August 25, 2012

Titanic Gown

So remember these?

As previously mentioned, I bought a couple ok lots of saris and dupattas in my quest to find a few that were crying out to be made into 1912 Titanic gowns.

This dupatta was one of my first purchases, and despite its tendency to get snagged on its own fabulous metal tambour embroidery I really wanted to use it.  I knew it was destined to be an overlay on the final dress, so I started draping it and a few salvaged scraps of sari borders on my mannequin to get some ideas...

Meanwhile I also thought a lot about the basic shape of the gown that would go under the dupatta fabric.  For some reason I find I really like the look of hobble skirts, but that fashion was right out as this was to be worn to a PEERS dance event.  I also loved the trained style of many teens dresses, but trains have a tendency to get stepped on when worn on a dance floor.  Then I saw this Paul Poiret evening dress at the KCI and had a sudden brainstorm.  At the bottom front the skirt silhouette appears to narrow, similar to a hobble skirt.  However, there is clearly a bunch of extra fabric at the back of the skirt that flows into a train.  Now it's entirely possible that the skirt is perfectly normal and it just looks like it narrows at the base due to the way it was arranged on the mannequin, but it gave me an idea.  

I draped a mockup of the skirt that was very fitted at the top, flowed into a wide curve over the hips, then swooped back at the bottom.  From the front, it appears to be similar to a hobble skirt.  The illusion holds so long as the skirt is viewed straight on.

But in the back, there's a bunch of extra fabric that's tamed by two large fitted inverted pleats that are stitched down to mid-butt level.  From there, the fabric is released and falls to the floor and into a very short train. The stitched down pleats ensure that the skirt holds the lovely fitted shape at the waist and over the hips, while below that the extra fabric ensures that one's legs have enough freedom to comfortably waltz.

It's weird and I don't have the slightest bit of proof that it's historical.  It's also pretty and makes me happy so I don't care.  And it's danceable! 

The pattern that resulted from this strange mishmash of styles looks somewhat odd.  It lacks the train and the angled waistline that I added to the real skirt, but it clearly shows the unusual shape of the skirt panels. 

I must have been feeling brave when I picked out fabric to compliment the dupatta, because I chose to use a pale gold silk charmeuse!  I was absolutely seduced by its rich, soft, slippery silkiness.  Problem is, there's a big learning curve when sewing such a finicky fabric.  I scoured my books and the internet for tips and practiced stitching on lots of scraps before I was brave enough to attempt the skirt.  

I ended up hand basting my seams first, used a fresh super sharp thin needle and set my stitch length to slightly shorter than normal and sewed slowly and carefully.  It was frustrating and I still got some slight puckering on some seams, but all in all I'd call the experience a win :)

Before hemming to length

I'll have to apologize, because I don't seem to have a single picture of the draping, patterning, fitting or stitching of the bodice.  I also don't remember much about the process, because this dress was made back March/April!  You'll have to settle for this- I draped a short waisted bodice with a generously curved bustline.  I used some coutil scraps as an interlining to give it some support, and also boned the heck out of it.  I joined it to the skirt messily (oh noes, exposed seams!) because I planned to cover the join with a waistband.  Inside I added a waist stay to take the strain off the rest of the gown; this helped ensure that the bodice wouldn't be pulled down by the weight of the skirt (snagged that idea from this Diary of a Mantua Maker post).  In any case, here's what I ended up with-

Oh hai va voomy curves!  It's certainly no Camille Clifford, but it was a bit curvier than I'd expected, especially as many teens dresses are somewhat less shapely.  At this point the gown shape was looking as though it belonged to a slightly earlier era, but I knew that the overlay would tone it down enough.  

There was a horrible horizontal wrinkle just under the waistline that was likely caused by the fact that the boning in the bodice stopped at the waist.  I should have let the boning continue a few inches into the skirt, but since that was all going to be covered up anyways I wasn't too worried!

The border you see along the top of the bodice was a scrap of beautiful tambour embroidery work rescued from a sari that was too damaged for anything else.  While my piece was relatively intact, the weight of the heavy metal embroidery was already threatening to tear the delicate sari fabric into shreds.  I had to stitch around every motif to attach it to the dress in a way that would support the whole thing.  

Oooooh, sparkly!

With the base gown done I started to play around with draping the dupatta over it to see how to best display the beautiful embroidery.

Once I settled on a version I liked I tacked the fabric down around the waist, cut the upper section free and mucked around with it some more until I had passable gauzy oversleeves.  I didn't end up with quite enough fabric to cover the back, but I didn't mind too much.  I added a sash of bronze silk taffeta and called it good!

All my photos from PEERS Titanic Ball are fuzzy, but I ended up wearing this again to Gaskells with several other lovely ladies sporting 1912 styles.  Of course we all had to pose for more pictures! 

Photo courtesy of the lovely American Duchess

Silver and gold sparkly ladies! ( and a bit o'goofiness)
Photo courtesy of the lovely American Duchess
It was fabulous to see so many great gowns and chat about the trials and travails of tacking a new time period.  The dress was perfect on the dance floor and the tiny train only got slightly trod on.  During the second break I escaped the dance floor and took off the ill-fitting corset and discovered that the dress fit fine without it, thought it was a bit tight in the waist. All in all I'd call the project a success, and I'm looking forward to exploring the era a bit more (especially as I scored a darling teens day dress off of ebay that I'd love to recreate!).


  1. I just found your blog! What glorious stuff! I'm digging through your archives for inspiration and thank you so much for the link to the KCI. I didn't know this place existed. I think you're right about the skirt being a hobble front with a trained back. It would be an elegant way to keep the silhouette and yet still be able to walk. That's a really lovely dress, too.

    1. If you like what you see on the KCI site, you should check out their book -

      The pictures are drop dead gorgeous,and they show many, many more things than they do on the site!

  2. Gorgeous! I wish I could sew- I am so envious.

  3. Replies
    1. Thank you! I'm mostly having fun; I'm lucky to be good at what I enjoy I guess :)

  4. oh God, I wan't to make edwardian evening gown and I was looking for inspiration - now I found it. Thank you ^^

  5. Thank you for posting your dupatta edwardian jacket! I'll be using a twist of this for my son's wedding!


Your comment won't show up right away, but don't worry! I moderate comments because the spam is ridiculous. It may take a little while for me to approve your comment, but check back soon!