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: http://www.amherstglebeartsresponse.org/the-big-read.html

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.


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 Fabric.com 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!!