Thursday, April 23, 2009

Prince Caspian: Susan's Farewell dress part 2

Ok, so the underdress was fun, and it came out pretty much the way I wanted it, and almost like the one in the movie (except for the trim color being off and all those darn pleats that I refuse to iron in because the first time you wash this underdress they'll all fall out anyway). Now it's time for...

The Overdress

The original overdress is a lovely blue brocade with gold flowers and dots. It is a strapless, floorlength gown with distinctive front details: the top of the front is split, revealing a tiny peek at the top of the underdress. This split causes the front to poke up and out a little from the chest. The split goes down for perhaps 3 inches, then the two sides join until they get down to the hip, where they split again for the rest of the skirt length. The dress is trimmed across the top with two rows of the same trim from the underdress, the top line of which miters down to the center front on both sides of the split for the entire length. The gown has princess seams, and is probably boned. This is evident from the way the points in front stick up and away from the body instead of flopping down. The boning probaby extends to the waistline or a little past that point, which would account for the small creases that sometimes appear in the front of the original dress at the waist, while the portions above that remain smooth. The fabric itself has some body to it; it is obviously thicker and somewhat stiffer than the underdress fabric. The back is not clearly visible, except at distances when what looks like a button-and-loop closure might be visible. More careful viewing of the movie is needed on a large, high def screen to be more certain.

For my version of the overdress, I used Simplicity pattern #5561, dress B with a few modifications. This pattern has the simple, clean princess lines of the original dress, with a full skirt. I am not adding the ruffles to the inside of the dress as in the instructions, because I do not think the original had them. In terms of alterations to the pattern itself, I needed to cut the front as two pieces so it had a center seam, and then lengthen the dress to floor length. I also cut my pieces wider than the pattern, to give the skirt more fullness.

For my fabric, I used a remnant of silk dupioni purchased from JoAnn fabric. For about $25 I got a lovely piece of silk whose vertical threads were golden yellow, and whose horizontal threads were a lovely Wedgewood blue. It has some slubs natural to the weaving process of this particular fabric. It is a plain weave fabric with no embroidery or other embellishment, so I needed to add some details. It also had a faded mark on one edge of one side, since it had sat rolled up in its little bundle in the store for 2 1/2 years, which I would have to put on the inside of the dress. Also, the pattern envelope for this dress called for 2 5/8 yards of fabric (60" wide). I only had 2 3/4 yards for making a dress that I knew was going to be longer than the paper pattern, so I spent about 2 hours laying out this pattern, trying to get it all to fit with the most extra length. I managed to get it, I think, but it won't have much of a hem, if any. From various links posted on the Narniaweb costume site, it looks like the skirt didn't have much of a hem turned up anyway. Also, fortunately in this case, the girl who will wear it is average height (5'4").

I started by making a mock-up out of muslin to check for fit. I cut 4 layers of muslin for each panel, stopping at the hipline. I serged two pieces together at the sides for each panel, machine basted them together, and fitted them to my friend to check for fit. With some minor modification, they worked well, so I interfaced them on one side, sewed them together permenantly, then chopped it off at the waist. I sewed boning chanels into it at the side seams and one on each side of the center front. I basted the top closed, inserted bones, and sewed a band of non-roll elastic around the bottom, stretching it a little as I zig-zagged it down. I hand-sewed a skirt hook and bar to the ends of the elastic to close it at the center back. This became my understructure. I decided to do this instead of following the directions in the pattern for sewing boning channels in the lining because in my opinion, it stays up better; you have a fitted structure that hugs around the body from chest to natural waist, ending in a sort-of bra band arrangement. Since it hugs the narrowest part of your torso, in theory it shouldn't slip down. I have a dress from Ann Taylor with this type of arrangement inside it, and it tends to stay put.
If you want a pattern that includes an understructure so you can see what I'm talking about, find McCalls #4995. If you don't want to do an understructure, I would suggest following the directions in your pattern for boning the lining, and then adding a band of elastic at the waist. The concept is simple, works well as long as you fit the elastic right, and simple to install: just get about a yard of non-roll elastic, tack the middle securely to the inside of the dress at the center front seam, and then sew some little beltloops also on the inside of the dress, at the side seams and side back seams. Trim the elastic to a length that will keep it snug on you and then sew a skirt hook and bar onto it.

