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Sewing that's Retro, Geek, and Chic
There was a little blood (on the white fur, of course! but easy to fix), a lot of sweat (heavy upholstery fabric is hard to wrangle!), but thankfully, no tears for this build!
I ended up having to sort through 415 photos for this post! Needless to say, I have reduced that number down a little bit. (Click photos to enlarge.)
Back at the end of September, I was hired to build dresses for two identical mannequins for a revamped outdoor Christmas display in Wichita Falls. The request was for something that resembled the red satin dresses with white fur trim seen at the end of the 1954 movie White Christmas.
One of the mannequins was brought to my house.
I called her Keira. She was about the same dress size as I am – but 6 feet tall! A GIANT Barbie.
Her old outfit was sad and her wig was scraggly. So I threw away her clothes and let her borrow some of mine after a bit of a spa day.
I ordered a swatch of the Sunbrella brand red outdoor upholstery velvet. It ended up being the perfect color and had a decent drape, so I ordered 16 yards (but it seems to be sold out at the moment – not sure if they will restock it, but I hope they do!).
I bought some rip-stop nylon for lining and some white acrylic fur with an olefin backing at my local Hancock Fabrics. I also purchased outdoor upholstery thread, acrylic rhinestones (JoAnn Fabrics), and fabric glitter glue (Hobby Lobby).
I ordered hoop skirt petticoats from Petticoat Junction and the client ordered ice skates for shoes. I bought some red “parade gloves” at a Halloween store (perfect timing of a project!).
My really good friend Marlene, who is a professional film & television makeup artist, was tasked with finding and styling some appropriate wigs that could stand up to the elements.
Wensley did not like Keira and hated it when I touched her or moved her around. I think she bothered him because she wouldn’t look at him, hehe. (My dress forms don’t have faces so he just ignores them.)
There was growling and barking for many days after she arrived. Just when he had gotten a little used to Keira visiting, the big roll of velvet fabric arrived and he greeted that with the same suspicious “intruder alert!” and I caught it on video:
My husband and our brother-in-law helped me rig a stand for her, and then I was able to start working on a mockup.
My starting point for both bodices was Vogue 2979 that looks like a reproduction of Grace Kelly’s wedding dress (pictured in this old post). But the sleeve caps as drafted were too short and caused all kinds of fit issues until I popped the seam open at the shoulder. (I tried the bodice on myself and had similar problems with the fit, so beware if you are trying to use this pattern straight from the envelope.) I also lowered the underarm curve a slightly like I usually need to do for myself.
Therefore, I drafted my own sleeve from scratch and made it a two-piece sleeve while I was at it. This allowed me to include better elbow ease for Keira’s perpetually bent arms. It also made it so much easier to dress her.
My friend used glossy red model paint to repaint Keira’s outdated ‘80s lips (check out that unbelievably sharp line!) and Keira got her lovely new hair. So much better!
The skirts were just basic full circles (but huge! because she’s so tall!) and I draped & drew the cape pattern on Keira. I was really surprised that the upholstery velvet cooperated and did what I wanted it to do for the most part.
I didn’t have enough fur (I bought all there was at the store) to double fold it like I wanted to on the capelet and skirts, so I lined it with some white polyester utility fabric and did a lot of picking to pull the fur out of the seams.
If you have questions or would like to know about specific details, ask me in the comments. =)
Overall, I probably spent about 3 weeks total on this project but the work was spread out over about 6 weeks. It was a huge build to complete on my own and I was so glad when it was finished! So was Wensley.
Merry Christmas to all, and my all your Christmases be white!
Oooh, the Christmas dresses came out beautifully! And, Wensley HATES fabric deliveries. Or LOVES fabric deliveries?? Quite frankly, it’s hard to distinguish, LOL. I love him as quality control. 🙂 Hope it passed! (Kitty’s visit to Santa is up on the blog now. Wensley should enjoy it.) Oh, and Keira sitting down….hahahahahaha. 🙂
Thank you! Wensley always finds new things that are brought into the house. The bigger something is, the more he sounds the alarm – I guess to make sure I’m aware of the “intruder” and that is definitely his intruder bark because we hear it for squirrels and rabbits too.
