Sunday, May 19, 2013


The Ophelia dress is completed and I am so happy with how it came out! This is one of the first dresses I've made that went together with no fuss at all. It was a very simple cut, so with the practice I've been getting sewing so often lately it was about time I finally got things right. I didn't have to rip out a single stitch! Best of all I finished with enough time to take a proper photo shoot.

Challenge: Literature

Fabric: 5 yards of cotton sateen

Pattern: None, based mostly off of a photo of Mignon Nevada as Ophelia in 1910

Year: Late 19th to early 20th century

Notions: Thread

How historically accurate is it? This one is more historically plausible as it was made to be a period theater costume

Hours to Complete: 4

First Worn: For a photo shoot just this morning

Total Cost: $25 in fabric, $17 in flowers for the photo shoot

The idea behind this dress was to create a costume for Ophelia as if I were a costume maker working for a theatrical production of Hamlet in the late 19th to early 20th century. I pulled inspiration from paintings of Ophelia from the time period and from a photograph of soprano Mignon Nevada as Ophelia in an operatic production of Hamlet in 1910.

 I also used my past experience in making a few medieval kirtles and houppelandes to draft the basic shape of the gown. In fact the only thing that differs from my houppelande pattern is the width and length of the skirt and train and the sleeves. In that way I could keep an accurate medieval silhouette but add a little modern twist to it. 

I had a very short amount of time in which to complete this costume - only one day in fact. I am so lucky this project didn't give me a hard time, it went together even faster than I had ever imagined. The fabric was a dream to work with too, I've never chosen a cotton sateen to work with. I chose it this time because of the recent post The Dreamstress made on historical accuracy

I had originally thought to make the dress out of linen. It is historically accurate for both the medieval period and for the Victorian/Edwardian production. Also, many theater productions wouldn't always have a big budget, and linen was an inexpensive cloth at the time. I have to admit, I just don't think I like linen all that much. Maybe it's just the fabric at my local chain of stores, but I always find it stiffer than I'd like and no matter how thick the weave is it is always see through in white. 

This time when I went to the fabric store I focused a lot more on the weight and drape of the fabric. The cotton sateen stood out for several reasons. First of all it drapes and falls gorgeously. The next most important thing was that it was far more opaque than most white fabric you find. Also it was just ever so slightly off-white which goes so much better with my complexion than a stark white would. The price wasn't too bad either, and I had a 50% off coupon for it!

I had originally planned for a small side opening in the dress with hook and eye closures. I decided on this type of closure because theater costumes often require quick changes and a side opening is much smaller and easier to get at than a back closure. I would have liked to make a laced kirtle style dress, but that was impractical for both my time limit and for a theater quick-change. 

In the end I didn't need the side closure at all. The cotton sateen was also 3% spandex, giving it enough stretch to slip on right over my head. This was probably one of the biggest factors in how quickly I was able to complete the dress, and I'm way happier with the smooth finish it leaves to the whole garment. 

I decided that I was not going to wear any corsetry under the dress. Part of that decision was because of the pre-raphaelite influence I was using for this dress. Many of the pre-raphaelites rejected the ideals of the current restrictive fashion of women's clothing. They romanticized a more medieval silhouette and style of dress and freedom from corsets. I wore just my 1860's chemise for a little more modesty.

After the dress was finished it was on to the photography! One of my good friends came down for a visit and to help me shoot the dress. I whipped up a quick headband with flowers braided into it, grabbed a bouquet and headed to the beach. 

There is a gorgeous park just a short distance from my house that has some lovely gardens as well as a great beach. We decided it would be one of the best settings for the photoshoot. 

It was crazy windy at the beach, and the sun went away as soon as we got there, but the pictures still came out great. The wind really helped to show off the movement of the dress. I fall more in love with the fabric each moment!


  1. Wow! Beautiful! :) Which pattern did you use or base it off of?


    1. Thank you! I based it for the most part off of this woman's research on medieval kirtles I used the second pattern she presents with the flared front and back panels, but placed the gores on the sides instead of in the center of each front and back panel.