After cutting out the silk as long and full as I could, I cut out the lining (from JoAnn fabric, 6 yards for $14.36, and I didn't use the entire yardage) as well as an interlining. Silk dupioni has a wonderful sculptable quality, but is not terribly strong, especially down its length. I also wanted to give it some more body, especially since I knew I wanted to embellish it with some machine stitching. I knew I wanted to keep it very lightweight as well. Some of the best lightweight interlining is silk organza-- it is very strong, lightweight, and can withstand very high temperatures from a steam iron. When used as an interlining, it helps keep the seam allowances from showing due to overpressing. The torn-off selvedge edge can be used to help stay a seam without adding a lot of bulk in the way that a piece of twill tape might. It also makes a dandy press cloth. Unfortunately, it retails in stores for at least $10/yard. The least expensive source I have found is for plain, undyed silk organza from , and it still costs about $6/yard plus shipping. Right now, I'm trying to find less expensive alternatives. I ended up using some poly organza I got at Wal-mart for $7.31 ( 4 7/8 yards total, I didn't use the whole yardage). After cutting each of the body pieces, I serged each piece of silk to a piece of organza along all sides. I did not cut the two facing pieces from the pattern, as my understructure will take that place. Then I started to embellish each panel.

The first step in embellishing the panels was to draw out lines where I wanted to strait-stitch with the sewing machine. I wanted the embellishment to look something like vines and flowers, so I started drawing freeform lines on the panels with a soft-lead pencil. I then took the panels to the sewing machine and stitched over the lines using a chocolate brown thread and a long machine stitch. The thing to remember if you do this is to keep the fabric flat as it goes through the machine and not to stretch it, or it will tend to bubble up in places when laid flat. This is hard to do, and I was not entirely successful in all places. But, the overall effect was approximately what I wanted. I then sewed the panels together at the seams, remembering to sew the center front seam between the bottom of the split and the hip.

The second step in embellishing the panels was to get some fabric paint. For less than $2 I got a 1oz bottle of SoSoft, metallics, Glorious Gold, from Hancock fabrics. Using a small, soft paintbrush I made small leaf, flower and dot designs at random points and the terminal ends of my "vines" from the previous step. I let these dry. I would have preferred to embroider the designs rather than paint them, because I'm not sure if the paint can be dry-cleaned. It can be washed in soap and water, but if I do that, there's a good chance the colors of the silk will run. I fought with the decision for a good long while, and finally felt I should just go ahead and do it this way, because I'd never end up finishing the dress if I decided to embroider it.

I put the lining together pretty much as outlined in the pattern instructions, except for the references to the boning channels. I sewed the lining to the dress at the front splits, right sides together, then turned it right side out, as if bagging out a vest. This finished off the sides of the front splits. I then sewed the dress and lining at the center back seam from the bottom to the notch. Above the notch, I basted the seam allowances together on each side to give me a place to sew the facings.
Sewing the lining into the dress at the front split...

For the facings, I cut two pieces of heavyweight interfacing as long as the back opening and about 2.25 inches wide. I then heat fused them to some scraps of the silk and cut them out with about a 3/8 inch seam allowance, which I folded over and pressed. I then sewed them to the back opening and topstitched them down.

I stitched boning channels at the center back and at the edge of the facing, to accomodate my polyboning. I set grommets between the bones at 1 5/8 inch intervals. I got my grommets at Ace Hardware, $10.99 for 48 brass grommets and the punching and setting kit. The grommets themselves are quite good, as they are heavier duty than the ones in the fabric store. The punch that came with them was not sharp, though, so I punched the holes with an eyelet punch and widened them with the tip of my scissors.

After pounding grommets in for half an hour, and putting boning in the boning channels on the dress itself, I sewed the understructure to the top of the dress. I set them right sides together, then stitched a seam around just the top part of the dress. After that was pressed and ready, I stitched the understructure to the v in front.

This is the understructure sewn onto the dress, with seams trimmed...

