Sunday, October 16, 2011

Buy Nothing New: Thrifty French Maid Costume

What do you do when you decide at the last minute you need a costume and nothing in your wardrobe fits the bill? In the spirit of Buy Nothing New Month, buying something new was out. I also don't like buying things that will get limited wearing. I could have gone to Savers to see what I could get second hand that could be reworked into a costume. However, thrifty sort that I am, I decided to see what I could do with what I already had to hand. This led to the Thrifty French Maid Costume.

The finished costume: Front, Side and Back views
 I used completely reclaimed material from my refashion/reuse stash including:
  • An old pair of black/dark grey satin pajamas I gave up on wearing as the polyester was too sweaty
  • An old white work shirt
  • Some offcuts of white netting from making curtains
  • A zipper reclaimed from a previous garment
The pajamas and shirt were disassembled into their separate pieces. I was going to make the dress from the black satin of the pajamas, the apron from the shirt, and a petticoat from the netting. The basic dress design was a fitted bodice, pleated short skirt, short puffed sleeves, and a zip at the back. I'll confess there was not a lot of preparation and planning that went into this project, so there was a fair bit of "design on the fly" and "winging it". It's also why there aren't any "before" or "in progress" photos. It was serious last minute sewing. However, I have drawn up a little diagram of how the dress pieces came out of the pajama pieces. The black line is the pajama piece and the red line is the dress piece.

I laid out the pieces of fabric I had to work with and started to plan pattern pieces. I used the bodice from a dress pattern that I'd recently fitted as a base and re-worked it to suit the shape I wanted. No time to do a muslin, I went straight to cutting out pieces, leaving a generous seam allowance where possible. I did a quick self-fit as I went along. For the skirt I cut eight slightly trapezoidal panels and sewed them into a circle. I then stitched the netting fabric to the top of inside of the skirt panels, then added some extra tiers to the lower edge of the netting to give it some "floof". To attach the skirt to the bodice, I put in box pleats placed to hide the seams of the individual skirt pieces. The zipper was inserted so it went down centre back of the bodice and into the skirt (so I could get it over my hips/shoulders). The small puff sleeves were made from the pajama sleeves buy cutting the sleeves in half and attaching the lower half to the upper half to create a wider circle to be gathered in to the bodice armscyth and create the puffed look. To do the gathering quickly, I used a trick I'd read recently and turned the sewing machine tension right up to 10. It effectively gathers the fabric as you sew, then you can just fudge the fabric along the stitching line to make it fit. On the ends of the sleeves I sewed a channel and inserted some thin elastic.
The "petticoat" layer under the skirt

I decided at that point that the dress really needed some kind of trim. I cut a bunch of long strips around 2" wide from the white shirt, pressing them half to create a smooth edge. I applied this around the bottom of the skirt and the bottom of the sleeves. I then used the white satin piping from the pajamas to edge the neckline.

The apron was fairly simple. A square for the top and a trapezoid for the bottom, plus a waist tie. I made a bunch of white strips from the shirt (as above), then gathered them using the sewing machine method above, to create a ruffled edge for the apron. I then soaked it in starch and pressed it to get that crisp feel.

 I also needed a little pleated head piece. I ended up using the shirt cuffs, which were nice and sturdy. I removed the buttons and cut off the bit with the button hole and stitched the two cuffs together to create a longer piece. I then pleated it and sewed it into what was the shirt collar band. It wasn't quite right until I folded the sides of the pleated cuffs down to the band to create a curved shape. Stitched those bits down and made the band taper thinner towards the ends. Tried it on and it stayed in place with bobby pins, so worked nicely.

And voila! The costume was made complete by the essential pair of black seamed stockings and a pair of black and white heels from my wardrobe. Not bad if I do say so myself.

A pair of pajamas, an old shirt, some curtain offcuts + 10 hours sewing = One thrifty (and sexy) french maid costume.


Erica Louise said...

Hi Ant Queen, not sure how to contact you but you've won the double pass to Fair@Square fashion show on 2nd Dec. Drop me an email , my email address is on the about page of my blog. Thanks! Erica

Ant Queen said...

Thanks Erica! I'll email you shortly :)