Well hello there, friends!
I am supremely proud to share this post with you. It is by far the most time consuming and elaborate project that I’ve ever taken on (and that includes sewing my wedding dress!). This post is going to be very photo heavy as I made everything you can see in these photos, aside from my shoes and stockings.
I worked on this gown for four months, but there was a long process of research before I even cut my fabric out. I’ve wanted to make a beaded 1920’s dress for a very long time and then about two years ago (maybe three?), I decided that I wanted to make an Egyptian Revival beaded gown. I put it off for a while, but last year when I saw that the theme for this year’s Art Deco Preservation Ball (hosted by the Art Deco Society of California), I knew that was the push to sew it. I looked at so many vintage gowns, studied beadwork designs and gathered so much inspiration from artwork and antique photos. When I decided to use the Decades of Style 1920’s Baltimore Dress as the base for my gown, I settled on a geometric Egyptian Revival design and started sketching out on my plans.
The design changed as I went along. As you can see, the center section differs from my final version. I think it took me longer to figure out that section than anything else, as I had about four versions sketched out before I decided on the one that I beaded.
I pattern tested the Baltimore dress, with the red velvet dress that I made previously being a wearable muslin for this one. I added this glorious cape to the dress, which steps up this evening look several hundred notches. The cape is self-drafted and resembles many capes that I’ve seen on gowns from the era.
After figuring out my fit adjustments, I was ready to start work on this gown. I used two different fabrics for the base of this dress. The bias pieces and cape are cut from silk velvet and the non-bias fabric is Anna Sui rayon velvet that I previously used for my Decades of Style Sugar Coat. The cape and dress are fully lined with light gold silk charmeuse. I bought both of the silk fabrics from Dharma Trading Co. (which I highly recommend!!!) after ordering several samples. The rayon velvet came from Fabric Mart many moons ago.
I used a mix of high quality Czechoslovakian glass beads for this gown. Th majority are dark gold metallic (antiqued) seed beads (rocailles) and black bugle beads. I mixed in some gold Aurora Borealis and two-cut black matte seed beads. I considered many different bead color options before I chose these colors. The black beads are not as showy as the gold, but they add texture and shine in the light.
Perhaps my most favorite part of this gown are the tassels. I saw a Poiret cape with tassels and just had to have them on my dress. The beaded tassels hang from beaded beads.
I continued the beadwork design from the front shoulders back to the cape. That was a bit tricksy to do as both the dress and cape are lined. I constructed the dress and basted the shoulder seams and then worked on the beadwork on the dress and the cape. After the beadwork was finished on most of the dress, I added the lining to the cape and sewed it in the shoulder seams of the dress and then lined the dress. I wanted the lining on the cape to show, so chose the gold contrasting color for the silk charmeuse.
I’ve been beading for about 15 years, but this is by far my most extensive project. This is all freehand beadwork. I didn’t use any transfers or beading designs. I got my inspiration from vintage garments and Egyptian designs and figured out what I wanted to do from there.
Aside from the beading on the cape, all of the beadwork is on the more stable rayon velvet. I didn’t initially plan it that way, but I began beading on the rayon velvet on the upper bodice pieces and decided that I would keep the beading on that fabric. Thank God as beading on the slippery silk velvet isn’t exactly fun….
At first, I had just beaded the front to the side seams and was planning to leave it at that as I had beading on the cape. I decided that it looked unfinished, so I continued the beadwork to the back, which really makes it look more complete, especially when the cape moves around. You can’t tell (as apparently I didn’t get a photo of it!), but the beadwork on the back goes into a “V” at the low waistline.
Constructing this gown was rather simple and the Baltimore is really a quick sew. I finished the seams on the velvet with zig zag overcast stitches so that it wouldn’t fray while I was working on the beadwork. It’s fully lined, with a lot of hand sewing as I wanted to ensure that it all went together as I wanted it to.
I also made all of the accoutrements. The headband is self-drafted, made out of silk velvet and backed with leather. At that point, I was a little tired of beading triangles and the black and gold color scheme, so I went in a different direction. Back in the 20’s, I’m sure they would have used the same design and colors for their accessories, but I think that mine still coordinate. I did a scroll and scarab design. The center is a vintage jade glass scarab cabochon and I used silver lined gold and turquoise matte Czech glass seed beads along with gold and turquoise silver lined bugle beads, metallic gold dagger beads and larger emerald glass beads. It’s all freehand bead embroidery inspired from vintage designs.
I made a self-drafted matching purse with the same beads and fabric. It’s lined with the gold silk from my dress.
My favorite part is definitely the tassel hanging from the bottom.
I also made my jewelry. I’ve never made jewelry before and didn’t use any tutorials or read any books and just kind of winged it. My earrings, necklace and bracelet are made from deadstock Victorian era Czech glass bugle beads in gold and turquoise. I used vintage Art Deco findings on the bracelet. It was a little different working with antique beads as they aren’t consistent sizes, but are more beautiful than their modern counterparts.
I will be sharing tutorials soon on how I made my headband and tassels. I already have a tutorial on how to make a similar purse.
It was cold at the Deco Ball, so I had a chance to wear my Sugar Coat with my gown. The photo below was taken at the event. My husband took photos there and he is a reluctant photographer, which shows in my face…. My hair was a bit different that day as I was going for a natural curly look, but my curls fell out and my hair is getting a little too long now to be down for 20’s looks.
I made a new clasp for my Sugar Coat. I saw one that was similar on a vintage 20’s velvet coat and made one for my coat, along with a button that I beaded. I <3 it.
Here are couple of photos from the ball. One taken by the professional photographer at the ball and one taken by my husband. I don’t like how they turned out and am unsure if I’m going to buy the professional one that was taken of my husband and I. I am an introvert and find it difficult to relax and take photos in front of a bunch of strangers. That’s something that I definitely need to work on.
Below is a selfie of my husband and I. He’s wearing my grandpa’s bespoke tuxedo that he had made in Hong Kong in the 1950’s. I altered it to fit my husband, which was definitely a learning experience. I also made his silk velvet boutonniere and the silk charmeuse pocket scarf.
I am very happy how my dress turned out. It was A LOT of very long nights and MANY MANY hours of work. I don’t even want to think about how many hours it was, but it was a lot. This was many weeks of work, which was fun for quite a while, but after the twentieth or so triangle, I was a bit tired of beading those. I worked on this dress up until the day before the event and did manage to finish all of the accessories. The only thing that I had planned to make and didn’t were the proper 20’s undergarments.
I plan to wear this outfit again to Costume College this summer. I plan to add some edge beading to the hem of this gown and make the proper undergarments before then. Not sure if I will add more beadwork than that, but you never know. 🙂 I think the only thing that I’m missing from my look is opera length evening gloves. Maybe I’ll get on with sewing up a pair of those, too. This was such an arduous and time consuming project. I think I will limit myself to one of these a year. 🙂
Thanks for taking this journey with me! 🙂 Thanks also to Janet and the crew at Decades of Style for all of the help with ideas and opinions from the design process to the end in the construction of this gown. I’m not sure that it would have turned out so well without you.
- Gown: Decades of Style 1920’s Baltimore Dress in rayon and silk velvet with added cape, made by me
- Coat: Decades of Style 1920’s Sugar Coat in rayon velvet, made by me
- Headband: Self-drafted, made by me
- Purse: Self-drafted, made by me
- Jewelry: Designed and made by me
- Shoes: Aerosoles
- Lip color: Besame 1922 Blood Red