Dawn's Costume Guide



The Iron Dress

Abbreviated rules:

1) The outfit must be made from fabric that you have in your stash at the moment you sign up.

2) You have an additional $25.00 for anything that is not in your stash -- the perfect trim, extra velvet for the sleeves, lining fabric, boning, whatever... Little things like thread, hooks and eyes, grommets, etc. are not under this $25.00 and are considered "Freebies"

3) Outfit must be made using a Margo's pattern.

4) Underpinnings such as a smock, corset, farthengale, and bumroll are not in the competition.

5) You can modify the pattern for another country, such as Italy or Germany, or even try to make it an earlier period.

6) The Contest runs from July 16th until Oct. 15th, 2006.

July 20

One of the costume lists I am on is running a competition. The rules are pretty simple, make the dress out of what you have on hand. Since many of us have a fabric stash which rivals local shops, this isn't as tough as it might first sound. We've all got plenty of fabric and trim, the challenge is in using it without buying anything new to match.

Technically the competition started Sunday morning. I wasn't able to get my fabric out until yesterday, but I got some photos so you can see what I'm working with.

My color scheme is green and beige, I have a heavy green and tan cut velvet for the basic dress, plus an assortment of taupe silk, green brocade, ivory sheer, and a totally funky tan silk embroidered organza.

July 22

Decided I better get some kind of design figured out. Used the dial-a-dress thingie to come up with a basic drawing, and then colored it in Photoshop:

I'm not entirely sure about the trim placement, but you get the general idea with the color and fabric pattern. I'm hoping to do something interesting with the sleeves. I think the dark green diamond-patterned fabric will be good for those, and I'd like to pick out the detail or add some kind of trim so they don't look solid colored.

August 1

I have figured out what size I am in the pattern and copied the bodice pieces I need. Laid everything out on the fabric to be sure it will fit, but haven't got up the nerve to cut anything yet. I don't know why, I've already made 4 or 5 dresses in this style this year. It's not like I don't know how to do this.

Debated making a new corset, since my current one doesn't work for some reason. Three inches smaller than my bust and I still don't stay "up" in it. I must not be fat enough.

Sept. 26

Nineteen days left. Nothing like last minute changes to get your butt moving. I debated for several weeks whether I wanted to actually do this or not. And I changed my design. I'm now aiming for about 1565 Venetian. I think the front opening looks interesting. Margo's patterns have made it easy for everyone and their dog to have an Elizabethan gown, but the problem is, everyone looks the same now. I just wanted something a little more fresh and original.

Now, fortified with a glass of fresh-squeezed apple cider and a chunk of Russell Stover dark chocolate, it's time to go cut fabric....

Here's two images I'm using for inspiration, borrowed from the Realm of Venus site.

The image on the left, in red uses fabric with a pattern similar to mine. It's probably a much lighter weight, though. I like this dress because it has a straight waist, not the elongated one as shown on the right. The green dress on the right has interesting trim placement, though. I have a big roll of gold trim that will imitate that just perfectly. So, the idea I'm going for is a blend of details found on these two dresses from the same time period. Finally, here's one more picture.

Oct. 2

Got the muslin cut out and ready to fit over my corset. Only I can't find my corset! Grrr!

Oct. 6

All the sewing I am obligated to do for other people is finished. Done. My time is now all my own! Bwahahahaha!

Got the bodice muslin cut and fitted the other day. Today is the scary part, cutting the bodice in the velvet. The length of fabric I have is only 3.5 yards. I don't have enough for mistakes.

The velvet was much easier to cut than I expected. Sharpening the scissors the other day may have had something to do with that. Now I need to find the silk I set aside for my lining. I know I put it someplace "safe"....

I also need to find the box of christmas ornaments I bought last year. It's got all kinds of stuff I thought I could take apart and use as trim on my dance costumes, and I think it's got beads I can use as a girdle for my dress.

Oct. 8

I went to Joann's yesterday looking for lacing rings for the front opening. Instead I bought 12 yards of crinkle silk, 5+ yards of luscious gold velvet brocade, 4 or 5 yards of deep purple cotton sari fabric with heavy gold embroidery, a bunch of dark red crushed velvet, two different black sequinned fabrics, one in linen and one sheer, and a piece of black net with 'velvet' flocked black flowers outlined in silver glitter. All on clearance, most for $2 a yard. The brocade was $3.50/yd and will someday be another 16th century gown. The rest of it is for dance.

I never got the lacing rings, instead I decided to use ordinary hooks and eyes, or rather, just the eyes sewn inside the front of my dress. I've got packages at home already, but I bought another pack just in case I come up short. According to the rules, this is a 'freebie' purchase.

Today I am sewing up the armscyes of my bodice. I am whipstiching it by hand. This is the most hand work I'll be doing. With wrist injuries and RA, I can't afford to do much hand sewing without completely crippling myself. Fact of life.

Later I need to find the sleeve pattern. I forgot to trace it off the tissue when I did the rest of the pattern. I'm planning to make separate removeable sleeves, but they will be whipstiched on, not the renfest kind that tie on.

Oct. 9

The skirt is on. Pleating it in was much easier than I expected, but wrestling with the velvet has left my joints hurting. Tomorrow there will be no sewing though, so I get a break. Tried the dress on and it fits, more or less. I think I need to remove about half an inch under the arms. Also, I think I need to remove the skirt and attach it about half an inch higher on the waist. That may solve the underarm issue, too, by pulling the whole thing down on my body more. My cartridge pleats are half an inch apart right now, which gives me nice big pleats, but I'm not sure they aren't too bulky looking. I'll have to look at that again later.

