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Making an 1860’s Beetlewing Dress, Part One

If you clicked on this post thinking that title is an exaggeration, then you have severely underestimated me and the things I will buy on etsy.

I discovered beetlewing embroidery several years ago, when I was still really active on tumblr and this picture came across my dashboard. I thought it was stunning, and the fact that all the detail work was made from bugs fascinated me. But at the time I wasn’t doing a lot of hand work, and it never crossed my mind that I could make anything similar.

Over the past few months I’ve come across pictures of more extant garments that feature this technique. And after my tiny embroidery project earlier in the year (a stomacher), and an elaborate 1860’s dress under my belt,  I felt like I could actually take this on.

Beetlewing embroidery goes back hundreds of years, and from what I can tell, originated in China, Thailand, and India. I’m not sure how it came to be popular in Europe in the mid 1800’s, but it was, and the results are stunning. This pinterest board has lots of lovely examples.

My first “step” was buying the wings. I ordered 2,000 from this seller, which I’m really hoping will be enough.

The wings feel (and look) a bit like press on nails, but are a bit thicker and more brittle. Though they are wings, they aren’t like dragonfly wings – these are a firm shell.

A few other bloggers have made dresses featuring them, and they mentioned steaming the wings to make them flexible enough to poke holes in, where others used drills. I found this prospect kind of terrifying because I had a lot of wings, but luckily mine haven’t required either method. A sharp (large) needle goes through them and creates a big enough hole to get a smaller needle and a few strands of embroidery floss through.

The more time consuming part has been cutting off the point where the wings connected to the body of the beetle. It’s also sort of gross even though it’s all dried out.

As for fabric, I’ll be using 12 yards of lightweight cotton which I got from Hamed Fabrics.

The design isn’t fully figured out yet, but I know it will consist of a skirt, an evening bodice, and a day bodice. Which is very common for designs in the mid 19th century.

My inspiration for the bodice shapes, and the sleeves, is this ensemble – the skirt design is still kind of a mystery, but I’ll figure it out once the upper half is done. The embroidery pattern is made up, but influenced a lot but every other example I could find online.

The first step was draping – draping loose fitting bodices is always a pain, but I did the best I could.

I tried to change it up a little bit, so instead of the shoulder seam sitting at the top of the shoulder, it’s further back and gathered to add volume to the bust.

Here is one of the front pieces, with the shoulder gathered.

The back pieces, stitched together with french seams.

And here they are sewn together.

The side seams were done up as well, then the collar and hem were bound with bias tape made from green silk shantung. The front edges were also turned inward to finish them off nicely.

Now for the fun part – the beetles! I designed the embroidery pattern on paper, and fiddled around with the wings until I liked the shapes they made.

The paper was then placed underneath the fabric. I traced the stem design onto the right side of the fabric with a wash away pen.

And then the embroidery began! I didn’t do a great job documenting this, since I wasn’t sure it would work. I’ll make sure to take more photos of the skirt during these steps.

The stems were sewn with a split stitch. I outlined each one with two parallel lines of stitching, with a small gap between them, which is where I sewed gold seed beads. Then the wings were sewn on, and the “gaps” between the wings, as well as the base of them, were covered with green seed beads to make them look more like foliage.

I did as much of this as I could with a hoop.

  Then I sewed sequins around the design – a mixture of flat gold ones, faceted gold ones, and some that match the wings almost perfectly. 

Here is one section done!

However when it was all done, it felt a little sparse. So I added bugs. The bodies were made from embroidery floss and gold beads, with the beetle wings making up the wings. Then I embroidered on antennas and used faux black pearls as eyes.

I may make a video showing this process at some point!

After the embellishing was done I sewed in hook/bar closures, and gathered the waistline. However after a fitting I realized the waist was too small, so the gathering was ripped out and re-done.

Now time for the sleeves! It looks like a relatively normal sleeve pattern, but the twist is a rectangle gathered every 4″ to create puffs, which is sewn between these two pieces.

The top piece is the front (ignore the writing saying otherwise) – it’s narrower, so the puffs are more visible from the front and side of the sleeves when they are worn.

Here are the puffed portions after being gathered.

I sewed them onto a smaller piece of material so they held their shape.

Then that was sewn to the other pieces.

They looked okay, but were obviously missing bugs.

(I will never say that about anything else if my life)

I placed the bugs in the center of the gathering points, surrounded by sequins.

The side seam was done up, but I left the bottom few inches open to allow me to get the sleeves on and off. Then I turned the seam allowance inward with whip stitches to hide the raw edges.

