Posted by Edelweiss Patterns on December 8, 2013
The 1950s “Sisters” Costume from White Christmas
“Sisters, sisters, there were never such devoted sisters…” So sang Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen (albeit with dubbed lyrics), in the classic Irving Berlin musical that was adapted to the screen in 1954 –White Christmas. Amidst a glittering room their voices mingled with the sound of the lilting orchestra music, the swishing of their crinoline petticoats, and the taps of their bejeweled high heels. Enormous feathery fans and coiffed hairdos jazzed up the scene, but the real stars of the show were those glorious creations they wore – the blue lace 1950s dresses designed by none other than the legendary Edith Head (one of my favorite costume designers of all times).
For decades this film has been watched again and again at Christmas time, and it undoubtedly owes much of its success to the breathtaking costumes that Edith Head designed. And my favorite outfit out of all the costumes in the film is the brilliant blue dress worn by Rosemary Clooney (and Vera Ellen). And it was this dress that I was determined to recreate.
The style itself is not so uncommon for a 1950s party dress – it features a strapless sweetheart-necked bodice overlaid with lace, and a full, mid-calf length skirt topped with an overlay of gathered tulle. What really made the costumes stand out was the fabulous shade of blue that Edith Head chose and the dazzling sparkles on the lace overlay and skirt.
The neck line was rather high, with scalloped lace edging finishing it off in an almost mandarin collar shape. I copied the look by choosing a lace that had scalloped edging on the selvage, then clipping the edging off and applying it to the neckline very carefully.
I trimmed the waistline with the same double sash effect used in the movie, with both sashes hemmed diagonally as Edith Head’s designs were.
This style of dress always looks best when worn with a crinoline petticoat under the skirt for fulness!
~ The Design ~
Edith Head’s original sketch for Rosemary Clooney’s blue dress.
As you can see from Edith Head’s original costume sketch, the design changed slightly from the initial drawing to the final product. The back sash/bow was omitted and was replaced by the two smaller sashes hanging from the skirt front. The lace overlay was not made as a separate bolero but instead was used to cover the entire bodice. Both the sleeves and skirt were shortened, but the general silhouette remained overall the same. You just can’t top a 1950s dress made with a fitted bodice, gigantic skirt, and gorgeous fabrics!
Because I am used to making my own patterns, I more or less made up the design as I went along. So there is no pattern on the market for this costume I sewed. I began by sewing the bodice foundation of blue crepe-back satin before attaching the lace to complete the top. The skirt was fairly easy to sew, but I’ll admit that the lace neckline took quite a bit of work! And while I absolutely love this finished version, I think the pattern drafted would work just as well for any other 1950s dress in a different color or material, not just as a White Christmas movie replica. So someday I hope to use the design again!
Until then, I will have to think of excuses to wear this Christmas costume and continue to watch White Christmas all year long!
~ Note: The original movie costume worn by Rosemary Clooney was recently rediscovered by a museum, and I previously blogged about this lovely costume here. ~
So to all of you who are getting ready for Christmas, I hope you have the most wonderful Christmas season ever! May your days be merry and bright, and may all your Christmases be white…
Posted by Edelweiss Patterns on November 23, 2013
Imagine a classic Christmas film that captures the charm of the English countryside, the message of It’s a Wonderful Life, the costumes of an 1880s period drama, and the superb acting of a BBC production… Well, imagine no longer, because as of this weekend such a film actually exists in the theaters! (It is not very often that I am impressed by any movie that comes out, but this one is certainly on my list of favorites after just two times of watching it.)
Based on the novel written by author Max Lucado, The Christmas Candle is a new release that was filmed in the heart of rural England and is filled with the loveliest 1880s bustle gowns and the most wonderful Christmas story! The storyline itself is a refreshing departure from so many “holiday” themed movies which have little to do with the season. It focuses on the true meaning of why we celebrate Christmas, shows a very real portrayal of life in a small English village, and highlights the work of the Salvation Army in London’s poorest neighborhoods. But amidst the ups and downs of the characters’ lives, the film remains a heartwarming Victorian tale filled with both poignant and joyful moments, with tragedy, Scriptures, miracles, and love.
Below are a few snapshots from various scenes in the film, which I hope will inspire you to go see The Christmas Candle yourself!
