Masquerade dress, 2015
Masquerade ball of April seems to have been
established as a L'amusette tradition during the past
few years. After attending a few times in a vaguely
allegorical "Spring" costume (which means this with a
mask and a wreath), I was inspired to make a spesific
18th century masquerade dress. This was largely caused
by some interesting blog posts on Isis
Wardrobe on the subject. I was especially
charmed by this portrait of a young woman in a
masquerade dress by Dmitry Levitsky.
several young ladies of the Smolna Institute. Natalia
Semyonovna, painted in 1776 wears a version of a
traditional 18th century masquerade dress: I's black
with slashes of pink and some elements reminiscent of
theatrical costume. This one is also trimmed with metal
lace, which gives nice extra bling on the dark outfit. I
also liked the idea of a blingy masquerade costume
because while on the period the filthy rich aristocrats
often favored pastoral simplicity in masquerade dress,
the modern idea of an 18th century masquerade is more
decadently opulent in the style of Sofia Coppola's Marie
Antoinette's masquerade ball scene.
This type of masquerade dress has other fascinating features. The tricorn and the cape with a standing collar rather than a feminine hood bring a nice masculine touch, mixing the gender roles was a thing of the masquerade culture in the period and also added to the risque element. The masculine tricorn is reduced to a small, feminine ornament in an elaborate hairdo, though. The jacket with long sleeves and decorated buttonholes also looks very much like a riding habit coat, which in turn were always heavily influenced by men's fashions.
The silk lining peeking out from the slashed sleeves looked quite weird to me at first, but obviously it comes from theater costume which still carried strong renaissance influences on 18th century. To be quite frank, especially in pink satin those decorations bring on some quite Freudian thoughts, but considering the erotic undertones of period masquerade I would be surprised if they had done it on purpose. Okay, men's theater costumes have similar slashed sleeves too.
dress in the painting looked velvet to me, so I
decided to make a velvet dress for change. Dark
colored velvet also has a luxurious and
mysterious feeling. The downside was that in the
period they would have worn real silk velvet, while I
could afford only considerably less shiny cotton
velvet. I decided to go for the cotton velvet knowing
that it was wrong, however, as I can happily wear
polyester taffeta too. Cotton velvet is also not
totally painful to work with.
vision for the materials was originally black velvet
paired with light pink dupioni silk. I had calculated
that I could spend the amount needed for a silk lined
cape. We also happened to go for a weekend trip to
Tallinn, so I spent most of Saturday fabric shopping.
the first thing the black velvet became a very dark
blue. It was on -70% clearance sale, need I say more?
At first I still hankered after the black velvet, but
the price was too good to resist. The blue is, anyway,
so dark that in dim ballroom light it looks almost
black, but is more flattering on the complexion.
great shock the dupioni, which I had thought easy to
find, seemed to have gone extinct on the town. They
have dupioni in my local fabric store, but it's of the
very uneven and lumpy kind, not really suitable for
period wear, and it's expensive too. Finally, tired
and hungry and with sore feet I succumbed to a thin
lining satin, with looked every bit a lining satin but
at least it was in the right color - and dirt cheap.
|In case you ever
visit Tallinn, a place called Karnaluks is wonderful
place to find cheap haberdashery. It was there that the
metal lace in my shopping list changed for a trim with
pretty looped edge, which I thought would look nice
especially in the buttonholes. The skirt hem in the
painting has a really heavy looking wide metal braid,
which I replaced with a wide silver lace instead.
By the way, it's not quite easy to tell from the painting whether the trimming is in silver or gold. As I personally prefer silver I thought it could well be silver. Later I found a better version of the image, where the trimming looks golden, and then it began to look gold to me in every version. Anyway, for myself I'll stick to silver.
portrait is from 1776, and the lady's hair follows the
current fashion. The jacket cut looks curiously old
fashioned with 1770's hair, it looks more like
something from the first half of the century. For
drafting the pattern I looked at Arnold's patterns of
jackets from 1720-1740 and Watteau's paintings, where
people are often clad in theater costume.
In the painting the jacket bodice if very long at the front, and so the front skirts also dip very low. In my opinion this cut looked slightly unbalanced on the slender girl, so I decided to tweak the proportions slightly for a more flattering look.
The jacket pattern is based in my old, trustworthy riding habit pattern. I had already drafted it a bit tighter for the brunswick waistcoat. The neckline shape came from my polonaise pattern. The jacket skirts were so wide that after my experience with the brunswick waistcoat skirts I thought they would have to be cut shaped and separate from the jacket bodice. For the first mock up I copied the riding habit skirts, just left them a bit shorter. The sleeve came from the brunswick waistcoat.
