Sunday, May 19, 2013


The Ophelia dress is completed and I am so happy with how it came out! This is one of the first dresses I've made that went together with no fuss at all. It was a very simple cut, so with the practice I've been getting sewing so often lately it was about time I finally got things right. I didn't have to rip out a single stitch! Best of all I finished with enough time to take a proper photo shoot.

Challenge: Literature

Fabric: 5 yards of cotton sateen

Pattern: None, based mostly off of a photo of Mignon Nevada as Ophelia in 1910

Year: Late 19th to early 20th century

Notions: Thread

How historically accurate is it? This one is more historically plausible as it was made to be a period theater costume

Hours to Complete: 4

First Worn: For a photo shoot just this morning

Total Cost: $25 in fabric, $17 in flowers for the photo shoot

The idea behind this dress was to create a costume for Ophelia as if I were a costume maker working for a theatrical production of Hamlet in the late 19th to early 20th century. I pulled inspiration from paintings of Ophelia from the time period and from a photograph of soprano Mignon Nevada as Ophelia in an operatic production of Hamlet in 1910.

 I also used my past experience in making a few medieval kirtles and houppelandes to draft the basic shape of the gown. In fact the only thing that differs from my houppelande pattern is the width and length of the skirt and train and the sleeves. In that way I could keep an accurate medieval silhouette but add a little modern twist to it. 

I had a very short amount of time in which to complete this costume - only one day in fact. I am so lucky this project didn't give me a hard time, it went together even faster than I had ever imagined. The fabric was a dream to work with too, I've never chosen a cotton sateen to work with. I chose it this time because of the recent post The Dreamstress made on historical accuracy

I had originally thought to make the dress out of linen. It is historically accurate for both the medieval period and for the Victorian/Edwardian production. Also, many theater productions wouldn't always have a big budget, and linen was an inexpensive cloth at the time. I have to admit, I just don't think I like linen all that much. Maybe it's just the fabric at my local chain of stores, but I always find it stiffer than I'd like and no matter how thick the weave is it is always see through in white. 

This time when I went to the fabric store I focused a lot more on the weight and drape of the fabric. The cotton sateen stood out for several reasons. First of all it drapes and falls gorgeously. The next most important thing was that it was far more opaque than most white fabric you find. Also it was just ever so slightly off-white which goes so much better with my complexion than a stark white would. The price wasn't too bad either, and I had a 50% off coupon for it!

I had originally planned for a small side opening in the dress with hook and eye closures. I decided on this type of closure because theater costumes often require quick changes and a side opening is much smaller and easier to get at than a back closure. I would have liked to make a laced kirtle style dress, but that was impractical for both my time limit and for a theater quick-change. 

In the end I didn't need the side closure at all. The cotton sateen was also 3% spandex, giving it enough stretch to slip on right over my head. This was probably one of the biggest factors in how quickly I was able to complete the dress, and I'm way happier with the smooth finish it leaves to the whole garment. 

I decided that I was not going to wear any corsetry under the dress. Part of that decision was because of the pre-raphaelite influence I was using for this dress. Many of the pre-raphaelites rejected the ideals of the current restrictive fashion of women's clothing. They romanticized a more medieval silhouette and style of dress and freedom from corsets. I wore just my 1860's chemise for a little more modesty.

After the dress was finished it was on to the photography! One of my good friends came down for a visit and to help me shoot the dress. I whipped up a quick headband with flowers braided into it, grabbed a bouquet and headed to the beach. 

There is a gorgeous park just a short distance from my house that has some lovely gardens as well as a great beach. We decided it would be one of the best settings for the photoshoot. 

It was crazy windy at the beach, and the sun went away as soon as we got there, but the pictures still came out great. The wind really helped to show off the movement of the dress. I fall more in love with the fabric each moment!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Planning for Madness

I've finally figured out a quick and easy project for the Literature challenge that I'm really excited to do. I'm going to tackle my namesake, Ophelia, from Shakespeare's Hamlet. This is the perfect project for me because I have a long background in and great passion for theater costuming.

I plan on approaching this project in a sort of odd way, at least compared to how I predict everyone else is interpreting this challenge. Hamlet is set in an intentionally vague medieval time period and plays are so often set in whatever period the director feels best suits their production so I am not going to waste my time trying to pin down a specific time period for the clothing Ophelia would be wearing. Instead I am going to approach Ophelia's costume as if I were a costume designer for the theater in the mid- to late-nineteenth century. I've specifically chosen my time period because that is when the Pre-Raphaelites had a large influence on the artistic community and Ophelia was a favorite subject of many Pre-Raphaelite painters.

Ophelia by Henrietta Rae, 1890

I've chose two images to base my own costume off of. Both have influence of medieval dress and I plan to use my old kirtle pattern for the base of the costume. The first image is a painting from my time period (though not by a pre-raphaelite unfortunately, their paintings included clothing too richly decorated for my time restraints). The second is an image of an actress as Ophelia in 1910.

Mignon Nevada as Ophelia circa 1910
I plan to make a mostly plain white dress as white clothing, disheveled hair worn loose, and wildflowers were early theatrical shorthand for female madness. I have just one short day to make this costume as I want to photograph it in a setting this time instead of just on my mannequin in the dining room. Hopefully everything will go according to plans!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Busy Busy

I had originally been planning on making a colonial Salem, Massachusetts outfit for the literature challenge in the Historical Sew Fortnightly. I live in Salem and my mother is intensely interested by the Salem Witch Trials, so I grew up knowing all the stories and lore. It's an ambitious project that would take every bit of my two weeks before the challenge up, what with having to research the types of clothing they would wear, finding suitable fabric, patterning things out mostly on my own and then sewing multiple pieces together. It's a project I don't think is possible anymore.

I just recently received my very first professional commission through my job at Frightful Acts! Over the next few days I have to quickly as possible sew together a complicated multi-layered costume. The Salem outfit will have to be put on hold until it is done. I'm trying to decide if I want to make at least a layer of the Salem costume for the challenge and leave the rest for who knows when, or if I want to pick a new project all together - a much smaller project. Anyone have suggestions for a quick sew literature dress?

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Flora and Fauna

Challenge number 9 is completed! I worked right up until the last minute with this one, so I'll keep my post short and sweet. My entry for the flora and fauna challenge is an Edwardian vest. The vest is a little on the 'soft' entry side as I made a pattern up to fit a woman's figure and didn't really focus on making it as historically accurate in construction as I could.

The Challenge: Flora and Fauna

Fabric: A yard of floral print faux leather and a yard of striped suiting for lining

Pattern: none

Year: 1910's

Notions: thread, buttons

How historically accurate is it? I'd say maybe 60%

Hours to complete: 7

First worn: Will be worn at a galley opening in two days

Total Cost: All of it came from the stash, the leather was originally about $15, the buttons $4, and the lining was a scrap from another project, so less than $20

I'm very pleased with how the vest came out. A little ironing on the lapels and hopefully the lining will stop showing as much, but the faux leather is very hard to iron. I even found buttons to match the theme again!

Pretty girls count as fauna, right?

This vest is destined to become part of a steampunk outfit, and to make it fit me when I put a corset on I think I'm going to add straps and buckles to the sides. I had originally planned corset lacing for the back but I left the project until too late and didn't have time to attempt something so complicated. I did manage to remember to add a pocket though! It's hidden on the inside though. I wanted to try out a welt pocket, but again the leather was so difficult to iron that I scrapped that idea too. In the end I'm pretty glad I ended up with a plainer vest, it has a nice silhouette and I didn't mess it up too much!