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Colonial dress for cellist

the mender | Posted in Patterns on

Help, I need to make a reasonably authentic-looking, fairly fancy Colonial dress that I can play my cello in for some gigs in the early fall.  Does any one have any advice, thoughts, pattern numbers…?  I am an advanced alterer but have not made anything from scratch since my nieces outgrew Halloween costumes 5 years ago.  Thanks!


  1. User avater
    CostumerVal | | #1

    Hi Mender,  I've got a couple of ideas.  I do some costuming and can refer you to the local library to view Patterns for Theatrical Costumes by Katherine Strand Holkeboer.  The book has hundreds of 1/4 scale patterns for the copying.  There are no seam allowances or closures, facings, pockets and stuff.  So when I grade them up I add whatever I want and then put in the s.a. with a compass.

    For ideas on what to add to the pattern, (trims, closures, overskirts) I would have to say that Patterns of Fashion by Janet Arnold is the bible here.  The book is extremely detailed drawings and 1/8" patterns of museum pieces from the period.  Now obviously the museum gown wont fit anyone under 300 years old.  So if you want an exact replica you need to grade and fit the period pattern and also make the corsets to shape your body into the period shape.  The library book is based on the current body shape and sizes.  Not sure if the library has Patterns of Fashion.  I bought my copy on amazon.

    Simplicity patterns has the best costume selection.  I made 4092 for the Wardrobe in Beauty and the Beast. (bought the pattern for 99 cents)  Notice on the photo that the shoulder has been moved on the model wearing the gown?  Yea, had to do that.  As an alterations expert it should be a piece of cake pattern for you.  There's a center back zipper so you wont have to lace up a stomacher.   I also made this design for my niece's barbie doll.  Instead of an underskirt I made tight pants from the same fabric as the "stomacher" it was really cool.

    1. the mender | | #2

      Hi CostumerVal,

      Thanks for all of the good information.  I looked at the Simplicity patterns at my local Joann's.  They did not have my size in stock in #4092 but #3723 seems to fit the bill, too.  Those full skirts should be fine for the cello posture--probably can't do hoops--brings to mind an old Carole Burnett routine with her sitting down and the hoops overwhelming her!!  I will check out those books as well for color and embellishment ideas.  If appropriate, I have a lovely poly-wool crepe in a rich navy blue that has been in my stash for years that I might use for the bodice and sleeves and drapes, maybe using a brocade of some sort for the underskirt area. I also have some gray silk that I have been hoarding.  Too plain?  Every picture I see seems to show a fair amount of lace--is it essential?  Would fabric ruffles be in character instead?   Thanks again! The Mender

      1. User avater
        CostumerVal | | #4

        The gray silk and blue wool sound awesome!  Maybe think about couching some matching blue silk ribbon in a crosshatch on the gray silk stomacher.  Maybe throw in 2-3 red rosettes at the corners for a flash of color.....oo la la

        Anyway, community theater does things on the cheap.  I substitute a pale sheer fabric for lace.  I use the built in designs on the machine to add to the edges of the sheer for a lace effect if I'm not in a time crunch.  Use water soluble stabilizer, it works great.   Definately ditch the hoops!  If you want the period hips, you can make a crescent pillow that ties around the waist, called a hip roll.  I only use a strip of the good fabric in the underskirt front.  The rest is whatever I found on the dollar rack, just hem it a little shorter than the overskirt.  

        One trim I see over and over on antiques and I copy regularly, is the self fabric ruched ribbon.  Depending on the fabric I either sew a tube or serge both edges and finger pleat while I sew it around the edges of a garment.  Dont overlook the yarn department at the craft store.  The new ribbon yarn for knitting scarves couches really well and makes great bobbin work.

        1. the mender | | #5

          Hey CostumerVal:

          YOU are a pro!! This is really helpful.  Since this is going to be a working outfit and will need to be cleaned periodically, I think the self-ruching or ruffling may be smart. I am also thinking of making the underskirt a separate garment all together.   Big full "cello-friendly" skirts are useful.  As an "out of the box" thought, do you think that the bodice/drapes/sleeve unit could be fashioned as a sort of front closing jacket?  Or is that just too far away from the spirit of the time? I am thinking about comfort and ease of playing.......   Thanks!  The Mender

          1. User avater
            CostumerVal | | #6

            In reviewing Janet Arnolds book, all the gowns were front closing.  The stomacher laced to eyelets in the side seam or across the front.  Use a separating zipper at the front seam of the jacket/stomacher.  Use the lapped technique and put ruching over the lap.  The antiques have small curtain rings sewn on the underside of the overskirt with string through them.  They draw up like a roman shade.  Cool huh?

            4092 is a 2 piece.  The underskirt is an elastic waistband, the top has boning which is sewn in channels in the first 2 layers.  A comfy cotton T is a nice inside lining, I used some cheap fabric in the interlining.  Understitch the seam allowance so it doesn't roll to the outside.   You are going to have so much fun!

  2. Ralphetta | | #3

    You said colonial, but about what year are you thinking?  It would make a difference as to which style, trim, you would want to use if you want to be very authentic.  I can't tell from looking at those two patterns you mentioned, because they could cover a pretty big range historically.  Nothing says you have to stay "married" to whatever year you chose, but it seems to make things easier for me to plan and make decisions if I go after a specific time rather than something generic.  It just makes it easier to research, I think.  One thing I always found helpful was that once you had a date in mind, it was safe to assume that some styles, etc. were still worn, but to watch out and not use things that hadn't come into style at that time.

    Edited 5/15/2007 7:01 pm ET by Ralphetta

    1. the mender | | #7

      Hi Ralphetta,

      NO kidding--"Colonial" is really a broad term.  I think that for this application, something that evokes the general period is probably fine.  Seems like so many of the readymade costumes are either barwench or pioneer woman.  I envision a sort of French-inspired dressy frock that might have been worn to play chamber music at Monticello, or at least be served dinner there, not doing the serving!  Thanks for the observations! The Mender

      1. Teaf5 | | #8

        While you are planning your costume, don't forget to think about the temperature you usually have onstage! In theatrical productions, we often have to accomplish the "heavy period fabric look" with very lightweight, modern fabrics because the lights make the stage area so warm, and many of the theatres have old, barely functioning air conditioning systems. In contrast, for the newer theatres with the heavy a/c, the performers need underlayers to keep from freezing during a long performance!

        1. the mender | | #9

          Good point!!!  Thanks--maybe more in the way of natural fiber like cotton--my favorite cello outfit over the years was a black cotton gauze blouse and a bottom weight cotton gored skirt.  Faded some over time but not as fast as I outgrew it. 

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