I know that many people are speculating on exactly what is keeping the dress together in the back. The best guess is that it is some sort of button and loop closure, but the best pictures of it are rather small and grainy, and this makes it hard to get a good look at it. But, since this is for a friend, and she will have to put this thing on herself with no help, I thought lacings would be a good idea. She can get those on and off behind her back with no help. I suppose for people who want to do the loop and button closure, you could take cording or make bias-covered cord, sew it in loops into the center back seam, sew buttons to the other side, and stitch a small modesty panel to the inside without too much fiddling. You would have to make sure the dress fits well if you do this, and that the wearer is not going to fluctuate in size very much.

This is the back...

After the basic dress was done, I sewed the trim on, by hand as on the underdress with two strands of silk thread doubled on the needle. I did not stitch the trim to the hemline, because I don't see it in the photos.

Because the piece of silk was so short, and because I wanted to give the hem some body, I sewed a piece of 1 inch wide horsehair braid to the bottom along the serged edge, and turned it up and stitched the braid to the lining. I enclosed the ends with twill tape to keep them from catching on anything, and then it was basically done!

This is the inside of the hem...

This is the finished overdress on the dressform...

This is the finished dress on my friend, with the underdress...

Overall, I'm fairly happy with the structure of the dress and how it came together. I think it does need a petticoat so it doesn't fold left-side-over-right in the front. It did end up being slightly short; the original goes to the floor and mine sits about 2 inches above the floor, but my friend is happy with the length. This may be more convenient for walking around the ren faire in a few weeks, as it tends to be rather dusty there. On the whole I think it's the best I can do without breaking the bank to get more accurate trim and fabric, and without ironing all those funny little pleats into the underdress. I think the overdress took about 25 hours to do because of the fact that I sewed the trim on by hand. Again, I'm not sure if this is the method used on the original dress, but it makes a pretty decent facsimilie.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Prince Caspian: Susan's Farewell Dress

So, I love sewing things. Mostly costumes. I tend to sew a lot in my spare time. And sometimes I only need the mearest suggestion that someone wants something unique for me to start rummaging through my pattern collection, my fabric stash, or popping out to the fabric store, "just for one thing". So when a friend of mine went and saw Prince Caspian and absolutely fell in love with Susan's farewell dress, I started pondering how their costumer made the thing...

Ok, I like a challenge.

It looks like and underdress and overdress arrangement. Of course many people on the various costume forums have been looking for pictures of it from all angles, trying to figure out patterns to use, sources for fabric, trims, etc. So if you look around, there's a lot of interesting information and suggestions out there. It doesn't seem to be all in one place, though. So I figured if I was going to make this thing, I'd take pictures and copious notes and put them all in one spot. I don't know if this is how the original costumers did it, and obviously others will have their own opinions and preferences, and that's fine. This is just my own interpretation for my own enjoyment. So, here goes...

The Underdress
Whenever you start making a costume, you start from the inside out. So, the underdress has to be made first. The underdress has distinctive sleeves, fitted from the shoulder to elbow, and then poofed out from there to gather again into a cuff. There is a distinctive "wing" that sits just above the sleeve, which seems to be folded out of the neck binding. The neckline is off-the-shoulder, not revealing too much cleavage, if any. The closure of the underdress cannot be clearly identified, as it is underneath the overdress. The skirt looks very full, and is floor length. The underdress sports two lines of trim at the upper arm, elbow and cuff. The trim is a medium brown with what looks like lighter brown contrast stitching or beading. The whole of the dress is an off-white or ivory color. The fabric has some body and a little stiffness to it; the poofy part of the sleeves does not collapse totally under its own weight.

I decided to use McCalls pattern #4490, view A, with modifications. With this pattern I could draw in a new neckline without crossing over the seams of the armsceye. The drop-shoulder sleeves leave a seamline at the upper arm that is the perfect placement line for trim. The fitted sleeves can be chopped off above the elbow to put on the lower, poofy part of the sleeve. The princess lines leave little bulk in the torso area to build up under the overdress. Also, the fullness of the skirt should negate the necessity for a whopping great petticoat (perhaps only a long slip will be needed to keep it from bunching between the legs). While view C/D of the same pattern shows a very open neckline, I rejected this because it is not off the shoulder, and if pulled that way would create unsightly wrinkles near the underarms, and would tend to want to creep back up anyway if the weight of the sleeves did not pull it inexorably down.

