Monday, March 14

Civil War Dress

When I was a freshman in college, I worked in the school's costume department as the "wardrobe supervisor".  It sounds more glamorous then it really was.  Basically, I was in charge of making sure all the costumes were clean and pressed for each night's performance (or dirty, if that's what the roll called for).  I gathered jewelry and props for different costumes.  Mended little things as they needed it.  I LOVED watching the designers research styles and time periods and make their own patterns.  
For a long time after working there, I had dreams about the "closet"; an enormous room in the dim basement of the theater building with rows and rows of period clothing cascading from high hung rods, drawers and drawers of pantaloons and pettiskirts, shawls and gloves.  
It really was neat.
So, these pictures aren't of me, but they are of the BYU costume department.  Just so you can get an idea of what I'm talking about.  The one on the right is from BYU Costume Dept.'s Facebook page and the one on the left is from Flikr.
Despite my impressive resume entry of "wardrobe supervisor", I never actually made any costumes.  But, several weeks ago when an opportunity to help a local costumer presented itself , I jumped right on it.  Sure I'm qualified!  She asked me to make a Civil War era dress for a high school production of  Little Women.   Looking at the pattern (Simplicity 4551), it seemed challenging, but not impossible.  
Um, yeah.  I was kind of wrong about that.  
This pattern proved to be much more work than I anticipated.  And anyone who knows me well knows I am a procrastinator and a complainer when it comes to stuff like this.  
However difficult, I really learned a lot from this project and overall enjoyed making it.  I figured out how to use my sewing machine's blind hem foot (thanks to Teriney and some internet tutorials).
I also became an expert at making CARTRIDGE PLEATS.  The hardest thing about this pattern is that so much of it is done by hand.  I thought I'd be doing some gathering stitches on my machine to make the skirt and attach it to the waistband-- no problem!  But it was ALL done by hand.
The bodice is lined with a darted/fitted under-bodice.  The outer-bodice has gathers in the front and back.  The sleeves have multiple pleats and in some places, double pleats.
Originally, the costumer said I didn't need to do button holes, but simply close it with Velcro and make the buttons decorative.  But, once I got into the pattern, I discovered the buttons were already decorative and the front was actually fastened with hooks and eyes.  With how fitted the bodice is, I couldn't see it staying together with just Velcro-- I kept envisioning the actress moving her arms and the front ripping open with that loud sound only Velcro makes.  Can you say "wardrobe malfunction"?!?   
So, I stitched on a ton of hooks and eyes and buttons.  Not to mention the collar and cuffs were hand sewn.  I'm not sure why the pattern didn't construct more using the sewing machine, but now that it's all done, I am proud that most of it was done by hand because it feels more authentic.
I just realized that I didn't turn the cuffs up before I took pictures of the dress.  
OOPS! :)
If you made it all the way to the end of this super long post, I think you deserve a prize!  So, here is a little CONTEST!  To first person who can correctly guess how many feet of fabric it took to make the skirt, I will send you a prize!  Leave your answer in the comments and a way to contact you, if I don't know you.  
  Kristin Sharp, you cannot enter, but I will give you a prize anyway for putting up with my whining.


emilysigler said...

it looks fabulous! I'm so glad I don't have to wear something like that every day!

I'm gonna guess 40 feet.

Janene said...

Amazing!!!!!!!! And to think that you didn't start sewing from a pattern till a couple of years ago! A self taught genius! I am so proud of you!

Wendy said...

WOW!! I hope you get it back after the play so you can wear it and sit on your front porch in the middle of August and fan yourself and say things, like "sakes alive!"

I will guess 27?

wordandcraft said...

I'm horrible at estimating stuff, so I don't even have a guess on the fabric, but I just had to stop by and say WOW! You always impress me, Becca. :)

mindy said...

Incredible, Bec! I also would have no clue on the feet, and based on the previous guesses, I'm way off--
I say 21.

jean said...

Wow! How long did it take you? Do you get to see the play? You rock!!

The Paisley Abbey said...

I guess 11. And, wow....that is an insane amount of work!!! It looks great though.


Liz said...

you are so impressive! i am guessing 10 yards/30 feet!

Amy said...

you amaze me! WOW. I'm guessing 36 feet(12 yards.

sarah said...

A.M.A.Z.I.N.G! love it! Wow! I was thinking around 10ish...but someone else said I'm going to say 15. :)

Becca said...

jean- it took a very long time. i lost track of my hours, but i would guess around 20. i am not going to see the play. i don't even remember which high school is doing it. :)

wendy- i wish! the costumer just commissioned me to make the dress, but it will stay with her collection and she can rent it out to other various plays and movies.

everyone else... some of you are close but no one's guessed the exact number yet. i'll give you a clue: it't more than 12 feet, but less than 25 feet. that's probably not super helpful, but the prize will be worth it. i promise!

Jennifer R. said...

Wow! What an accomplishment!! It looks fantastic! I'm guessing 28 feet! I would say 30, but you always end up with extra fabric! Ha!

Wendy said...

I know your prizes are worth it. 16?

Nikki said...

Becca! It looks perfect! You def got the silhouette down! I know those cartridge pleats can be a KILLER! I think it took me a day to understand the directions.."you want me to do Wha??" And may I say I felt so priveleged to be mentioned in your blog several posts ago. It made my heart happy ;) beautiful dress.

mimisuu said...

Becca, this is absolutely gorgeous! I'm guessing it was 23 feet.

Joey Rachel Avery & Ansley said...

You always amaze me!!!! This is incredible:) I'll say 24 1/2 feet!

Marilyn said...

I am soooo impressed Becca!!! But I know what you are talking about when you are refering to "making it authentic" (I'm not into sewing, but I am my Father's daughter, and I too am a perfectionist when it comes to doing something right). Keep it up and one day I can say, I'm related to that famous comtume designer Rebecca Griffin!

Maine-stream Middleware said...

Just stumbled across this post as I was researching civil war era dresses for my daughter's living history field trip and had to say "Nice Job"
and of course, I have to take my obligatory guess, since I didn't see a winner for your contest yet. I'll say 27 feet.

Becca said...

Maine-stream Middleware- Thank you! And, for the official records... the skirt was 17 feet! That makes for a lot of 1/4" hand-sewn pleats!!!