open. That would have been an interesting story for the paramedics. Anyway, I kept that up for a while, but it took a lot of energy and I was very hot (no AC in the bathroom), so I cheated and only rinsed until the water ran Very Light Pink rather than Clear. Then I turned the water off, did a couple more hops on top of it, and plunked it back into the laundry basket for its trip downstairs. That's where it is now, in a warm/warm extra-large cycle in my washing machine, with detergent. Just like the [dye] bottle said. So...now we'll see, I guess. "The interesting part is yet to come. Where the HECK am I going to hang this all to dry? I think my parents (who are off camping, at the moment) made off with the clothesline for their campsite...erm. Crap."

This first venture was successful in that the fabric was no longer gold. It was, however a rather light, bright shade of pink that looked distinctly like a Victorian sofa. My mother commented on this when she and the family returned home earlier than planned, because it was Just Too Hot to be camping that week. Well, it wasn't that it was too hot, but it didn't get cool enough at night for them to sleep comfortably, so they came home. Anyway, I decided to try again, this time using probably a bottle and a half of dye in the same amount of water. This time, I left it in for an hour. So I sat cross-legged on the driveway for an hour--thanfully, it was much cooler the day I tried it again, and there was a nice breeze. Mom then assisted me in the rinsing process, and it was a lot easier with four hands. After that, she helped wash it, being unafraid to fiddle with the washer and relatively unafraid she was going to break it, so that was also very nice. :)

Anyhow, it was a big adventure, but worth it in the end because my brocade ended up a very nice maroon color that looks much better on me than gold does. I learned some things, too. Such as, when the back of the dye bottle says "use rubber gloves," there's a reason for it. I have this nasty habit of chewing my cuticles, and then when I spent an hour and a half bathing my hands in maroon dye, all the little rough places and raw bits and new skin on my fingers picked up the nicest MAGENTA color. It looked like I was bleeding fuschia for a few days after the whole ordeal, which made people at work look at me funny more than once. Also, however-many gallons of water holds heat for a very long time. I scalded my hands badly enough to make them hypersensitive for a full day even after letting the tub sit for an hour before beginning to dye my full length of fabric. The second time around, I didn't strictly boil each pot before putting it in the tub and I also used a pair of fireplace tongs to manipulate the fabric, which helped save my hands a lot. Not sure how much rubber gloves would've helped, but oh, well. Now I know.

The silk then spent about a week languishing in my cedar chest because I was too afraid to cut into it.

In the meantime, I patterned my bodice, basing it off the corset I drafted using the Online Custom Corset Generator, which I love. The drafting/draping of this bodice involved a lot of newsprint, tape, contortionism, huffing, puffing, and sweating. Basically, I laced myself into my 18th c. stays, traced the rough bodice pattern (note to self: reverse that order next time. Trace, THEN stays. Dope.), cut it out, taped it up, taped it to myself...and then I started taping strips of paper around for the shoulder straps until it looked pretty good. Then I cut across the strap so it'd lay flat, taped some more to smooth out the curves, and traced it again. Still wearing the stays. Not the most comfortable thing ever, given that I trace stuff on the floor. Anyway, it got done. And I was scared to death that it wasn't going to work out. I cut out a layer of duck cloth canvas and a layer of tea-dyed muslin for interlining and lining anyway, and put them together. The bodice is quite heavily boned, and it took me three or four tries to get a boning pattern that I liked and that worked pretty well with the shape of the bodice. I'm not used to working with stuff that has a curvy bottom, you see. So that got done, too.

Image hosted by Photobucket.com It was time to cut the brocade, if I ever wanted to be able to wear this thing to Faire. I matched the patterns on the fronts, cutting it really close and putting the edges on the selvage so there was literally less than a quarter inch seam allowance. There's also a centered motif on the center back of the bodice. It doesn't show up worth crap in photos, but you can see it in real life and I just love it.

The picture at the right is the bodice fronts. I offset the pattern a bit because I didn't really want to end up with two of the big circle motifs right over my chest. That's not the best look, or...that's what I think, anyway. Also, I liked how the little scrolly bits lined up along the front edges. It was my first experience with matching a pattern in something like this--I think all my other stuff has been either a random pattern or a solid color, so this was a lot little nerve-wracking. Especially since the silk had long ago sold out and there was no hope of ever getting more because it was a clearance fabric and therefor not orderable anymore. Eek!

Image hosted by Photobucket.comPutting the bodice together was pretty boring, basicaly sewed around the arm and neck and front edges and then turned it, and then sewed the side seams so that all the raw edges were nicely encased. The next step would be to finish the bottom edge and cartridge-pleat the skirt to it. Next question: would I have enough fabric for the skirt? My five yards, which was scant in the first place, shrunk during dyeing to just over four yards. I used about a yard for the bodice, what with matching the pattern and centering the motif and all. So I had three yards left. Which would be plenty for a skirt, since I'm only 36" from waist to floor. Okay, so techinically enough fabric, but could I match the pattern at the seams?

Answer: YES! I had just enough (we're talking, like, three inches to spare) for three 36" panels with the pattern matching at all the side seams. Yay!

