Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Belle Blue Village Dress – Costume Remake, 9 Years Later

First photoshoot with Belle - El Paso, 2006
It’s easy to think back fondly on a costume you made years ago, wore many times, and have since parted with. You don’t remember the issues you had sewing the darn thing as much as you remember the fun you had wearing it.
Belle’s blue village dress is one such costume for me. This was the second costume I ever sewed, created in June 2006 and debuted at A-Kon 2007. I wore her for a few outdoor photoshoots and for many “casual cosplay” events with TMCC (a local costume club that is no longer active). Belle was a great costume for cosplay ice skating and restaurant trips, even though I rarely wore her to conventions. There were a few things I know I could have made better (the collar on the blouse, for example) but I never had the presence of mind to remake the dress. 
After having a child, Belle was one of the many costumes in my closet that no longer fit. A visitor to my Facebook page expressed interest and purchased the costume.  I assumed I was done cosplaying Belle for a while, since she never seemed to be a good fit for conventions and I rarely do cosplay outings anymore.
Cosplay on Ice with TMCC
But then I discovered Princesses with a Purpose and auditioned for Cinderella and Belle – and got the roles. I already had my Cinderella dress ready to go, created expressly for volunteer work. But none of my Belle costumes fit anymore. The group had a Belle ballgown, but I wanted to make my own (especially since I’ve never been a fan of putting Belle in yellow; I prefer her dress in gold).
I decided to start with Belle’s blue village dress, as I had many years earlier, before moving on to the ballgown. I was determined to make this dress “right” this time. Armed with a few new tools – a professional dressform and a serger – but much less free time, I started my construction of this provincial dress.

Photo courtesy of SkyPirate
Lessons Learned from Last Time
Right off the bat, there are a few things that I knew were a little off on my original Belle. 
First off, the collar on the white blouse. I had no idea how to make that, so I made a loose chemise and fudged the collar entirely.  Looking back at old progress photos, I gathered the neckline and sewed a strip of cotton fabric around the opening, putting in a few hand stitches to make it look right. It looked great when I first made it, but it didn’t hold up as well after being washed. I could never iron it and it became a wrinkly thing that I struggled to get over my head (as I had made the opening just a bit too small).
After doing some research, I learned that the collar on Belle’s blouse is called a shawl collar. Knowing the name of the demon is necessary to control it – or at least to do the research and learn how to sew it.  I looked closely at photos from the Disney parks and noticed that the white blouse looks like it buttons up the front, which would solve the problem of pulling it over the head.
Second, the shoulder straps. I didn’t know that “straight” shoulder straps needed to be made from curved pieces.  These were literally just strips of fabric. They never sat properly and often fell off my shoulders when I was wearing the dress.
Looking back at photos, I can’t believe how wrinkled and ill-fitted the bodice was. I knew very little about tailoring and fitting, and I sort of jimmy-rigged the bodice from another pattern. It never fit perfectly, but the apron usually cinched up the waist to fit well enough.
Speaking of the apron, I cut it slightly wrong (crooked at the bottom) and figured I’d fix the length when I hemmed it.  Except that I made it out of thin white cotton, and you could see the wonky diagonal hemline through the fabric.
Finally, putting wide elastic in the sleeve cuffs seemed like a good idea at the time, but my arms usually started to hurt after a few hours because the sleeve cuffs were a bit too tight.

These were all issues that I planned to fix in the new iteration of the dress. Considering how many times I've worn Cinderella, I have a feeling that Belle is also going to get a lot of wear. I need to make this dress sturdy and durable (not to mention washable!)
Belle at A-Kon 2007 with the Divine Rose Keyblade from Kingdom Hearts
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