According to my notes, I began sewing actual seams ten days before the Gala. The bodice applique wasn't even done yet. I know.
Actual assembly of this gown was quite straightforward, and I banked upon that fact. I have worked with deadlines like this before. I knew I could just about make a gown like this in a week, but I cut it very close. It helped that I was aiming for a visual replica. I serged seam allowances and machined as much as I could. My reasoning was that true historical accuracy went out the window the moment I reached for the computer and the heat-n-bond.
The base bodice is finished separately from the applique layer across the front, but they are finished as one along the bottom edge, back, and armsceyes. It closes at center back with hooks and eyes, and hooks to the waistband at the side seams. On-seam boning is a combination of straight and spiral steels.
The sleeve pattern is quite simple. It is a large puffed shape with vertical gathers at front and back, gathered down to a fitted base. Due to shipment issues with silk net, I had to make the Costume College sleeves in a cotton bobbinet. They have since been re-made in the correct silk net, which can be seen in the clock tower photos.
The skirt hem is faced with nylon horsehair braid and a bias strip of polished cotton. A 6” wide ruffle around the interior of the hem provides additional edge support. The skirt ties to the petticoat near the end of the train. A simple hem protector of glazed cotton protects the interior of the petticoat.
Mistakes and Improvements
Unfortunately, I was unable to have a final fitting before Costume College. If I had, I would have noticed two issues: my skirt was 3/4” too long with the shoes I had chosen, and my cotton organdy petticoat collapsed under the substantial weight of the applique. I made a last minute adjustment of the front hem in my hotel room two hours before the Gala.
As for the petticoat issue, the only thing I could do was throw on every other petticoat I'd brought with me. It helped, but not enough. This gown is heavy, and the carpeted hotel floor grabbed at the cotton petti and lining. The Los Angeles humidity didn't help. Were I to make another trained gown for Costume College, I would line it in a slick taffeta. I received quite a few snarky comments both in person and online about the skirt silhouette. You do see slimmer lines in the period, though, so it wasn't that far off, just not as full as the MET's mounting.
I have since added a petticoat with several layers of stiff tulle, and extra tulle down the back. Tulle may not be accurate, but it gets the job done and sure beats starching miles of organdy ruffles.
I am an introvert who is most comfortable behind the scenes. I knew I was going to create a bit of a sensation with this gown, and it took a tremendous amount of courage to step out of the hotel elevator. But I felt beautiful and confident in this gown, which is no small thing. Growth happens outside of one's comfort zone. I learned an entirely new digital skill set. I pushed my limits, showcased my abilities, and above all found time to create for creation's sake. I am very proud of this work.
My hope is that my process will inspire others to go after their own “impossible” projects. If they're outside of your current abilities, figure out how to learn the skills needed to make them possible. Don't be afraid to chase those creative dreams.
It's worth it.
Final stats: 140 hours (from when I began cutting fabric), 7 yards silk faced satin, 7 yards velvet, 7 yards polished cotton, 1 yard cotton sateen, 1 yard silk net, thousands of yards of black thread, countless iced coffees, one nap on the studio floor, and about 100 episodes of X-Files. The gown itself cost over $1,000 in materials when all printing, fusible, etc is taken into account.
I would like to thank my friends on LiveJournal and Facebook for encouraging me throughout this project, my Redthreaded stitchers for helping with hems and closures when I ran out of time, Cerritos College Theatre Dept. for loaning my Gala accessories, Jennifer of Merritt Portrait Studio for the outstanding photoshoot, Dames a la Mode for the gorgeous custom jewelry, Jenny Rose-White and Lauren Rennells for making me look pretty, American Duchess for making period appropriate shoes, Renaissance Fabrics for stocking just the right fabrics, and Cathy Hay, whose own work has inspired me for many years.