Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Christmas Caroling Season Approaching: Should I Make a New Costume, Yea or Nay?

Good morning and happy holidays, everyone!  I know it's only October 17th and y'all are probably festooning your front steps with pumpkins and "harvest decor" if you're thinking about holidays at all, but my professional caroling group just had our kickoff rehearsal/party last weekend so I'm already thinking ahead to Christmas.  Behold, me in the Giant Green Dress That Does Not Fit In My Car:

Final Christmas Caroling Job Last Year, Holiday Party at a Private Residence

That photo is from my last caroling job of last year's holiday season, a party at a private home in Charlotte.  The weather was perfect, the other members of the quartet were some of my favorite voices to sing with, and we really enjoyed singing together.  The homeowner who hired us had also hired a horse drawn carriage bringing guests up the their winding driveway past the beautifully lit trees to the house, where we met them at the front door with Christmas carols in four-part harmony.  (I am now BFF with Jake the Horse).
Imagine All Of This Dress Stuffed Behind My Steering Wheel...

So the dress...  You can read more about how I made it, which pattern I used, etc., here if you're interested.  I got carried away with the design, and wasn't thinking about the practical requirements of a costume that I need to put on at home and then wear while driving my little car to wherever the job happens to be.  Have you ever tried to drive in a hoop skirt with petticoats?  It's a hassle just getting in and out of the costume, it's restrictive and uncomfortable through the arms and shoulders, it's 100% silk so if I'm caroling outdoors and it rains on me, the dress will be ruined, and it's dry clean only...  Also the hoop skirt tends to knock things over, and when we were hired to go caroling door-to-door in a neighborhood the other night I kept tripping over the skirt and couldn't see where the steps began or ended.  There have been some close calls where, if someone hadn't been in the right place at the right time, I could have knocked over a Christmas tree or two.  This dress is ridiculously impractical, so even though our clients and their guests love it (especially the little old ladies at nursing homes), I am strongly considering making a new caroling costume for this year.  

Honestly, after two years, I am bored with wearing the same thing over and over again, struggling in and out of this dress 2-3 times a week for the whole month of December.  I feel like Charlie Brown!  I won't completely retire the green dress; I just need a different costume that I can alternate with it, something in a different color that is more suitable for outdoor events, with a warmer fabric and/or matching cape, something a bit later Victorian with a skirt that is not quite so full....  I want a costume that will be easier to get in and out of, more comfortable to wear and practical to drive in, and one that won't cost a fortune and take 50+ hours to sew.  So, without further ado, BEHOLD!  The Inspiration for my Next Caroling Costume!:

Inspiration: 1826 Fashion Plate from a French Ladies' Magazine
My costume is supposed to be "Victorian" or "Dickensian," and plaids were a huge fashion trend in the mid-19th century.  No, I'm not going to wear a dorky bonnet, but am thinking something like the red and green plaid skirt with ruffles with a frilly blouse, and maybe a little cloak to go over it.  

Because a LOT of work goes into shirtmaking, I ordered this blouse from a historical costume supplier:

Abbington Blouse from Historical Emporium
The blouse cost me $56, which sounds expensive until you consider that I would probably have spent that much on a pattern, fabric, lace trim, buttons, interfacing, and whatever other notions were needed to make it -- plus it would have taken HOURS of time that I don't have.  So I'm going to use this ready-made costume blouse as a starting point and just add more lace trim from my stash to make it more exciting.   In the Victorian fashion plate illustrations you'll notice that the shoulders and upper sleeves are very pouffy and frilly, and making the shoulders and upper arms bigger with ruffles and frills helps to make the waist look narrower for that hourglass silhouette:  
1826 and 1829

Also, just tucked into a skirt as in the Historical Emporium photo, my Abbington blouse looks more Little House On the Prairie than Elegant Caroling Fashionista.  It's not going to look Victorian if it's all blousy and loose at the waistline.  So I I'm going to make some kind of separate waist cincher/corset/belt thingy, similar to what this costumer Victorian Choice has done:

From other photos on their web site, I can see that Victorian Choice makes that waist cincher so that it ties with long sashes at the back -- which means it's totally adjustable in the event that a Caroling Fashionista eats a couple of extra slices of pumpkin pie...  

I haven't seen anything quite like the Victorian Choice waist cincher in my Victorian fashion research, at least not dating from my target era of 1840-1860.  The one below is an antique garment dating from the 1880s or so:

(At this point, you might be wondering why I don't just order my whole costume online and be done with it, especially if you're a sensible, practical person.  Unfortunately for me, I'm an impractical, ridiculous person who needs to have a one-of-a-kind costume entirely of my own making and incorporating all of my own design whimsies, so ordering a readymade costume online is simply out of the question). 

