Sunday, November 3, 2019

In which an old dress returns, much improved

My deep love of tartan fashion history began in college, when I spent a year at the University of Edinburgh (purportedly to do science, but in the end there was a lot of dancing, baking, tea, and tartan in there too). While I was there I picked up shifts as a nursery temp, and at the end of the year I was able to use some of my pence on a few metres of dress Stuart, the white-backed Stuart tartan colorway that I had fallen in love with while learning about Queen Victoria's own highland adventures.

Long story short, I wasn't a very good seamstress in college...and sewing in a dorm room didn't improve matters very much. It was a high-pressure project, what with it being a barely-enough-to-make-the-thing amount of very expensive silk. I was happy enough with it at the time, but it's always had issues and was never really a dress I loved the way I had wanted to when I was imagining it in my Edinburgh student flat. (If you're curious, I wore it in 2012 a few times that I blogged about.) So when my dance company started discussing the possibility of a Victoria and Albert 1860s dance weekend, I knew I wanted to re-make the dress into what I had originally hoped it would be.

While there is more trim to add (and some skirt trim to re-apply...a chair bit me at the ball!), I am finally in love with my tartan ballgown. This was the most complex bodice I have ever put together, but I'm really proud of where I've gotten in the last few years.

I am also immensely pleased with the re-make, re-use spirit of this dress. I would say in the end about 75% of the material I used was taken apart from a previous project: the silk tartan was of course my 2012 ballgown, and all of the cotton bits (lining, the top section and waistband of the underskirt) were once a petticoat I made, mis-pleated, and then never wore because it sat in a pile to someday be fixed. I did add 1 metre of new silk tartan (added as a panel to the skirt and also became the new bodice-the old bodice was cut up to make piping) and 2 yards (I think? I don't remember because I bought it several years ago...) of red silk for the underskirt and under-bodice.

To celebrate, here are some photos!

evidence that I do in fact dance in my ballgowns! this is from our performance of the Prince Imperial quadrille.

This ended up getting quite long, so...a whole lot of construction notes are coming up next. Stay tuned!


  1. I love how the new version of this dress turned out! :) I'm so glad you're finally able to enjoy it the way you want, too.


  2. This is just gorgeous! I love how graphic and bright it is. Is the plaid sewn to the red skirt or is it an overlay? I made something similar but all in solid purple, with mine as an overlay and it didn't like to lay very nicely.

    1. Thank you so much! The plaid is separate from the red silk--both are individual skirts with their own waistbands. The plaid overskirt and bodice also hook together, which I think encourages everyone to play nicely ;)

    2. Yes, that's what I did with mine.