I can’t wait to read about Kitty’s Santa visit! I saw it show up in my reader earlier, but I haven’t had time to read it yet (was trying to edit all those photos!). Oh, and btw, you & Kitty should be getting a card from us at some point. =)
Aw, you are so sweet :). I didn’t get to mailing anything this year but hope you and your family have a truly lovely and peaceful Christmas.
You’ve done an amazing job! Wow! I’m loving the “little things” you’ve done, such as picking the fur trim, the bars and adding the rhinestones. I haven’t added rhinestones (yet) to garments, but it’s on my to do list. How much did the dress weigh, did you check? My big project is making a few costumes for the Passion Play at my Lutheran church. I already told the director no giving me requests at the last minute. That happened last year.
Oh, I absolutely adore the movie, White Christmas.
I planned to watch it this evening, but I don’t feel great, so I’m resting. I’llbe sure to watch it tomorrow on my Amazon Kindle TV. I love that movie, great music, elaborate costumes….
Thanks! I did not think to weight either of the dresses, no, but it’s a good thing a real person is not wearing them – talk about back ache! Good luck with your church costumes! (I also attend a Lutheran church but I have not been recruited to help with any costumes yet.)
Hope you feel better soon!
Thanks for taking us through the project!You captured the original costumes beautifully.
I love the term “build” which professional costumers use – more appropriate than just “sew” which we amateurs use even when creating a complicated project.
So glad you enjoyed all the photos! =) This project was definitely a build! I was so sore after it was all finished, it was almost like I’d been painting my house!
Nice work! I was asked to make some similar dresses, but we didn’t have enough time with the 20 costumes that were used in the play. (The dresses would have been used for live models in the lobby.)
I’m inspired and glad you shared all the details. Now I have a point of reference if I’m asked to do this type of project in the future.
Yeah, these dresses would not have been easy to make if I had 20 other costumes to build too! I’m so happy you enjoyed my post and hope it helps you in the future! =)
Thank you! =)
Wow that was a lot of work! But they turned out beautifully! Your Quality Control Dog is soo cute! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and your family!
Thank you so much! Yes, sometimes it is nice to be able to prove how much work goes into a project – it’s amazing how many people think that costumes “just happen”. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you too! =)
What an extraordinary project! Congratulations on a stellar outcome – your thoroughness, care and skill is such an inspiration!
Aww thanks! I was a little worried in the beginning that using outdoor fabric would keep the dresses from hanging as beautifully as the silk satin used in the movie. It’s so nice when you can make a fabric do what you want!
Those dresses came out looking identical to the ones in the movie! That was a huge project to take on all alone. Did you get to go see the displays?
And, glad you had your trusty sidekick Wensley there to keep you safe. If the mannequins in “Today’s Special” could come to life, you never know what could happen!
No, I didn’t try to go see them – just didn’t have time to drive that far! I was hoping someone would post a YouTube video but I haven’t been able to find anything online (not even a photo).
lol – yes, those mannequins! I kept thinking of the old ’80s movie “Mannequin” the whole time she was visiting.
What an astonishing achievement Brooke. I love your interpretation and I am amazed these are “real” dresses with linings and careful fittings. I hope the shop uses them for years and years. I often watch old films and want to make the dresses. Your copies are very true to the original. Very well done indeed. And Happy Christmas!
Thank you so much! It was nice that the client was not set on the dresses being absolutely identical to the movie, which allowed me to change a few of the tiny details to make it work better for a mannequin and outside. Clothing not worn by a real person always requires weird rigging, but luckily, so much of it can be constructed as usual. The display is on the MSU campus grounds, so hopefully, I chose fabrics that will weather well enough to get at least 5 years of use out of them. =)
What a neat post to read on Christmas morning! And such beautiful work! I hope they appreciate the dresses in Wichita Falls. I loved the photos of Wensley. I asked Luis to guess who was wearing the manniquin’s dark wig–and he couldn’t. He laughed when I told him that it was Russ. Merry Christmas to all three of you!
Thank you! I’m so glad you enjoyed seeing all the fun and silly photos along with the rest. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you too!
Wow these are stunning Brooke! What a lot of work it so fun! Have a lovely Christmas.
Thank you! Yes, it really was a lot of work, but it had a satisfying end. =) Hope you had a wonderful Christmas too!
