Recently, a friend had a steampunk ball for her birthday party. Old Glory Vintage Dancers taught some actual Victorian dances, accompanied by TLC Trio. It was a blast. But leading up to it, being part of the dance group and all, I had to figure out what to wear. I had an adventurer-type steampunk costume, but that wasn't what I wanted to wear to a ball, and I have to admit that I didn't really want to wear too much borrowed stuff. I really like having my own costumes. I also didn't really want to wear my steampunk corset over my Regency dress like did to Salt City Steam Fest last year. (I know that steampunk typically involves Victorian clothing if it includes anything actually historical at all, but it still looked cool.)
I was afraid I wouldn't have time to make anything new because I started a full-time job recently, so I don't get to sew full-time anymore. Money is often also a concern since nice fabrics aren't cheap, but this time, I knew I had some beautiful embroidered dark red taffeta that I bought a while back on clearance that would be perfect for a late Victorian skirt.
I wanted to make something really elegant and formal for the skirt, partly because that's the direction I wanted to take this particular costume, and partly because I wanted the skirt to be useful for reenacting and not just steampunk. I like versatile costume pieces because they allow me to effectively have more costumes. My plan was to make a bustle skirt, but as time began to run out, it became less and less likely that I would be able to make a bustle and draft and make the skirt to go over it...and possibly a new blouse.
I remembered that I had gotten some sort of late Victorian pattern from a friend, but I couldn't remember what, so I went digging. It turned out to be this pattern from Truly Victorian, which is a "natural silhouette" style skirt, meaning mainly that, while ladies would still wear petticoats, no bustle would be worn. I suppose you would consider the skirt on the right below natural-looking when many of the alternatives of the day had major architecture underneath.
|1870s fashion plate|
I worked hard and by Friday afternoon, the skirt was basically done. I had wanted to put some trims on the bottom, and that wasn't done because I couldn't find any that I thought went particularly well with the fabric, but it was otherwise complete, so I put it on my dummy to take a look at it, start taking photographs and figure out precisely how I was going to get the train out of the way for dancing. But I took one look at it and found it deeply disappointing. The shape was uninspiring, and not in any ways I could easily fix because I hadn't made any actual mistakes. After imagining something really beautiful, that was very upsetting, so I took a break. I modified a shirt for my husband because he wanted something different from last year too, read a book, and generally stewed. I even considered not wearing the skirt on which I had worked so hard and just wearing the Regency dress.
Saturday morning, I decided I would wear it after all, so I put some buttons and loops on the seam allowances in the back to pull up the train from the inside, just making the back a bit more poofy, and I made a choker out of some the scraps from the skirt and a pendant I have that has one of Degas' ballerina paintings on it. The blouse I had intended to make fell by the wayside, so I took a quick shopping trip to Target to see if they had anything that would work, as I didn't want to wear my rather Victorian-looking blouse that, though it looks so great, has long sleeves and a high neck. It's lightweight, but it is still very hot to dance in. I was in luck, and I found a cute shirt that was completely modern, but could blend just fine with the skirt since I was going to wear my steampunk corset on the outside again. And--the real goal of the shopping trip in the first place--it had short sleeves and a more open neckline.
The best news of all is that after I had pressed the seams and darts flat and put a petticoat under it--not so much for authenticity's sake since I wasn't reenacting as in hopes that it would give the skirt a better shape--I liked it better. I'm still not sure I'm as in love with it as I'd hoped, but I didn't have to spend the evening in a skirt that I hated.
|I'm including this one because you can see the nylon "horsehair" braid that I used to stiffen the hem of the skirt.|
|These next two show the train bustled up so I could dance.|
Now I'll say a little about Jon's costume for the evening. He mostly wore things he already had--khakis he had modified with a leather knee-patch, awesome leather tool belt with interesting things in the pockets, Harley boots. This was his first time wearing the bowler hat, but we bought it a while back. The shirt, however, was a new creation for this event. It started out as a perfectly normal, white, button-up shirt. Jon picked off the part of the collar that folds over, and I re-top-stitched the remaining part of the collar and picked off the front pocket. Then I made the trapezoid thing you see on the front out of two layers of sturdy twill I had on hand sewn first inside-out with a spot left open to turn it, then turned right-side-out and top-stitched. I made some button holes in it and sewed some brass buttons onto the shirt, and it was almost done. The final touch was to "dye" the shirt in Pero (a coffee substitute) because I don't drink real coffee and I didn't want to sacrifice any of my delicious herbal teas to the project. It looked pretty cool, but I probably should have figured out a better way to set it because it tinged his undershirt.
|Jon/s costume for the evening was more adventurey. He was wearing a friend's goggles for the picture.|