A Game of Thrones Inspired Dress from McCalls 6940

2018 has not been a good year for sewing. In fact, I’ve only sewn one new dress this year and it’s not historical at all!

Pictured above: Me during 2018 so far.

Perhaps I was feeling a bit burned out from the pressure of the historical costuming community or maybe it was my love of fantasy making a roaring appearance, but the only new costume I have made this whole year so far was, of all things, inspired by the Game of Thrones.

I don’t even really keep up with the show, but the costumes…they are fab! Check out the unbelievably beautiful embroidery! They have kindled a huge movement in the costume community, a kind of fantasy renaissance that hadn’t really happened since the Lord of Rings (over a decade ago…OMG! Where has time flown?!). As it turns out, a lot of historical costumers also fell in love with the wonderful GoT costumes. I think Katherine of The Fashionable Past really summed up why the world of Westeros was so appealing to many historical costumers:

“…They’ve truly created fashion on the show–clothes for different climates, different levels of society, different everything, yet they remain consistent in fashionable details. It was almost like discovering a new historical period.”

Kathrine has made a few GoT themed dresses with her own personal twists and designs. She noticed how similar the construction of her GoT dress was to 18th century dresses. In the course of my adventure, I discovered the skills I learned sewing the Plaid Croissant Natural Form Bustle Dress really helped make the McCalls pattern much easier to understand and sew!

I was inspired to give one a try! As it so happened, all the pieces just seems to fall into place like destiny.

A year ago, I had found my first piece of thrift-store silk. I want to be clear: I NEVER find yardage at my local Goodwill, much less silk yardage! Most of the silk I use is cut from silk shirts. I had enviously seen other costumers post on Facebook about finding silk yardage at the thrift shops. Finally, I found some–a real piece of silk–three yards of it! I was so proud and giddy that I horded it for a whole year. 3 yards isn’t enough for most historical dresses, so I didn’t quite know what to do with it. Like I am wont to do, I simply squirreled it away in the deepest recesses of the fabric horde where it waited, breath baited, to someday be recreated.

Fast forward to April and my friends invited me to Renaissance Faire!

Ren Faire is one of the “holy grail” events for costumers and though it was 100 degrees outside, I could NOT go to Ren Faire without a costume! I’d been struggling with a job switch and a general lack of creative energy, but I REFUSE to go all the way to ren faire to only look around. I want to be part of the costumed merriment!

At first, I desperately wanted to make a traditional 16th Century dress– the kirtle, the coif, the whole nine yards (of skirt fabric). But the only fabric I found that I liked was $50 a yard! Yikes! No thanks! So I thought about doing another version of my Second-Hand 17th Century Get-Up.

I’ve gained quite a bit of weight since 2013 (5 years ago?!). Alas, I don’t fit in that little jacket or skirt any longer! In light of this revelation, I began voraciously scrolling through pages and pages and pages of eBay auctions to find something that might work. I ended up in my favorite sari shop, “Antique Art of India” by sanskriti.india. I was looking for a lehenga (skirt), but instead, I found a glorious green silk organza sari. Inspiration hit me!

A sari is about 5 yards long, which, at my size, isn’t quite enough for a full dress on its own…but add 3 yards of silk dupioni to the mix…

As fate would have it, the Scarbie Faire theme for the weekend we were going was Fantasy, so a Game of Thrones dress would be perfect! And I already had several patterns to choose from in my stash.

The pieces were finally falling into place!

There are TONS of medieval and Game of Thrones style patterns to choose from. I waffled between Simplicity and McCalls because they seemed to be the top two choices in the GoT costuming community forums. Simplicity 1487/1009 was designed by Andrea Schewe, a pattern designer I admire for both her design sense and how easily I can adjust her patterns to fit my body. I know if her name is on a pattern, it will probably be fantastic!

However, the Simplicity pattern had a back zipper and a waist seam. I wanted a real wrap dress like Kathrine’s and the ones on the show. McCalls 6940 is a honest-to-goodness real wrap front dress.

All the reviews on the Game of Thrones costuming groups mentioned that the skirt on the McCalls pattern was too tight, but it’s easier to add fullness than to try to turn a zipper back into a wrap front. For this last-minute dress, I decided to use the McCalls pattern, View A. I cut a size 16 based on my full upper bust measurement. As I discovered, this was too large in the back. I should have cut a 14 or even 12 for the back.