Back to the project at hand:

A Starting Point: Simplicity 8910
Let me assure you that there will be NO dorky bonnet on my head, but I DO like the View C cape from this Simplicity pattern shown above.  I've got a lightweight red microfiber that looks and drapes like velvet and won't need lining for the cape, and I bought some heavy black pom pom trim to use where red trim is shown in the pattern photo.  But I don't like the skirt in that pattern because there is too much bulky fullness at the waist, which would look frumpy-dumpy, and I think the skirt might even have an ELASTIC waist, God forbid.  I have a different pattern that I'm planning to use for my skirt, this OOP (Out of Print) Butterick:

OOP Butterick Pattern 3418
I like this pattern better than the Simplicity skirt pattern because of the princess seams, which keep fullness at the hem while reducing bulk at the waistline.  I may even gather and attach my skirt to the waistband by hand the way my original costume was made, because that historically accurate technique wasn't difficult and it really did allow a tremendous amount of fabric to gather up at the waist without any bulk.  That's key to creating the illusion of a corseted silhouette without actually having to wear a corset -- waist cincher with full, puffy blouse above and full, puffy skirt below.  

I'm thinking of a hybrid between View D with the three tiers of gathered ruffles and trim, and View B that has the flat skirt panel in the front with fullness concentrated to the sides and read of the skirt.  Look at my historic inspiration photo again:

See?  The skirt is gathered on the back and sides, but flat (not gathered) in the front.  With enough fullness in the back, that could even give a hint of a bustled effect (without having to tie a pillow to my derriere).  From a historical authenticity perspective (which absolutely NO ONE cares about besides me), notice the ruffles on the skirts -- three tiers of ruffles, even a contrasting plaid ruffle on the one on the left, and the ruffles are clearly cut on the bias due to the diagonal direction of the plaid.  Plaid was a very fashion-forward trend in the mid-19th century, as were the very full skirts supported by hoops and petticoats.  But what really stands out to me in researching women's fashion circa 1860 is the bold, graphic trim on the skirts:

Chevron With Plaid!
Ruffles, Plaid Banding, Bold Trim
Ruffles, Banding, BOLD!

Check Out the Coat Trim!
Interlocking Ring Applique
These are some wild getups, aren't they?!  Those super-full skirts were never plain; they were canvases waiting to be embellished with dramatic, showstopping trim.  That's why I went with the bold, black scalloped ruffling on my previous costume -- and I want to have that drama for my new costume, too.  

For my skirt fabric, I bought some green and red plaid cotton flannel from JoAnn and some red floral yarn trim:

For My Skirt?
So, what do you think?  At the moment, I'm feeling kind of "meh" about it.  Here are the pros:

  1. 100% cotton flannel can be preshrunk, so my finished skirt could be washable -- no more dry cleaning costs
  2. This is an outdoor-friendly fabric that won't be ruined by a sprinkling of rain or snow
  3. It's warmer than the silk I used for my last costume, which would be a plus on cold evening gigs
  4. Several yards of red yarn trim can jazz up that plaid fabric so it looks more interesting and more 1860s Fashion Forward
  5. The plaid will make it easy to cut the skirt panels straight, and I won't have to mark where the trim goes because I can just use lines in the plaid fabric itself
  6. I was originally thinking of skirt view D, with the three tiers of ruffles and the red yarn trim just above each ruffle, but I'm having second thoughts about that because of the bulk of flannel ruffles...

And of course the cons are that it's too "expected," too cliche, and not nearly exciting like a silky satiny outfit.  The biggest factor sabotaging my "sewjo" with this project is that everyone to whom I've mentioned my plan to make a new costume this year has reacted with DISAPPOINTMENT.  :-(


Anyway.  Here is the plan for the little cape thingy:

Simplicity 8910 Double Tiered Cape
The other thing I can do is disregard the skirt pattern instructions when it comes to gathering and attaching the skirt to the waistband, and use the hand stitched cartridge pleat technique I learned from making my previous costume:
Inside the Waistband of an Antique 1860s Dress
Doing the skirt that way is not hard at all, not using Tiger Tape to space my hand stitches and heavy duty upholstery thread that won't break when I pull up the pleats.  This method can't be done by machine, but it really does enable you to get an authentic bell-shaped skirt without thickening up the waistline.  Those pleats rotate outward when you put the skirt on with a petticoat, so there is no gathered seam allowance adding girth at the waistline itself.  It's genius.

Anyone who has managed to read all the way through this rambling stream-of-consciousness post without falling asleep deserves a prize, and here it is:  I will now listen to and consider YOUR opinions!  Please leave me a comment and let me know if you think this new costume idea would result in a crowd-pleaser or a disappointment.  If you don't like this idea, what would you suggest instead?  I have about 6 weeks before the caroling season starts in earnest.  Thanks in advance for sharing your thoughts!


Robin said...

I was hoping you were going to say you wanted plaid. I think that's a good choice. The flannel you have chosen absorbs the light instead of reflecting it like your previous outfit. Maybe that's why you aren't more excited about it. I really like the 3 rows of ruffles on your inspiration pattern. Good Luck!

Karen - Quilts...etc. said...

I love it! The green one was beautiful and really nice but such a hassle to get in and out of - if anyone else wants you to wear it again you should tell them to try it and see how they like getting in and out of a car or just plain getting in and out of the dress and almost tripping.
I love the plaid but have little experience making clothing - I do like the blouse you ordered and a waist cincher and cape will look wonderful - looking forward to seeing what you decide and how it turns out.

