Sif Cosplay, 2013

The photo shoot finally happened! You may have been keeping up with the progress pictures on Facebook… here’s the final product! Thanks Katie for being an awesome model, and thanks Sarah for the amazing photography!

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The Belle of Amherst

I saw the show on Saturday night – AMAZING! I’ve only ever had the pleasure of seeing Sally act once before, as the Queen of Hearts. She was a fantastic crazy and exuberant queen. And that just goes to show how skilled she truly is, because her performance as the subdued (though passionate) Emily Dickinson was subtle and enchanting. It was an honour to have made the dress for her performance.

Here are some pictures I took of the dress. Remember, you can go see The Belle of Amherst next weekend! Check it out at




Emily’s Dress: Research

If you’re just joining me on this project, you can read the introductory post to situate yourself.

Before I start to drape the dress, I needed a lot more information! I got my information from pictures of the dress, as well as a WONDERFUL written source: Emily Dickinson and the Labor of Clothing by Daneen Wardrop. She has compiled a lot of sources about the dress into a chapter rich with detail. Included in her sources is personal emails with Adrienne Saint-Pierre, the woman who made the two recreations (one of which is on display at the Emily Dickinson Museum).

I can tell mostly what the front of the dress looks like from pictures. Yet I was surprised to find out from Wardrop that there is no waist seam at all. The waist shape is achieved by a few simple tucks at the side. Another surprise was that there is no button hole at the top of the neck. She claims the collar is supposed to sit slightly open, but I think it more likely that a brooch was worn.

From the pictures, I have no idea what the back should look like! I did find one image from the Amherst History Museum in which the dress is displayed in front of a mirror. However, it provides very little insight. If I combine that image with Wardrop’s description, however, I get a fairly good idea of what’s going on. Wardrop says there are six pleats in the back that mirror the six in front. Now, I would initially assume from this statement that the pleats are stitched like in the front, except without lace. BUT, check out the picture! Can you see that the back lays loosely? You can barely make it out, but it seems to me that the pleats are only stitched horizontally at the waist, and are left to fall naturally (as opposed to the rigidly stitched pleats in front).

Miss Emily's Dress

In some pictures you can see a pocket. Wardrop informs we readers that there is only one pocket, and it’s on the right side. This is where theatre takes liberties – Sally needs two pockets in which to hold props, so the dress I made has two.


I filled in the gaps that this secondary research left with my own primary research at the Valentine Richmond History Center. I WISH I could show you pictures of the dresses I got to see and touch! They are lovely. Unfortunately, I don’t have the rights from the Valentine for that, so you’ll have to settle for some descriptions. I got to look at four beautiful dresses from the 1860s. Three were very similar white wrappers: . The fourth was something completely unique. It was a wrapper made for a dressing gown to use on the woman’s wedding night. It was truly incredible. Tiny braid trim was stitched in elaborate designs all over the bodice and back yoke. The braid formed beautiful eagle motifs. If you ever get to go to the Valentine archives and you’re interested in 19th century clothing, request to see this dress!

Some of the helpful things I discovered from this: there was no opening in the cuffs that are seen in modern blouses. The hem seams were 2-4 inches. The pleats were top-stitched down. A lot of things were top-stitched down (the trim, cuff seams, some hems). The front of the dresses tended to be closer fitting, and the backs looser with gathered waists. This supports my idea that the pleats in the back of Emily’s dress are not top stitched except across the waist.

Armed with this research, I was ready to start draping! I usually start on the dress form to get the general shape.


Then, when pleats are involved, I created a paper pattern from the draped shape and cut it up to add the fabric required for pleats.



At this point, I’m ready to put my mock-up on Sally! And lucky me, it fit perfectly – not a single alteration to the pattern required! That is a costumer’s best day ever.


Emily Dickinson’s White Dress

I’m excited to announce my latest project! I’ve been commissioned to make the costume for the one-woman-show, “The Belle of Amherst” taking place in Amherst (Virginia) in November. Find out more about it here:

The costume the lovely Sally Southall will be wearing is going to be a recreation of Emily Dickinson’s only surviving dress.

Unfortunately, I don’t have access to the dress itself, or to the two official replicas. So, I’m going to put my research skills to use. If any of you followed my Polly’s Dress blog, you will recognize my methods!