I did have to alter the pattern to fit me which was no small task, but this is par for the course. Patterns are normally designed for B-cups and I’m an DDD/F cup. I’m a curvy gal and this pattern is not curvy at all. In fact, it has almost no waist or bust shaping, relying on the belt to draw in the excess fullness–not my favorite method of fitting, but I think I made it work.

As a busty gall, I’ve struggled to find regular everyday wrap dresses that don’t fit horribly over my bust. This dress is a wrap dress, but it also has princess seams to help make fitting a little easier…in theory. As it turns out, there is a special method for altering a wrap dress with princess seams. Plus, this dress had the special side gores that had to be accounted for!

I discovered a great tutorial by Idle Fancy that I absolutely recommend!

I followed it exactly, had the same “OMG, THIS PATTERN PIECE IS DEFORMED AND WILL NEVER WORK—Oh, it totally works!” moment she did. Mary 100% made this project easier to conquer. Thanks, chica!

MY HEROINE!

Here is a picture showing my adjusted pattern pieces with the originals:

In addition to the FBA, I also reduced the length of the sleeves to half so I could fit them on the narrow sari fabric and increased the skirt width by flaring the skirt pattern pieces at the bottom then tapering back to the original width near the top to make sure the gores still fit properly. The U-shaped gores seem really intimidating, but the way they are assembled makes it surprisingly easy! In fact, I assembled the majority of the dress in a single day, just in time to wear it to Scarborough! It was ROASTING wearing all the layers, insulating silk, and long sleeves, but I had an unforgettable time with my friends. We were too busy exploring to take many pictures, but here is one Chris took at the very end of the day.

I am shiny from sweat, crater-eyed from a lack of sleep, and sore from walking for hours, but the dress held up and people even recognized it as a Game of Thrones dress despite it not being any specific recreation! Huzzah!

Still, the dress wasn’t quite finished. It needed some more trimming and refining, which I finally got around to doing this week. So, months later, here is the finally finished dress!

As you can see, the dress ended up too big in the waist, leading to all sorts of wrinkling. If I make another version of this dress, I will need to tweak the pattern to be more fitted. McCalls 6940 relies on the included belt patterns to delineate the waist, so the dress pattern itself has almost no waist shaping whatsoever, even if you aren’t fitting it over a corset. I chose to wear mine with a corset 1) because on the show, Sansa is shown in one scene wearing stays (an earlier form of the corset), 2) it helps keep the belt in place because otherwise belts tend to ride up over my belly and settle right under my boobs, and 3) I like the regal bearing it gives me.

In addition to the corset, I wore an underskirt and petticoat. These fluff the dress more and since the front of the dress is wrapped over, but open, the underskirt does show when you walk or sit. You will definitely want to wear one that complements your gown! Mine is a prom skirt I bought at Goodwill for $6.

My final thoughts on the McCalls 6940 pattern View A are thus:

-It is a solid, basic dress. It is a good base for embellishments and the real wrap front is ideal. The tie closure works, though it would benefit from another one internally (or I could just add the snap they call for).

-It is too slim through the skirt and not fitted enough in the waist. For screen accuracy and plain ol’ aesthetics, I recommend increasing the fullness of the skirt as much as you can and then use a facing to help the skirt flare out in that lovely sweep we so love. I’d also try to make it more fitted in back, like I did for my Natural Form gown.

-This design really works best with fabric that have good texture and body. It takes quite a bit of fabric, too, especially because of the enormous sleeves. I used all 3 yards of the silk with only a handful of scraps left. The sari was completely used up except for a few damaged areas I had to work around and the pallu (the pallu is the decorated end, about 1 yard worth). This is after shortening the sleeves to accommodate the narrow fabric. I flatlined the dress like I would a Victorian one, but I left the sleeves unlined for airflow. The lining will add to the yardage you need. (I used a king-sized cotton sheet)

-The sleeves want to shift. They are open on the bottom after the elbow and I found that the fabric wants to slip off your arm. You can see it happening a bit here:

This may be due to a number of factors, but I think it’s because the sleeve construction puts the center of the sleeve on the outside of the arm, so the sleeve wants to twist to the side, causing it to gradually fall off your forearm. This might be fixed by weighting the sleeves or making them full-length instead of sorter like mine. I might try lengthening the inner side if I choose to make the shorter sleeves again. That might fix the issue.

-This dress is a solid intermediate pattern. The techniques are all basic and there are no fancy tricks. The hardest part to sew (in my opinion) is the facings at the neck and hem. Just take your time to pin things accurately and you’ll be fine.

