Tuesday, May 28, 2013

A fairy from Lost Hope

Although I haven't been posting much lately, I've been hard at work behind the scenes working on a new outfit that combines history with a bit of fantasy.  This new Regency fairy outfit was a welcome diversion from more serious sewing, and it also happens to kill 3 birds with one stone for the Historical Sew Fortnightly challenges.  The leaf overbodice was made for the "flora and fauna" challenge, the turban was made for the "squares, rectangles, and triangles" challenge, and the gown, and really the overall look, was made for the "literature" challenge.

The inspiration for this costume comes from the book Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, which is a bit of a cross between Jane Austen and Harry Potter.  The story is set in Regency period England, and it intertwines real historical figures and events with a hearty dose of magic and fairies.  The antagonist of the tale is a fairy known only as "the gentleman with the thistle-down hair".  He is quite mad and somewhat sinister, and he has a nasty habit of enchanting humans and forcing them to attend nightly balls at his kingdom called "Lost Hope".  The balls are filled with elegant, but melancholy and slightly unhinged characters.  One fairy woman at the enchanted ball is described like this: "She was dressed in a gown the color of a winter sunset and carried a delicate, glittering fan strung with something which might have been crystal beads - but which more resembled frost upon leaves and the fragile pendants of ice that hang from twigs."

For my costume, I did not try to copy a specific character, but I wanted to create my own idea of what a fairy guest might have looked like at the kingdom of Lost Hope.  The dress is based on actual Regency-period attire, but the materials are more rustic and inspired by nature.  I also wanted to stay away from a pretty, flowery fairy look, and I tried to style the outfit and photos to look slightly dark and wild.

The dress for this costume is made with the Past Patterns Lewis and Clark pattern.  Everything went together great, but if you make this pattern yourself, I'll warn you to check the size carefully before you begin.  I had to go down 2 sizes from what the measurement chart said I should use.  I also raised the waistline in back by two inches to make it look more like the high-backed styles of the 1790's, and I changed up the pleating and tucks on the skirt a little.  The dress is made with cotton lawn and it is lined with linen, and this is the first time all year that I've bought fabric for a costume project.  But luckily, the fabric for this dress was under $20, so I don't feel too guilty about it.  I hand-sewed most of the dress and made it without any fantasy modifications because I wanted it to work for both this fairy outfit and for other more authentic historical styles as well.

The little vest was inspired by a variety of Regency fashion plates showing sleevelesss bodices (I have a Pinterest collection of them here).  I loved the way these little bodices can dress up and change the look of a simple dress.  The bodice is made from some really unique fabric that was originally a table runner.  My husband gave it to me as a gift a few years ago to use for costuming - he knows me so well! It has velvety preserved leaves glued onto a fabric backing, and it is surprisingly durable. It handles sort of like thin leather, and best of all - it smells like fresh cut grass.  :)  I bound the edges with burlap ribbon, and I made cord out of the burlap threads to accent the seamlines.

The turban is just a long rectangular piece of undyed raw silk that has a lovely striated pattern to it.  I wrapped it in a method similar to the video tutorial that I posted here.  The only change is that I covered the crown of my head with the tail of the fabric first so I wouldn't have to worry about fixing my hair.  The turban is decorated with a few turkey feathers and a sprig of pine needles.

I was always intrigued by my mental image of "the gentleman with the thistle-down hair", so I decided to do something similar with my costume.  The "lady with the Spanish moss hair" doesn't have quite the same poetic ring to it, but I think it is still a fun little finishing touch for the outfit.  I tried using real moss first, but it was too delicate to hold up to very much handling, so I found some artificial moss and stitched it to a headband to create an easy mossy 'do.

Although the fairies in Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell are not described as having wings, the book does mention that they can change their appearance at will to appear more human or more animalistic.  My old paper moth wings matched the colors of the outfit so well that I decided to go ahead and wear them to finish off the fairy look.

Here are a few of my favorite photos, and you can see the rest on flickr.


Unknown said...

Um, ya so not only is this amazing, but I will also be checking out that book- in 18 years when my son is older and I can actually read again. But this is totally awesome! I love fantasy and scifi and I am a HUGE Austen fan (my wedding was Regency themed).

Sarah W said...

Gorgeous! Love the turban, and the leaf bodice is wonderful! I like fairies... I will have to check out that book.

Nora said...

Oh, how wonderful! I love that book and your costume and the photos are lovely! I especially like the 2nd and the 4th picture, you look like you just stepped out of a story book :)

bauhausfrau said...

I just love this. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is one of my favorite books, I read it nearly every winter, and I've always loved the descriptions of the strange guests at Lost Hope.

Your costume really captures the feel of the book and the pictures you got are amazing - and I love the moss hair!

Cheyene said...

Wow, that's really awesome.
I love the headdress and the leaf over-bodice especially.
Also, where you took the pictures made it even more amazing. :-)

Cathy Raymond said...

Truly amazing. I love the costume!

Donna said...

Absolutely beautiful. I just love all the details, especially the way the vest looks over the bodice. And you've reminded me that Jonathan Strange is a book I keep meaning to check out.

Seidenweberin said...

Outstanding. I love the combination of the faerieworld and historical fashion! Absolutely enchanting!

Sarah said...

Wow! I am always stunned by what you make but this certainly takes the cake - wow! It is incredible! everything looks perfect and you look just like I would imagine a wood-fairy to look like. The mossy hair is brilliant. You are beautiful.

Augustintytär said...

You must have guessed I would adore these pictures! Dark and wild is the best! So much beauty and character. You have created the image of the perfect fairy. I love every detail. Amazing pictures! I could hang these on my wall.

And I need to read that book.

Jenni said...

Absolutely gorgeous! Stunning! One of my favorite books, and you have captured it well.

Anonymous said...

So much love for this I'mma gonna bust!
The moth wings are awesome, did you make those? Of course you did.
The leaf vest makes the whole outfit for me and the moss hair is just the perfect touch.

cathgrace said...

you look amazing!!!

Kleidung um 1800 said...

The essence of the ball from the novel is beautifully caught in this dress and the photos...what an unusual and inspiring look on Regency garments. Thank you for sharing :)

OldFashionGirl said...

So amazing! It is purely fantastic......................

Maggie said...

I completely adore these photos! I know I said it before, but wonderful job! You look so beautiful and really capture the fairy feeling here!

Die Werkelwütige said...

I can't find words... this is just too much awesomeness in one costume.
I love the book and I really like how you intrepreted the idea of a fairy guest.
Every detail is sooo adoreable!!!

An Historical Lady said...

This has to be the most lovely, magical, intriguing Regency ensemble I have ever seen! You did a fabulous job, and look spectacular!


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