When my mum and I decided to go to the Raleigh Supercon our first concern was what costumes we would wear. We had our Cinderella and Fairy Godmother costumes from a con last year, but we wanted to make something new. The trouble is, it’s very hard to find character pairs that we can easily cosplay together. There is a huge drop off in female characters older than about age 25, especially in Disney (dead mothers abound in Disney).
I had been playing with the idea of sewing a late Victorian twist on Ariel after seeing Smoolah’s historically accurate Ariel, and Angela Clayton’s gorgeous 1890s day dress. I suggested to my mum that we could do a Victorian twist on Ariel and Ursula, and the more we thought about it, the more excited we became.
Ariel’s dress at Disneyworld is a wonderful sea foam color, and has big sleeves that echo the leg of mutton style sleeves of the 1890s (the Belle Epoque). Knowing what decade to look in, I started doing research and pinning it to my costume board on Pinterest. I knew I wanted leg of mutton sleeves, so my focus was the way different bodice fronts looked. Back then, clothes were custom made, so every example I found was very different. This was nice because it meant that I had a lot of flexibility in the design of my dress. After research my favorite styles were ones that had gathered fabric on the bodices (like this one), and I also really loved the shape of this dress from Crimson Peak. Based on these I sketched out a design idea and then discussed it with my mum for feasibility.
I would have loved to sew the whole thing myself for practice. However, with only about two and a half weeks until the convention (about nine days once the fabric arrived), I knew I would have to let my mum do the more complicated parts.
For Ariel, the main dress was made from a polyester taffeta we ordered from fabric.com, the sparkly fabric we used for the ruffle on the petticoat we bought at Jo-Anns, and the fabric for the petticoat and bodice lining was a pale green cotton that came from our fabric stash. To create the puffiness of Ariel’s sleeves we used some blue netting we found in the craft aisle at Walmart. For the boning we used our standard trick of bias tape as a bone channel, and then zip ties trimmed to the right length as the boning.
My mum used Butterick B5970 as a pattern for the Ariel skirt, but for the bodice and sleeves she drafted her own pattern. Just another reason I couldn’t have gotten this done in time if I had done it on my own. I’ve only just gotten the hang of making stuff from patterns, drafting my own is out of my skill set for now. Maybe one day I’ll have sewing skills like my mum’s!
The Ursula fabric was also from fabric.com. We used a purple taffeta with black flocked designs for the skirt, and then black taffeta, black velvet, and purple cotton for the bodice. For the tentacle bustle, my mum found this amazing purple pink lace that looked like octopus suckers. We also bought some purple taffeta that I used for Ariel’s waistband and my mum used in making the tentacles.
My mum modified the above pattern for the Ursula skirt and then drafted her own pattern for everything else. She was inspired by a different shape than I was for Ariel, because we didn’t want the costumes to look too similar. Plus it made sense for Ursula’s dress to be more elegant in a mature way than Ariel’s. A few of my mum’s inspiration pictures are here, here, and here.
After my mum cut out the pattern pieces, I was able to help by working on sewing long seams, hemming, and gathering fabric for ruffles. My rolled hems are getting much tidier! This left my mum time to focus on the more complicated elements of the bodices such as creating the puffy Ariel sleeves, or the detailed gathering on the front of the the Ursula bodice.
The ruffles on my petticoat nearly killed me. It’s not that ruffles are hard, I’ve sewn plenty of ruffles before, but because I made the mistake of gathering the entire long strip of fabric that would be the ruffle in one long go. This made it almost impossible to gather the ruffle evenly around the large hem of the petticoat. I struggled trying to space the gathering evenly for an entire afternoon before admitting defeat. The original gathering stitches were ripped out and I replaced them with gathering seams that broke the ruffle band into 6 pieces. This made it much easier to evenly distribute around the edge of the hem, pin in place, and then sew. When I did the ruffle for the Ursula petticoat, I didn’t repeat my mistake and did the gathering stitches in chunks from the beginning.
I also learned how to make buttons! Whenever I saw people use custom fabric covered buttons on costumes I was in awe. Turns out, they’re easy if you have the right equipment! We had this button making kit in our stash (the white plastic circle and the metal ring), and bought button fronts and backs from Jo-Anns. First I cut a circle out of my taffeta fabric (it took a few tries to get it the right size). I centered the fabric over the white ring and then placed one of the silver button fronts centered over that. After pushing that down into the hole in the center of the white plastic piece, I folded the fabric into the hollow back of the button. Once I had done that, I popped the button backs on top of the folded down fabric and used the metal piece to wedge the pieces together. When it felt secure I pressed on the flexible back of the white piece and the button popped out all done! I now have the urge to create custom buttons for everything I sew. They look so fancy, yet are so simple to make. These ended up on the front of my Ariel bodice.
Once the Ariel bodice and skirt were sewn together, I dug through our stash of ribbons and trim to find decorations for it. During the Hancock Fabric liquidation sale we bought this trim even though we had no plans for it. When we found it in our stash, my mum and I got giddy because the trim details look just like seashells and were too perfect! We had just enough of it to hem the skirt.
The trim left an unattractive edge on top, which was the perfect opportunity to pull into some of Ariel’s purple with a ribbon. I finished off the skirt decorations by sewing large and small pearls onto the trim.
My waistband was simple. I cut a strip of purple taffeta to fit around my waist, and then hemmed all the edges. The very edges were folded together slightly and sewn down. Then I added hooks and eyes on the back to fasten it.
I didn’t get as many in progress shots of the Ursula costume because my mum was finishing elements of it last minute while I finished other things (like wigs and accessories). The tentacle bustle was such a cool feature of her costume that I really wanted to highlight it though. To create it, she cut the purple lace fabric into thin strips, cutting around the circle details to have full “suckers”. Then she drafted a black circle lined with purple taffeta. After experimentation, she sewed the lace in a spiral shape onto the fabric. Once that was done my mum carefully cut out the spiral. Then she repeated it to create eight total tentacles. I love the way it turned out!
My mum used some black lace pieces from our stash to decorate the top of the sleeves and back of the bodice. Also from our stash – purple trim that went around the neck.
My Ariel dress zipped up the back with an invisible zipper. Ursula’s dress was really a skirt and a bodice (as was common with most historical “dresses”). The skirt fastened with hooks and eyes, and the bodice up the side front with a row of snaps.
That’s it for the making of the dresses themselves. We didn’t end up with that many good photos of the two costumes together, so here we are with a small Padme:
Whew! This was a long post, so thanks for reading! In the next post I’ll look at how we made the hats, accessories, and styled the wigs.