Where is my fairy godmother?

Where is my fairy godmother?

Cinderella had it made when it came to preparing for a ball. Her fairy godmother shows up and POOF, she is ready to go.

We live in a day and age that we take for granted that we can go to a store and purchase ready made clothes to wear.  Most of us do not have anything custom made for us, unless we sew and make our own clothes.  You can go to the store or even shop on line, and rarely think twice about having something altered to fit us better.  This is the opposite of what it was like to purchase clothes in Jane Austen’s time.

As I am getting ready to attend the JASNA’s AGM in October, I tried to decide what I would do for a proper gown to wear to the ball on Saturday night of the event.  If my mom was still living in Utah, I would have turned to her for assistance, but she is in Washington, and it is hard to do the work on the gown over the phone.

My next alternative was to turn to my dear friend, adopted mother, and editor, Pat Weston.  In her younger years, Pat was a costume creator for several groups in California and she still does a lot of sewing. And now I am getting a taste of what ladies in the 1800’s must have gone through.

The first step was to decide on a style.  We looked at photos of gowns and patterns that Pat had.  This would be equivalent to Elizabeth Bennet looking at fashion plates. We found a design which would be fitting for my… large… body (which is also strangely proportioned, having a very short torso).  Ok, ok, I am obese, and not all styles would be flattering on me.

Then came the process of finding the fabric.  It takes a lot more fabric to make a gown from the era than clothing we wear today.  We went to a place that is pretty much like a warehouse of fabric, such as what would have happened in the era.  The place we went also carries wider fabrics, which was helpful.

After the purchase of the fabric, we went to Pat’s house, where she took measurements.  As we decided to take parts from 2 different gowns, Pat had to make a paper pattern to the proper size.

Pat then cut out the lining.  I then had to go for a fitting. She made certain that the lining was the proper size and any changes that would be needed were noted.

Before leaving my fitting, I picked out ribbon which would be used for the gown.  Yes, Elizabeth Ann West, I got to pick out ribbon for my ball gown.  Made me giggle at doing such a thing.

Pat commented to another friend of ours, Sharon, that her hands can’t do the fine work such as sewing on seed pearls or fine embroidery, as was done on gowns from the period. Both Pat and Sharon are in their 70’s, by the way.  Sharon does a lot of stitchwork, as she hand stitches quilts, and is very fast and good at the work.  Sharon volunteered to do the fine detail work on my gown.

At the moment, Pat has cut out the main fabric and is in the process of sewing everything together.  I will have to have at least one more fitting, perhaps two more.  Then Sharon will work on the fine detail work.

In the end, I will have a one of a kind gown, made to fit me, to wear to the ball.  The entire process has been interesting, and makes me understand what Jane Austen would have gone through to have a gown made.  It has given me a greater appreciation and understanding to how much work seamstresses had to do, and realize just how under appreciated and under paid they were during the 1800’s.

Once the gown is finished, I will post photos of me wearing it. Being a jewelry maker, I have taken vintage costume jewelry pieces and custom made me some pieces to wear.  The only problems I still have are: 1) my hair is too short to put up in a proper style from the period, and 2) Darcy’s tux does not fit well over his service dog vest.  I need to work on his outfit a little more.  Perhaps a simple cravat will make all the difference (haha).

Looking forward to meeting many of you at the AGM.


18 Responses to Where is my fairy godmother?

  1. Awesome news, Melanie! I’m so happy you found a way to create a ballgown! I know how tough it is to find a Regency gown to fit a voluptuous woman wink wink but it is worth it. Dressing up is wonderful fun. I can’t wait to see your gown, and to meet you. Only a little over a month away!!

  2. You have my admiration and respect for undertaking this project. I doubt I will ever be motivated again to do something like this. My sewing days are in the past. Good luck. Would like to see photos, though.

  3. A saucy turban, my dear, is what you need, constructed from the leftover bits of fabric and trimmings from your dress. And to all this, we must add at least one sweeping ostrich feather – if not two – for added stature. Don’t forget the slippers, they are a must for dancing. If you need some gloves, I would be happy to loan you mine. A fan is, of course, a decidedly handsome and convenient accessory, but only if you have a reticule to tuck it away when it isn’t needed. Yes, a fairy godmother would come in handy!

  4. I’ll bet you’ll look awesome! I made my own gown, which turned out okay, except for the huge gap in the back. I also found one at the thrift store for $2.50. Luckily, it’s much more attractive than the one I made.

  5. I feel your pain. My mother was a seamstress growing up and she made things for me fairly regularly. I got poked with pins a lot! And of course they would never fit the way I wanted them to. My mother preferred everything to be loose, and I, well, didn’t. 🙂

  6. I feel your pain about getting clothes to fit an odd shaped body… I have a neighbor who does custom sewing.. she helps a lot.. even though I sew I can’t fit myself.. I bet the gown will be lovely and I’m looking forward to seeing it. I hope you have a great time at the ball.


  7. Melanie I love that you are working on your dress and I vote for the cravat! Looking forward to your pictures.

  8. What color did you decide on? I have been debating whether I should have a gown for the ball. Is it a requirement? I can’t wait to see you at AGM!

  9. My sewing skills end at sewing up my knitted and crocheted baby clothes and sewing buttons on. My Mum was the expert – she made all my clothes and smocked bridesmaid dresses for both my brothers and my wedding. I remember a favourite from the 70’s was a dress with a v-neck and a waterfall frill down the front – I had one in multi-colour silk and loved it! She also made clothes for my daughter and curtains for all the family. Unfortunately she is 86 now and has very limited sight but I will never forget those clothes! I hope you have a fabulous time and look forward to seeing the photos

  10. It all sounds so much fun (well, except the fittings!) and I cannot wait to see you in your new gown. For the hair, have you though of buying a really good hair piece from a wig store/wig magazine. They even have human hair pieces and you might be able to slick your hair back with a little gel and wear a nice chignon or wiglet. Just saying! Here’s a link to a wig catalog. Do not know it it will work but you can find a lot on google.


  11. i made my daughter’s wedding gown complete with a zillion pearls sewn on the bodice. That was the last thing I will ever sew. Groan… I am also looking forward to seeing your pictures. 🙂

  12. Wish I was going! Have an amazing time! I can’t wait to see your pictures! What are you doing for headgear?

    I rarely talk about it, but I wanted to major in costume design in college. I was dissuaded by concerned parents. I LOVE sewing and rarely get to do it anymore but for dress up costumes and needlework. Now I am in Europe I’m seriously thinking about the Jane Austen festival in Bath next year. Maybe I’ll get the chance to try my hand at Regency garb (seriously, it should be easier than my tradition milieu – the Renaissance).

    So excited for and jealous of you all! Great post!

    • I have a very pretty hair clip, and pins with faux pearls. Being inside, don’t think a bonnet would work.

      You are a wonder woman. Mom, moving across the world, writing, and talented seamstress.

  13. My grandmother was a seamstress and used to make special outfits for me, and I do needlework, so I can appreciate the time and effort needed to make a gown. One day I’ll get to a regency event. Enjoy!

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