Finally – a current(ish) project! Back in early March, I was still job-hunting, even as the news started getting stranger, and I was getting disillusioned about the local job market. (Basically, my industry here is pretty thin and I can’t really move away from here right now.)
Then, around March 13th, businesses started sending people home, and the last place I applied to that I heard back from said they didn’t even know if anyone would be in the office the next week to interview me. That left me still with no job, no one around here in a position to do any hiring, and. . . several boxes of fabric and notions.
So, I did what any sensible cosplayer with more time and fabric on her hands would and started work on a project I’d wanted to work on for ages, and finally didn’t have anything better to focus on! I’d loved The Swan Princess as a kid, and wanted to make an Odette for a while now, so when I realized I had a bunch of white satin and chiffon from another dress that never got made, I decided it was the perfect time to work on a de-stashing project and make something new for whenever the next con season was.
My big challenge with this dress was to make it using only materials and patterns I already had, except for buying new thread because wow this went through several spools, and I could get plain white thread from the grocery down the street, and not have to leave the neighborhood for anything.
The pattern I started with, I’d bought a few years ago for a Daenerys coat that never got made, but the pattern was basic and versatile, and I’d already used the bodice a month before to make my Mandalorian flak vest so I knew it fit and how the panels went together.
Starting on the skirt, I used the polyester charmeuse originally meant for a Galadriel gown, combining the center and side front and back panels into one big front and two smaller back panels, leaving a seam in the back for the zipper (which I swear is leftover from the Eowyn dress I made when I was 14-15ish) and two side seams. Otherwise, the underlayer of the skirt is exactly from the pattern.
Pro Tip: Fray Check is your friend when working with fabric that wants to fray whenever you handle it. I think I used almost half a bottle on this whole dress. Anyway, I tried the satin skirt layer on, and while it was pretty, it didn’t give me the swoosh levels I wanted from our 90’s-tastic princess, so I split the panels for the skirt sections and added 1′ wide gores at the hemline between them, then made another skirt layer in chiffon, this time leaving the front open.
This meant having to learn to hem chiffon, which I can definitely say I’ve mastered after this project. Also, the chiffon skirt got French seamed because I’m definitely not leaving any raw ends exposed on this thing. The chiffon layer also got hit with Fray Check, and the top edge basted onto the skirt lining and the skirt was full and flow-ey and functionally done.
On to the bodice. I took the top from the coat pattern and added in a seam allowance to the back for the zipper, then chopped off the top section so I could add in the contrast satin panels later. This was done with the sophisticated technique known as “winging it” in which I look at pictures and roughly guesstimate where seam lines on a cartoon would sit on my actual frame, then draw corresponding lines on my pattern copy (because copying the tissue onto paper means you can cut and tape and alter it any way you like without destroying the original). that left me with the center front, side front, side back, and center back pieces.
I started with a lining from what I think was a cotton/poly broadcloth scrap, sewing boning in the casing down to each seam (roughly, I kinda improvised the boning placement) and then pinning it to the skirt to test the fit. It seemed a little oddly fitting, but it looked ok so I went ahead with making the bodice shell, flatlining the satin with more plain weave fabric. Oh, and I made some bias tape and covered a piece of piping leftover from my Dolores corset to sew into the center front seam to get that accent line from the cartoon.
It’s also important to remember, when altering a pattern, if you’re leaving the seam allowance in, to let you insert the decorative piping, or taking it off like you did the last time you used this pattern, because this bodice doesn’t have a front opening. I thought I was being clever, then remembered I needed that seam allowance and had to tape the 5/8″ strip of paper back on.
It was at this point, when I went to pin the lining to the shell, that I realized the lining fabric had shrunk while I was working on it, probably because I’d accidentally ironed my poly blend fabric with too hot an iron, so I had to rip out the boning and completely remake the lining. Then I could baste the outer fabric down and sew it to the skirt. It was also at this point the whole thing finally started looking like a dress!
Next in “winging it”, I cut off a section of the pattern piece leftover from the bodice chunk I’d trimmed away on the front and back pieces, adding in seam allowances so I could make the teal contrast panels. This satin was one long scrap I had from another costume I’d made two years ago, and had to get all the teal pieces from since the store where I bought it closed back in the fall.
I’d originally planned to leave enough extra fabric in the front to gather the center down into a sweetheart neckline shape, but when I’d made the panel and pinned it into place, it seemed out of place on the very crisp, structured bodice, so I changed it to a mitered seam between two separate panels instead, lined with more satin.
So, the sleeves. They look pretty simple, don’t they? Two pieces joined into one long sleeve, gathered in three places? Well, all that fullness is just full of lies and they’re actually the most complex part of this dress, because this is me and I just can’t take the easy route on something now can I.
With a sleeve like this, if you make the fullness rely on elastic cinching around the arm to keep it in place, it’s either going to be uncomfortably tight or else slide down into weird, slouchy bagginess and not look very regal or dramatic at all, so it needs a lining that fits like a normal sleeve to fit the three points (bicep, elbow, and wrist) and keep the outer layer anchored in place.