As the jacket would be tight fitting and non-adjustable in size I had to decide early how tight I would want to be laced for this outfit. This time I settled for a smooth but comfortable lacing tightness - I've grown old and lazy and I'm ready to admit that my lovely striped polonaise looks divine but is rather uncomfortable to wear for longer than a few hours.
great trust in my old patterns, and expected the mock
up be just a quick check just to be sure, but somehow
it happened that it had many problems. I had been
careful not to draft the pattern too tight, and so had
ended up with too much extra width. This was of course
easy to fix, as correcting the neckline shape was too,
but the real problems lay in the shoulder area. I fail
to understand why the shoulder worked satisfyingly in
the brunswick but was a total mess now - perhaps the
wide neckline had something to do with it. I had to
change the shoulder angle at the back quite a bit.
sleeve was problematic as well. With the wide neckline
it kept sliding off the shoulder all the time. In the
end I raised the low sleevehead by a few centimetres,
adding some much needed room especially on the front
of the shoulder, the place were period sleeves always
fit ill on me. This of course added volume on the
sleevehead, with the possibility of puckering in the
thick material, but then again the epaulette would
neatly disguise that.
the sleevehead anew fixed part of the problem, but it
was only completely solved when I realized that the
back neckline was too wide. I took the center back
seam in a bit at the top, which made the top part of
the back fit snugly and kept the shoulder line where
it ought to be.
sleeve fit in the painting looked a bit awkward to me
at first, but when I opened the slit at the front seam
of my mock up sleeve it began to look pretty much the
same - that's what you get when you randomly open a
seam in a fitted, curved sleeve. I had to adjust the
arm curve too, as it worked okay when the sleeve was
tight but looked too tight at the lower arm when I
opened the front seam, so I added some room on the top
seam on the lower arm.
mentioned above, in the original the jacket skirts dip
very low at the front. While I had already changed the
waist curve the front skirts were still too long to my
eye. I cut the skirts shorter at the front and sides
for a more balanced look. Then I pencilled the line
for the slit in the front skirt, forming two tabs, and
cut it open.
The riding habit skirts overlap especially at the back, but I thought I'd rather like them meet edge to edge here, so I sliced off some extra at the side-back and back edges.
drafted a mock up epaulette, pinned it on my shoulder,
thought it looked too small and drafted a larger
version. It looked okay, so I marked balance points
for it on the mock up shoulder.
To conclude the mock up fitting I pinned some braid on the bodice to see how it looked. In the painting the buttonholes were edges with the braid with mirror image false buttonholes worked on the other side. They seemed to be off even length all the way, but I had began to vision a triangular buttonhole decoration wider at the top to create a more feminine look. I was inspired for this among other sources by this painting of Elizabeth Chistine of Prussia in an earlier dark blue velvet dress with massive silver trimming. I experimented with pinning the braid on a slightly downward narrowing shape, and it looked so pretty I wanted absolutely to have it. I decided at this point to make up the jacket and then plan the trimming for real.
|I began making up the oufit with the easiest part, the petticoat. For the first thing I finished the hem with a wastefully wide hemming of the width of the lace - this way I could sew it by machine, as machine stitch was so neatly disguised in the lace edge. Then I put the petticoat on a dummy with pocket hoops and shaped the skirt pleats and the waist curve. Following the painting I left the petticoat to a practical dancing length. I had noticed before (especially with the riding habit) that if you cut the petticoat worn with hoops but alone without dress skirts over it to an even length from the ground it easily looks too solid and weighed down, especially on a heavy material which may pull the side hoops down. Now I left the hemline slightly raised at the sides for a lighter look.|
waist pleats are formed on a dummy and meant to be
more or less symmetrical, though they may have slight
variation due to being done free hand. Another thing I
have learned from my earlier projects is that a heavy
skirt fastened in the period way of tying the side
slit ties round your waist may pinch uncomfortably
even through (half boned) stays, and it's also
difficult to tie the strings tight enough when
dressing up by yourself. So, here (like in the riding
habit before) I used the alternative, if period-wise
questionable fastening method of heavy hooks on the
side slits. This fastening of course takes away the
size adjustment possibility usually so cleverly
incorporated into 18th century skirts, but as the
buttoned jacket has no room for adjusting the size
either it won't be a problem. I did put ribbon ties on
the back side, though, to cross the front through the
loops at the front waist and tie at the back to keep
the front from sliding downwards - a trick I've used
in all my recent petticoats. The mostly machine sewed
petticoat was quickly done.
