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Chemise a la Reine (And Girls in White Dresses with Blue Satin Sashes!)

Last Saturday I wore my chemise a la reine, inspired by “Portrait of a Lady with a Book, Next to a River Source” by Antoine Vestier.  The pictures were taken at the Rite of Spring Ball, so I wore a simple floral headband.

IMG_4129These photos were taken with my phone in a side room where snacks were being served. I’m sorry if they are a little dark and grainy. When I make a hedgehog wig and complete the whole ensemble I plan to take some nicer photos!

IMG_4061 IMG_4069 I made a few little changes. The sheer layer in the portrait is more fitted, while I made my dress gathered with drawstrings for several reasons: 1) I could reuse the same pattern I used for the underdress. 2) I wanted the dress to be adjustable so I could wear it with and without stays. 3) Let’s be honest. I’m flat-chested and usually a little more fluff in the front looks better on me. =)

The other major change I made is in the neckline. In the original, the neckline of the sheer dress is very low, and shows what appears to be the subject’s chemise underneath. When I tried that combination with my outfit I thought it looked rather odd, perhaps because my cotton chemise material isn’t as delicate and transparent as the one in the portrait. In real life, it would have looked like I was falling out of my dress!

The dress opens in the front, with organza ribbon drawstrings to close the neckline, waist, and underbust. I also used organza ribbon for the gathering channels.

I used a sheer striped silk organza for my dress. I spent a long time looking for the right fabric, but alas, could not find the exact type from the portrait with the correct alternating wide and thin stripes. Renaissance Fabrics now has a reproduction of the portrait fabric in a sheer taffeta. I wish it was around when I purchased my fabric months ago!

The dress was constructed in much the same way as the cotton voile chemise dress I wore underneath. There was an extra gathering channel under the bust, instead of just one at the waist. The organza was rather stiff and puffy, and did not lie as flat as I would have liked, but the extra channel helped.

IMG_4119The sash is a 4 inch wide German rayon moire ribbon, about 5 yards long. I loved the color and texture.IMG_4002The sleeves are a silk taffeta leftover from my 1830s Hopeless Romantics dress. The sheer puffed part consists of a tube (I love sewing tubes!) tacked in strategic places to create its shape. The top part of the sheer tube is curved to fit in the armscye. The bottom part of the sheer tube was sewn into the taffeta fitted sleeve, which was sliced apart horizontally, then sewn back together with the sheer part sandwiched in. The cuffs are organza lace.

IMG_4123I carried around a Kindle cover “book” to hide my phone. I plan to sew in some straps or pockets to hold dance cards, cash, or secret notes! (I also got some suggestions at the ball to turn it into a flask haha).

To save time the dress was machine-sewn. However, I would like to go back and redo the hems by hand. I also need to hem the underdress a wee bit shorter.

I am wearing a half-moon bumpad and 2 petticoats underneath the dress. I am still working on my stays!

Here are the other lovely girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes (and some boys, too!) The group consisted of many of our Hopeless Romantics, plus a few new faces.

IMG_4078Project costs:

  • 4 meters silk organza: $80.23 ($54.80 + $25.43 shipping from Halo Silk Shop).
  • 5 yards cotton voile: $20.90 ($14.95 + $5.95 shipping from eBay). Yes at $3 a yard this was cheaper than the sash!
  • 6 yards moire ribbon: $25.50 ($24 + $1.50 shipping from
  • Organza lace: $5.10 from eBay.
  • Organza and satin ribbons: $5.67 from Michael’s.

Total cost: $137.40 (It’s more than I normally spend on a project, but I have two dresses for the price of one! I can wear the cotton chemise with the sash for a daytime look).

Previous posts:

Easy Chemise Dress

I have nearly completed the cotton voile underdress for my sheer striped gown inspired by the “Portrait of a Lady with a Book, Next to a River Source” by Antoine Vestier. I still have to hem the bottom and sleeves, but I will wait to do that until I’ve finished the overdress. I have a bum pad (not shown), but I still need to work on some petticoats to give the skirt some floof.

IMG_3975I spent some time studying the Nora Waugh pattern, and many costuming blogs (with their very helpful construction techniques!) but in the end, decided to drape my own using my own adapted method. I think that if I used a proper pattern the dress could have been a little more polished, but for an underdress I am perfectly happy with the result. Plus it was very easy!

