Steampunk Masquerade Ballgown Design and Decisions

I have so many projects I want to make and with the masquerade ball happening in town I can’t quite say no. How could I say no? I can’t say no.

I have some deep burgundy colored iridescent taffeta as well as a brown iridescent taffeta that I can make into a skirt to look similar to this one (pattern from Truly Victorian)

I thought I would have enough of the burgundy to make this skirt but I lay the pattern pieces down and I’m shy 2 yards- it’s only 45″ wide fabric. The new idea is to either cutting the skirt in half at around the knees and using the burdundy on top and brown on the bottom or alternating burgundy and brown gores. I’m currently waiting for the English Rose velveteen to arrive for the bodice.

This is similar to the bodice I’ll be making. I’m using Frances Grimble’s books to draft a bodice.

I started sketching

But, see, my burgundy fabric isn’t purple. It must be time to buy more markers for the kids. 🙂

Here are two ideas for using the burgundy and brown taffetas together. The pink isn’t quite there on one of these sketches but, as I keep reminding myself, I won’t really know until my fabric arrives.

If I get my pink fabric and neither fabric works, I’ll have to reassess what I’m doing for this gown. Decisions, decisions. Any other ideas?

7 thoughts on “Steampunk Masquerade Ballgown Design and Decisions

  1. Brooke says:

    My first thought when you said you didn’t have enough fabric was a vertical “striped” version. Vertical stripes are very steampunk and you won’t have to worry about proportions looking “off” with a horizontal division. I vote for the last sketch. =)

    The silhouette and stylelines are great with your two patterns!

    • Leila says:

      thanks. This was the suggestion I got from OneGirlCircus and I just couldn’t get how it looked in my head which is why I had to quick sketch it out. I’m glad it looks good.

  2. Betsy Horst says:


    You are the most curious and inventive gal. From super heros to vintaqe ball gowns. Good for you.

    I love that skirt shape. This will be a pretty dress to wear, and it should look nice on you.
    I’d do the longer rear part of the skirt in the quieter one of the taffeta colors, and the front gores in the other. I think the burgundy would go better with the pink top.

    I’d use those skirt colors up top somehow and the bodice color in the skirt subtly.
    You could make two small taffeta rosettes or something out of the rear skirt color to adorn you shoulder tops, or maybe flat bows. On shoulders and something at center neck dip?

    And a corded seams of bias cording made from the bodice fabric on the seams that separate the two skirt halves, and in the rear gores. That would get some color down and back there.

    I read all your posts.

    I’ve noticed frequently that my quickest fix would have been to add more general ease to the pieces. Most of them seem to be great except that they don’t look like they’d move and drop down lower as easily as they could.

    IN the goal to micro fit , ease , built into the pattern , can be lost.

    Try adding a bit more ease. Make them a bit bigger around. After you fit them.

    Things bunch up for lots of reasons –they need to move up and down AND AROUND on the body and not hitch –if you lift your arm, your top should drop ALL the way back down without you having to tug it down. You should be able to stand and turn inside most clothes some without them moving glued to you. Your clothes at resting, should have resolved themselves on your body.
    You should not feel them pressing on you.

    As long as things fit well at the neck and are not falling off the shouldere–and even that usually needs a bit of padding to even out in tailoring, the fit across the front and back where things pull is much easier when enough width and depth is allowed for in the beginning. I learned this early on in tailoring.

    For instance two good examples: Trousers. If they are to flatter a fanny –not talking about clingy stuff here, man tailored pants/trousers, the hardest to fit properly…They should have a nice high rise, not tight-able to sit, etc, but not pull down at front or back waist when seated properrly( slumping not allowed) they should drop down from the fattest curve of the butt, straight down for a while and them whatever the leg style is they should, slowly angle and drift into. They should never CUP under the fanny cheek and then go down.