Found another painting, from the National Gallery, London that I will use as a reference. It dates from 1547, but the woman and her daughter are wearing the same kind of dress, and because you can zoom in super close on the NG website, you can get a good view of the sleeve caps. At low resolution they look like they might be tied on, but really they are pleated in to the shoulder, and trimmed with a strip of silk sewn down in little puffs.

I am using Margo's straight sleeve option, I believe the pattern calls it a 'narrow curved sleeve'. I debated whether to make it an open or closed sleeve, and after looking at my references I am going with a closed sleeve. None of these ladies have slashed sleeves with chemise hanging out of the seam. I cut my sleeves out of the velvet today, and even got the nap going the right way and the pattern matched on each side! On the upper half anyway. Nobody will see the bottoms.

So, there's 6 days left in the competition, and I am aiming to have mine done in 5, so I can wear the dress to the last day of renfest on Sunday. What do I have left to do? The sleeves and the lacing in front, and the false chemise panel behind that. (It's got to be a false panel, no real chemise would stay pleated like that) I also want to make a partlet, or whatever it's called, to go over my shoulders. Then I have some gold trim I want to put down the sleeves and along the neckline.

Oct. 11

I took the skirt off last night, pleated it with smaller pleats, and sewed it back on this morning. Much better! It doesn't help the underarm problem, so I am going to cut that seam open and lower the armscye by about an inch. I also started working on the partlet today.

Oct. 12

I got the trim on the sleeves and one sleeve completely sewn. It went much slower than I would have liked, partly because I had to finish the lining by hand. I wanted to get the eyes sewn up the front today. I may work on that tonight, if I'm not too tired.

Oct. 13

Friday the Thirteenth. Luck for me, I was born on the 13th. :) Anyway, got a lot done today. The boning is in the front of the dress, the bodice lining is sewn down, and the gold trim is stitched to the front of the body. I also enlarged the armscyes, and finished the front opening of the skirt. Half the lacing loops are in, and I have stabbed myself sewing them down and officially bled on the project -- making it mine forever. Now I'm going to relax with a cup of hot cocoa before tackling the last sleeve.

Tomorrow: hem, partlet, false chemise panel.

Oct. 14

Spent a lot of time today out running around and not sewing. However, I've got the eyes all sewn down, and the binding on the sleeves. I usually abhor bias binding, but since this won't be seen, I forgive myself. I've decided to do slashes for the false sleeve puffs, and started sewing on more gold braid. The narrower puff from the della Volta painting just did not look right with the arrangement of gold trim, so I am sticking with the paned puffs in the Titian painting. Here's another example, clearly slashed with fabric underneath. Is that realy her chemise? We may never know.

I measured and marked the top of the sleeve and slashed it with a seam ripper, then went around the raw edges with Fray-Check. There's narrow gold braid on either side of the slash, though it's hard to see in the photos. The puffs are made from rectangles of fabric folded several times to give them body. They were all sewn in by hand even though I swore I would be avoiding that.

Oct. 15

Completed the dress by 11pm last night. That includes the partlet and chemise panel that shows through the lacing. The partlet is made from the one on Margo's website, with modifications. I reshaped the neckline into a V, and left off the collar. I also reshaped the sides for armholes and sewed the seam under the arms. In the end, it came out looking like a cropped vest. The chemise panel is an 18" piece of sheer fabric with microscopic gold threads in it. I hemmed the top edge and gathered it in rows of small pleats to fit across my front, from shoulder to shoulder. I also had time to make dessert, a necklace and earrings strung with pearls, gold filigree beads and glass beads -- though this cost extra and is not part of the contest. I just wanted to have something nice to wear with the dress today. The necklaces in the portraits are just pearls, but I thought that looked a little plain, and there's evidence of mixed bead necklaces in other countries at this time.

It started raining this morning before the sun came up. It was a hard, cold rain. I thought for certain we wouldn't be able to get out to the fair to take pictures. By noon it had stopped though, and the radar looked clear for a couple of hours -- clear of rain anyway. So we got dressed and went out. It took me nearly an hour to get everything on. No wonder everyone had servants.

The fair was cold and muddy as expected, but we got some nice pictures, and a number of compliments from complete strangers. :)


And the winners are...

Judges Info:

Money Spent: $1.39 for hooks and eyes. Technically, this is a freebie. Absolutely everything else I used came out of my stash.

Fabric used:

  • 3.5 yards of heavy green upholstery fabric. I have no idea how much I spent for this or when, or where I purchased it.
  • ~ 1 yard beige silk remnant for lining bodice and sleeves
  • ~ 1/2 yard remnant synthetic cream 'cloth of gold' for chemise panel and sleeve puffs
  • ~ 1/2 yard remnant embroidered silk organza for partlet
  • black lacing
  • antique gold upholstery trim, maybe 5 yards, I didn't measure it.
  • synthetic boning
  • 3 packages hooks & eyes
  • christmas garland beads restrung as a beaded girdle

    The chemise, corset, and petticoat, not visible in the photos, came out of my costume wardrobe.



  • All text and artwork copyright D. Duperault. NOTHING on this site may be reproduced or distributed by any means without my written permission. This information offered in good faith, and worth only what you paid for it.
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