Time was getting a little short by this point, and since I'm a big fan of saving time and work, I used curtain tape to cartridge pleat my skirt. This part was pretty boring. I measured and did a little simple algebra to calculate the curve of the front of the bodice and find out how much and from where I was going to trim fabric so the top of the skirt would match the curve of the bodice when pleated. This is where I fervently thank Mr. Jim Brown of Freedom Baptist High School for dragging me kicking and screaming through four years of math--it ws painful while I was at it, but it makes projects like this much less of an ordeal than they could be, because the math isn't hard anymore. Anyway, I did my number-crunching, measuring, pinning, and clipping, and voila.

Actually, I lied. It wasn't quite, "voila," just like that. I used cotton batting from Hobby Lobby to pad my pleats (lots of people use felted wool, but I would break out in a rash, so cotton it was). That involved pre-shrinking it, another little battle with the washing machine. I machine-sewed the batting on like a facing and flipped it to the inside, then sewed the curtain tape to the whole shebang. You can see the stitching on the front, but if I ever have time, I can reinforce the pleats by hand and take out the topstitches. "If I have time," is the catch there, but whatever. Then I matched up things where my geometry said they should be matched, and started whipstitching the skirt to the bodice.


Now, somewhere along the line, I failed Thimbles 101. So I spent two evenings trying to force a needle with a doubled strand of button thread through approximately ten layers of fabric. (One layer of silk, one of cotton duck, one of muslin, one of batting, one of silk--all times two, since the edges were turned for both the skirt and the bodice. Not. Smart.) I was in extreme hand-pain for the first part, but then I developed the hugest callus on my right index finger and it didn't hurt so badly anymore. Still, I'm using a thimble next time I want to do something like that. I even went out and bought my own.

Oh, and did I mention? I chipped a tooth on my needle while attaching skirt to bodice. That takes some special kind of talent, right there. Oh, yeah.

Anyway, I think I got everything the skirt attached about three days before Faire. Faire day was a Sunday (my day off), and my good friend Pat had a going-away party on Friday. Holly had a Fairy costume that she wanted to wear on Sunday; I was supposed to make her a corset. She and I cut out all the vital pieces except the fashion fabric layer, so before I went to work that day, I told her to cut out the blue fabric so I could put it together after Pat's party. I headed off to work, then to Pat's, and then home. There was no corset waiting for me. There was no blue fabric cut out. Holly was still at Pat's, playing with his sister. I gave up in disgust and threw myself down on the sofa in exhaustion. Great, just great. Cue the huge mega sewing crunch time. Oooh boy. Holly was appropriately apologetic when she finally got home, cut out the fashion fabric that night, but I went to bed because I had early shift in the morning on Saturday and needed sleep.

Saturday, I worked until one in the afternoon. Mom took me out for lunch, and I began construction on Holly's corset around four in the afternoon. Where those three hours went? I'm not so sure. Anyway. I started at four, took an hour break around five or six to go to Hobby Lobby and get hooks & eyes and ribbon, and then went home and finished the corset before midnight. I kid you not. Holly was wearing the thing before 12 a.m. INSANE.

But since this is the Venetian dress diary, how is that relevant? Well, see, I had planned on making my camicia on Saturday afternoon. I was sewing a corset instead. So around 12 a.m., a little after, in front of a truly terrible documentary about whales beaching themselves because of Naval sonar devices, I started on my camicia. I was up until five a.m., and it still isn't the way I'd really like it, but it was wearable. I passed out on my bed with an at least wearable costume waiting for me in the living room and woke up in almost exactly the same position four hours later. I have to admit that I was really apprehensive about the whole costume. I mean, I'd only ever tried it on over golf shirts and stuff, and it was awfully poofy in the skirt...would I just look like a big...pink...silk...whatever?

After a quick shower (it was very, very hot and humid that week, and I'd been lifting and hauling fabric for the past twelve hours or so), I went with much fear and trembling to put on the whole costume.

Sadly, this is probably the best picture of me that we took that day. Like I said, it was incredibly hot and humid. I swear, I curled my bangs before I left the house but they were flat before I even got in the car. Ah, well. Good times were had despite the oppressive weather.

Mom, The Nephew, and myself. The Nephew has a thing for silky fabrics...guess who was covered in silk? So here he is, chewing on the ribbons that held my sleeves up. Look at those baby cheekies!

I'd also like to take a moment to say that I love natural fibers. This dress looks very heavy, but I was probably the most comfortable person in my group in terms of temperature. I would've liked the sleeves to be a little less clingy, but that was really my only complaint. For such a formidable looking garment, this dress is actually quite light and easy to wear.

It seemed a shame to put so much work (dyeing, much?) into a dress and only wear it once on the most miserable day of summer. So I wore it again at Halloween with the addition of a neckband and some lace around the neck & cuffs. This picture shows the lace, as well as the makeup job I did for that evening. I kind of liked it, ergo, picture. Now, if only I could remember what I did...sigh.

Small shot of the sleeve lace. It was a pain to sew on, but quite pretty.

Also, a small note about the accessories: I purchased the string of pearls at my local The Icing shop and found some glass pearls to match in color and size at Hobby Lobby. My mom, who has mad jewelry-making skills, made me drop earrings from those pearls, just a simple string of three pearls on a wire. (I wore those earrings a lot and recently passed them along to my Mackinaw roommate to wear at the Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse.) The cross is a charm that I also found at Hobby Lobby, and is strung on variegated silk embroidery ribbon from the same place.

Yes, I am a walking Hobby Lobby advertisement. What's not to like?!