I got my fabric from WalMart. Yes, we still have one that carries fabric. I got Cotton Percale, 4.5 yards of 90" wide. The whole piece cost $21.02. I would do silk taffeta if I could get my hands on it for $5/yard or less, but that's not going to happen anytime soon. They had bright white cotton instead of ivory, but you can't argue with the price. I also got a $.99 package of lightweight fusible interfacing and a half-yard remnant of silk from Hancock fabric for $5 to make the trim.

Construction of the underdress went pretty much as described in the packaged instructions, omitting references to the neck gathering and binding, since I knew I would cut that off anyway. I worked the eyelets on my sewing machine so they would be soft (or, softer than metal eyelets). As I cut the pieces out I finished the edges on my serger. This ensures I can wash it without fear of ravelling, and I only have to sew it with one line of stitching, so I can alter it easily if I have to. I left it unhemmed for the time being.

Not bad as an underdress, but by itself looks a bit like a cult dress...

Back view...
After I got that together, I slipped it on and got out my water-erasable pen. I marked it in the back a little above where my bra came up, and I marked a not-too-revealing neckline position in the front, as well as the proper point for an off-the-shoulder neckline at the sides. This ended up being 3.5 inches down from the original neckline at center front, 2.5 inches down at the shoulder, and 7 inches down from the original center back. After drawing a nice, symmetrical line, I cut off the excess.

To get the wing around the neckline, I cut a very long strip of bias cut fabric 6.25 inches wide, folded it double, and basted it to the neckline. I then gather-stitched through all the layers, pulled it up a few inches and distributed the fullness mostly to the center front and center back. I thought once the dress was on a person, the fullness would naturally curve and fold, making it look like the wing was floating. I then bound the neck edge using a 2 inch strip of bias cut fabric. When I tried it on again, though, the wing didn't float, and didn't quite look like the picture. So, I took it to my iron and fooled with it a bit. I figured out that if you fold the wing back up on itself from a point about .75 inches from the bound edge and then repress the bottom, you get that floating effect. I would suggest doing this to the fabric before you sew it onto the neckline, possibly gathering the wing by itself and heat-shrinking in some of the fullness along the edge.

Pinning the wing in place.

The wing sewn on, with the binding done. Doesn't quite look right.

Here I've folded and pressed the wing so it "floats" above the arm.

Compared to this, the sleeves were a piece of cake. I again slipped on the dress and marked the sleeve just above my elbow (above the inside crease of my arm). I then cut it off with a seam allowance, which turn out to be 5.75 inches below the drop-shoulder seam, when it is sewn.
You can just see the pencil mark in this shot...

For the puffed portion, I cut pieces of fabric14.25 inches long by 30 inches wide. I seamed them to about 3 inches before the cuff end, gathered both ends, attached a cuff and attached the other end to the original fitted sleeve. For each cuff I cut a piece of cloth 5.25 inches long and 10.75 inches wide. I interfaced it lightly, folded it in half, sewed the ends, sewed it to the bottom of the sleeve and put in a buttonhole, just like a regular shirt cuff.

For the trim, I took my little piece of silk and dyed it in a pot. The silk started out an ivory color, and when I was fininshed it came out a honey-wheat color. I had hoped I would get a darker color (it looked about as dark as the original publicity photo when I took it out of the pot), but I liked the color, so I left it as is.

this is the final color.

I cut it in bias strips 1.5 inches wide, folded and pressed in the 3/8 inch seam allowances, and stitched them into the appropriate spots with a simple running stitch. I had double-threaded the needle with two strands of brown silk.
All in all, this wasn't too hard in terms of construction. I think this took 25 hours to complete, mostly because I made the trim myself and applied it by hand. The only part I was not completely satisfied with was the wing at the top, mostly because I hadn't figured it out beforehand. Overall, though, it looks pretty good, and is good-looking by itself.

Here's a pic of it (sorry, without trim)

And with trim...