Saturday, April 9, 2011

Addy's Civil War Silk Ballgown

As a seamstress, you never know when inspiration will strike, but it's a good bet it will happen at the fabric store! I was at JoAnn's a month or two ago, shopping for something innocent like solid colored Kona, but I kept looking at this roll of fabric that was sitting on the cutting counter waiting to be put away. After unsuccessfully trying to convince myself not to, I asked the lady behind the cutting counter if I could see it. The fabric in question was a home dec. silk in the most beautiful shade of yellowy green I'd ever seen. And it was also (I believe this was a sign from the Fabric Gods) ON CLEARANCE. So I had her cut me off a length, even though I don't know the first thing about sewing with silk. All the way home I kept opening the bag to see the way that gorgeous material shimmered in the light.

It didn't take me long to figure out that the silk in question wanted to become a gown for Addy, trimmed with some chocolate brown velvet ribbon from my stash. I've seen Addys dressed in yellow and cream and other shades that flattered her skin tone and I knew that this shade of green would do the same. Only one problem: I had plenty of lovely dolls in my basement, but NO ADDY.

So I, um, bought one.

Once my secondhand Addy was here, I set about trying to translate vision into reality. I was looking at the Past Patterns website for inspiration - they have yummy people sized patterns for many historical periods - and I saw this bodice, which was exactly what I had in mind.
Now, the thing about me is that I can't draft a pattern completely from scratch - that is one of many skills that eludes me - but I can adapt pattern pieces all the livelong day. I own basically every doll dress pattern known to man, so I had plenty of customization fodder available. I thought about this dress day and night until I had a working plan.

The bodice was the most important part. I started with a Civil War pattern that I had already modified to have a dropped shoulder seam (very important to the 1860s look!) and scooped out the neckline so that it sat just off the doll's shoulders. I copied the point at the waistline off of a Colonial era pattern and then sewed a mockup of the bodice lining. Once I had a working pattern for the lining I just drew in the curved bodice seams, added seam allowances, and voila.

The double puffed sleeves (seen on the lady on the right in the Past Patterns illustration) were a bit of a thinker. I'd never made sleeves like those before but I made myself a bubble skirt one time and I was gambling that the construction operated on the same principle. My nefarious plan involved snagging a cap style sleeve from a Civil War pattern + a voluminous puffy sleeve from an Edwardian pattern and somehow combining them. And it was a lot of gathering, but it actually worked on the first try. And I love how it looks in silk.
lgs preview

When it came to the skirt, I had to use my imagination, since my inspiration pattern didn't show a skirt. My first thought was to do a ruched overskirt, but I didn't have enough fabric or the patience for another fabric store trip with kids in tow. So I Google image searched 'Civil War ball gown' and saw several examples where lace or other trim was sewn directly onto the skirt in a scalloped design. So I raided my stash of trims for some netting lace and chocolate nrown soutache braid.
You'll notice that the skirt is pleated rather than gathered at the waistline. I had already had my fill of gathering with those double puffed sleeves. (And I couldn't even do my usual heavy-duty-thread-in-the-bobbin trick because hello, IT'S SILK.) But I love how the pleats turned out. All they took was a whoooooole lot of pins and some patience.

There's a bit more to the story, like making the wee little gloves, and deciding at the last minute to make a fichu, and pressing tiny hems onto the edges of Addy's hair ribbon with the iron because I still don't know how to use my rolled hem foot, but I think I will just let the final product speak for itself. Meg Photoshopped Addy in all her silken glory into a ballroom background. I'm sure there's not a person alive who hasn't seen this photo yet, but let's just look at it again:
Lemongrass gallery

Sigh. Oh, Addy.

My green silk creation is up for auction on eBay - the auction ends today, so don't miss your opportunity to bid on this one-of-a-kind creation. Click Here to visit the auction!

1 comment:

  1. That is one of THE most absolute BEAUTIFUL doll dresses I have ever seen!! Drop-dead gorgeous!