-The instructions are very clear. Read them! I thought I knew how it would work, but discovered I was making more work for myself. The instructions actually made the sewing easier for once! The marks on the tissue are important for the ties down the front. Mark them accurately if you want the closure to line up.

-Make or buy a snazzy belt. Since it is key to achieving the look and fit, you’ll need a  belt to go with your gown. The pattern comes with two. I haven’t tried making them, but the armor-like one (based off Cersei’s in the show) looks wicked cool. If you don’t want to make your own, I recommend a comfy wide elastic belt. They are easy to put on and adjust, plus there are tons of styles online to choose from. I picked a rather basic black one with a brass closure to match the beading on the sari. Bonus points for it being something I can wear everyday, too! There are fancier models, though, like these that I found just by doing a quick Amazon search for “wide elastic belt:”

Overall, I had a ton of fun making and wearing this dress. I am very glad I stepped out of my comfort zone to make something new! I also liked that it was fairly low-pressure. Sometimes historical accuracy can be a little claustrophobic if you have tons of internet people judging your every stitch and trim. Since this was entirely fantasy, there was much less pressure! I look forward to making another one of these dresses in the future. If you are feeling adventurous or need something fresh to jumpstart your creativity, I think this could be a great project. I worked for me! I’m still stressed and not feeling very motivated to costume, but I am proud to have made at least one dress this year.

For those of you curious about how I did my hair, I made a small tutorial thing for ya:

Hair Tutorial: A Basic Game of Thrones or Fantasy Hairstyle

Never Again Until Now: A Review of Corset Story’s Waist Taming Overbust with Hip Gores

My Victorian Corset Story Corset Story (So Far)

I have heard many horror stories about Corset Story. Indeed,they are still probably the most controversial corset brand out there. Corset Story isn’t their only name, either. You may know them as Corsets UK or CorsetDeal or any of their other 40+ names. While the sale sites are different (perhaps owned by different individuals, like franchisees??), the manufacturer for these brands is the same, so you will see many of the exact same designs from “different” shops. This manufacturer has been lambasted for having the lowest quality corsets on the market. So low quality, in fact, that their corsets have lived up to the modern myth that corsets hurt you: people reported bruises and even stabbing caused by the heinous combination of horrible boning made of non-corset steel (literally pieces of metal for construction work, not corsets) and shapes so tubular that they didn’t even touch your waist, causing many people to hurt their hips and ribs trying to close them (and thinking it was normal because “corsets are supposed to hurt, right?”)!

I had my own encounter with these tubular corsets early into my corseting journey. After my wonderful experience buying my first Victorian corset off eBay, I was gung ho about buying another. I found Punk69’s corsets way back in 2013 before I knew of anything about them. I had just closed my 24 inch corset and was excited to try an underbust in the next size down. I picked a cute cherry one that seemed nice enough to my then-untrained eye:

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When it arrived, I was sad to discover that it wasn’t as curvy as the picture– far from it! So far, in fact, that it has been relegated to holding my makeshift mannequin’s innards together. Lesson learned: corset seller photos lie!

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I use her to model the tiniest of Victorian bodices. Now, tubular corsets are not entirely useless. Not everyone wants to reduce their waist when they wear a corset; they might just want the look. There are also lots of people who are less curvy and/or rather slim and tubular themselves, so a fairly straight corset suits them. Apple body shapes who have large waists, but small hips and busts may find a corset with a very gentle curve is more suited to their needs than a curvier model. But, for me, this shape just would not work!

Disappointed, I swore off eBay corsets altogether, and as my knowledge of proper corset fit increased, I also swore off Corset Story and their like because I found nothing but faults with their products.

Then, tragedy struck:

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My beloved white satin eBay corset suffered a catastrophic bone breech at Georgian Picnic. While fixable with some flossing, after three years of unforgiving wear, the poor soul was barely clinging to life. No longer able to contain my excess holiday pounds, I fear that its time is at hand. I needed a new inexpensive multi-tasking corset to take its place. Despite its many flaws, I really wanted the same model, but the company no longer makes it! I know because I asked multiple times, offered to buy any deadstock, and pleaded with them to see reason and start stocking them again. Alas, it was not to be.

I turned back to eBay and for months hemmed and hawed over the hundreds of thousands of cheap overbusts flooding its pages. I am still considering one because I like the conical bust shape my white corset gave (because of its too-small bust, ironically). It was good for 18th century wear and I already have my custom Hourglass Attire Victorian corset, so I wasn’t looking for another one.

