Goldfish Construction

The inspiration for this dress came at the same time as the Night dress, and I was searching for materials at the same time, thinking I’d make whichever one I found the right stuff for first. I found a whole BUNCH of stuff for this, since the LA Fabric District seems to have gone through a sparkly showgirl fabric phase. I had some ideas of what I wanted, but pretty much just bought a bunch of spangled stuff in orange thinking I’d figure it out later.

Then when the Night dress gave me so much trouble, I wasn’t able to make the Goldfish for 2012. This worked out fine, since for 2012 I was much more limited on funds and already had all the materials I’d need. The basic inspiration came from a book of Victorian ballet costume sketches, which I then thought of ways to modify it as a Fancy Dress and not quite as revealing as the ballet costume.


The materials were all non-period and all outrageous! I bought a yard of netting covered in oval spangles in an abstract design of red, orange, gold and silver. I thought this looked like scales and planned to use it on the bodice. Then I found another type of net covered in multi-shade ribbons stitched on in a random manner – this looked like fins, waves, etc. and also had small silver and orange spangles as well as an embroidered and scalloped edge. I thought this would be good for a long tail or skirt swag. Lastly, I was thinking I’d make my own fin pieces with wire & cellophane, but then I found these orange net flowers in a downtown bridal favor shop. Each petal is made with a stocking type netting over a wire frame, like all those kids’ fairy wings. I didn’t know if I could get them apart without ruining them, but I picked a few just in case.

The Skirts

I really liked the shape and ease of the tulle skirts for the Night dress, and had ordered tulle at the same time for this in green, aqua and cornflower. I thought I could layer the colors to look like water, but hadn’t planned much after that.

WHen I started finally working on the goldfish, I laid out the tulle, cut a wavy edge on all of it, staggered the waves and the lengths to get some variation and flow of colors, and that was that! Super easy. Hmmmm, it’s kinda sheer, even with 6 layers goin’ on. Then I was working on another project with some other fabrics and realized the cornflower blue silk tussah I was working with would also look great under the tulle! I had enough to spare so I made a 6 gored skirt with a bias-bound wavy hem and it worked perfectly.

But it still needed something. Just a little something sparkly to balance out the sheer obnoxiousness of the upper half. I had some ideas but put them off until I had everything else done. It was wearable as-is and I didn’t want to run out of time. As it turned out, I had a day to spare before wearing it so I had the chance to make some goldfish shapes from my leftover sparkly scraps – the bodies were the spangled scales, the finds were the tulle with ribbons – and then I added a few “water movement” likes in strings of blue sequins. With the tulle layers over it, they’re not super obvious at first glance, but it was always a fun reaction when anyone noticed they were there. I just love how it came out!


The bodice was a bit of trouble in that it didn’t start to look like it was coming together until it was almost done. This was also all out of fabrics that could not be run through a machine at all. So I started with an orange low-sheen satin to make a base bodice shape with a zipper center-back. Then I started draping the scale fabric onto it and just started hand-sewing it wherever it seemed it needed it! It also couldn’t be cut with scissors, per se, so I was stitching then pulling and running an exacto along where it needed to be cut. All of this was done draped on my dress dummy, so I definitely sacrificed my back & shoulders on this one!

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