Brooke, I’m with everyone else – you did a fantastic job!
Thank you so much, Dustin! =)
Simply fabulous! I’m loving your husbands additions too. Merry Christmas!
Thanks! Yes, my husband does a good job making me smile. Glad you liked it! Merry Christmas to you too!
Those full circle skirts are impressive! I’m always very curious about your job. I think it’s very interesting but I’m not sure if I would get burn out after so many hours. Those were some miles of fabric!
It really was miles of fabric! It especially felt like it when I was hemming around the perimeter of those huge circle skirts! I find it’s easier to burn out (and not finish) on my own projects than it is on something for work – probably because I have more specific guidelines and a deadline. So glad you enjoyed seeing a little of the process! =)
Wonderful! And I totally think that photo of Russ with the wig on his head should have been your Christmas card photo…just to mix things up a bit! Happy Christmas and Merry New Year!
Thank you! lol – I’m so surprised I got a clear shot of him in that wig because I couldn’t stop laughing! I did consider using one of the dress photos with Wensley as our Christmas card this year but we decided the springy Santa hat would require less of an explanation. Hope you all had a Merry Christmas too! =)
Oh, those are wonderful! I’ve always loved that movie and the costuming. I may need to make one of those for myself some time. Beautifully done, Brooke!
Thank you! Yes, classic Edith Head costume design – you just can’t beat it! It’s fun to copy such pretty dresses. =)
Best Christmas story this year!!! You should publish!! Miss you xxoo
Aww thanks! So glad you enjoyed the post! I miss seeing you guys at the shop too!
You are so clever, Brooke! What a fun post to read. I hope these beautiful dresses enjoy many Christmases to come!
Thank you! I’m glad you had fun reading about the build. I hope the dresses took the weather well and look good for many years too!
Lovely! I can’t imagine where I’d even start with fitting for a model who can’t move her arms, but they turned out really nice. Also, thank you for the Christmas card!
Thanks! Mannequins are always a challenge to dress compared to a real person. Luckily, her arms at least rotated a little at the shoulder. I had to move her arms up a little, then back down to get the top on. Glad you liked the card! =)
How we love White Christmas in our house! Those dresses are amazing. Interesting about the Vogue sleeve cap problem. In looking at the before/after pics, I’d say you altered it perfectly. I’m going to have to study them, because I always go for a bust adjustment before a sleeve cap adjustment. As my DD2, who loooooves White Christmas would say, “Fabulous!”
Thank you! When the sleeve cap is too short, you will feel restricted in the shoulders and arms. The easiest way to check to see if that is the problem is to pop open the seam at the shoulder – if the sleeve wants to live at a lower point just measure the gap and add that amount to the sleeve cap. Sometimes a bust adjustment is the answer but sleeves often cause many problems. I usually check the fit of the bust before attaching sleeves because addressing one problem at a time before adding other variables helps.
These are so fabulous! I am sure you were sick of them by the end, but you did such a fabulous job on these. You are really quite amazing. 🙂
Aww thanks! Yes, I was rather glad to see these leave my house and it felt like Christmas should have been over by the beginning of November after looking at them for so long!
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Absolutely wonderful. I have been searching the web for hours to find a White Christmas dress/costume to rent for my daughter (She is playing Betty) and I stumbled across this site. I only wish I could find something this beautiful to rent or buy for her. These are incredible. Great job.
Aww thank you so much, Lee! If you ever need anything custom made, please let me know!
You are awesome! You did the dresses just like the ones of the movie!!!!! They turn out beautiful!
I remember watching that movie and the dresses are equal!!!
Kisses from Portugal!
aww thank you so much for the sweet comment, Helena! =)
I WANT ONE!!!!! These are gorgeous!!!! One of my dreams is to one day have a replica of Bette’s dress, the pink dress Judy wears, and one of the “Sisters” dress. Approximately how much would you charge to make one of these for an actual person?
