Addams Family Outing: Natural Form 1878 Mourning Dress

I’ve been neglecting to fully blog my outfits lately for which I humbly apologize. Since I’ve gotten out of the swing of things, this post is going to be pretty perfunctory. I need to work on getting back into the groove!

My friend Megan (you may know her as Mistress of Disguise) found out early in the summer that the Granbury Opera house would be putting on the Addams Family Musical. Of course, we had to go and we invited the whole DFW Costumers Guild to go with us! Nothing would suit attending such a production better than a mourning gown, so I immediately began sewing….in my imagination, of course!

Mourning Ensemble, circa 1870 via the Met

A late 1870s mourning dress illustration

Victorian mourning clothes have some intricate rules depending on the decade, but for the average person, it boiled down to two things: Black and Not Shiny. Silk and wool bombazine or crepe are the hallmark fabrics of mourning, but I didn’t have the budget for those. I needed something affordable, matte, black, natural, and most importantly, cool and breathable to combat Texas’s infamous swelter (yes, even in October it reaches 100). Cotton, of course, first comes to mind. But I own a black and white feline that sheds like a hay wagon in a hurricane, and having experimented with black cotton before, I didn’t look forward to wearing a hair magnet. Instead, I had linen dreams and a polyester budget!

The Hair-icane and Great Destroyer of Tissue Patterns

But, lo! What’s this?! A sale at Fabrics.com? And look: Linen/rayon washer linen in black (it’s a bit more expensive now that the sale is over, but still worth it, I think)! I loathe to buy fabric online, especially in a case like this where weight and drape matter immensely. Yet the siren call of a superbly rated linen-rayon blend was just to tempting to pass up! So at 1:45am on the morning of July the 10th (as the email receipt so kindly reminds me), I grit my teeth and dropped $50 on 7 yards of fabric.

It hurt, fam. Not gonna lie. Oof! But when it arrived….holy bananas, was this stuff the REAL DEAL. Wow! It’s gorgeous. It does that smooth “fwump” thing that linen does with a touch of rayon slinkiness. It’s not matte matte, but has a subtle sheer similar to worn polished cotton. Plus, it’s pretty opaque. I was GIDDY….and terrified to cut it.

So I did that thing I do: set it on the ironing board and pet it occasionally for a few months.

To distract myself from the thought of ruining my precious fabric, I turned my attention to buttons. I knew I wanted black glass buttons, preferably antique. I spent 3 WHOLE DAYS in antiques stores looking for them and I found lots and lots of beautiful Victorian black glass buttons. I wasn’t even looking for a set—just something that spoke to me. But you know what? Victorian buttons are tiny and I’m not. I kept getting flashbacks to the giant 1970s Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to Sewing that had a section about proportion in choosing designs. As a stout-by-Victorian-standards gal, I decided 30 tiny buttons up my front was not only too much work, but also not entirely flattering/suitable for the very plain design I had in mind. I needed buttons with heft, yet a subtle demure quality and a sophisticated goth-girl edge for less than $20 for a set of 15. Tall order? Yes. But the Czech Republic doth provide!

I found these buttons in a few places, but this shop was the most inexpensive and had great service.

I highly recommend these buttons. Absolutely fantastic quality, scale, and design, plus extremely quick international shipping.

Buttons in hand, I continued to procrastinate–in my usual fashion– until the week before the event. So I grit my teeth once more, rolled out my fabric, laid down the ducktape dummy pattern I used for my Dickens on the Strand dress nearly a year before, and prayed that my corset could handle the extra ten pounds I’d shored up between then and now.

I picked up my shears.

I took a deep breath.

I cut the fabric.

I had no design in mind other than “Natural Form/Long and Smooth over the Hips.” I was going in blind. I just cut, sewed, and prayed it would fit. And at first, it didn’t.

It is not perfect, but it was wearable. I didn’t plan for a V neck, but the original high collar design did not work and a jewel neckline was unflattering, so I folded back the edges and tacked them down. I miscalculated with my new buttonhole foot and placed my buttons too far back, so they are off center and a tight squeeze.  I wasted a whole day trying trim ideas that were all for naught and the trim I did choose I ran out of halfway through.
But I made it work!

I wailed. I gnashed. I threw it on the floor in a fit of rage. But I had no time for a pity party, so, I pinned and hacked it into submission.

And realized it looked like a 1940s suit jacket in the process…

The little skelecorn is not HA…in this universe at least. ;)

The final trim design is a three/four layer design. I had a tiny length of antique moire ribbon with a white picot edge that was my inspiration. I had just enough for the collar. To fake the look for the cuffs and skirt panels, I cut strips from the cream-colored sari scraps leftover from making my Ren Faire dress and laid a plain black ribbon over it. The fluffy, pinked black sheer is leftover scrap from my Moonflower bustle dress. The fluffiness is both trendy for the 1870s and perfect for hiding my mile-a-minute machine sewing. The collar and cuffs are designed to be removable so I can just snip the giant basting stitches holding them to the dress and swap them out for other designs.

The skirt is my Midnight Madness Standard Skirt: two panels of the 54″ fabric pleated down to fit the waistband. The very modest “bustle” back is made by cutting the back panel extra long and pleating up the excess into the side seams (similarly to how I pleated the sides of the Croissant Dress). The waistband itself is merely a length of grosgrain ribbon. I ran out of time to finish trimming it. Hopefully I will find the motivation to make a row of pleats for the hem. I ran out of time to make a full overskirt. Instead, I slapped together the little side “petals” last-minute since I felt the skirt needed some white to tie it into the trim on the bodice.

I was still sewing things together when I went to Megan’s house to get ready and we barely made it into our seats at the theater as the curtain rose, but we did it! A few other DFWCG folks joined us as well. We had a good time watching the play, a pleasant walk around the unexpected bonus fall art fest outside, and tasty German food at the Schnitzel Haus! I would definitely go back again.

Plus there is an old hotel called the Nutt House!

And just a week later, I got to re-wear it for Halloween!

Now I have a “little black dress” that I can jazz up with fresh cuff and overskirts as the occasion demands. Super excited for the mix’n’match possibilities! With a few bustle-era events on the horizon, I’m hoping to wear it again quite soon, which should prove much more gentle on my wallet and sanity that scrambling to sew something from scratch each time an event pops up.

 

 

8 thoughts on “Addams Family Outing: Natural Form 1878 Mourning Dress

  1. Yes to your commentary and the best analogy about cat fur: “like a hay wagon in a hurricane”!! It cracked me up. I’m also glad to know I’m not the only one who sews in my head and pets my fabric before actually doing anything with it. Love the final product!! Great job.

  2. So funny! And boy, can I relate to your procrastination. You “made it work” beautifully, and I loved your Halloween costume, too!

  3. “Sheds like a hay wagon in a hurricane” ? I asked Nutty Nutmeg kitty what she thought of such epic fur-fetti and she didn’t reply. Jealous, I suppose. Really, that’s the best comparison I’ve heard in a while, and here in KY we’re pretty good at permulating up such things.

    Anyhow, the dress came out really well. I love its all-purposeness and readiness for all kind of features. And the buttons: what a score.

    Anyhow, whether you post many times or a few, your posts are fun, helpful, and most appreciated!

    Very best,
    Natalie in KY

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