Stella has been sick with a head cold since Thursday (we got the phone call to come and collect her from school after she fell asleep in the classroom….) and we really didn’t think that she would make it to the book week parade this year. In the end she perked up just enough to go in to school for an hour and join her friends to show off her costume, talk about the book it was from, and share some alliterative poems that she had written. The kids were all SO excited; it was lovely to share in the fun with them.
Stella has enjoyed The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley for a little while now. Our version is a 1986 hardback with beautiful illustrations by Anne Grahame Johnstone. (You might also remember the 1978 film of the book that mixed live action and animation – you can find it here on YouTube if you are interested). The little girl in the white dress – Ellie – was the character that Stella wanted to be. Originally I hoped that we’d be able to cobble together a costume from existing clothing, and that in combination with the mob cap she would look the part. But then I got mother guilt over all the time that I’d spent on Clare’s costume, so on Thursday morning I decided to make a new dress for Stella too. She was VERY pleased that I did, so I got some mummy points there.
On to the pattern details! I used two vintage patterns that were in my stash, Simplicity 8576 and Style 4247. The dress is mostly the Style pattern (the version illustrated in green), but the sleeves are from the Simplicity pattern. I also made the matching pantaloons from the Style pattern, but Stella refused to wear them as they were “wide” and chose to wear leggings instead. Righto. I used size 6 for both the dress and the sleeves. It’s roomy, but not ridiculously so, and Stella is rather skinny.
And the fabric? Would you believe that I didn’t have any crisp white cotton in stash? So I used an old sheet. And the more eagle eyed of you will have already noticed that it is not a consistent shade of white around the dress. Should have bleached it first. That is what you get for using an old sheet. The parts of the dress cut from the edges of the sheet (utilising the selvedges so I wouldn’t have to finish the edges) are a lovely crisp white. The parts cut from the centre? Not so much. Is that too much information for you?
I cut the skirt in one piece utilising the sheet hem as the hem, and added the tucks and the lace as per the pattern. Cotton is so easy to work with, and having the skirt already hemmed saved a bit of time. The laces were all in my stash, and were mostly vintage as well.
I did take some short cuts. This dress is meant to be fully lined; I left out the lining entirely. Seam allowances were either not finished at all (if cut from the edge of the sheet) or they were pinked or overlocked. And the bias neck band had one edge overlocked so that after it was attached I could just turn it to the inside them top-stitch it in place knowing that there would be plenty of fabric to be caught in the stitching. This is something that I would usually turn under and hand-stitch on the wrong side of the dress. By hey, this is a costume – and one with a deadline!
I used an invisible zipper in the centre back seam to close the dress – and hey, check out how well I matched the waist seam across the zipper! I shall blow my own trumpet on that one! But don’t notice that it needs a hook and eye at the top of the neckline. I didn’t add one. Lazy.
The sleeves frankenpatterned in very easily. The notches matched perfectly, and then I just gathered the sleeve cap in to fit. I took another short cut with the sleeves though. The puffed upper sleeve is meant to be sewn to a stay, to maximise the amount of puff. I left the stay out, and simply gathered the upper sleeve to the lower sleeve and to the armhole. The upper puffed part of the sleeve is cut on the bias, so using the stay would be a great idea for extra puff and I’ll remember it if I use this pattern again. There is also an elbow dart in the lower sleeve to make it conform more nicely to the body. I have to say that I love vintage patterns for those sorts of details. They’re not hard to do and make things fit so much better. The main dress also includes darts at the back shoulder, with the same pleasing result for better fit.
The mob cap was made from a small remnant of embroidered cotton that I had in stash, with pre-gathered broderie anglaise sewn to the edges and pink ribbon for trim. It is double layered with elastic threaded through a casing. I used this tutorial which removed the need for me to think. Sometimes I like not to have to think (maybe because I am coming down with a cold as well).
Cost wise, this dress was essentially “free” as everything came from stash (or the linen cupboard). Time wise, it possibly took around six hours to make, including the cap and pantaloons. I do wish that I’d realised that the sheet wasn’t a consistent colour before I started sewing, but will give the dress a good soak in some bleach and see what difference that makes. Some of the other school mums thought it would be ideal as a first communion/confirmation dress – but as we aren’t Catholic, that isn’t likely to happen!
I’m glad that Stella got to join her classmates for the fun of the book week parade, but as you can see it wasn’t long after we got home that I found her on the couch like this. Poor little mite.