Friday, November 11, 2011

Eva Dress 1887 French Bat Costume + Trundle Manor's Halloween party = Perfect Match

In my last post, I had purchased the Eva Dress 1887 French Bat Costume, but I did not know what I was going to make it for. Then we got invited to the Halloween Party at Trundle Manor in Pittsburgh, PA. "Oh", I thought to myself, "that's what I bought that pattern for!" And I was right.

Before I get to the nitty-gritty of costume construction details, enjoy these photos from a fellow party guest. Is excellent, no?

Step 1: Hoop Skirt
I used the Laughing Moon Hoop Skirt pattern. I made a variation of View A. Following Eva Dress's suggestion, I left off the top-most hoop to accomodate the fact that the corset is intentionally worn over the hoops. I also shortened the patten by removing the bottom-most hoop section. The skirt pattern is intentionally short, ending around mid-calf, and I am also rather short (5' 2").

I used polyvinyl tubing from the hardware store (the stiffer stuff), which sells for about $0.35/foot. The internet seemed to think that if historical accuracy was not required in one's undergarments, then this was a perfectly functional analog to hoop wire ($3.75/foot). I deemed it that historical accuracy was NOT required, given the price differential.

I made the hoop skirt out of some red linen that I always assumed I'd find a noble use for, but since it has haunted my stash for at least five years, I was ready to see this as it's calling. Once I'd given myself that kind of license, I became a mad woman! I was making a garment that would not be seen, which meant that I could construct it for stability first, and looks second. I zigzagged that seam allowances open so that the tubes would be easier to insert. So ugly! So practical!

I folded the bian tape all the way open for maximum maneuverability.

I held the hoops together with a barbed connector. The biggest challenge was getting the tubing the right length. Too short, and why bother with hoops at all? Too long, and it would be easy to burst a seam (which I almost did). Other than that concern, this went together easily, and the tubing worked like a dream. The skirt was not terribly heavy, so I don't know when the plastic tubing might give up, but I'm sold on it for now.

Step 2: The Skirt

The skirt is a standard underskirt. It has been well drafted to work with the LM hoop, so I had no fitting problems there. Here is the skirt base over the hoop skirt:

Once the base was done, it was time to start pleating the ruffles. I had found the PERFECT silk for these pleats: light weight and translucent, but with a crisp enough hand to hold the pleats once they were ironed in. AND I found it is the silk remnants bin at G Street. The problem was that they only had 6 yards of the stuff, not the 7 recommended by the pattern. I knew that I was going to have to rearrange the plancement lines, but I also choose to simply zigzag over the finished edge of the ruffle strips rather than do a double fold narrow hem as recommended. If did the finished edge before a pleated, contrary to the directions, because I just couldn't figure out how I was going to finish the edges once the pleats were done without risking a major sewing disaster. In the end, for my fabric, it worked out well.

The pleating took a looooooong time, in the neighborhood of 12 hours. I couldn't do it in one go, so it took me three or four pleat-and-watch-Downton-Abbey sessions. Once I had the 7 rows of pleated material, I set about arranging them on the skirt. I also quickly realized that I did not pleat all the rows in the same direction, but through some sort of sewing goddess intervention, I did pleat 1/2 in one direction and the other 1/2 in the other, so I could alternate the pleats in the most visible parts of the skirt -- not a mistake, a design detail... yes.

Because I did not have the recommended 7 yards, I had to use the last strip to piece together the gaps in the back, but it all worked out in the end.

It was about this the time that I took this photograph that I started to see the pitfalls of making an all-black, detail rich costume -- it's very hard to photograph:

Here's another shot with more flash:

Step 3: Wings

At my raid on G Street, I found a novelty wool that had the perfect hand for the bat wings: solid enough to be self-faced, opaque, and just a little bit of stretch, but it was wool and not on sale so I bought exactly the 2 yards that the pattern recommended. I tested the wing pattern out on the dress form and I could already see that they would need to be shortened by at least 6" for my height. With that much to take out, I decided to decrease 1" every 6" from the adjustment lines down and then redraw the pattern lines.

Once those adjustments were made, I went to lay out the pattern. I soon discovered that there was a typo in the yardage charts. Eva Dress has corrected this error, but if you bought this pattern before November 2011, make sure you note in your pattern that the self-faced wings require 4 yards of fabric, not 2. To get everything on the fabric I had, I took some of the width out and gave up trying to match grain lines. After looking at Eva Dress's wing photos, I decided that the wings were going to be stretched in all kinds of strange directions and that my fabric already had a lot of give and that I did not want to drive the 90 minutes back to G Street in hopes that they still had more of the magic wing fabric. Here's my final layout:

I also cut yards of 1" bias strips out of a dark grey lining fabric, so I would have some shiny contrast to highlight the wing struts. I used the flexible plastic tubing from the hardware store, as recommended by the pattern. It worked like a dream and it really cheap. I suppose that it you wanted to be more period, stiff cording would work. In any case, hoop wire would be far too stiff, so avoid that.

The wings require a loot of fiddling bias tape finishing, if you use self-faced fabric, but what are you going to do? I also reinforced the center back section that attaches to the corset with some heavy denim. I knew that I planned to pin the wings to the corset rather than sew hooks & eyes into the corset itself, so I wanted lots of support for the pinning and re-pinning.

Step 4: Fichu

I made the fichu out of silk organza, which worked great. I tried it first with the novelty fabric I used for the polonaise, but the netting was too wide to work well with the pleats and darts. Nothing exciting to report on this stage.

Stage 5: Polonaise

The polonaise is just a draped section of fabric. I tried it pinned several ways before I found an arrangement I liked. Once I got that figured out, I just stitched the fabric to a piece of gross grain ribbon a the two key points. Again, the plan was to pin it to the corset or skirt instead of using permanent hooks & eyes.

Stage 6: accessories

The pattern includes a corset pattern and glove pattern, but I found a terrific pair of vintage gloves and I already owned a black corset, so I did not attempt those pieces. I also found a period caplet which I got at an antique store the day before the party for added warmth.

I scored an excellent pair of black Victorian style costume boots from the Spirit Halloween store for $25. Surprisingly comfortable and stable. I searched high and low for a chest bat, but never found anything I really liked. I bought an Alchemy Gothic pewter bat necklace and a few hat-trimming bats the day after Halloween, and them we were off!

Here's what everything looked like on my dress form (I pinned the wings to the heavy curtains to help the wing struts fall into shape):

As soon as I had the shoes, I needed to do a quick dry run. Thanks to my DH for taking these photos:

Trundle Manor Party Reflections

The final get up included some extra layers for warmth, since the party was going to be an indoor/outdoor affair. I bought thermal leggings, thigh high socks, a pair of flannel PJ pants, 2 scarves, a lace undershirt, and the caplet. By the end of the night, I was wearing them all and still a little chilly, but the party was amazing and we all looked pretty excellent.

Here are some photos of the final presentation:

A Final Thought

All black costumes are really hard to photograph and show off in low light. If I were to start this costume again, I would work with bat color schemes found in nature, like grays or browns. There are a lot of different textures in this costume, so it's still visually interesting in person, but since I don't wear it every day I feel that some of the impact in lost. Here are a few bat photos for palate guidance:

1 comment:

Meigan said...

This is truly an incredible costume. Brilliant job!