This is part 2 of my 6 part series on the making of my costume for my debut solo. If you missed part 1 where I discussed my inspiration and concept as well as the construction of the corset, click here. In part 2 I will discuss how I made my most treasured costume piece, the marabou trimmed gown.
As a person passionate about costuming I really wanted to make my own dressing gown. The Catherine D’Lish gowns are beautiful but they are expensive and take all the fun out of making something yourself. I researched gowns and robes and peignoirs but was unable to find any patterns that fit with what I wanted. I decided that I would have to draft the pattern myself. I am not trained in pattern making or dress making on anything beyond high school home economics, so this was not something that I had experience in. In my inexperience I decided that I could achieve a gown with the fullness and volume I wanted by simply making a full circle skirt that fit around my neck. It would of course need some structure around the shoulders and to be longer in the back so I conceived the basic pattern below. I then made 1:10 toile of the pattern to check it it worked which resulted in the cutest little doll-sized gown.
I started by drafting the pattern using pieces of butcher’s paper sticky taped together on my lounge room floor. This was to prove too exciting a prospect to my normally gentle cat who attacked the paper several times leaving rips and claw holes all over it. As anyone who has made a full circle skirt will know, this takes ~a lot~ of fabric. My pattern pieces ended up very large and all up I ended up using about 10 m for stretch tulle to complete the gown. I obviously wanted a full length gown but was limited by the width of the fabric. This particular fabric is 156 cm wide (I used the polyester stretch tulle from Spotlight in pale pink). I started by going with this as my gown length but after trying it on with the corset on top (which shortens the gown significantly) I realised that this was not going to do.
The gown pieces were sewn together and a 56 cm gap was left open for the sleeves. Figuring out the length required for the sleeve opening was a bit of trial and error and ended up being a lot more than anticipated. I had originally thought 25.5 cm would be enough. The sleeves themselves are half circles with a diameter based on the desired length. I chose an elbow length sleeve which is practical yet visually pleasing.
During the design process I was hesitant to add an extra tier to the gown as I felt it would be too similar to the popular Catherine D’Lish gowns. The fabric width however necessitated this. I did some maths to calculate the length of the bottom hem I needed to attach the tier to then multiplied this by the amount of gathering I wanted (I went with 1.5 x gathering, meaning a 1.5 m length would be gathered down to 1 m).
The outer circumference of the 2 half-circles I used to construct the gown was 3.9 m and 4.5m
Multiplied by 1.5 that gave me a total length of 12.7 m
The width of the fabric is 1.56 m and the desired length of the tier is 0.35 m
So I cut 9 strips of fabric 0.35 m long to make the lower tier. No here’s where things got interesting (read: a little silly and pretty frustrating). I sewed each of the pieces together to make one long piece which I then sewed with 2 rows of basting stitch and gathered by hand. I did buy a ruffler foot and a gathering foot with the intention of using them to do this but it wasn’t immediately easy to use the ruffler foot to I decided to just gather with the basting stitch. So I gathered the tulle together into this behemoth of fabric you see below.
I then started to loosen the gather in order to fit it to the bottom of the gown. I didn’t get very far along before thread snapped… All the gathering ungathered and I almost cried. So, after I gathered myself, I then I decided to take apart the long piece of fabric I had just sewn together and deal with the pieces individually. I didn’t bother to even try to unpick the stitching because this is next to impossible with tulle so I just cut along the seam. I then basted and gathered them individually. I gathered each piece so that it was 1 m long then attached it individually to the bottom of the gown. I overlapped the pieces slightly (about 1 cm or so) but they are not attached along the sides otherwise. With the volume of the skirt and the gathering it’s next to impossible to see that they are not attached along the edges.
With the gown completed it was time for the trim. I ordered 20m of the medium marabou from Photios Bros in light pink.
Sidebar: Photios Bros has great prices and range and wonderful customer service. And while you can view their range online you will need to call them, they don’t do online sales.
If I ever meet Catherine D’Lish I will ask her how she attaches the marabou to her gowns. The only method I could find other than hand sewing was to use a wide zigzag stitch over the core and then pull out all the feathers that are caught in the thread and lying flat. This seemed like it would take as long as hand would and was likely to result in tulle and feathers getting caught in feed dogs and under the needle plate so I opted for hand sewing. I took a day off work and sat and sewed from 8am to 10pm only taking breaks to eat and go to the doctor for my medical certificate (I chucked a sickie). I got most of it done that day while watching Mommie Dearest, Gypsy, and both volumes of Nymphomaniac. I needed another 6 hours to complete all the hand sewing. I then used left over tulle and marabou to make a simple belt with pompom ends. And, et voila, it was finished!
All up I spent over 24 hours making it and over $150 on materials so you can see why these gowns are so damn expensive. I am extremely happy with the outcome however I’m not sure I’d make one again unless I can figure out a faster way to attach the marabou. If you have any tips I'd love to hear from you in the comments section!
Please come back next week to read the next installment which focuses on the tap pants.