I had thought the jacket could also be largely put together by machine. So, I began by promptly bag lining the jacket skirt pieces, or more like attempting to. I had not worked with velvet for some time, and had happily forgotten what it was like, and soon found out that the napped velvet and the ultra thin satin didn't want to stay right sides together were I pinned them. In spite of adding several more pins I had to unpick and sew again so many times that with hindsight I'm pretty sure I would have lined the damn pieces faster and certainly much neater by hand.
closed the bodice seams and sewed the lined skirt
pieces on the waist. Then I made up the lining of thin
linen. It had just a bit of stretch, like the velvet,
and would breathe on wear. On the shoulder where the
cape would be fastened I added a coutil interlining
for strength. Then I joined the velvet and the lining
at the neckline by machine. I basted the lining on at
the armholes and front edges and put it on for a quick
fitting just to be sure.
fortunate that I did. For the first thing I had, after
all, fallen into the trap of fitting my muslin mock up
too tight considering the real thing would be velvet
lined with linen. The velvet does have some stretch,
and might have looked just fine with a different
closing like closely set hooks and eyes, but gapping
buttons never look very good. I had to let out a just
a tiny bit on the side seams (happily the velvet
hadn't been much damaged by the seam yet) and get more
room on the front edges (which had ample allowance),
about 0,5cm at top and 1cm at the waist on both sides.
Letting out the side seam of course resulted in a gap
between the skirts at the waist, but happily that
could be hidden under the trimming.
had to adjust the neckline shape at the front. At the
back it was still prone to stretching out of shape, so
I added a tape all round the neckline hidden under the
lining. For the last thing I sewed the lining on the
waist seam by hand.
lined the sleeves with the same thin linen as
bodice. First I closed the seams on the velvet and
lining, leaving the front seam slit open. I cut a
20cm wide piece of the pink satin the length of
the slit with ample allowance at the ends. I
gathered the ends and pinned it on the sleeve. The
width looked sufficient for the poofy effect, so I
cut an identical piece for the other sleeve. I
sewed the edges on the sleeve seam allowance,
pinned the gathered ends on the ends of the slits
and secured the extra with short vertical lines of
stitching on the seam allowances.
Then I joined the velvet and lining at the sleeve ends and sewed the velvet and lining seam allowances together at the slit edges, not right to the ends of the slit however to leave room for the satin which was in part gathered to the seam allowances. I also sewed the seam allowances together at the back seam for a few centimetres at the elbow to keep the lining from twisting out of place.
Then I could for the first time lay my hands on the trimming for real. I sewed it by hand on the sleeve end and slit edges, first the lower edge and then the top edge and the loops on a second round of stitching. For the last thing I gathered a narrow lace and sewed it on the sleeve ends. Then the sleeves went back to the project box to wait for the jacket to get forward
tried the lined bodice on and pinned the sleeves
on too to see how they looked. I pinned the braid
on the front again, and settled on six buttons,
which gave the buttonholes a pleasing spacing. The
original has more buttons, but my wider, looped
braid would have made denser buttoning look way
too heavy. I also pinned the braid even wider at
the top this time and found that I really liked
the flattering stomacher-like effect it gave.
not easy at all to get the buttonholes narrowing down
in a smooth line and at the same time get the braid
loops to match. At last I gave up with the pinning,
and when I had them halfway okay I took some pictures
to support my memory, took the jacket off and marked
the ends of the buttonholes as I had pinned them. Then
I unpinned the braid, checked the buttonhole spacing
with a liner, then chalked and basted the markings for
buttonhole and braid placement.
it was time to make the actual buttonholes. As they
would get covered by the braid I made them by machine,
though I made them halfway right at least by stitching
a straight line around the buttonhole first, then
opening them, and only then covering the raw edges
with zig-zag. The buttoning is, by the way, on the
left side like on men's clothing, following the riding
habit tradition again.
began sewing the braid on the bodice at the back
slit. I found pretty soon that my attempt at
lining the skirts so that the velvet turned on the
underside rather than meeting the satin at the
very edge looked okay only without the trim, as
soon as I added the braid on the edge the
underside looked just confusingly uneven - I could
just as well have brought the lining right up to
the edge, saved myself so much trouble in the
lining and had a neater result. Also getting the
braid loops symmetrical in the corners and slit
tops was quite tricky, as I had not been smart
enough to plan the pieces to match the braid loop
spacing at the pattern drafting space. Not that it
would have probably matched in the end if I had,
either, and fabric tends to shape in the process.
pinned the braid was easily left too short for the
edge, so I had to do some unpicking along the way
and pinning it on only on short pieces. On the
corners I turned loops under the braid to hide
them for a prettier finish.
