I love Easter for a host of reasons, one of the arguably shallower ones being that Easter is the one day of the year, barring funerals, that I have license to actually wear a hat. And I love hats. I think it’s criminal that they have pretty much gone out of style unless you are visiting a race course, at a funeral, or attending an Easter church service.
So this year Easter also coincided with my spring break, and I decided to drive back down south to celebrate with my friends AND get in a touch of much needed sun and warmth. To celebrate, I decided to make my own dress and hat. A week and a half before I planned on leaving. This was, mildly put, ambitious, especially since I planned on draping the dress and not making it from a pattern.
My inspiration actually came from the new Cinderella movie. If you haven’t seen it, I recommend it simply for the unbelievable production values. I loved the costumes, although ironically it was the every day wear and not the big ball gown or wedding dress that I enjoyed the most. Ella and her mother have simply the best floral print dresses, which combine hints of 18th century and early victorian aesthetic with lots of ruching and cartridge pleating and these lovely, foamy, full skirts.
Hayley Atwell as Ella’s mother. Not only do I love the floral print, but the details on the bodice are just delightful.
I decided that I was going to make a version of Ella’s work dress for Easter and pair it with a shallow-crowned straw hat that would be similar to an 18th century bergere.
Exhibit image of Cinderella’s work dress
Screenshot of Lily James as Ella in the dress. With an equally awesome cartridge pleated apron.
Interestingly enough, the several versions of this dress made for filming (a common practice, especially if garments are needed in various stages of wear) have some minute differences, the biggest being that one at least appears to have a russet colored trim between the neckline and the neck frill, where others don’t.
On left, with trim around neckline, on right, without.
The narrow cartridge pleating on the bodice is very obviously inspired by the style of many 1840s bodices, such as this gown from the Metropolitan Museum of Art:
Silk Afternoon Dress, ca. 1845. American. The Metropolitan Museum of Art
This dress from Kerry Taylor Auctions:
Printed muslin day dress, circa 1855 | Kerry Taylor Auctions
And this portrait from the late 1840s – early 1850s.
August Heinrich Georg Schiott (Danish, 1823–1895) | Portrait of the sisters Malvina Anny Louise and Hilda Sophie Charlotte Reventlow | 19th century
The pleating on the skirt is also reminiscent of 1830s-1850s cartridge pleating.
Close up of the skirt attachment to bodice from the Cinderella costume exhibition, courtesy of Katrine Hasselquist via the Costumer’s Guide Facebook group.
See the similarity to this 1841 wedding dress from the Victoria & Albert?:
Wedding dress | 1841 | The V&A
The downside to these lovely details were that they all require hand sewing. There is really no other way to cartridge pleat with multiple rows of stitching. I found my fabric at Salvation Army, an interestingly shaped length of gauzy floral print cotton that was neither curtain nor sheet sized, despite being in the household linens section. Sometimes you just get lucky. I made a cotton mockup of the bodice first to test my rucking skills and make sure the pieces I’d drawn onto my dress form would fit me, as I’m slightly differently proportioned from the form. I was in a crazy rush, so sadly no production pics, though I do have my initial sketches to narrow down the dress design.
But I did have time for a couple quick sketches to narrow down the design!
Then I began to cut up the actual fabric, which made me crazy nervous because I had a very limited amount, especially given how much fabric I wanted to go into the skirt. But I cut out my pieces, along with a cotton lining since the floral fabric was pretty sheer. This also gave me more leeway with seams, as I could sew both lining and outer pieces to each other at the same time as piecing together the bodice.
However, by far the craziest longest time went into pleating the bodice. It was way, waaay longer than I expected, exponentially longer in fact. To give you an idea, I also usually have a tv show or movie on in the background while I hand sew. I made it through four or five movies, half a season of House and a Smithsonian miniseries while sewing the gathering stitches into both sides of the bodice. I DID take a photo of that:
Each row was hand stitched for the proper width, so it wouldn’t gather, but cartridge pleat, and because the pleating goes far up the center of the bodice, it was 29 rows of stitching on each side of bodice, gathering in 18 inches of fabric.
The bodice looked great when I finally put it together, but I was literally leaving in a day, so I had to super rush the rest of the dress. The end result is that I had to temporarily abandon the cartridge pleats on the skirt and my neckline needs to be adjusted a little to make it more symmetrical. But the dress was wearable in time for Easter, even though I’d estimate it was only 75% truly finished. I even had time to stitch my hat from a cheap straw gardening hat I picked up at AC Moore. I ripped the stitches connecting the braided strands to each other and gave it a much shallower crown, then trimmed it at the last minute with a bit of scrap fabric from the dress .
The end result was really great for Easter, but probably needs a few more hours work to make properly wearable on a day to day basis.