However, in my search, I tripped over Steam Ingenious’s review of the new Corset Story Waist Tamer line from Spring 2015. That got my attention because her blog was the one that introduced many, including myself, to the horrid reality of Corset Story/CorsetsUK/etc.’s sub-standard quality. However, as I read through the post and studied the pictures, I began to feel that perhaps this newer style of corset, the Waist Tamer with Hip Gores, would be worth a try…

But at $135, I balked. At that price, I was halfway to a What Katie Did corset or even another basic custom corset from Hourglass Attire (both still on my wish list!). Did I really need another Victorian-style corset?

But, as luck would have it, a week later, the style went on massive sale and I decided to take the plunge and give this new stock a try! Here’s my experience:

Ordering: Easy, fast, with no hiccups.  I chose the same model as Steam Ingenious: the Waist Tamer Overbust in Black Satin with Hip Gores. There are other styles, including underbusts in this line. I picked the satin fabric over the brocade because my brocade Orchard Corset was very thick and stiff which I do not like. I hoped that the satin would be thinner and more pliable, like my white eBay corset. I normally buy 24 inch corsets and wear them with no problems. However, studying the size chart for this model, I realized that even with the touted hip gores, a size 24 wouldn’t fit over my hips. I opted for a size 26 instead. With shipping, I paid $63.00 = $55 for the corset + $8 shipping. I chose untracked shipping for maximum cheapness.

Shipping: I’m in the USA. Corset Story ships from overseas, so I was expecting anything from a two-week to two-month wait. I was pleasantly surprised that it arrived in only 8 days!

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Packaging: It was packed in a plastic mailer (non-padded). The corset was in a crisp plastic bag of its own. There was a sticker “invoice” of sorts listing the model number and price, but no return labels (you must pay for your own exchange shipping). Out of the bag, the corset is tied together down the busk with a cord to keep it from opening. There is also a product card with a short, thick spiral steel bone sample.

The Corset Itself: I am not as much of a corset-construction expert as Lucy from Lucy’s Corsetry, so my review isn’t as in-depth as hers would be, but here are the basics:

  • This is apparently a two-layer corset: one layer of the poly satin and one layer of the twill. Both are very stiff and heavy, securely stitched.

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  • There is an exposed woven waist-tape and satin ribbon garter tabs. There are also loops at the top of the corset for bra straps(?), a feature I’ve never encountered before.

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  • The wide, unstiffened modesty panel is sewn into the corset, so you cannot unpick the seam to remove it without releasing a boning channel in the process. I immediately cut my modesty panel off with scissors. It left a ragged edge, but I hate modesty panels more than I hate raw edges, so I am perfectly fine with it.

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  • Laces are a good length: plenty to let out to get the corset on and off, but not so long they are overwhelming. They are easy to tighten and do not slip too much.
  • The grommets in the back are color coded at the waist. The third grommet from the top of my corset has a interior split. It doesn’t show well, so I can’t get a photo, but I can feel the laces snag and hear the dragging when they are pulled through. The laces are sturdy, so they haven’t frayed yet, but I imagine this burr will begin to fuzz them up soon enough. (Steam Ingenious noticed a similar burr on her corset as well).

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  • The boning channels are funky to me. At first it felt almost like they doubled up the bones in each channel, one on the other! In actuality, there are applied cotton channels on the inside where the boning is inserted, but the satin outside is double-layered (welt seamed) over them, making the boning lines on the corset extremely thick– almost 1/2″ over the bust curves! This creates a very prominent ridge over the bust, especially the left side where there is also a deep structural wrinkle in the fabric where it caught incorrectly into the binding. I won’t be able to wear this under thinner dresses, but for a heavier bodice, it works okay.

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Terrible picture, but you get the idea. This bodice was shaped over a higher-waisted corset, hence the odd fit over my new one, but otherwise, it works nicely. The shirred inset hides any lumps and bumps from the corset’s thick boning channels.

Silhouette/Shape and Fit: I measure 38-30-36 with an inverted triangle body type. This corset design is nicely curvy on my figure. The waistline is lower than some corsets: it gradually tapers in down the side, then sweeps wide over the hips which I really like. My bottom half is very tubular (my hips are  only 6-7 inches larger than my waist when I’m uncorsetted), so I really like how this corset gives me some va-va-voom in that area! But the biggest treat was that this corset actually fits my bust! I wear a 34F bra, so finding an OTR overbust with enough room for the girlies without smashing them or causing them to bubble over the top is like finding a rare unicorn. I guess Corset Story should rename this model “The Mythical Beast” because, surprise! It fits and it is the exact same shape as the pictures portray! I think this corset would fit a C-G cup best.