As the braid was easier to sew on from left to right I had the button side of the front to make first. It was easy to trim because I could always cheat a bit on the front edge, which would get covered by the left edge in order to get the loops symmetrical at the buttonholes. The problems began, however, when I had happily went round the neckline and arrived at the left side. Now the edge showed and I had real trouble getting the buttonholes neat and symmetrical to the already finished right side.
hindsight I really should have sewed the
buttonhole trim as separate pieces and cover the
ends and the edge with braid afterwards, and I
really don't know how I didn't come to think of
this at the time. I just somehow optimistically
assumed that the braid would be easier to
manipulate than it was in the end, and that the
buttons would cover it a bit too. Unfortunately my
buttons weren't large enough to really hide any
unevenness in the trim placement.
the end I sewed the braid on the left side as
evenly as I could get it even though it remained
asymmetrical to the right side. On the edge I used
the same trick as in the skirt corners of tucking
the loops under the braid.
continued sewing the braid round the left side
skirts, desperately trying to get them match the
right side. For the last thing I unpicked the
braid on the right side of the bodice and pinned
it on anew to match the left side. Again, I
cheated at the edge quite a lot. It was
surprisingly difficult to get the front decoration
symmetrical with the buttoning allowances
complicating things further. I also re-placed the
buttons once, as when the fitted jacket is on they
settle a crucial 0.5cm differently than with the
jacket buttoned up alone without the strain.
The sleeves happily settled on fit no fuss. As I had anticipated, there was a bit too much gathering on the shoulder, but it would be hidden anyway. I had originally planned to turn the sleeve lining over the armhole seam but had forgot to cut it high enough at the underarm, so I had to abandon that idea and cover the seam allowances with a bias tape instead. It makes the seam a bit heavy, but I didn't want to leave any velvet seam allowances visible to bleed endless amounts of extra pile.
Having learnt my lesson with the jacket skirts I lined the epaulettes by hand. First I ironed the seam allowances to turn under with the help of a cardboard pattern and then pinned the lining on. I sewed it on the edged by hand and then sewed the braid on top. Then I pinned them on the shoulders according to the balance marks I had made in the mock up fitting. Now they seemed to settle too far back, though, so I mowed them a few centimetres forward. Then I sewed them on by hand.
there was the cape. I have been told that
masquearade costume capes like this could be just
narrow fake pieces not even meant to be used as a
real cape. As I would have to sacrifice some amount
of material on it anyway I thought I could just as
well make it wide enough to use as a cape as well.
On the other hand a really wide circle cut cape
would be very heavy. In the end I cut it as a
half-circle with a back seam to get the pile
direction symmetrical. I estimated that 70cm would
be a good length, so I cut a 180cm wide half circle
to get a larger neckline. I thought it safer to line
the cape first and cut the neckline later for a
I reasoned that it would be easier to sew on the braid before the lining, as the other way round the stitched would all too easily caught the lining. At least on the straight grain front edges I could even sew the braid with machine. I also got in my head to try and machine sew the braid on the curved hem too, and to my surprise it looked quite neat enough. I turned the seam allowances under and stitched the other edge of the braid on machine as well. Then I caught down the loops by hand.
cut the lining on two layers of satin, as it was
so thin that the dark velvet would show through
too much with just one layer and darken the light
pink. I was a bit worried about how the two
slippery layers would stick together, but happily
they created a field of static electricity which
made them cling firmly to each other. I cut the
satin with large allowances at the hem, smoothed
it carefully over the velvet and basted it on 5cm
from the edges. Then I began sewing it on,
beginning at the front edges. Again I faced the
same problem as with the jacket skirts: even
though I had tried to turn the velvet under
tightly from the braid edge, the pile shot out. To
get the lining start right next to the braid I
actually had to turn it a bit on the front side to
hide the velvet allowance. This of course made the
lining look baggy at the edges, so I had to add a
further line of hand stitching through the edge to
circle cut cloak was of course tricky to line at
the hem without the lining being either baggy or
too tight anywhere. I had already let it settle on
it's shape in the hanger over a few nights. In the
end the velvet kept it's shape better that I
had anticipated, but I still had to unpick, pin
and sew again the center part of the hem. Sewing
the lining to turn over the edge was much more
tricky than sewing it under the edge the usual
way. Finally I got it done and basted the layers
together at the neckline, sewed a supporting
machine stitch line and cut the neckline open.
capes for theater costume and masquerade seemed to
have a masculine collar rather than a feminine
hood. From a few images I gathered to be a small
standing collar, so I cut a 5cm wide collar
rounded at the ends. I interlined it with heavy
jute, turned the velvet seam allowances over the
interlining and sewed the braid on the edge.
