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 http://www.thaisilks.com/ , 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.
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.