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Corset Story advises that the Waist Taming corsets are designed to be worn with a 2 inch gap after an average waist reduction of 3-4 inches. I didn’t quite get my gap down to 2 inches because the hips, though very nicely shaped, were at capacity even on my small-side-of-average hips. The gored design is still very flattering and does not pinch, but if you have more than a 7 inch natural hip spring, you will probably find the hips in this style too small. I am short-waisted (9 inches from underbust to lap) and this corset was about my limit lengthwise. I can sit in it, but it does bump into my lap and boost my breast up. This corset would be the perfect length if you are ~10 inches from underbust to lap. I would recommend this to my fellow inverted triangles who have longed for a flattering, comfortable Victorian corset!

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Waist Reduction: I was able to get about 3.5 inches of interior reduction (26.5 inches). However, the material and bulky boning channels add a lot of thickness back to waist, so my exterior measurement is only 1.5 inches smaller than my natural waist. This isn’t much a of a deal breaker unless you are hoping to squeeze down a size or more for an event. I know many people buy corsets to wear under formal and other special occasion gowns.
BE ADVISED: This is not a short-notice piece of shapewear!
I’ve worn mine four hours a day for 7 days and it is nowhere near seasoned. It’d be very uncomfortable to try to lace yourself down quickly in a corset this stiff, especially if you are new to corseting. If you buy this corset, be prepared to give it plenty of time to break in, much like you would break in a new pair of shoes.
It’s a bit of a myth that the thicker a corset is, the better the quality, and I think C.S. fell for that myth HARD. Victorian corsets achieved amazing shaping with only a single layer and my eBay overbust, cheap as it is, survived over three years of abuse even though it’s paper thin and light as a feather. That was what I really liked about it: lightweight, cool, and easy to wear. My Waist Taming corset appears to be very durable, but I was really hoping for a softer corset (which is why I chose the satin in the first place).  I’m still grieving over my first corset, so I might be a bit biased, though…

Note on the Design:

Above: What Katie Did Storm Overbust

Above: Corset Story Waist Taming Overbust with Hip Gores
You can see the similarities between the What Katie Did design and the Corset Story one. You can see in the photo that their version is not as cleanly executed, exhibiting the same bumpiness over the bust that my corset has, though mine is not as wrinkly. This image is from the Corsets UK site, the British parent company of Corset Story, one of its many offshoots.

I think the Waist Taming line is Corset Story’s attempt to compete with higher-tier OTR brands like What Katie Did. WKD is known for their smoothly sculpted black satin corsets that are famously a little stiffer and heavier than other OTR corset brands and have gored hips. Corset Story didn’t copy WKD’s designs exactly, which I appreciate because stealing designs is a huge problem in the corset community, but I see C.S. wanting to mimic certain design features in order to appeal to a new clientele. That’s okay. I am glad they are seeking to improve their products based on customer feedback.

Final Thoughts:

Pros: Excellent shape for 1880-1890! A good basic corset that could work as an undergarment or as outwear (would look especially nice with a gothic ballgown skirt!), shape is exactly as advertised and photographed on the website, lots of bust space, nicely shaped bust cups, hip gores provide some extra space and lots of contrast (making the waist look even smaller), very sturdy construction, amazing value if you can catch it on sale, pleasant shipping experience, comfortable if seasoned properly.

Cons: Material is very thick, the boning is very stiff (Steam Ingenious took her corset apart and found the same non-corset steel bones being used in the back channels, but the rest is wide spirals), hips might be too small for some and the bust too large for others.

Overall Corset Rating for Corset Story’s Waist Taming Satin Overbust Corset with Hip Gores:

corset rating

3 out of 5!

I want to score this corset 3.5 or even a 4, but I’m hung up over the bulky boning…otherwise, I really enjoy it!

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This is not a solicited review. I am not affiliated with Corset Story and they haven’t paid or given me anything for this review. I purchased this corset with my own money for my own private use as an undergarment for 19th century costumes, so I am approaching it from that angle. I am not a waist trainer or costuming professional, so this review is based only on my personal knowledge and experience. Your experience may differ (and if so, please share in a comment below!). If you have any questions about this review or any of my other blog posts, please feel free to leave a comment or contact me through the Pragmatic Costumer Facebook page!