~The Village of Gladbury ~
~ The Christmas Candle Costumes ~
The Christmas Candle costume designer is Pam Downes, who did a fabulous job of creating late-1880s bustle dresses for the various classes of ladies in the film. Pam Downes was a wonderful choice for this period drama, as her previous projects include such notable Victorian films as Lark Rise to Candelford. But best of all, many of the movie’s costumes were supplied by Cosprop, the world-renowned costume house in England that has provided period clothing for Anne of Green Gables, Anne of Avonlea, and nearly every Jane Austen film or Victorian period drama that has come out in recent years!
The town’s elite ladies wear the most gorgeous silk and velvet bustle gowns, trimmed with lacy jabots, velvet ribbons and beaded motifs, while the middle class women wear more simple, though still strikingly fitted dresses. “Leading lady” Samantha Barks appears to be quite tiny to begin with, but her corsets must have been so tight during filming that I’m sure it must have been a relief when the film was over! I love wearing corsets myself, but on a couple of her costumes you can tell that she was very tightly-laced. The pictures below do not do justice to the true detail of the gowns, so to see what I’m talking about you’ll have to go watch the film in the theater!
Blue, blue, and more blue!
It is noteworthy to mention that the leading actress (Samantha Barks) wears nothing but various shades of blue during the entire film, until the very last scene where she wears a lovely cranberry red dress! Every scene prior to this shows slate blue, navy blue, greyish blue, or light blue. I would have liked to see more color on her clothing, but I think the change from cold to warm colors at the very end is meant to symbolize her change of heart and attitude. That’s my take, at least!
The Christmas Candle has just opened this weekend in the theaters (November 22nd), so I hope you all can make time to go see it before it is gone! It is a wonderful start to this Christmas season, and I have no doubt that it will be a classic in both the world of period drama and the world of standard Christmas movies. To read more about the film you can visit the official website.
Have a wonderful week!
Posted by Edelweiss Patterns on November 17, 2013
Since the moment I found out I was going to England, my first thought was, “The Regency ball gown I make is going to have to be the most detailed costume I have ever made!” I knew that this would be one rare opportunity when there was a legitimate reason to really go “all-out” on a costume, and I also knew that some ladies sew for months on end to make their ball gowns their best outfit of the entire year. I had seen photos of the gowns at the Grand Ball that were just dripping with seed pearls, tiny ribbon flowers, and ornate embroidery. There were brightly colored silks and regal velvets, flowing batiste gowns and frothy lace overlays. Some were fashioned from yards of silk tulle, and hand embroidered with every trim imaginable. So since I didn’t want to be underdressed for the occasion (goodness, no!), I set right to work in designing a gown that would ultimately take eight months (on and off) of hand sewing to complete. And yes, I sewed every single stitch, seam, and flower by hand! This dress did not come within ten feet of my sewing machine, and all interior seams were finished by hand stitching as well, whether French seams or overcasting.
I knew I wanted something really elaborate, so I took my inspiration from fashion plates and dresses such as these that range from circa 1818-1822. I decided that I would make puffy sleeves with lots of detail, trimmed with gathered English netting lace trim at the sleeve hem. The bodice would be puffed and smocked in the same way that the sleeve was, and the skirt would be overlaid with ivory lace to the mid-calf. From below there the silk underskirt would be trimmed with dozens of ribbon roses, and swags of gathered satin ribbon. A wide, peach ribbon would tie directly under the empire waist line, and there would be gold and pearl accents throughout. Over all, I wanted the feel of the gown to be sumptuously elegant, yet with a sweetness to it to distinguish it from anything that “Caroline Bingley” would have worn. Meticulous embellishments and creme de la creme materials? Yes! Garish colors and gaudy trims? No.
Once I had my materials chosen and ready to go, I began by drafting the sleeve pattern piece which I knew I wanted to ornament with puffy “smocking” of sorts that was really just hand-stitched circular gathers laid out in a honeycomb pattern. In between each triangular “smocked” portion I sewed an ivory pearl to add some sparkle and interest to the design.
Once this initial embellishment was done, I could then French seam the sleeve side seam and sew the sleeve binding on.
