December 13, 2011

more Little Women: Before, After, and In-between

Welcome to my first guest posting!  This is Annie Guter, Thin Ice Theater's great costume re-builder.  You saw lots of her work on the gowns worn in last year's "An Ideal Husband".  So - take it away, Annie:

On a thrift store excursion, as this is THE place to find yards of fabric extra cheap, I came across three voluminous plus size dresses, all yoked, with enough skirt for any respectable Civil War era lass.  I set to dismantling all three and then realized a before photo might be in order.  Two were already too far gone for a photo but I caught Beth’s winter dress, so I think you can at least get an idea of what the float dresses looked like.  

Beth’s “dress” was a khaki skirt constructed from the original plus size dress, worn over a blue check dress from our collection.  We changed the buttons because pearl and gold were just too fancy for Beth.  Her blue under dress had some nice basic buttons so we tried to match those.  The sleeves from the khaki dress became lower sleeves added to the blue cotton under dress, and the original lace was removed from one bodice and sewn on the other.  There wasn’t really enough of one piece of lace to cover the entire front so I had to hand sew several smaller pieces of lace together to get the length that was needed. (This was actually a masterpiece of hand sewing but I once again failed to get photographic proof.) I had the blue soutash trim in my stash, it was actually a remnant from an “Ideal Husband” costume purchase, and added that to the lower sleeve so they didn’t just disappear when Beth put her hands at her sides.  Then just a bit of khaki trim around the neck on the little stand up collar. 

Jo’s winter dress was made from a similar deep plum short-sleeved affair, and I cannibalized an old dress-up item for sleeves and trim.  Jo’s summer skirt came from the third dress, a mauve nubby silk. We just added some piping here and there to better coordinate it with the blouse she wore.

Meg’s party dress started out as an 80’s bridesmaid gown that one of my sisters must have worn, and it arrived at my house when mom cleaned out her dress-up box.  The dress was actually a size 11/12, and our poor little Meg struggled to fill out a size 3.  

I dismantled the entire dress, recut to a better size and reassembled the bodice.  After some research of skirts from the era I decided an underskirt would work, and began scavenging for material, finding an old drape in champagne with a bit of a shimmer.  I did struggle with “seeing” this dress, sometimes ideas are just there in my head and I can instantly visualize a finished product.  That did not happen with this dress.  So when ideas don’t come easily I start sketching to help my inner eye.  This is the sketch of Meg’s dress that set me on the path to the finished product.   

I sliced the skirt into four parts and found it still wasn’t really full enough to lay nicely over the underskirt.  So I added the ribbon trim and scrunched the edges of the over skirt to make it drape better.  A ribbon sash to which more ribbon was added helped to tie it together. (no pun intended)   
There were poofs, gathered bits of fabric meant to help the sleeves stand out, inside the original sleeves and I kept meaning to get them back in the sleeves of the new gown, but in the flurry of tech week some how they remained in my “to do” bag.   Oops.  So the sleeves drooped a bit more than they should have, but it still worked.


Thanks, Annie!


  1. Hannah SternDecember 14, 2011

    You guys do such amazing work! I love looking at all these costumes :)

  2. Thanks, Hannah! We do have a lot of fun dressing all these folks. And then sitting back and watching it all come together on stage: "priceless". :-)

  3. I really enjoyed reading about your process to remake this dress. Sure wish someone like you had been round to advise (and rework costumes) 43 years ago when my husband and I appeared in Sound of Music. I was the Baroness; he was Max Detweiler. (We were all of 26 years old!) I wore some awful saggy piece no unlike the young woman in the peachy outfit before you reworked it. What miracles those who understand clothing construction (not to mention period costumes) can work! They are most fortunate to have you!