Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Elizabeth's Plum Dress

Character: Elizabeth Swann
Costume: Plum dress
From: Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl
Made: 2006
Awards: Part of a skit that won Best Presentation (2006 San Diego Comic-Con Masquerade)

I made this costume for our 2006 Comic-Con Masquerade skit, PDQ Pirates, a retelling of the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie in 3 minutes. (Lots more pictures, plus video, are available on that page!)

Elizabeth is given this dress (and the shift that goes under it) by Captain Barbossa while she's aboard the Black Pearl. This is my favorite of her actual dresses from the first movie-- the gold dress and the peach dress are both beautiful, but she doesn't get to be pirate-y while she's wearing them.

Costume-Con 26, 2008 (with Corli as Will)
(thanks to Corli and Bryan for the pics!)

Dragon*Con 2007, gussied up for Marie Antoinette night
(thanks to Lesa and Cassandra for the pics!)

San Diego Comic-Con 2006, Masquerade & Photoshoot
(thanks to Carolyn for the pics!)


This is one big, fun, complicated dress, but it's super-easy to get into, and it makes me feel crazy-piratical, so I love to wear it! Maggie (of the Costumer's Guide) has an awesome research page for this costume here, so this page is more of a "how I made my particular version of this dress" than "how to make this dress in general." I highly recommend Maggie's site; I made extensive use of it! I also made some screencaps of this dress, which can be found here.


Finding the right fabric was the hardest part of making this dress. The real fabric looks like it's probably silk dupioni, but that was out of my budget. Plus, finding the exact right color of purple-wine-maroon proved difficult, and I definitely didn't have the facilities to dye that amount of fabric. Salvation came in the form of my local Home Fabrics store, which had an almost-perfect "silk look" poly upholstery fabric. The only drawback was that it was too shiny, especially in flash pictures, but I was so happy to find fabric that would work that I was willing to deal with that. I tried to tone down the shininess by spraying it with watered-down black paint, but either I didn't use enough or that technique just doesn't work very well. The black fabric for the underbodice and underskirt is some kind of woven fabric from a local store; I'm guessing maybe a linen-rayon blend? I haven't tried testing it to determine what fiber it really is.


I shamelessly stole Maggie's suggestion of Butterick 3640 for the bodice.
The only thing that needed to be changed was the location of the side front seam. I muslined the pattern as-is, then drew in the new seam and cut the muslin apart on that seamline. Those became my new pattern pieces. I flatlined the whole bodice with cotton duck for stiffness. Rather than making a full black underbodice, I just made the two center front pieces, cut the same as the plum bodice but about an inch higher in the front. I machined black lace along the top, then machine-stitched the underbodice pieces to the plum bodice everywhere but the neckline and the top half of the center front, so the plum bodice could open up and show the lining. The lining looks like it's a matching plum-and-black brocade. Rather than drive myself crazy trying to find something suitable, I borrowed Verdaera's idea of layering black lace over the fabric to create a brocade look.

The bodice is boned with Rigilene down the side and side front seams, and down the center front of the black underbodice. The real bodice probably closes up the front with hooks and eyes, but mine needed to be a quick-release so I could take it off during our skit when we got to the "marooned on an island" scene. So-- velcro to the rescue! I just added a rectangular placket to one side of the bodice and put the hook side of the velcro there, and stitched the loop side down the inside center front of the other side of the bodice. Instant bodice-ripping action!


The sleeves have some fun pleating going on-- they're cartridge pleated at the top, at the bottom, and horizontally up the front of the sleeve! My sleeves are essentially two big rectangles 20" long and as wide as my fabric. I borrowed Verdaera's measurements and Maggie's idea of sandwiching netting between the plum fabric and the lining, to give the sleeves some body; I basically bagged out the sleeves beforehand, as Maggie did, to give a finished edge at the hem. I tried cartridge pleating the sleeve caps, but that made it far too thick to sew to the bodice by machine, and I didn't have time to do it by hand. So instead I just did machine gathers-- sloppy, but effective. I did do proper cartridge pleating all the way around the sleeve hem and on the fronts of the sleeve, though.

I found the lace for the undersleeves from the seller mdove9 on Ebay, but they don't appear to carry it any longer. It's crocheted, 3 1/2" wide, and really quite lovely! I tea-dyed it to turn it ivory, since it came bleached white. I then stitched it to some loose-weave unbleached muslin I had on hand, machine-gathered the muslin, and hand-stitched it to the inside of the plum sleeve. I used one yard of lace for each sleeve, but I definitely think I could have used more. I'd also like to age these a little more, because they still look too new and pristine.


The skirt is so simple, it hardly deserves its own paragraph! The overskirt is just three widths of the plum fabric sewn together and gathered at the waist, with panels of black lace on the inside center front, the same as on the bodice; and then the underskirt is two widths of the same black fabric as the inner bodice. The blousing on the overskirt is currently done by means of safety pins. The plum skirt was blind hemmed by machine, and the black skirt is machine hemmed. It weighs a freaking ton! Right now it's just safety-pinned to the inside of the bodice; someday I may get around to sewing it down.


I bought two widths of gold trim at Jo-Ann. I swear, neither of them is rickrack, although they sort of look that way in the pictures! They were painted with a slightly watered-down mix of gold and copper acrylic paint to dull them down a bit, because I didn't want the gold to look too shiny and new in pictures. The thinner trim went around the hem, neckline, center front, armscyes, sleeve hems, and back princess seams of the bodice. The wider trim went down the fronts of the sleeves along the pleats, and down the center front of the plum skirt. I just bought plain black frogs at Jo Ann and used them as-is. Not accurate, but good enough for my purposes. I didn't do any of the elastic-and-button fanciness because-- say it with me now-- I ran out of time. I also bought gold buttons and painted them with several coats of the same mix I used on the trim. Maggie's research page gives great instructions on frog and button placement.

Everything Else 

My first shoes came from the Salvation Army, and a friend later gave me the pair I currently wear. The Aztec coin necklace is the Master Replicas version. And that's about it!

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