I used 3 panels of 55 inch wide cotton voile, purchased from Fabric Wholesale Direct, via their eBay store. I sewed them together at the selvedges, forming a giant rectangle. I rolled the top edge down to form a channel for gathering. I left 12 inch gaps at the seams, where the arm holes would eventually be. (My panels were also 55 inch tall. I am 5’6″, and wanted the hem short enough for dancing. If you are taller or want a floor-length dress your panels should be longer).

IMG_3991The Nora Waugh pattern has dips cut out for the neckline, but I decided to have gravity take care of the scoop in the neckline for me, which you will see when it is gathered). I inserted ribbon into the channels and gathered them.

At this point it is useful to pin this a dress form (or have a friend help you) so you can know how tightly to gather the middle panel. It will be about the width of your shoulder blades once it is fully gathered. (You can also sew the gathered edge down to another strip of fabric for extra security). At that point you will cut of the excess ribbon and sew the ends down to secure them at the anchor points indicated on the picture below. Each of the side panels will have one free ribbon end, which you will use to close the neckline each time you wear the dress.

IMG_3992I cut two bands for the shoulder straps. They are about 10 inches long and 3 inches wide, with a curve on one side, but the dimensions will depend on your height. (You also lose a little length in the straps if you sew them with the ends tucked in and hidden like I did). Once I gathered the top of the dress I pinned the straps on and tested the fit before sewing them down. The straps are lined in linen for extra strength.

IMG_3923When the straps are sewn on you will have something that looks like a sleeveless tube dress that is open in the front. Pull the ribbons in the side panels to close the top, and you will have a curved neckline.

IMG_3940There is excess fabric in the sides because the underarm holes have not been cut yet. (I did that after pinning sleeves on to fit). However, if you tie a sash on the middle you will see a chemise dress starting to take shape! The picture below is the dress shown inside out because . . .

IMG_3941. . . if you take a string and wrap it around the middle you can use a pen to mark where you should put in another channel for the waist.

IMG_3942Use the marked lines as a guide to sew down a wider ribbon, and then use that as channel for another ribbon that will be used to gather the waist when you put the dress on. I sewed the front of the side panels together starting several inches down from the waist. (The many gathers of the fabric will keep the top of the dress closed).

For the sleeves I borrowed a sleeve pattern I drafted from another dress I made. If you can’t draft your own, any tight-fitting sleeve will do. If you don’t want a fitted sleeve that’s even easier! Sew a big tube and gather it into the sleeve head and at various points to make a puffy elbow-length sleeve common in the earlier style of gowns.

IMG_3949Pin the sleeve into the dress, pulling out the excess fabric that will be trimmed.

IMG_3954Trim the excess, sew the sleeves in (I did French seams), hem, and voila! Add some petticoats and a pretty sash and you are set.

IMG_3975Here is a sneak preview of the silk overlayer I am in the process of draping, along with a temporary belt.

IMG_3980I hope this tutorial made sense. I welcome any comments and questions.


I decided to add a FAQ tab at the top of my blog. Maybe it will satisfy some curious minds, and save me a little time on email. Or it could spark discussion, who knows?

Q: Are you a reenactor?

A: No. I’m a costumer that makes historical outfits and attends themed parties and other fun things, but I do not participate in Civil War reenactments, work at Renaissance Fairs, or volunteer at any Living History events.

Q: Are your costumes for sale?

A: Occasionally I will sell something I no longer wear or fit, but in general I am posting pictures to share, not to sell.

Q: If they’re not for sale, what’s with the “prices” at the bottom of your project posts?

A: That is a tally of the materials costs for a finished outfit (not including labor, of course). Unless I’m creating something a extravagant, such as a silk dress, I prefer to stay under $100 for each project. Adding things up at the end keeps me accountable. The tally usually includes the fabric, lining, buttons, lace, pattern, etc.

Q: But why do we need to know how much money you spent?

A: When I started sewing in college I did not attempt to make anything “fancy.” I assumed that upper class garments made out of quality materials must be out of my price range. I hope to encourage other fledgling costumers by showing that it can be possible to make something nice without always spending hundreds of dollars (especially if you’re good at finding bargains, sales, and coupons). The hours spent are another thing entirely . . .