tried the collar on by itself and marked the
shoulder line. Then I pinned and sewed the lined
cape on the collar, turning the extra width on the
neck to two large inverted pleats on the
shoulders. I have no idea if this is a period
correct solution, but the thing is that without
extra width and pleating at the neck a half circle
cloak will not be wide enough at the shoulders to
close at the front, and a full circle cape would
be way too full and heavy to drag at the back of
added ribbon loops on the seam for fastening the
cape and finished the collar with lining. Then I
added a silver braid button- and loop closure at
had thought about fastening the cape to the jacket
quite a lot, and happily my friend Riikka stepped
in once again to enlighten me about the cape
fastening in the national Swedish court costume
designed by Gustavus III. In that there was, as I
had already suspected buttons covered with the
suit fabric on the shoulders and corresponding
loops on the cape collar. But added to that there
was also a hook in the center back of the cape
collar, and a corresponding tiny loop for it in
I put the jacket on, estimated the button placement and the height of the loop for the center back hook. First I sewed on the center hook and loop, tried the thing on and fixed the button placement for real. The hook, which I wouldn't have thought by myself adds greatly to the stability of the cape, and it really stays on very securely. It's also easy to take off the cape by oneself when it gets too heavy. On the other hand it's very hard to get on by oneself, but that's what the servants (or friends) are for.
only thing left was to get the accessories. Like I
already mentioned above, I sewed the lace peeking
from the sleeve ends at the wrists straight to the
sleeve, as I didn't want to bother to make a long
sleeved shift. I added the same lace on the neckline
of my old shift, as it would go with other outfits
The tiny tricorn in the painting is just adorable, and of course a nice way to use some of the leftovers of the dress materials. I have to admit, though, that I had not previously known that mini tricorns even existed in the period, but thought them to be a modern rococo-esque carnivale invention. In masquerade costume paintings there were several tiny tricorns on top of elegant coiffures, however.
I downloaded a pattern from www.fleecefun.com, but when I took a closer look on the pattern pieces as printed out they did not quite match, so I had to draft them anew for a large part. The downloaded pattern gave a good idea of how the pieces should be shaped, however, even though it wouldn't really have been that hard to figure it out by myself. A little tweaking on the pattern and some more while making it up resulted in a very cute little tricorn.
I made up the tricorn very fast, experimenting a little, so unfortunately there are no pictures of the process. I used felt for the base and covered it with velvet. I made it largely by machine with some finishing by hand. I decorated the edge with the silver braid and put together a little cockade from the pink satin and a random blingy button.
was of course seriously tempted to make or buy a
fancy silvery decorated carnival mask, but I knew
that 18th century masks were generally very
simple. So, I restrained myself from extra bling
and instead covered a basic half mask base with
the dark blue velvet and adding pink silk ribbon
ties. In the end the simple mask works well with
the blingy dress and gives a dark, mysterious
in the painting has quite a pile of feathers on her
head, but I settled for just the three suitable ones
which I found on my stash. The pink one is actually
too bright to be entirely suitable, being a bit
brash and artificial tone for the period, but it
will do. I glued the feathers on an old brooch I
had, and also glued the lock shut so that the brooch
can be pinned on the back of the hair.
|The masquerade dress
ended up very showy. At some point I felt it was perhaps
even too full of bling, taking away some of the dark
mysterious feeling of the more simple period masquerade
costumes, but at least it nails the opulent vision I
had. It's also surprisingly practical on wear: The cape
fastening is secure, the petticoat length is very easy
for dancing and the jacket fit is comfortable. I was
initially anxious that the weight of the cape would pull
the jacket backwards at the neck, but when I got the
neckline fit right at last there is no problem at all.
The only downside of the costume is that it's very warm, and having worn it for the first time I felt great sympathy foor the poor gentlemen (especially the military ones) in their woollen coats. Happily getting rid of the cape helps with ventilation quite much. On the other hand the cape is a great addition to wear outside, and with the long sleeved jacket one doesn't necessarily need an extra cloak for outdoors unless it's really cold or rainy.
The untidy lining and at some places too tight trimming on the jacket skirts still bugs me, but happily the dark velvet is very efficient in hiding imperfections, and the blingy braid also helps to blind the critical eye. On the other hand I'm very much in love with the buttonhole decoration, which creates a wonderful optical illusion of curved, slender torso even though the jacket waist is not really that small at all. And of course the color - while I initially wanted it black, by now I could not imagine it anything else than the lovely dark blue.
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