Posted by Edelweiss Patterns on July 18, 2012
The Story of How I Came to Own a Little House on the Prairie TV Costume
This is a post I have been anticipating for the last 15 months! After one of the biggest surprises of my life occurred, I considered posting about this right when I first started blogging (spring of 2011), but I had been hoping to first get in touch with the actress who wore this costume for television. While I still haven’t been able to get in contact with Karen Grassle, I was able to hear from the casting director of Little House (Susan McCray), which merits sharing this story with you now!
So if you haven’t already guessed from last weeks’s post, not only was I able to photograph an actual Little House on the Prairie television costume, I actually got to wear it, too!
Moreover, I actually own it (I still can’t believe this!), and it fits me absolutely perfectly – as well as anything I sewed for myself has ever fit! This costume was hidden in someone’s private collection for a couple decades, and the owner wasn’t sure how famous the costume really was, but had been told it was a wedding dress from Little House on the Prairie.
In early 2011 this collector then sold it to an antique clothing broker who listed it online as “possibly worn on LHOTP”. After one glance at the pictures of this gown, my heart just about stopped! You see, a framed photograph of this dress has hung on my bedroom wall for years! It has been one of my favorite gowns since I was a little girl, and I had always dreamed of reproducing it. Since I have every costume from Little House practically memorized, I was able to assure the seller that it had never been worn as a wedding dress on Little House, but was in fact worn by Karen Grassle during the episode “At the End of the Rainbow“. (This was after close scrutiny of the pictures she posted online, of course, and I was astonished of how pristine the costume still looked after all these years!) The dress came complete with the original hat worn by Karen Grassle, and the only part of the costume missing was the bar pin at the throat.
And the rest is history! The dress was ordered, and I absolutely fell apart when it showed up. I couldn’t believe that after all those years the costume had been “saved” just for me and hadn’t been snatched up by a musuem. For those who are not aware of what happened to most of the Little House costumes, nearly the whole passle of them met an untimely end when the movie musuem they were housed in caught on fire and burned down a few years ago. When the show ended in the 1980s, producer Kent McCray purchased all props and costumes from the Little House wardrobe department, and eventually shipped them off to the Old Tucson Museum in Arizona. For decades they were proudly displayed for Little House fans to view, but in 1995 all the costumes housed in the museum were completely destroyed in the fire, except for four lone dresses that survived. So how this costume made it out of the Little House TV wardrobe and into the hands of a collector who didn’t know what it was, I’ll never know!
But what I do know is that I am so grateful to the Lord for this enormous surprise blessing, and it came at a time when I really needed some encouragement. When this happened I knew it was not a coincidence that I just happened to stumble upon the site where this dress was for sale right after it was listed, nor was it chance that I knew instantly where the dress was from, or that it fit me absolutely perfectly! Probably not everyone will agree with me, but I think that God was saving it for me all those years, and brought it along at just the right time. I am still blown away by this! It is neat to think that before I was born (14 years before I was born, in fact!) someone was sewing this costume to fit Karen Grassle, but someday it would fit me, too! Really amazing!
So on with the costuming details! I hardly know where to start! First of all – the fabric! This gown is constructed of a rayon satin/brocade with a lovely rose pattern woven into the material. It is a sturdy satin, not very drapy but still very pliable (quite unlike a duchesse satin).
The bodice is flat-lined with heavy white cotton duck, and the inside bodice seams are not finished (gasp!). It has very thick polyester boning (four times the thickness of Rigline boning) sewn into the bodice without casings. These “bones” as they are called stop right below the bust. The bottom of the bodice is finished with a wide facing of the satin jacquard, and the back is closed with heavy duty hooks and eyes. This gorgeous bodice is in fantastic condition and is still so sturdy!
The Venice lace inset is lined with English cotton netting. The edges of the fabrics are not finished, but haven’t frayed much all these years. This same lace is repeated down in the undersleeves. They are what you could call “false undersleeves”, since the lace only comes up far enough to meet the bottom of the satin sleeve, then is joined with cotton voile to make the rest of the undersleeve. I was quite impressed by how thick the binding at the edge of the lace sleeve is! It was sewn by hand, but I don’t know how they managed to get a needle through somethinng that feels like 6 layers of satin! Quite unusual!
The pleated organza collar is one of the only parts of the garment that show some wear. It has faded to an antique ecru/yellow color, and the zigzagged edge is a bit tattered. Over all it is still lovely, though!
And the skirt is breathtaking! It is lined with cotton batiste, and the waistband is finished with rayon petersham ribbon (couture grosgrain). This is a very fine finish for costumes and wedding gowns, so I think it shows they were making this garment to last. The main layer of the skirt is just straight with an enormous attached ruffle at the hem edge, but the overskirt has all the details. I find it really interesting that the seamstress (whoever she may be) put in two rows of ease stitching down the front of the apron/drape, when they could never be used to cinch up the overskirt. You might have noticed these in the slight ruched effect down the center front of the skirt (in the front photographs above). The stitching alone could never be strong enough to actually cinch it up, so she must have put the threads there just to add a little more character to the front of the skirt.
The only parts that I don’t think were very well constructed were the hand sewn pleats on the overskirt drape. It would appear that someone just quickly tacked these pleats by hand, but the skirt has so much weight to it that the original hand stitching is really being pulled loose. I may repair these, but up till now I’ve wanted to keep the costume in its original condition.
Okay, confession time! I wore this 1880s hat that came with the costume for my Edwardian blouse pictures (circa 1900) last June. I hate to admit it, but this hat would have been outdated by twenty years! I think the ostrich plume is large enough to hide the actual shape of the hat , and since it was the only Victorian hat I had on hand I thought it would be fine. : )
As for the photo shoot of this Little House costume, I wish I had more time to do a better job with a Victorian makeup/hair look! But you see, this was taken at the exact same time as my 1950s rose pink dress last August, so I had to jump from a 1950s ponytail into a Victorian updo, nevermind changing from one outfit to the other in a less-than-ideal public restroom! (Crinolines, corsets, and trained skirts do not make this an easy feat!) It was kind of an exhausting photo shoot, but I was so thrilled to wear this gown in the lovely Rose Gardens! I don’t know when I’ve ever felt so Victorian before. : )
But all in all, it was a wonderful experience to wear this dress, and I’m still so amazed it fits without alterations. After all, I am at least three inches shorter than Karen Grassle, but somehow our measurements were the same! (You’d have to be 35″/25″/36″ to wear this gown.)
Well, I think that’s as much excitement as I can handle for right now, but thank you all for reading this! I really appreciate every single person who reads the blog, and I hope that it is a source of encouragement! If you would be interested in seeing the inside of this costume I would be happy to share some pictures in the near future. Is this something people would like to see?
And many thanks to the Old Tucson Museum and Imavision Canada and for answering my questions and helping me research the facts for this post.
Have a wonderful, blessed week!
~ All photographs of the dress itself are the property of Katrina Casey/Edelweiss Patterns and may not be used or reproduced in any form without written permission. You may use the photo on Pinterest as long as you link back to www.edelweisspatterns.com, but these photographs are copyright Edelweiss Patterns, 2012 and may not be used in any other form. Thank you! ~
Please note: The film stills from “At the End of the Rainbow” are copyright by NBC and have been digitally remastered by Edelweiss Patterns.