After months of using up my spare time in the evenings to hand sew this garment, the pieces were all finally in one piece and all that remained was to trim it. Using yards of ivory satin ribbon that was gathered by hand to resemble a double-ruffle, I created a swag that mirrored the lower curve of the lace overlay. In even intervals in between each curve, I stitched one of the hand-sewn ribbon flowers, sincerely hoping that the flowers would stay in place while I was dancing!
Once all the ribbons and roses were attached to the lower edge of the garment, I proceded to trim the bodice of the dress – because I just couldn’t wear a “plain” dress to the ball!
So the neckline was spruced up by a panel of English netting lace at the neck front, ribbon flowers were added to the shoulders, and peach ribbon cockades at the back shoulder seam… At this point the gown began to look like an elaborate wedding cake!
After hemming the dress with tiny hand stitches, I then applied a lovely delicate peach Venise style lace trim. I had not intended to use this trim for the gown, but I already had it in my “stash” of trims and it matched perfectly.
Notice the two rows of peach pearls stitched down the side back seams!
When at last the gown was completed, I laid it carefully on my sewing table so that it could remain wrinkle-free and stress-free until the last possible minute when I would pack it. I had a special compartment in my suitcase where it was stored with other soft items, and I carried it on the plane with me when I flew off to the UK because there was just no way I was going to let this gown out of my sight! After all, I had put literally hundreds of hours into sewing it, so the last thing I was going to do was risk losing it.
At last the evening arrived when I was finally going to wear this dainty creation! In my hotel room in Bath, I could hardly believe that I was truly going to the grand Regency ball at the very Assembly Rooms that Jane Austen wrote of in her novels. Gold slippers and a Swarovski crystal tiara topped off the ensemble, and of course no Regency outfit would be complete without long, ivory gloves.
From the moment we stepped into the horse-drawn carriage to be taken to the ball (because one doesn’t arrive at a ball by car, for heaven’s sake!), it truly felt as if we had stepped into a Jane Austen Netherfield Ball, with a hint of “Cinderella” thrown in for good measure. There we were in our long gloves, tiaras, and ball gowns, sitting in an old fashioned carriage that was parading through the historic streets of Bath. Everywhere we went I heard little girls squealing, “Mommy, look!” As much as it was a little girl’s dream evening, it was very much for real and very much for grown adults who were still sufficiently sentimental enough to believe that an evening like this was not to be relegated to storybooks.
The ball went off without a hitch, and the dress was perfectly wonderful to dance in. I had been concerned that the flowers might get pulled out of shape, but everything was marvelous and the gown was quite easy to move about in.
This was the event I had thought of all those long evenings of hand sewing a seam, or of intricately making dozens of flowers! And I was glad that I had put so much work into it. Lots of folks commented on my dress, and a couple of people said I had the nicest dress in the room. I’m not sure about that, but I think it was in the top two or three as far as detail goes. (Most the other ball gowns were much simpler and less trimmed.)
From seven pm until midnight we danced and danced and danced, having so much fun that I wanted to stay and never leave. We skipped through the same English country dances that Lydia did in Pride & Prejudice, dined in the same room where Miss Elliot attended a concert in the 1995 version of Persuasion, and enjoyed our ball in the same room that Jane Austen’s heroine did in Northanger Abbey. It was glorious! (Here is a video that contains dancing from that evening in the middle of the video, and there’s a much longer video clip of the dress in action on the Edelweiss Facebook page.)
The food was sumptuous, the live string orchestra was fabulous, and the whole atmosphere was more elegant than any wedding I’ve ever attended. And I danced every dance except one! Oh, it was such fun. The long hours of sewing definitely paid off in this spectacular evening! When midnight came and it was time to go, I reluctantly bid “farewell” to the most beautiful occasion I’d ever been to… (My videos here and here have some dancing from the evening.)
My gown now lays in my sewing room, carefully stored for years to come. But my ball gown days are far from over! Having been invited to a Victorian Masquerade ball at the start of the holiday season, I will soon be going to another grand and glorious occasion right here in my own state! But this time, I won’t have to sew my gown from scratch – I’ll be wearing the red velvet ball gown that I stitched last year for Christmas. And speaking of which, I’d better go put some last minute touches on it!
Happy, happy sewing,