|Paper Pieced Pineapple Log Cabin: Block 20 of 36 Completed|
I recently received an email from a fellow church choir member with the subject "Do you like to sing Christmas carols?" Well, I like to sing Christmas carols about as much as Garfield the cat likes to eat lasagna.
|Rebecca is to Caroling as Garfield is to Lasagna|
It turns out that he (Carl from choir, not Garfield) sings with a group that puts together SATB (Soprano, Alto, Tenor, and Bass) quartets to sing at shopping centers, country clubs, corporate events, nursing homes, and private parties throughout the holiday season, and they are short on Altos. I've been singing Alto for the past year due to ongoing issues with my upper vocal range, and I've been enjoying learning the Alto harmonies. When I found out that I get to wear a "Dickensian caroling costume" while singing Christmas carols in 4-part harmony, I said yes immediately.
|The Holiday Singers of Charlotte, North Carolina|
The group has a repertoire of about 75 pieces, from the really old, traditional carols like The First Noel and Deck the Halls to classics from the 1930s-1950s, like Let It Snow, The Christmas Song (a.k.a. Chestnuts Roasting On an Open Fire), Jingle Bells, and Frosty the Snowman. Then there's Vince Guaraldi's melancholy jazz Christmas Time Is Here from the Peanuts Christmas special, Jingle Bell Rock, and the fairly recent Mary Did You Know. There are only one or two pieces I'd never heard before, but I've never sung the Alto harmony on any of them before. I love learning new music, and I love the harmonies on those jazz and swing pieces, so I'm having a ball with the music.
But meanwhile, the costume... What happens when a fabric-loving interior designer with a history degree is asked to come up with a "Victorian/Dickensian caroling outfit?" Well, first comes research, then pattern perusal, delusional fabric shopping, Grand Plans... and then a certain degree of panic when I opened the pattern instructions and discovered that this dress is way, WAY over my head.
Inspiration: mid-Victorian day dresses from about the time Charles Dickens published A Christmas Carol in 1843. There are some very frumpy mid-Victorian dresses that would be entirely appropriate for Deck the Halls (like the brown frock below) but that would feel anachronistic when it was time to sing something jazzy like Let It Snow. I think my dress should look like a Dickensian caroling costume that Edith Head might have designed for a caroling number in the film White Christmas.
|Circa 1862 Brown Dress That I Will Not Be Wearing|
I found a fantastic pattern designed by Andrea Schew for Simplicity patterns. The inspiration for the pattern came from this 1863 Godey's Lady's Book fashion plate:
|1863 Godey's Lady's Book|
|Simplicity 1818 Pattern|
What I love about this pattern is how Andrea has recreated the distinctive silhouette of the era not by relying on a period-correct corset tightened to the point that the wearer can hardly breathe, but by adding design ease through the bust of the bodice. Sandwiched between the extreme fullness of the skirt and the angled and boned cone-shaped bodice, the waist just APPEARS smaller than it is. This pattern is drafted with 2" of ease at the waistline, but 4 1/2" of ease through the bodice.
|Bodice Front has 2" Ease at Waist, but 4 1/2" Ease at Bust for Faux Corseted Silhouette|
Instructions are included for creating booby pads to fill out that extra space if needed, but in my case the extra room up top means that I should be able to get a good fit without having to do any kind of full or prominent bust adjustment. Yippee! All that, AND I get to breathe!
I'm going to be making the view on the right, with contrasting ruffles, because in my mind that very graphic contrasting trim best channels the spirit of the two different eras I'm trying to evoke.
|Edith Head's Sketch for Rosemary Cluny's Finale Costume in White Christmas, 1954|
As for color -- something Christmasy and festive, something that is flattering with my skin tone, and something that would be period correct for both 1843 and 1954... I wanted a natural fiber fabric (modern synthetics hadn't been invented yet in Dickens' day) and something lightweight and crisp that would swish when I walk and make me feel fancy. And I didn't just want to just copy the colors off the pattern envelope because that would be boring. And so, ladies and gentlemen, I present to you my ARSENIC GREEN dress fabric:
|My Green and Black Silk Shantung with Trims, No Flash|
|My Green and Black Silk Shantung and Trims, With Flash|
|Arsenic Green Day Dress Circa 1865, FIT Museum|
|Another Arsenic Green Dress circa 1860|
|1862 Political Cartoon, Punch Magazine|
|Vivian Leigh's "Drapery Gown" Costume for Gone With the Wind, 1939|
|Marilyn Monroe's Green Dress from River of No Return, 1954|
|1838 Morning Dress, World of Fashion|
|1864 Godey's Lady's Book|
In hindsight, I probably should have skipped the local fabric store and sourced my fabric from my interior design fabric resources instead. I could have gotten fantastic faux silk fabric with great body and wrinkle resistance at a reasonable price, in any color imaginable, and saved myself the considerable additional expense and bother of the silk organza underlining. Shoulda, woulda, coulda! Once I bought the silk shantung dress fabric, there was no going back.
As I mentioned earlier, this dress pattern is WAY beyond my garment sewing ability level. Fortunately, my mom is helping me sew it. So there's the obvious goal of having a costume ready to wear in time for my first caroling gig on December 3rd, but then there's a larger implied objective of learning new skills and gaining more confidence with garment sewing. That's worth a caroling costume that costs more than my wedding gown did, don't you think?