The cuffs are made from interfaced cotton, with green silk piping trimming the edges. They are lined with more cotton, and close with two hooks/bars. Weirdly, these gave me a lot of trouble. I cut them the wrong length the first time, and had to re-do them. Then I gathered the sleeves to be too small and didn’t realize until after the cuffs were sewn on and the lining was in…cue me having to re-do it, again.

Here you can see the difference between the front and backs of the sleeves.

They were sewn on by machine, and that’s it!

And here are some worn photos – I don’t love the fit, I feel like it should be a little looser to provide more mobility of the arms. But I also really like how it looks.

(note, the ribbon is a placeholder to imitate the waistband of the skirt, it isn’t part of the bodice)

I think the proportion of the embroidery at the front is really nice, and I love the sleeves, the bugs with the gathering is really charming to me.

One things I’ll have to do before labeling this costume complete is make a corset cover. My corset is bright red, which doesn’t pair well with sheer white fabrics.

And that’s it! I’m not sure when the next post about this project will be done, since the skirt isn’t even started and the evening bodice is missing sleeves. But hopefully it will all come together nicely in the near future!

Thanks for reading!

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Posted by on May 31, 2017 in 20th Century, The Making Of

 

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Making a Menswear Inspired Cotehardie

It’s time for a new project! It’s been a while since i’ve been able to say that. I’m finally beginning work on a medieval ensemble that I bought fabric for a few months back (more info on that here).

This project is menswear inspired and consists of a few different pieces, the first is a cotehardie, which is a slim fit long sleeved garment. It will be worn over tights and a pair of shoes which I plan on making myself. Overtop of that there will be a mantle (capelet) which will have a liripipe (long pointed hood). And I might be making a crown to go with it as well. So lots of different pieces to keep me busy!

I decided to start with the most important piece which is the cotehardie. There are tons of reference of these in artwork from the middle ages, but that artwork isn’t very fun to look at. So here is an example from “The Complete Costume History” book. These are some pretty fancy examples, mine is a little less elaborate!

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Here are my main fabrics for the ensemble. The cotehardie will be made from a wool suiting, the mantle and shoes will made from a really heavy wool coating, and the tights from a gold knit.

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Once I had my references gathered I started draping the pattern. This part was a little tricky. Cotehardies shown in artwork seem to be really fitted but do not have any seams in the front or back. I managed to accomplish this but the end result hinders mobility a bit which is kind of a bummer.

When I was draping I added darts to get the fabric to fit the form tightly, but I removed these when transferring the pattern onto paper.

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Once that was transferred to paper and seam allowances were added I had a pattern. Then I made a mock up.

Here is my mock up being tried on, the left is before pinning, the right is after pinning. I managed to get an okay fit by raising the waistline and shoulder, but even after doing that there is some gaping around the arm opening. That part doesn’t look great, but It’s kind of unavoidable when trying to make something super tight and without seams when you have boobs.

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Once my alterations were made to the pattern I cut the pieces out.

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At this point I realized the wool suiting I bought was really flimsy. I felt like it would show every lump and bump and not look as hardy as a cotehardie should be (haha). I know with suit jackets interlinings are often used to bulk the material up…but I didn’t have any of those around. So I cut out a layer of flannel and used a random pad stitching(ish) technique to attach it to the wool.

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I didn’t bother to add it in the hips, I felt like the fabric stiffness was more important at the front and waist.

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When that was done I folded the front edge inward and sewed it down.

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Now I had two pieces that looked like this!

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This will have a false button closure on it. During this period buttons were used as decorations more often than not. If they were functional they closed with a button loop system, not button holes. I’ve used buttons/loops before and it can become quite finicky, so I decided to make the buttons decorative and have the cotehardie snap closed.

I used bright pink basting stitches to mark the centerline on the lapels, which show where the buttons and snaps will be placed. Then I used chalk to pinpoint where each one would go.

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A MILLION YEARS LATER (or nine hours, one or the other) I had all the snaps and buttons attached. I’m really out of practice with sewing these on because it took me so long. It also ripped my fingers up a bit, since I sewed them all on in two days.

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Here is what it snapped closed! They don’t all line up perfectly a couple might be a few millimeters off. But it doesn’t effect the look or wear of the garment at all so I don’t mind too much.

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Now at this point I realized my cotehardie was pretty boring. And I don’t like making boring things. Even though I liked how the buttons looked, it just wasn’t enough detailing to make it really pop. But I didn’t have any gold trims that would match, so I wasn’t sure what to do.

Then it hit me: I should add lions.

Because when in doubt, add lions, right?