Q: Can I hire you to make something for me?

A: Sorry, no. I have a full-time job and a small child. If I have free time I am playing with my son, or sewing for myself when he’s asleep. Additionally, I do not have experience drafting for other people’s bodies, and you really would be better off hiring a local professional.

Q: Can you give me an idea of how much it would cost to hire a seamstress?

A: Please remember that commissioning a custom item will cost you far more than the usual ready-made clothes you may be used to buying in a store.  You cannot get couture for prêt-à-porter prices. For a commission you will be paying an hourly wage x the number of hours required to make an outfit + the cost of materials. For example, a Victorian ballgown bodice and skirt with hand-sewn embellishments may take 30 hours, including the time spent washing, ironing, patterning, and cutting out the fabric and lining. If someone charges $20 an hour and you choose $200 worth of fabric and trim, you might pay $800, although the cost will vary depending on the person and project.

Q: So I can hire you for $20 an hour?

A: Nice try, but no. And I’m not implying that $20/hour is what you should pay for a commission. Each seamstress or tailor sets their own rate.

Q: Do you make any money off this blog?

A: Nope. Sometimes you might see ads at the bottom of a page, but that’s because I’m too cheap to pay for the upgraded version of WordPress.

Sheer Striped Chemise a la Reine

My next project is something I’ve been planning for a while, but only have about a month left to finish!

More than a year ago I bookmarked the painting “Portrait of a Lady with a Book, Next to a River Source” by Antoine Vestier, from about 1785.

445px-Antoine_vestier_-_retrato_de_For the Rite of Spring Ball our Hopeless Romantics group is turning into “Our Favorite Things.” We are doing a “Girls in White Dresses with Blue Satin Sashes” theme for April. This dress is perfect, but now I’m running out of time!

To recreate the outfit I will be wearing a cotton voile chemise a la reine, and a sheer striped silk overdress.

I had a hard time finding the right sheer fabric. I found many fabrics where the stripes were much too wide, or much too thin, and most of them were synthetic. I finally found a 1 inch wide striped sheer silk organza in a nice ivory color.

IMG_3551I am in the process of draping the voile. I studied a lot of blogs, and Nora Waugh’s pattern, but will be making my dress according to what makes sense to me (translation: what’s the easiest way), and combining construction ideas from various dresses.


DIY Oberyn Martell-inspired Costume

I had a number of months notice for the recent Game of Thrones wine-tasting event, so I was able to sew my dress from scratch. I had a little less notice for my husband’s outfit, since he never goes with me to costumed events, but he was swayed by the wine and cheese. Given the time crunch, I had to get creative about upcycling some items into a costume inspired by Oberyn Martell.

I chose the Prince because essentially he wears a very fancy bathrobe. That is easier to fit than some of the more tailored things worn by the other characters, and definitely a lot easier to make than armor.

martellI needed 3 main pieces: a yellow robe, orange shirt, and snakeskin belt. I decided to buy mundane clothing as a base and modify them. Given that my husband probably intended to only wear the outfit once, I did not want to put a huge amount of time and money into it.

I did not have time to go hunting in brick-and-mortar thrift stores, so I went to the world’s largest garage sale – eBay. Although most of the gold bathrobes were very thin polyester “silk” robes, or heavy terrycloth toweling robes, I got lucky and found something in between. I purchased a gold patterned satin robe that was lined with fleece (perfect for the cold wine cellars).  Here it is before I started cutting into it.

IMG_3780It was a little shinier than I wanted, but the Prince does wear some shiny things.

martell2I also purchased a men’s orange dress shirt with a standing collar, and a snakeskin-print leather belt.

The changes I made:

  1. I removed the collar and belt of the robe, and cut the neckline down to expose more chest!
  2. I put wide gold contrast bands around the opening of the robe and the cuffs using leftover taffeta from my gown.
  3. I cut off some of the orange shirt’s collar, and also widened the neckline into a V.
  4. I put skinny gold contrast bands around the opening of the shirt. Since the sleeves and bottom of the shirt were not going to show, I left all the modern plastic buttons on.
  5. I purchased iron-on embroidered patches reminiscent of the sun patches on Oberyn’s robe, and placed 10 of them down the front and on the sleeves of the robe.
  6. I sewed gold buttons onto each of the patches.

