Sunday, September 11, 2011

Edwardian Collar Stays

Now that I have finally caught up with blogging about my finished costumes from this summer, I can once again turn my attention to current and future projects.  At the moment, I am finishing up an early-1910's dress that I am making to wear to the Antique Elegance show next weekend.  I've really learned a lot with this project, and I've had fun trying out some period techniques that are new to me.

The bodice that I am making has a tall collar, and I knew that it would need some support to keep it from wrinkling or sliding down.  The only problem is that my fabric is a very sheer windowpane linen, so I didn't want to use thick boning channels that would detract from the delicate fabric.  So what did women in the 1910's use to solve this problem?  A quick search on Etsy turned up this lovely card of antique collar stays, so I snatched them up for "research" purposes.  Don't you love shopping for a good cause.  :)

The card of stays was so beautiful and pristine that I wouldn't dream of using the originals for my dress, but at least I could measure them and figure out how they were made.  The wire is stiff, but still bendable, and it is covered with white silk.  It seemed very similar to millinery wire, so I drug out some of my own millinery wire and decided to give it a try.  It was very easy to bend the wire into a serpentine shape, but the thread covering would become frizzy or broken if I bent it with any type of pliers.  The thread didn't break if I bent it with my fingers instead of the pliers, but I couldn't get the curves in the wire as perfect that way.   I wonder if my threads were breaking because my millinery wire is so old (it came from an estate sale) or if it would do the same thing with modern wire.

When I started looking more closely at the antique collar stays, I couldn't see thread wrapped around the wires as I originally assumed.  They feel more solid and smooth - almost like they are wrapped in silk paper instead of thread.  I'm not sure if wire like that even exists anymore, but it made me wonder if you could paint millinery wire with a layer of flexible glue, like Sobo or Elmer's, to seal the threads together before bending them.  I haven't tried this yet, but it might be worth a try if any of you are considering making wire collar stays of your own.

The original collar stays were 3" long, but the card lists other sizes that they came in.  I made mine be 2 1/2" and 2" long to fit my collar better.  Even though my reproduction collar stays are not as pretty as the original ones, they still work wonderfully.  I can't feel them at all when wearing the dress, and they blend in with the sheer fabric very well.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Telegraph fancy dress

Wow, I am getting so behind on my costume posts!  I started this entry a month ago, but I'm just now finding the time to finish it.  Now that school is back in session, I'm hoping that things start settling down a little bit and I can keep up with all of my online projects a little better.  Fingers crossed...

The other new costume that I made for Costume College this summer was my gala dress, which was an 1885 fancy dress costume (like a for masquerade ball) representing the telegraph.  This is one of the most bizarre costumes that I've ever made, but also one of the most fun.  I wish I could take credit for the zany design of this dress, but other than a few minor modifications, I just tried to copy the fashion plate as closely as possible.

The dress is made out of silk taffeta, and the gold arrows and ruffles are made out of silk/metal organza.  For the bodice, I used one of the ball gown bodice patterns in Fashion of the Gilded Age where you use the little apportioning rulers to create a custom fit.  It worked fabulously, and I made sure to keep a good copy of this pattern for future use.  The foundation skirt is from Patterns of Fashion, and both the bodice and foundation skirt are flat lined with cotton calico to give them more structure.  I also boned all of the seams in the bodice, which is something that I don't usually do, and it really helped to create a smooth fit.  All of the arrows are machine appliqued using gold thread, and although that part was pretty time-consuming, I actually had a lot of fun doing it.  The decorative treatment around the neckline was made by running gathering stitches across a super-long strip of the gold fabric, and then tacking the gathered parts to the bodice to create puffs.

This is only the 3rd bustle dress that I've ever made, and I while I think I did pretty good with the foundation skirt and the bodice, the overskirt was less to my liking.  I tried to just drape something on my own at the very last minute, but looking at pictures now, I'm disappointed with how flat it looks in back.  If I ever have an excuse to wear it again, I'm definitely going to take the overskirt apart and try a different bustling technique.  Luckily, all that black fabric hides a lot of flaws, so I don't think it was too obvious to anybody other than me that the overskirt didn't live up to my expectations.

For the accessories, I made a faux-leather pouch that I sprayed with a little gold spray paint to give it a bit of a shimmer.  The pouch closes with an antique telegraph messenger button that also has zig-zag arrows on it, which I'm sure nobody would ever notice in real life, but details like that always make me happy.  I also made some morse code tape to wear around my waist out of brown paper tape that was folded in half and glued.  Then I painted it white and punched a message into the paper tape with a hole puncher.  Of course I had to entertain myself while doing all of that punching, so one of the things that it says is "tonight we're gonna party like it's 1885".  ;)  And finally, I found some online examples of real telegraph envelopes from the Victorian period, and I made my own reproductions to carry around in my messenger pouch to use as a prop.

I only thing that I didn't like in the original illustration was the kooky headdress made out of one of those glass telegraph pole insulators.  I love silly hats, but that was even too weird for me to get into!  So I decided to make a telegraph tiara using model train telephone poles and a very simple bridal tiara.  I sawed the poles to the right lengths, super-glued them to the tiara, strung the poles with gold wire, and then spray painted the whole thing with gold paint.  

So that's about it!  I am totally hooked on Victorian masquerade costumes now, and I hope I get a chance to make another one in the future.  The most fun part of this whole project was getting to wear my costume with other fancy dress people at the Costume College Time Traveler's Gala.  I love dressing in themed groups, and we had quite a ball at the ball!