Tuesday, November 8, 2011

review: my halloween outfit

So I promised I would write a review of the neo-Victorian ballgown I had made for the Goblins & Gears Fantasy Ball in Glen Burnie, MD, on Halloween weekend.

The outfit was part of an eBay item I bought in mid-September to have a steampunk/burlesque style bustle dress made in time for Halloween.  The seller offering this deal was one madam_fitchestiches.  After some online communication about questions I had regarding the bid (there was some initial confusion about a problem with Paypal and her account and such) she gave me her number and asked me to call her to discuss verbally what I actually wanted in the dress.

I called her and she was very sweet and helpful.  She listened to my desire for an off-the-shoulder dress with a bustle.  She suggested a top hat as well- something I have been on the lookout for- and offered to make that to match the dress she would end up making for me at no additional cost.  I was ecstatic.

Then followed a lengthy discussion about the corset to be used- she had three corsets of varying sizes and I wasn't sure which one I would fit into- a black and turquoise-striped number or a plain white one.  She then recommended, based on my description of my weight and height, a greenish/bluish/purplish prom dress that she had converted to include a flower patterned train, a draped dark blue material on the front, and a beaded bodice area and blue lace trim on the hem.  I had seen the dress advertised on eBay before, but I had not been able to bid for it before time ran out.

After sending me photos close-up photos of the dress, I decided that this dress was definitely the most unique I had seen and more along the lines of what I was looking for- something that was an unusual color, an unusual design, and still held that neo-Victorian look.

After that initial phone conversation and flurry of emails that went back and forth as I gave madam_fitchestiches my measurements (including head measurement for the hat), discussed the creation of a bustle and another piece of cloth to be added to the train as well as the addition of clockwork parts, there was an expected several weeks of silence.  Photos of the hat were sent, and I was extremely satisfied.

At the beginning of October she gave me an update that the dress was done- sans clockwork parts, as she could not find any- and would be sent the following week.  There were some issues with the mailing, but the dress arrived five days before I was to go to Rockville, M.D. to spend the weekend with my friend Emily and attend the Goblin & Gears Ball for which the dress had been commissioned.

The dress fit like it was especially made for me- just perfect in its height and width.  The bustle certainly weighed it down a great deal, something that, in retrospect, should have been expected, but was surprising to me at first.  Overall I was very satisfied with the colors and the dress.  And the hat was simply gorgeous- it fit my head perfectly, and was masculine with enough feminine touches for my tastes.

There were, however, two oddities associated with this dress upon delivery:

  1. The seamstress had left a threaded needle dangling from the bustle.  A tad alarming, but an honest mistake nonetheless, and no harm was done.
  2. There was a cotton wad with a plastic spider entangled within the actual meshing underneath the dress.  Also an honest mistake- looks like the dress may have picked it up from the seamstress's house in the process of being carried around.

I have received so many compliments for this dress- everyone thinks I made it, and seem somewhat disappointed when I tell them that I don't have the skills to make such a dress.  That being said, there are a few flaws with this dress that have created some problems and have me somewhat disappointed in my purchase.

The first are ones that I do not attribute as being mistakes of madam_fitchestiches because they could have been prevented by me giving her more details or because neither she nor I were aware that such a thing would be a problem at first.

  1. The first issue is managing the train.  It's not a long train, but it certainly is long enough for myself or another person to trip over.  During the Goblins & Gears Ball my friend Emily must have stepped on my train about four times in the first hour that we were there, including as we were crossing the threshold into the event venue.  Having worn one dress with a train before, I know how difficult it is to maneuver a train and the importance of keeping it out of the way for certain movements.  What I should have done was requested for the seamstress to put a plastic ring on the underside of the train, around the buttocks area.  With a ribbon sewn three-fourths of the way down the underside of the train, all I would have had to do was pull the ribbon through the ring, creating a mini bustle for my bustle and gathering up the extra material of the train so myself or others would not trip over it while I was moving about.  Fortunately I can make this sort of alteration myself for very cheap without affecting the outward appearance of the dress at all, and propose to do so very soon.  For now I've just been carefully gathering up the train in my hands every time I walk from one point to another.
  2. The second issue is regarding the steel boning for the bodice of the dress.  Unfortunately the bustle is so heavy that the tips of the boning around my armpits are actually slightly poking out of the material, rubbing against my skin in a rather painfully uncomfortable way after about an hour of wear.  The seamstress herself would have had to wear the actual dress for an hour to notice this, so I don't blame her.  As for this issue, I am not sure how to fix it.  I would like to file the boning down, but that would involve taking apart the top part of the boning and possibly damaging the outward appearance of the dress around the armpit area.  The area is also too hard to hide to justify padding the area so the boning doesn't scratch against my skin.
The second set of problems has mainly to do with the condition of the bustle itself.  I was disappointed when parts of the bustle were actually going lopsided and either unraveling or falling down when I put the dress on for Halloween.  Attributing it to people stepping on my train during the ball, I stapled the parts of the flowered draped material that was falling down to the dress (I was at work and had nothing else on hand) and went on with my day, resolving to make the necessary fixes later.

I finally got around to the dress this past weekend.  To my unpleasant surprise, I discovered that the draped parts that had fallen were not actually sewn on, but glued on.  So I began a close examination of all of the seams on the dress, focusing especially on the bustle.  Yes, the dress was sewn in many places, but it was often not a very neat or secured job.  And the liberal use of fabric glue on the flowered material on the train had me convinced that that part had fallen off the train had just been poorly attached to begin with.  I spent a good amount of time on Sunday making repairs, either reinforcing loose material or entirely fixing the fallen pieces.  I also discovered that the bottom of the train is not hemmed.  Without hemming, that material will eventually unravel into an unsightly mess of material.  So now I have to hem it.

While I am very satisfied with the communication I received from madam_fitchestiches and her willingness to make this dress to my liking, I would have liked to have known more about the use of fabric glue on this dress and the lack of hemming on parts that are more susceptible to wear and tear with each use and, therefore, should be hemmed.  For the $200.00 I paid for this dress I don't think that I should be doing as extensive of a repair job as I will end up having to do to make the train last.  

That being said, I will not send it back to get repaired, as that will include shipping costs that I don't want to pay and the inability to use the dress for several more steampunk events I plan to attend this fall and winter. Next time I'll probably just go to a local seamstress to ensure I can chase her down without breaking the bank if a commissioned dress starts falling apart.

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