QuiltShopGal said...

I absolutely love, love, love your green dress but understand the challenges you have with it. While I still hope you find ways to use your beautiful green dress, I think it is time for you to have another costume and I like the ideas. I also lean towards corsettes, as you can also change a corsette to create a different look, should you want to alter your look in years to come. I look forward to seeing what you create. I'm sure you'll dazzle them with your singing and costume, whatever you decide.


ps - do you need any pearls for buttons, or whatever ? I had a necklace break and will not repair it (not real buttons, but they are nice). If you want them let me know and I'd happily send them for future costume decor, or whatever.

Audrey said...

I totally get why you want a new costume. Tho gorgeous, the older one sounds a bit precarious! You seemed to really enjoy making the last costume and what a thrill to see people's reactions while wearing it. The new one could be the new 'rush' and be a good mixup as well. I adore the idea of the plaid & any of those incredible trims. Flannel however is tricky. It starts looking more & more faded with each washing, can stretch & sag in places plus pull out easily at the seams as it gets more worn. I'd hate to see you put so much work into something that won't hold up! Maybe find a shiny plaid cotton instead? Some have a lovely little glitzy thread woven into the fabric esp. in the Christmas lines. I'm sure whatever you make will be incredible. Looking forward to your journey!

SJSM said...

What about a taffeta plaid? A little shine and a bit of oomph for the costume. A polyester can be found for washing and caring at home. One thing about plaid you need to check out is whether they are printed on or woven in the fabric. If printed make sure they are printed on grain. If not you will be frustrated from the get go and will have a terrible time figuring out how to line things up; by actual grainline or printed plaid lining up.

For cartridge pleats: many theater companies and Ren Fair people use drapery header tape to make the pleats then attach them to the waist. It makes quick work of the pleats. If historic accuracy is more important then hand doing them is the way to go. I will be watching and reading about this new adventure in sewing.

chrisknits said...

I think you need to just do what you want and use whatever materials make sense for the situation. Most of the people at the functions you will attend are not going to know authentic period dress if it slapped them in the face. As long as you have the wow factor, you're good. And I love plaid, any and all plaid!!

Rebecca said...

Love your ideas and like the plaid fabric you have chosen.... I think the umph factor is missing in that red flower trim. It seems so flat.

Quilty Chaos said...

I think that when we read "flannel" many people assume cozy, plush fabric. I'm currently making about 800 miles of table runners out of a shirting weight flannel for a Christmas wedding. It's not overly fluffy or fuzzy and it also came from Joann, so if this is what you are working with, I think it would work great.

Fred and/or Marlies said...

My parents would have been amazed at Rebecca's travels into quilting and costuming. Our son, Rebecca's husband, was just 8 years old when his grandfather died. The thing is my dad worked for many years for Van Horne & Co, Philadelphia’s & New York's Theatrical Costume Firm making outfits for theatrical and musical performances. Broadway saw many of his creations he made as a master tailor. My mother also was a tailor. Both learned their trade in Germany in the 20s and 30s when people still had clothes made to measure. Van Horne had been founded in 1852 and was the oldest theatrical costume firm until they merged with Brooks Brothers in 1962. I have vague recollections of the company almost closing upon someone's death which must have been the below situation. For a number of years, my dad took the train every day from Philadelphia to NY to go to work. The company needed experienced tailors who were a rare commodity even then. Perhaps Rebecca can found a new company to make costumes. :-)

Rollin Weber Van Horn of Philadelphia, chairman of the Brooks ‐ Van Horn Costume Company, Inc., died Monday at St. Francis Hospital in Miami Beach. He was 83 years old.

Mr. Van Horn headed the Van Horn Costume Company of Philadelphia for 61 years, until its merger with the Brooks Costume Company of New York in 1962.
Among the stage productions that were costumed by Mr. Van Horn were those of Charles Frohman, David Belasco, Wil­liam A. Brady, Florenz Zieg­feld, Oliver Morosco, Winthrop Ames and Oscar Hammerstein.

In 1921, Mr. Van Horn went to Hollywood, where he de­signed and executed the cos­tumes for “Scaramouche,” the first film made with a budget of $1 million.

colleen said...

Yes to a new costume
No to flannel it's a soft no swish fabric
I see your costume as shining and catching the light
Make bloomers or pantaloons to wear under out of flannel for warmth
Also think about having 2 skirts to go with your blouse so you can have a change of look
I do really think your cape idea is lovely
Can you do a muff for you hands also
It looks like you can sew in a pocket hidden in the seam line for your car key etc
My one question is about the cost for your costume(s) and the pay you receive are you (have you made) making money or is it the thrill of the performance and being able to sing these beautiful songs?

We went to Disney land and stayed at the grande California over Christmas there were carolers who just appeared in costume and sang it was magic

Lisa S. said...

I am looking forward to seeing whatever you decide to make!