A Victorian-Inspired Costume, Just Because

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It is in this post that you will all come to find out that I am an unreliable blogger/narrator at best, a blatant hypocrite at worst. For all my “Getting Started” posts that wax poetic on beginner-friendly techniques and easing into the art of sewing, I took a more Baptism-by-fire approach to my own craft.

I’m not sure what possessed me. I’m really not. I’d sewn off and on for years, completing the occasional simple skirt, pajama pant, or costume here and there, but it was not until one fateful Halloween and one steampunk-looking getup way outside my comfort zone that I dove headfirst into seriously sewing. My occasional hobby blossomed into obsession because of this little project.

Victorian Dress Trunk

This project was my therapy. I was living in my very first big girl apartment alone (except for my assistant dressmaker, Jade, pictured in one of the shots below) in Birmingham, Alabama during the fall of 2014. My husband was on the other side of the world, and man was I depressed. My family lived about 45 minutes away, and I was working a full-time job I despised where I felt that my soul and creativity were being slowly crushed and my mental health was deteriorating.

Though the main issue stemmed from the corporate office and most of my coworkers were delightful people, there were one or two problematic individuals in my office whose interactions genuinely made me feel sick to my stomach. In general, the idea of a root canal was preferable to coming into work each day. I was also working a part-time job as a social media manager for someone I’ll describe as a “religious leader” whose toxic rhetoric was not not at all in line with my personal beliefs—spiritual, social, political or otherwise. Suffice it to say, my outlook was… not good.

Victorian Dress Top Hat

When the month of October rolled around, my spirits lifted a bit. I’ve always loved fall, and I’ve always loved Halloween. This time of change has always made me feel like maybe there is just a little bit of magic in the world, and that we just have to harness it to create something lovely to counteract the not-so-lovely. Plus, this time of year, the searing Southern heat lifts enough for one to get a little fancy with textiles: layers and suede and velvet and heavy brocades, oh my! It’s the stuff of dreams. And I decided that, this year, though I had no real plans for October 31st yet, I was going to treat myself to something grand, frothy, and superfluous. I found my dream costume: Simplicity 1819. It was big! It was eccentric! It was far beyond the short reach of my skill level because I barely knew how to adjust the stitch length on my sewing machine at the time! And it was going to be mine, so help me.

Victorian Cat

It was a great undertaking for many reasons. First, this costume consists of four pieces: a sizable, floor-length skirt, an underbust corset, a stretch knit top, and a bolero jacket. Each piece presented one or more hurdle completely foreign to a novice sewist. The skirt? Sewing with slippery satin, installing a zipper, creating uniform pleats for the front “apron” and back bustle, creating a (very long) ruffle. The top? Sewing with stretch fabric, and dual layers, no less. I’d neither cut nor put a needle to the stuff. The jacket? Well, let’s just say trying to sew a slippery satin lining to velvet for the first time made me cry a little bit, and then there was that trim to attach. The corset? You know—corset. What the heck was boning? Grommets?? I owe a very sweet Joann Fabrics associate a huge shoutout for spending about an hour walking me through various notions, but sadly, I never caught her name.

Victorian Corset Back

For a gal who had no idea what she was doing and diligently sewed her exhausted little heart out in the evenings after work, I must say I am pretty pleased with the job I did on this piece, even four years later. There are still some things I keep saying I’d like to redo, but all in all this project holds a special place in my heart as one of my favorites, as silly as it is in all its crimson costume satin glory (there are eight yards worth of it, by the way). And even though I blew the majority of my puny fresh-out-of-college paycheck on odds and ends to make it, I am forever grateful to myself for taking that month of self-care to make something truly absurd to the outsider just to make myself feel luxurious, even if for one All Hallow’s Eve.

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