Heraldic cotehardies were actually a thing (as seen here) where a coat of arms/crest/emblem would make up the pattern on a dress or tunic. So using that theme I started googling medieval emblems until I found one I liked. Eventually I came across the “Coat of arms of Castile and León” which had a handy vector image of a lion on it’s wikipedia page.

I ran that through photoshop, then printed out two lions.

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When I held these up I realized it would look like two lions framing my crotch. Which wasn’t a great look. So I decided to only use one lion and figured out a different pattern for the other side later on.

I traced the outline of the lion onto double sided fusible interfacing. Then I fused it onto gold spandex, since spandex doesn’t fray I managed to avoid the frustration of turning over each edge, which was awesome.

Finally, I cut the lion out. Which took ages, there are so many fiddly bits!

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Then I ironed the lion onto my cotehardie, and tah-dah! Instantly fancier!

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For the other side I decided to add fleur de lis, which I traced from this coat of arms.

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I cut them out so they looked like this.

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Then fused them on.

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Before doing anything else I stitched up the side seams and turned the hem inward by an inch.

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Then I stitched around the edge of my appliques and added some details with more stitching. I did this with regular cotton thread since I didn’t have any embroidery floss, which isn’t ideal, but I still think it looks pretty good!

Next time I have E6000 out i’m going to add rhinestones to the lions crown and eye. I think that will look neat.

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And here it is laid out flat~

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After a quick fitting I realized the shoulder fit was pretty bad. So I took it in a bit and added some quilt batting to stand in for shoulder pads. Even that didn’t help very much, since the main issue is that the shoulder was cut too narrow. It is too late to fix that on this piece, but I made a note on the pattern. If I ever use it again i’ll add at least a half inch to that area.

Then I turned the collar and arm holes under so they had pretty finished edges.

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Which meant it was time for sleeves! Here is the pattern I drafted for them. It was hard to get them really tight, but also wide enough to have a nice silhouette.

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They were cut out of the suiting and sewn up the side.

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And the process was repeated with some polyester lining fabric.

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Then the lining was sewn to the wool sleeves.

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The lower edges of the wool got turned under by a half inch, then the lining was sewn to cover the raw edge.

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And I sewed on more buttons! Because you can never have too many of those.

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I whip stitched the sleeves on.

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Then cut out lining for the body of the garment and sewed that in. This was probably the hardest part since i’ve never lined something with such a curvy shape before. I also took my cotehardie in quite a bit, but didn’t mark those changes on my pattern. So there was some guesswork involved when I used it to cut out the lining.

But I managed!

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And now it’s finished (aside from a couple rhinestones)! I love everything except the shoulder fit. The slope on those is a bit to dramatic and they are too narrow. But I think the rest of it is pretty awesome. Especially the lion. That is probably my favorite part.

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One piece down, a couple left to go! Worn photos of it will be taken soon, but I want to get the tights and shoes finished first.

Thanks for reading!

 
 

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Making a Forest Sprite Costume, Part One

My allergies have been crazy this week so it seems fitting to blog about a costume that i’m allergic to! I’m not even kidding. The only thing I learned from making this is that burlap, plastic moss, and real moss are three materials I will never be touching again.

With that cheery intro, lets talk about this project! I found some really neat fake bird nests, flowers, and moss from Michaels. They were on sale and I found the textures really interesting and unlike anything I had worked with before. So I bought them.

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I decided to make a forest sprite costume. This was a challenge for me, since I wanted something that would blend in with the forest environment but also be a pretty standalone dress. I wanted the materials to be really prominent in the dress, and for it to have a lot of texture. My original plan was to have layers of petal shaped organza and tulle gathered at the waist, which is shown in this sketch. But I scrapped that idea pretty quickly.

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Even though the skirt design wasn’t completely clear in my mind, I knew what I wanted the bodice to look like. So I started draping it.

I was ten minutes into the draping process when I realized I had already made a bodice very similar to the one I was trying to create. It was pretty much identical to my Fall Forest Fairy bodice. I still had the pattern for that, so I decided to reuse it. All I did was fiddle with the neckline a bit and lengthen it at the waist.

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I cut the bodice out of a ivory brocade fabric. This fabric is kind of thin on its own, so I backed it with fusible interfacing.

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Then I added the boning and boning channels.

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I covered the edges with half inch wide home made bias tape, which was sewn on by machine. The top edge will be completely covered in moss and netting so I wasn’t too particular about how it looked before those things were added.

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I covered the bottom edge with bias tape as well.

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The bodice fit well enough that I felt comfortable moving on to decorating it. I wanted this to be packed full of texture so I decided to do some fancy stitchwork.