There is a wonderful little write-up about the dress on the Emily Dickinson Museum’s website. To summarize, Dickinson wore the dress in her 40s and 50s (1870s and 80s). It was a cotton “wrapper”, which is a kind of house dress women wore during this time period for casual use. The buttons are mother-of pearl and the stitching is primarily by machine.

I can tell from photos what the outside of the dress looks like. However, I don’t know if it was lined fully or partially, or not at all. I want to know how long the machine stitches were and how the edges were finished. For this information, I will turn to what, as far as I can discover, was done in that time period.

The Valentine Richmond History Center has four wrappers from the 1860s, and they’ve agreed to show them to me . Hopefully I’ll get some answers there!

The FIDM Museum blog has wonderful information about the wrapper they own, from ca. 1865. I didn’t find it useful to this project since it focuses on shape and fabric (both of which I already know specific to Dickinson’s dress), but give it a look if you’re interested in wrappers generally. Another source worth looking at is The Gatherings’ article, with pictures and descriptions of an 1890s wrapper.

Battlegown, April-June 2013

I haven’t been posting updates on my latest project to the Shindig Facebook Page because it is supposed to be a surprise gift from one of my friends (J) to his best friend (N). N knows something’s going on, because I had to take her measurements (and encase her in duct tape – read on). But no fittings part way through! No double checking with the client about details! No help interpreting the image! It is a really fun project, and since no one has seen it at any stage, I figured I’d blog about it’s creation!

The project: BATTLEGOWN!

The Inspiration: This photo below. Unknown source unfortunately! Very awesome artwork, if anyone knows who I should credit please tell me.


Step 1: Sketches. Many many sketches. Even though I have the image in front of me, it helps to sketch out the garment pieces. It’s an exercise. When I sketch what I see, I have to pay attention to every aspect of it. I have to think through where I will put the fasteners and what that shadow means in fabric. Is that pouffy skirt gathered? Is there a petticoat underneath? And so on…


Step 2: Measurements…and duct tape. This was my first attempt to use leather, other than a calfskin vest I made for the TV pilot “Turn”. I’ve never made armor or stretched leather, so I’m really excited to try it! I did a lot of research. I tried to find a book to help, but apparently there is no published instructional book (that I could find) on leather armor. The most helpful tutorial I found is from Ember Costumes. Thanks Ember!

What all the sources were telling me is that I’d need a custom form on which to stretch the chest piece. I got N to put on one of my t-shirts (an Outback Steakhouse t-shirt that was cathartic to destroy – those of you who know me will understand). I grabbed a roll of duct tape and rolled it around N. Then I cut a slit up the back through the duct tape and t-shirt. N was a very good sport, especially considering she didn’t know why I was doing this! I taped up the now-empty t-shirt in the back and stuffed it with poly-fill.

Duct Tape Form 1

Duct Tape Form 2

I used 4-inch wide strips of plaster fabric (bought on Amazon) to make the mold stronger. I did four layers of the plaster strips, letting each layer dry before adding the next. And voila! N’s torso mold is complete!

Plaster Form

Step 3: Shopping! This can happen at various points in my process. Sometimes I like to buy the fabric right away and keep it in mind while I’m draping. Other times I have no idea how much I’ll need, so I have to wait until I make the pattern. In this case, I got excited and bought everything right away.


Step 4: Draping. I make my patterns on an adjustable dress form.


Step 5: Cutting and Sewing. The base dress was pretty straight forward. I decided it would look nice to have a lace-up front, so I put in about 100 eyelets.

Lace-up Front

The most challenging part was the blue fleur de lis appliqué. I had to make the appliqué myself. I made a template and traced it onto some Wonder Under. Wonder Under is a fabulous product that you can buy at Jo-Ann Fabrics. It is basically paper with little dots of glue on one side. I cut out the shape I needed and pressed it glue-face-down onto the satin.

Applique 1

Then I cut that out, peeled off the paper (the glue sticks to the fabric and not the paper), and pressed it onto the skirt. Finally, I ran a tight zig-zag stitch around each piece to prevent fraying.


I made up some 2-inch bias tape of the same fabric for the trim.



Step 6: Tabard. I bought some beautiful, but horrendously expensive upholstery fabric for the tabard. The colours and motifs were just so perfect that I couldn’t resist. Luckily, the fabric was so wide that I only had to buy a quarter yard, and I used a coupon (yay coupons!). I cut the fabric to width, added the neck hole, and joined the shoulder seams.




Then I finished all the edges off with some store-bought bias tape. Sometimes it just does the trick!