Thank you so much! I’ve sent you an email in regards to pricing. =)
Brooke the dresses are beautiful! I have made myself costumes for riding in Christmas parades. I am going to tackle these dressed this year for myself and a friend. Could i ask a couple questions? What was it that you were putting the darts in? The waist lines did not require darts did they? I made a circle skirt last year and made a lite up skirt and was the ice queen. I did not have to dart the skirt. Was there a reason your skirt required them? Also since i am wearing it and do not need to dress a mannequin could i attach the bodice and the bottom skirt and then wear the top skirts over the top? And finally was the top and bottom skirts the exact same circle skirt as the bottom only a little shorter? Or did you use a different pattern for the top skirt? I would appreciate any tips you could send, I am looking forward to starting this challenge for sure. Thanks so much Sandy
Thank you! The darts were all in the bodices, and there was only one circle skirt with a hooped petticoat underneath for each mannequin. The trim was just sewn on top of the circle after I stitched the two halves of each skirt together – refer back to the photos above regarding the fur trim attachment. (I think the movie dresses were an over and underskirt, but they were made of completely different fabric than the ones I made for the outdoor display where I had to consider wind.) You could make a dress instead of two pieces. I only chose separate pieces because the mannequins were so tall & stiff and the fabric was so heavy it was easier to dress them in stages – petticoat, bodice, then skirt.
Hi there, just stumbled across this project. I absolutely love it! So beautiful! I wish I could make dresses so beautiful, great job!
Thank you so much! =)
These are so gorgeous, and I loved seeing your process! I wish everyone could see this and realize how much work and time go in to building costumes!
Aww thank you! I’m so glad you enjoyed seeing some of the process! =)
Brooke these White Christmas dresses are amazing! You are incredibly talented! I’m trying to duplicate your efforts during this COVID season as a keep sane project and was wondering what size petticoat you ended up ordering…. width wise I guess…. thanks
Thank you so much! I ordered factory-made hoop skirt petticoats that measured 148″ in bottom circumference. I hope this helps with your build! =)
So I’m cutting the bodice today and I had a few questions. I had some leftover light red cotton. Do you think that would do for the lining? I haven’t made sleeve patterns before and you have two pictures. The first is what I would consider a sleeve and I don’t understand the second picture? You made a two-piece sleeve? Please fill me in. I wont need elbow ease but Im thinking I’ll need the longer 22” zipper the pattern calls for. In your pictures it looks like the zipper just goes to the waist. Finally why the semi circle skirt instead of using the pattern. Was it just to make it a fuller skirt?
Thanks in advance for answering my questions. I’ll send you a picture if I ever get it done!
Cotton should be fine for your lining as long as it isn’t too different in drape than your outer fabric.
The sleeve draft starts with a basic sleeve block, and then I turned that into a two-piece sleeve – meaning it’s a sleeve with an inseam and an outseam. If you draft your own sleeves, you’ll need to follow the drafting instructions in a pattern-making book and plug in your own measurements. You may also have better luck with the sleeve in the envelope since you aren’t a mannequin, but I seem to remember the pattern being a little strange in terms of ease and shape in general. (I honestly don’t remember the details because it has been years since I did this project.)
I made each dress as two pieces – a bodice and a separate skirt. So you’re seeing the center back separating zipper I put on the bodice disappearing under the skirt at the waist when the mannequin is dressed. The full circle skirt I drafted (to match the movie dresses and fit over the hoop petticoat) has a side zipper on the left side seam.
I’d love to see photos of yours when you finish!
I’VE LITERALLY SPENT HOURS ONLINE LOOKING FOR A PATTERN FOR THESE “WHITE CHRISTMAS” DRESSES. I SEARCH EVERY SO OFTEN AND HAVE FOR YEARS! YOURS ARE BEAUTIFUL. I’M GOING TO SAVE YOUR ADDRESS AND COPY YOUR WORK. 🙂 THANK YOU FOR SHARING!
Awww, thanks! Happy sewing! =)
Hi! Construction question- is the fur lined skirt piece an overskirt or sewn into the gown shell? I’m making this an was trying to avoid more heavy fabric layers but so worried sewing the fur into the shell will not look right. Thanks for any additional information!
If you look at the photos captioned “attaching the fur to the skirt”, you can see how I attached the fur. It’s all just one layer with the fur as trim.
That’s what I thought! But I’ve asked a Reddit post about how to sew the fur onto the dress and they all insist it can only look right as an overskirt – which means more weight more fabric. This is my first time merging patterns and I’m at a loss sewing fur into the center of a fabric piece versus the edge but I’ll read your explanation more carefully thanks for the quick reply!