    Bodices, princess line dresses, coats, etc should not hitch on the hip mound or on the back butt. I had no hip mounds back then much, but love handles and fannies are part of life. You have to go around them– starting higer up the side. Don’t wait till the hip area to add your gentle allowance.

    When you garment fits with ease under the arms–armholes are key, too, they make things sloppy looking if they are too big, and yet they have to allow room. You can keep them high/shallow, but have them add a bit to back width if you wan tto by widening both of those parts a tad.

    You need a good pivot place on the shoulder, and your neck lying flat and in good shape. Often if you are allowing for more size below, you sometinmes start with a larger patttern or muslin and get the neck area too floppy–and the armholes too big–just watch for that, but allow for room accross the clavicles and upper back area, that can easily pull. We start to gain weight in our upper backs after our 20’s for sure. )

    So you have the top neck comfortable and you can easily move arms forward and back with enough ease in back not to pull,THEN in the diaphragm area of the torso, the sides along the bust area, you have to have enough open angle to go down to let the hips swing inside the tube, or more likely the more cone shaped body of the garment.

    I think even in the finest of Empire dresses, the corsets did all the work. The dress itself laid on top of the undergarments. Those beaded bands and things wouldn’t have lasted a night stretched tight over a heaving damp daiphragm! Spankx and slips help, but skim is built in. This is important on crisp fabrics as well as knits.

    The bust is tugging at this in front, and you can fit for the bust itself, but you still have to allow the whole thing some grace and fluidity. UP and down, across that busty back, it has to be able to drop down and skim the rear, and the front has to be able to drop down and skim the stomach area.

    Shirring your fabric over your bust instead of darting it, you might get a subtler fit. You did this in your red and blue dress, but I’d try that with the gathers on the sides.

    You can always STARTwith some mini short darts to eat some fabric at the base of the gathers, and then very carefully gather it to fit. And I’d avoid things like darts or seams over the bust points. Also cutting more things on the bias might help you there.

    A nice panel dress idea might be one with a straight central panel of one color down from the neck and small shearing at the outside sides of it at the bust and then striaght down.

    It couuld be a sacque , color block dress, or have a princess seam treatment that is two gores on each side of the center panel. The point being that the center front panel does not accenct bust shape, but rides over it. I grew up with NUNS….you might even want to hang this panel free over and princess dress. I’d do any princess a/line dresses for you with two side gores, to slim down the curves in each section.

    Reading your posts makes me realize how lazy I am . Just thinking about sewing again for myyself excitess and scares me. What a hasslel it is going to be.

    You have a lot of gumption to tackle all these complicated period pieces. And I love that you have the patience to work to perfect patterns for your street clothes.

    My newest goal is to make some nice linen separates. Mix and match. find a basic longer dress, some wide legged pants, and some sort of basic top /tunic., and a short and long jacket with some sort of swing back.

    I can make these up assembly line, up in lots of fabrics ( go hope I don’t make them all black) and get rid of all the floppy styless things I seem to have acquirted lately. A uniform of sorts! Add some jewelry and off I’ll go. Sort of the old Kate Hepburn like look is the idea. Simple blocky pieces, hiding a multitude of wonderful sins. HA!

    Do you knit? You might have a lott of fun with some of the knitted pieces out now.

    Keep up your good work.

    • Leila says:

      Betsy, you’ve given me so much to think about. I love the Katherine Hepburn look. Love it. I do knit. I usually just post my knits on Ravelry. I’m lbreton there if you’re there, too.

      Thanks for all the fit suggestions. Being self taught means that I lack some basics but I’m also hungry for knowledge which I don’t take for granted. I’ll study your comment.

      I was reading David Page Coffin’s trouser book and it was that book that sold me on “when in doubt, add ease”. I have a dress I made 2 years ago that has a gentle amount of ease and although I use it a lot, where as the misses I’ve had with overfitting end up as scraps for smaller projects.

      I love your ideas for pulling all the colored fabrics together in the ballgown. I love the rosette idea at the shoulder and the cording. I’m so glad you commented. thank you!

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