Night Dress Construction

I have to blame this dress on Jen Thompson. Yes, I hold her personally responsible. She started researching Victorian Fancy Dress (outfits Victorians wore to costume parties), some of which are adorable, some are completely bizarre, but they’re all charming! Her Telegraph dress is fantastic and inspired several of us to make Fancy Dress outfits of our own. The Night was a fairly common theme, but it really attracted me with all the various possibilities and motifs that could be used creatively. The theme was sealed when I found a gorgeous chiffon, navy sari with silver spangles and embroidery on ebay – perfect for a “night” themed Victorian Fancy Dress outfit!


My corset was made for me by Carol Lancet, a lovely woman and talented costumer for tv & film here in LA. Since I tried and semi-failed at my own Victorian gored corset, I’ve since had better success at gored corsets and will attempt again. But for this project, I don’t have time so I’m going with Carol’s corset, which fits like a dream.


The whole outfit was inspired by the sari from ebay, and the blue of that sari has a slightly purple-tint. Then I went scavenging through the stash to see what else I could use. About half my dark blues were too green and the other half worked well. The bodice is of a scrap of blue velvet I had from an old doll project. The blue sash I made for the King Louis suit left about 1/2 yard as an alternate bodice fabric. With the sari for the overskirt drape, that just left me with the underskirt.

The trim is a mish-mash of found, bought, and stash items. I bought two beaded trims, one in crystals to edge the bodice top & bottom, and a longer diamond shaped beads to edge the sari drape. I have some silver bullion pieces I might use, as well as some Czech silver gimp. We’ll see what ends up on it at the end!

The Skirts

The random spangles on the sari made me want to incorporate constellations into the gown in some way. At first I thought of painting or couching silver cord between the sari spangles but the sari is very sheer and I think it would make it drape oddly. So then I thought about the underskirt. As soon as my mind added constellations to the underskirt, I wanted to find a way to grade the color on the bottom 6″ from navy through pink to orange, like a sunset. I scoured downtown and the high-end trade stores around La Brea and La Cienega but no luck. My failures at dying are legend, and after many discussions with two professional fiber dye-ers I know, gave up the idea before causing myself unendurable grief. The replacement idea, courtesy of my daughter’s ballet class, was to layer tulle! Coral, salmon, and navy with a layer of sparkled tulle thrown in… it should be great! *fingers crossed*

It, of course, turned out to be not as simple as all that. The tulle layering went fine, attached to a short skirt base from the blue faille leftover from the King sash, but I tried several methods for getting the constellation images on the top layer of tulle. Nothing doing. Painting and gluing just turned messy and not visible enough. I found some poly organza with hologram dots in different sizes that appealed to me more than the sparkle tulle (the only color I could find that might work was black with slightly reddish glitter) and the organza is a more solid surface than tulle for the constellation figures. Again, paint, glue, glitter pens, paint pens, glued glitter and glass beads… nothing worked! ARGH! So frustrating. A last-second brainstorm led me looking through my old art supplies for a silver paint pen, but what I found was my Prismacolor pencils. Prismacolors are wax, not chalk, and the white pencil did the trick. Finally! I sketched the figures on and so far the images look pretty cool. After that, I glued silver stars within the figures where the actual constellation stars should be. Just before the weekend I was to wear it, I thought the figures weren’t really showing up well enough, so I laid the skirt out and went over the figures to make them stand out more. It worked great again! But as I’m writing this, the figures are barely visible again. The wax must flake off! Oh well… I can’t imagine where I’d get the chance to wear this again, and the star-constellations are still there.

The overskirt swag gave me fits until I finally gave in and cut the fabric. I tried to keep it in one piece so I could reuse it, but it was not looking good. I cut one rectangle to swag across the front, and edged that with the longer crystal trim. It’s pleated at the sides with wide, blue satin ribbon loops. Then the back was a rectangle tacked up in the middle to make two tails, also edged in the crystal trim. and then the last piece made a little pleated U-shape over the tails. I stuffed some leftover navy tulle under the back tails to give it some body.


The bodice went together rather quickly out of the scrap of velvet. I had a body block already fitted over the corset for another project. I just recut the neckline and bottom edge, and added a couple of flippy box pleats into the back seams. I made it front closing with hook & eye so I could dress myself (mostly), and only lined the tails in case they flipped up.

Once the bodice was together, I was off to the races again on embellishment. My original idea was to use the embroidered sari border as a big crescent moon from my left shoulder, down and across the front to my right hip. I tried several times to get the fabric to gather and curve ok but it just never looked right. I ended up using a little of the sari border as short sleeve caps and went looking for more ideas. I put the crystal trim along the top edge, then took it off later as more stuff went on. It just didn’t fit. I came across some great little silver bullion stars so I bought a dozen of them, then in the same applique book I saw these sequin disks about 3” across. I mulled it around my brain for a while then went back and bought enough disks to make all the phases of the moon. Once I started cutting up the disks and stitching the black and silver pieces together, I knew it would work. Thank God! After half the phases were stitched on, I realized two were backwards and had to come off. *eyeroll* I should have expected that kind of trouble considering the way this has gone so far! I finally got them all on, then scattered the bullion stars as the Big Dipper across the front, and Cygnus the Swan on the back tails.


Accessories came together fairly quickly after stalling on the head piece. I had my heart set on having sparkly stars on my head, but I had no luck at all finding a tiara with stars of any kind. Odd since I found images of many, MANY real diamond tiaras with a star motif. Once I pulled out my own favorite tiara, I think it will work very nicely. The wig is a curly mess, also from ebay, that I styled in an up-do, since my hair is short now. I added some star crystal hair screws here and there with the tiara and that’s done!
Two weeks before the wearing, the lady who made my tiara sent out a sale email and I got one of her MASSIVE necklaces for half price. Yay for the BLING! Other items will be my long semi-sheer white gloves from Vienna (too hot to wear), a pair of crystal bracelets bought downtown, a dark blue peacock ring I found for $10 at the mall accessory store, shiny tights, possibly silver, and blue shoes from my stock with some rhinestone star shoe clips, also from ebay. I love ebay.