DSCN1413I originally planned on removing the cuffs and making the sleeves more fitted, in order to more closely resemble Oberyn’s robe, but my husband said he wanted to keep the cuffs and baggy sleeves. He also asked for the buttons to be on each patch, while the TV version has the metal stud embellishments on some of the embroidery only.DSCN1478 If this was a more serious costume, I think leggings and boots would have been more appropriate, but again, it didn’t make sense to buy boots for a one-time use. Besides, my husband likes to dress casually, and having him wear his own shoes and pants with a fancy robe seemed like a good compromise.

My costs went up because I had to pay shipping for everything, but if you have the time to go thrift-shop hunting you may be able to get a better deal. Nearly everything is from eBay.

  • Heavy gold robe: $19.99 + $9.50 shipping
  • 10 embroidered patches: $15.70 + $2.75 shipping
  • Orange button-down shirt: $6.00 + $3.00 shipping
  • Real leather (but faux snakeskin) belt: $5.95 + $0 shipping
  • Buttons: from the stash

Total: $62.89

Easy 1830s Hair! (Plus Instructions)

Last week I went to a PEERS ball set in the 1830s/1840s: the Dances of Mystery and Imagination, hosted by Edgar Allen Poe.

The Hopeless Romantics had a mini-reunion there. Last time I wore my 1830s gown I had a full wig, which looked nice, but was very warm.

This time, I decided to make a new hairpiece and incorporate a raven, in honor of Mr. Poe. I built everything on a headband, so it was very easy to put on and take off. (I also got a lot of amused cackling when I took my hair off at the ball to show everyone what looked like fancy earmuffs!)  The headband made it much easier to get dressed, and to get in and out of a car.

IMG_3883As you can see, the raven has the stylish 1830s Apollo knots!

IMG_3885IMG_3880IMG_3879 I did not take any photos of the construction process, but I hope it’s easy to visualize.

1. I wrapped a headband with black velvet ribbon, and sewed the ends in place.

2. I wired the feet of a dollar store Halloween decoration raven to the middle of the headband.

3. I made 2 fake hair buns. Each one consisted of a long braid that was coiled into a cinnamon bun shape, sewn into place, then covered with a chignon hairnet for security. (I used “Sassy Collection” brand fake braid hair from Sally Beauty Supply because it is cheap and decently realistic for the price).

4. I hotglued (yes glued) the buns onto each side of the hairband.

5. I hotglued some flowers to cover the rest of the hairband.

6. I did some more squiggles of hot glue on the inside of the hairband and buns. Once dry, the rubbery texture provides a little more grip.

7. I gave the raven a little hairstyle by pinning 2 loops of velvet ribbon and a fake flower into his foam head.

Fast, easy, and pretty.

I think Mr. Poe approves, sort of.


Plus it’s shareable hair! Here is Sam, from, looking like a pretty pretty princess.


More Game of Thrones Photos at the Castello di Amorosa

Last week I posted photos of my Kings Landing Dress, but here are some more pictures from the GBACG Game of Thrones wine-tasting event at the Castello di Amorosa.

The castle is gorgeous! Here is an interior courtyard. I wish I remembered to take more exterior shots, but I focused on the costumes since this is my second time to the castle.

DSCN1481This is looking down from the entrance to the castle.

DSCN1405We turned around to take a photo near the gate.

DSCN1399Kim and David had very nice matching outfits.

DSCN1403Aimee had a beautiful dress with unicorn embroidery!

DSCN1433These ladies had amazing hair!

DSCN1461Jean and Christopher are such a cute couple.DSCN1424  Gunther posed in the dungeons.DSCN1448And ran into an Ellaria Sand in one of the cask rooms.

DSCN1459Ann as Brienne was marvelous. DSCN1463We felt a chill from the White Walker.DSCN1467

There were lovely frescoes in the castle.DSCN1441The doorways varied in size.

DSCN1479I loved the architectural details.

DSCN1471And there were lots of nice long corridors.



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