This isn’t really embroidery, it’s just a running stitch repeated every eighth of an inch. The stitching attaches floral print chiffon (I left the edges of it raw) to the sides of bodice. I didn’t do a very precise or pretty job of this – but I wasn’t trying to do either of those things. I just wanted to add texture, and I think the irregular pattern does a better job of that.

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Then I pinned some mesh over the neckline. I pulled at the edges until they looked torn and frayed.

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It all got sewn down by hand.

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Then I added the moss. I used a mixture of moss that came on a spool, which was plastic, and moss from a bag which was real. I DID NOT know the bagged moss was real until after buying it and having it sit in a drawer for a month. It was pretty awful to work with since the ratio of green moss to sticks and dirt was about 50/50. I felt like bugs were going to crawl out while I worked with it.

But the fake moss was almost as bad. I think it’s made by spraying flocking over a wiry plastic base. Which I usually wouldn’t have a problem with but in this case the flocking was made up of tiny plastic spines which get all over your skin, into your eyes, and nose. They have a texture that makes me itch.

So this part of the process wasn’t a lot of fun. After maybe an hour I got everything oriented and glued on in a way I liked. The bodice was finished with a few burlap patches which were also hot glued on.

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To completely hide the top edge of the bodice (which was the ivory fabric) I had to extend the moss into the interior of the bodice. I can’t really line it without it showing, so the moss remains pressed against my skin which adds another level of discomfort to this costume. My chest does not deserve the pain this plastic itchy moss from hell inflicts on it whenever I wear this.

But it looks really cool! So that makes it worth it. kind of.

Thats it for the magical forest spire bodice. Next week i’ll go over the process of making the skirt.

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Thanks for reading!

 
8 Comments

Posted by on August 14, 2015 in Fashion & Fantasy, The Making Of

 

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Recreating Renaissance Fashion, Isabel de Requesens

I’m resuming progress on my Isabel costume! This is part one of making the chemise, which will be worn underneath this dress. Today I am going to be talking about how I made the collar, it’s easily the most detailed and complicated part so it’s worthy of it’s own post. My next post will talk about basic assembly, and I should have another video to share as well!

The shape of this collar is a cross between a U and a rectangle. I drew out the shape on poster board and traced it onto the beige linen I chose for this project. Then I used a quilting ruler to measure a half inch seam allowance all the way around.

The pieces were sewn right-sides-together, then turned rightside out so there was a finished edge all the way around.

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I hand stitched around the edge to tack it down and give more of an old timey look. Then I began drawing out the pattern for the beading and embroidery.

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Though I have some minor experience in beading I had never created something with a repeating pattern, nor had I ever embroidered patterns. So I knew this project would be a huge adventure – and maybe a huge mess too.

I happened to have beads that would work on hand, leftover from my bracelet making days and previous costumes.

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I believe I used 4mm glass pearls, 8mm glass pearls, 3mm white plastic pearls, 3mm red beads, and 2mm gold and red beads. I piled them all on a beading mat to keep things organized.

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The first step was sewing the centermost beads on. This is by far the easiest and most enjoyable part – after finishing this step I was lulled into a false sense of security that this would be easy.

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Step two is sewing all the connect-y bits with gold thread. The beads give a good guide which makes this part easier, but the thread was constantly getting caught on beads, getting, tangled, or pulling things loose.

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Then I went through and added gold seed beads. Six get added to each section, two extend down from the 4mm pearls at the top and bottom, and one gets added to each side of the center section. The goal here was just to add more gold because it looked a bit sparse!

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Then it came time to add the red. This was by far the most difficult part, the thread had to be looped four times to have enough bulk and it seemed to always get caught on beads, tangle, and need to be clipped. It took me several minutes to stitch each one (unless the thread tangled, then it would take twice as long), which doesn’t sound like a lot until you realize there are nearly ninety of them that have to be sewn!

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I think in total I must have spent thirty hours beading this stupid thing. If I did it again I feel it would go much faster because now I have more experience with the process. I would probably do a much better job too – I did this thing one side at a time and the side I did last is much cleaner and more even then the first. Oops!

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So that finishes off the collar, I added ties to it and a lining later on but that will be covered in the “basic assembly post”.

There there was another part of this costume that required more embroidery and beading, so I’ll go over that really quick too.

The cuffs on Isabel’s dress are tricky to see and end up looking “gold” from a distance, so I really didn’t have to bead these. But I thought it would be nice to have them match the neck piece.

I started by cutting small rectangles of linen, then marking out a half inch grid.

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I sewed rectangles over the grid lines, then a cross in the middle that stretches from corner to corner.

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Lastly I sewed some of my large 8mm pearls in the middle, and it was done!

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Thanks for reading!

Related posts: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five. 

 

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