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Steampunk Wedding Dress

I did a steampunk wedding dress earlier in the spring, and I didn’t blog about it because a) I was really really REALLY busy for a couple months and b) the bride asked that I refrain from posting pics until after the wedding. It’s a reasonable request, I suppose. ;) I can’t take credit for the design – Joe, my theater-boss (and half the happy couple) showed me a picture they found on the interwebs and asked if I could make it. So I said yes. That’s the kind of thing I do. So, maksies I did…


Dress from the front
Happy client in happy dress!

The fabric choices were one of those collaborative things that happens when the seamstress is at the fabric store trying to send picture messages in the middle of a spontaneous blizzard, complaining about white balance, and the client is on the receiving end trying to sort out all the blithering. We got it worked through. The undermost skirt is a cream colored mystery fabric (with a heavy concentration of dinosaur, I believe). The split overskirt is a linen blend with a gold sparkle that was completely invisible in the fabric store, then there’s a bronze chiffon overskirt, a mushroom/purple-that-matches-the-wedding-color reversable overskirt, a camel bustle and swags, mushroom swags (that’s the color, not some sort of style), and little front poofs in purple/gold changeable silk. The corset is a lavendar/pewter changeable silk, and the jacket is a sort of mushroom wale courderoy with a little burgundy in the ground. The collar is more of the purple/gold changeable. There’s a fine batiste chemise under all that somewhere.

The dress in back
The back view, showing the removable bustle.

Now, here’s the crazy thing with this dress: part of the idea behind this dress was to make something that could also be used for cons and other events, so we were striving for maximum flexibility of wearing with minimal under-corset bulk. Also, the bride was planning to wear a 3-4″ heel for the ceremony, and flats thereafter. I have been hearing more and more women who have this notion (including my sister, who ought to know better!) Brides of America, let me explain: this works in movies because they have *two* dresses. The look the same, but have different hems. This does not work in real life. If you suddenly get 4″ taller or shorter, your dress is not going to magically adjust. This is because you don’t have a costume department, effects crew, and the ability to call “hold it – scene!”, run, change, return and resume. Life doesn’t work like that.

But I digress… Since the skirts are all either mounted on bands or drawstring, the easy solution was to set them so that they kiss the floor in the heels, then move then up and adjust the closures when we went to flats. (I say easy because I wasn’t there. I only had to engineer it, not actually implement it.) The hip swags tie inside the corset. I feel like I should do up the photos for a demo on draping hip swags, because they’re really easy once you get the hang and they are, frankly, kind of awesome. :)

The bustle is removable, and it’s a variation of the missa-quick-and-dirty-single-point-suspension bustle. Instead of being rigged to hang from a single point, this one hangs from two of the grommets in the corset and ties in place. The poof of the bustle is rigged on a band, suspended from the tie-in points. I have done this before and it was a breeze, but for whatever reason, this one just didn’t feel like it. I think it was the heavier fabric. There was a lot of very foul language involved, mostly in txts sent to a friend who, I think, had very little idea what I was going off about. I eventually got back a text that just said, “F#@$ bustles!”. That is my new favorite curse. ;)

Anyhoo… The nice thing about doing a bustle this way is that it’s more like  a tail – you can flick it to the side when you sit so that you don’t have to crush the poor thing. That makes it pretty good for stage, where you don’t want to follow your actresses around with a steamer constantly. (Maybe other costumers do. I don’t know. I’ve been paid to do it for other people’s shows, which is fine, but I don’t want to do it if I don’t have to and am not being paid to.)

closeup of the collar and pin
A closeup of the collar, and the little pin charm I made.

I’m rather proud of the collar. First off, I had the time to actually tailor the darned thing with real hair canvas and pad stitching and tape and everything, so it lies beautifully. I also rather like my festive rouched edge. The bride had talked about a pin she saw with keys on it. I found this rather festive charm at Ye Olde Jo-Anns, attached it to a hat pin with some chain (I mangled the hat pin so it had a loop at one end), than gave it a chain that goes round the body and hooks into one of the corset grommets.

Whatever the problem, the answer really is “just hook it into one of the grommets”. It’s easy. I like easy. ;)

jacket before over-collar and sleeves
Here's a quick lesson in proportion: don't ever do this to yourself! Sleeves exist to balance hips.

I snapped this one before I put the sleeves into the jacket. Without the sleeves to balance the hips, the jacket really does nothing to accent the waist even over a waisted corset. Crazy, right? One of the best ways to get that illusion of the teensiest waist in the world is to emphasize the width of the shoulder. A nice sleeve with a slight leg-o-mutton sleeve head does the trick well. Cropping the jacket length so that it’s a few inches above the narrowest part of the waist is another of my favorite tricks. A good hip swag also helps.

look with sleeves and swags
Compare this one to the one above, and you see the difference in the appearance of the waist.

See what I mean? Shockingly, adding more bulk can make you look thinner than you would have just by super-lancing your corset. Dress smarter, and suffer less. ;)

If you look closely at the collar above, you can also see the inner workings of it – the oatmeal colored stuff is hair canvas. It’s attached to the under-collar with pad stitches, which let me control the roll of the collar. The seam allowance is edged with twill tape, which gives the edge of the collar a little extra bulk to help it turn. That’s all done by hand, so I don’t normally do it in client work unless I have some sort of dire need for handwork. (Say, for example, I’m hanging out in my Design Studio classroom trying to convince students that yes, they will actually use all that tailoring stuff they learned last semester some day….)

So, anyway, I’m still waiting on the bride’s choice of pictures from the happy day, but in the mean time, I have this. I was very happy with the way it turned out. It kinda makes me want to run straight off to Teslacon. But that would be silly, because I’d have to stand outside and wait until November for them to open it.


  1. Erin
    Erin June 15, 2012

    So lovely! And extra lovely is that the bride can actually wear it again, for realz.

  2. Sarah
    Sarah July 20, 2012

    Gorgeous work, that jacket is so flattering! Yes please for a hip-swag tutorial… And also please a word or two about bustles, if you feel compelled :D

  3. Artemisia
    Artemisia September 27, 2012

    This is amazing!
    I absolutely love the skirt and the touch of color on the front was a great idea.
    I follow your blog since a couple of years ago and I find it very inspiring (not to mention funny), so I was wondering if you would mind my putting its link on my website.

    Also, since you are always so kind, I would like to ask your advice on a sewing matter. I would like to attach a circle skirt to a dropped waist bodice with a U curve on the front front and the back, but I am wondering: do I keep the usual skirt cut and just trim the hem to make it even or do I modify the pattern to follow the double curve of the bodice?

  4. missa
    missa October 6, 2012

    Hi, Artemisia,
    For our skirt, you’ll want to make your adjustments at the top (especially if you’re going for period accuracy). Your other option is to keep a regular circle skirt and attach it to the waist of the bodice *inside*.

  5. Kaliedylian
    Kaliedylian February 7, 2013

    I just ran across your blog and this dress and I have to write to tell you that it is fabulous! The collar on the jacket is amazing! And I LOVE the pin charm that you made. I am a fairly conservative suburban house wife who secretly wishes that she could dress like this all of the time. I also sew some and have sewn costumes for my daughter, so I have immense respect for the detail!

    • missa
      missa February 14, 2013

      Thank you, Aileen! I routinely dress myself as a character from the steampunk universe being costumed for an event set in our world – layers, skirts over pants, that sort of thing. It makes me feel a little better about the whole thing… ;)

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