For my lining, I made the narrower sleeve from the pattern out of the same plain fabric I used for my bodice lining, checking it for fit as I went. There’s a right way to make this kind of sleeve I’m sure, but I didn’t know it so I just winged it again. And oh yeah, I sewed in the zipper somewhere around here but somehow didn’t take pics of that because it’s just a zipper, but this year I’ve started basting zippers in by hand before machine sewing them down (I’ve only sewn in four zippers so far but it’s already a Thing) and it definitely helps with the fit, but I had to rip out the lower section of stitching on this one and redo it a few times to get everything to line up on either side.
To make those magical anchor points in the lining, I sewed twill tape to the three spots I wanted the chiffon to cinch in, sewing along the edges to leave a channel for elastic in the middle. The tapes had to go on the side that would sit against my arm so I could get the elastic in once I was done, because the lining also got French seamed which kept that seam on what would be the outside and covered by the chiffon.
Then came the fiddly part of dividing the sleeve pattern into the two sections, for the satin cap and the chiffon lower tier, and adding the extra fullness to create the puffs once it was gathered in. In retrospect, I could have made this longer than I did, but I didn’t want to have chiffon flowing down over my hands that much and at this point I was pushing to get it done because the whole thing had taken over a week to get to this point. The points where I’d added the tapes got transferred to the chiffon tier pattern and from there onto the chiffon, once it was hemmed, and I ran a gathering stitch along each stitching line.
Anyway, I also extended the sleeve cap pattern, slashing it and inserting gores to make it wider and extending it another couple inches longer. I cut the satin out, trying to leave as much as possible behind to make my belt later, and then lined that with more plain fabric to give it more body when it was on the dress.
Matching each gathering line to the stitching on the tapes, I gathered and pinned the chiffon down to the lining pieces, keeping the gathers even around each sleeve. The top of the chiffon was gathered to sit on the lower edge of the bicep tape, and once each layer was sewn down, I also gathered the lower edge of the satin sleeve and sewed that, right sides together, to cover the top of the chiffon. That got flipped right side out, and then gathered down again to fit the upper edge of the tape layer. Have I mentioned yet that I tend to over-engineer projects?
Anyway, outer sleeve got gathered and fitted to the lining, sleeves got fitted to the dress, and the tops of the sleeve caps not attached to the body got bound in bias strips of the teal satin to make casings for the first elastic to hold them in place, and then more twill tape instead because I didn’t like how elastic made the whole thing sit on my shoulders. I did have to unpick the bias casing and resew it, because the first way I sewed it down was too wide and distorted the sleeve shape.
Then I ran elastic through each casing, just to keep the sleeves more fitted to my arms.
At this point, the dress was functionally done, and I spent a Sunday afternoon watching Spy Kids and Charlie’s Angels while stitching tiny thread loops over each elastic casing so I could run the ribbons through them. I magically had just enough leftover teal ribbon from something to cut into six pieces and tie into bows at the back of the sleeves.
I also pieced the leftover satin together into an upper belt piece and a long drape, adding a hook and bar and a snap to secure it and keep it in place, then sewed a snap at each bodice seam and either side of the zipper along the bodice edge, and the other sides of the snaps to the belt to secure the whole thing to the dress so it didn’t move around but also was removable because 1) see above about over-engineering and 2) I didn’t want it secured directly to the dress in case it gets caught on something, this way it won’t damage the dress if it’s pulled on.
For the skirt lining, I wanted to have a little more body, so I ripped the horsehair braid out of an old bridesmaid’s dress that was made for one of my aunts for my parent’s wedding and somehow ended up here where it doesn’t fit anyone (and actually is closer to the style of this dress than anything modern), and used that to hem the satin.
It was also around this point, when I’d hemmed the satin skirt lining, I realized where I’d messed up adding the skirt gores and that the chiffon skirt layer wasn’t even around the edge and probably had also stretched out from having more bias drape and was wa-ayyyy longer than the lining, so I spent an evening sitting on the floor and watching Barbie in the Nutcracker while cursing at the chiffon as I pinned and marked an even hem around it.
Finally, I made her belt pin from some sculpy clay I had, a pin backing I yoinked off another pin, and some random paints and rhinestones I found. Her pin is so simple in the cartoon, so I added the braid detail and bling just to give it some more dimension and sparkle. Finally, it all got sealed with clear nail polish to make it shinier (I couldn’t find any other sealants), and she was done! The wig is leftover from my Hippolyta I did a few years ago and got a different wig for, and it still needs a little restyling, but the color matches perfectly.
I think from start to finish, the whole project took two weeks to make, and was a great de-stashing piece. The bodice needs a little altering to get the front seam to stop buckling up on me, but overall the whole thing is super comfortable and easy to wear (with a white underskirt I’ve used for other stuff and was made from the same Eowyn gown the zipper was for, and I cut the top off of and added a waistband once I outgrew it), and is definitely going to be a regular once we have a con season again!