Step 7: Leather. Even though the first thing I did was make a mold for the armor, I got scared and didn’t want to cut the leather. When I finished the dress, I was forced to start the armor. Courage! I bought leather from the Online Fabric Store’s closeout leather section. I cut a 26 x 26 inch rectangle of leather, which was about the dimension of the mold. Then I filled a pot with hot tap water and soaked the leather.


I put my plaster mold into a plastic bag so the plaster wouldn’t get on the wet leather.


Using some clamps, I stretched and smoothed the leather on the mold.



Once it dried, I removed the clamps and put the leather back on the dress form.


I trimmed the leather to the correct shape. I used a rectangular piece for the back and a semi-circle for the neck strap. These lace up with more eyelets. Next it was time to paint the leather! I used acrylic leather paint. I first washed the chest piece with a mixture of water and a very small amount of paint, using a sponge. This makes the next layer stick to the leather better, and is not noticeable afterwards. The crest I designed was inspired by both the original artwork and the tabard fabric, and the icon is special to N.


Time to make the gorget! I made a pattern by cutting out a circle in paper, cutting out a neck hole, and cutting a radial line. Then I put this on the dress form and adjusted it until it sat right. Then I cut the pattern into three equal parts and added some “seam allowance” for the overlap.


I taped the pieces in place on the back, since you can’t really pin leather. Then I hand basted the back seams together with a whip stitch. If you attempt this, make sure you use a thimble, because hand-stitching leather can really tear up your fingers.


And for the final step, I added eyelets for the lacing.


And project complete!!! Here’s some more pictures. I’ll post pictures of N wearing it when I get them!



More photos of Zia!


Zia Cosplay, March 2013

This is a bit late, and most of you have seen pictures on my Facebook page, but here’s a breakdown on the Zia costume I made this year if anyone’s interested.


The pants were fairly straight-forward, so I started with them. The’re pretty standard bloomers, on steroids. I worked from a bloomers pattern and made them much wider, and then added layers.


First I made some bias tape to make the pink stripes, which I top-stitched on (so booooooring and a long process).


The outer layer is stretch poplin, which has quite a bit of body. I put in a layer of tulle and then some cotton broad cloth for lining so they’d be comfy.



The jacket was much more involved! I didn’t have a pattern that looked remotely like it, so I draped it from scratch. I didn’t have a dress form Caitie’s size (she is a tiny person!) so I ordered a new size Small adjustable dress form. Introducing Catalina! She’s a Dritz Sew You, and I’m very happy with her. She’s light-weight, of course, and made of cheap plastic. But I haven’t had any issues with adjusting her, and I really appreciate the front dials for quicker adjustments (Matilda, my size Medium Dritz My Double Deluxe doesn’t have that).


I adjusted Catalina to Caitie;s measurements, and came up with a pattern pretty quickly.

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The major challenge was the collar! I think Zia’s voluminous collar is pleated. SO I made the shape of the collar without the pleats to get the general shape right:


I added the pleats by cutting the collar into 1-1/4 inch strips and then with paper adding in 2 inches between the strips. Getting the pleats to match up and go in a direction that would maintain the shape of the collar was a nightmare. It took about 6 hours, but I did it!


Face fabric time! I used a poly-cotton gabardine for the main fabric, which is soft and has a nice drape for a jacket. Then some shiny copper costume satin for the accent backed with stiff interfacing. I acquired four delicious brass buttons at and six PERFECT tassels thanks to the Tassel Outlet on Etsy. I lined the jacket in copper cotton broadcloth. For the collar, I used a double layer of warm and comfy wool blend coating. Since the coating is so lush, it tended to droop in the front. I fixed that problem with two small pieces of corset boning.

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Zia made her first con appearance at Anime Central! More pictures to come, whenever Caitie gets them to me – hint hint!!


Shindig Apparel

Thanks for visiting my portfolio. As I have recently launched my costume design business, Shindig Apparel, I will no longer be updating this portfolio regularly. Rather, it will become more of a blog format and somewhere to see my bigger projects and where I’ll post tutorials. To keep up with my most recent projects, visit the Shindig Apparel Facebook site.


Wedding Dress, designed and built by Tania Bukach, 2012


“Guinevere.” Researched, designed, and built by Tania Bukach, 2012

This was my senior thesis project. It is the outfit of a sixth century British woman, based on research I conducted over my last year at the University of Richmond.

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