Sunday, November 3, 2013

Queen Susan the Gentle

It's hard to believe that this was once the little girl who was inseparable from her Maisy paraphernalia and who hoarded markers like there was no tomorrow.

I apologize if this year's costume posts all seem to begin with me waxing sappy about how my children are all grown up. Every time I make their new Halloween costumes, it smacks me in the face: their waistlines have dropped an inch and their skirts require a fair bit more fabric yardage than the previous year's. And don't even get me started on their proportions - gone are the chunky jelly-bean shaped bodies and protruding tummies; now they are actually worth drafting for because we can actually use darts and other fun shaping devices in their blocks and patterns (yay!).

And then it's time for their photoshoot and there they stand, hair billowing in the wind, all elegant and poised, 

and regal,

and they stride

and dance

and spin, 

and I become this blubbering mess, whining about Babies Who Disappeared Overnight and Better Get Started On Prom Dresses and Need To Scour Pinterest For Bridal Trends (boo!). 

Tell me I'm not the only neurotic mother in the universe that does this.

Jenna was Queen Susan The Gentle this Halloween. She picked out Susan's outfit from the movie and told me she wanted that exact dress. Right away, I knew I was going to have fun making it, but that, among the three girls' costumes, it was also going to take me the longest time to do it. 

Some details - cutaway windows on the front bodice to allow the inner faux chemise to peek through.

They were made by facing individual leaf-shaped windows with the same ivory knit as the lining for continuity,

i.e. when the facing is the same color/fabric as the lining peeking through, you can tell what's facing and what's chemise, which covers a multitude of sewing imperfections. Incidentally, and since quite a few of you asked about these windows, the scrunched-up fabric peeking through is a separate piece behind the facing, edge-stitched around each window to keep it in place. Then the entire bodice is lined with that same knit to cover it all up, with that lining rolling over the outer neckline slightly to frame the gold trim. So four layers: wine-colored outer fabric, ivory knit facing around each window, same ivory fabric peeking through windows and same ivory fabric lining the entire bodice. The pintucks just above the windows were introduced to take in some neckline width, because the weight of the sleeves stretched the velour neckline sideways.

The sleeves- 

let me tell you: I've never made these disjointed sleeves before, so it was very engaging (as all new things are), but I couldn't believe what a time investment they were. You saw my first draft here, whose armpit was ruffle hell. I eventually unpicked the whole thing and repieced it, just so I could sleep with a clear conscience. 

See? Much better.

As I said, the sleeves were fun to make. There are several layers. The stripey outer gold layer was cut apart into two sections at the elbow

and sewn flanking a band of gathered ivory knit. Short lengths of gold trim were inserted during the piecing process. 

The whole process was repeated at the armscye, except that the spacing of the gap wasn't uniform like that at the elbow - it was narrower at the armpit to prevent ruffle hell from recurring.

Then the entire sleeve (still separate from the dress) was lined from the wrist upwards and set into the armscye as a single entity. 

The skirt attached to the bodice at the drop-waistline.

This was a two-thirds or semi-circular skirt (just like with Kate's skirt, I can't remember), with a godet panel of that gold sleeve fabric inserted in front, embellished with trim at the waist seam.

Here is the back - and I forgot to mention with Kate's dress, too, that the zipper ends at the bottom of the bodice. I found that with these drop-waist dresses, there is no need to extend the zipper into the skirt. Much easier to sew this way. And, just as with Kate's dress, I put in as much ease as I thought would allow for growth without compromising the fit.

In spite of the thick richness of the fabric, it still produced a very decent twirl.

Funny story- when the dress was all done on Jenna, I stood back and asked her if she liked it. (Remember that this is the Jenna who has all the names of her marker colors memorized and, if asked what her favorite color is, will reply, "Rainbow".)
"Well..." she started, then hesitated, as if concerned about how best to break the bad news to me. "It's nice... except the sleeves are not as gold as the movie."
Hahahaha! What can I say? The girl knows her shades of gold.

Finally, Jenna's official Queen -Susan-accessory was her famous horn. In the movie, her horn was an ivory thing with 3D details, which of course I didn't want to take the time to replicate. Instead, I made a cardboard and papier mache version and flat-painted it.

Since I haven't done any cardboarding here in a long time (I am so ashamed), I'll linger on this one a while.

I started with a regular straight cone of corrugated cardboard,

hot-glued into a seam.

To curve it, darts were introduced. And by "darts", I mean slivers were removed from the surface furthest away from the seam.

The horn was bent to close the dart and paper glued in place to keep the dart shut.

This introduced a slight curve to the cone.

More slivers were removed,

and the resulting darts closed with more paper strips, until the desired curvature was achieved to the cone.

We started out with a longer-than-necessary cone

so we could trim it down to the length we wanted. Then it was papier-mached with one layer of white printer paper

and painted with acrylic paint, varnished, and hardware attached.

Jenna wore her horn around her neck all day, blowing tunes into it and summoning reinforcements from all corners of the universe.

Incidentally, when the girls went out on Halloween night to snag candy, it was too cold to swish down the streets as is, so they wore their cloaks from this year's outfits

Here is a very grainy photo (it was almost dark when we set out) of Jenna with her cloak and horn.

Closing costume shot: Gown & Horn

and the queen to whose smile they barely do justice.


  1. This is absolutely my favourite of your three dresses. I would like to wear this one! By the way, after seeing your posts I decided to watch The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe to see if it would be suitable for my girls to watch yet. They have really immature taste in TV and film and are easily scared. While I enjoyed it, my girls definitely aren't ready to watch the film. Do your girls love the story through reading the books or are they brave enough for the film yet?

    1. Katie M: They've loved the books long before they watched the movies. However, they have watched the movies and love them, and the movies do seem to leave a stronger visual impression than the books.

  2. So beautiful... the outfit, and especially its wearer!

  3. I am surprised you did not introduce the horn music whistle thingy.
    I have a horn. -handmade for me in Finland out of birch strips with a metal thingamajig inserted to make your notices 'horn-like'.
    Of course, seeing as I don't know the proper name for this gadget, I have no idea how to order one.

    Just giving you inspiration for the next horn....
    Great costumes X 3. Impressive.

    1. kathy: I've not heard of the horn thingamajig before. It sounds fascinating! I wish you remembered the name so I could go look it up. Would be fun to insert it into cardboard tubes and turn them into real fake wind instruments!

    2. It might be a Lur or a Birch Trumpet. I'm not sure though, because the Lur might be bigger and straighter.

  4. It's amazing! You're heroic mother :) Girls are so cute and happy.

  5. Beautiful beautiful dress! It looks stunning on your girl!

  6. Absolutely beautiful! Your girls are very blessed to have such a loving, involved mother. These are memories they will always cherish.

  7. These garments are incredible! I'm in love with all the details, and as I sit and type this, my daughter is tugging at me sleeve saying, "I want you to sew me a dress JUST like that one!", alas I have neither the skill nor energy, and very content to just admire your good work:) Love the cardboard horn!

  8. I love the sleeves on this one! Actually, the entire dress - the colors and fabric are just perfect.

    I blubber over my kids growing up all the time. Like tonight, while singing them "Puff the Magic Dragon" as a bedtime song. That song is my kryptonite.


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