Sunday, June 30, 2013

Clara the Barmaid Bustle Dress

I've been a very bad blogger! I haven't blogged at all in almost two months, and there are things I made months ago that I still haven't shared here. My only excuse is that I've gone from one big project to the next, and just haven't had time to stay on top of the blog. Sorry! The next few posts will be me playing catch-up.

First up, my Clara bustle dress:

Last month, I made my reproduction of the Victorian barmaid costume worn by Clara in last year's Doctor Who Christmas special (read more about the planning here). I threw it together in record time (about 2 weeks), and wore it to a Who-themed PEERS dance at the beginning of June. The ball was a huge success — it brought out a mix of swing dancers, fans of the show, and PEERS regulars that packed the venue, making dancing a bit difficult at times. Even though the dance floor was crowded, it was great fun. I danced with the Fourth, Fifth, Tenth, and Eleventh doctors, crossed my own timeline a few times, narrowly avoided some Daleks and weeping angels, and waltzed to a swing version of the show's theme music.

I am thrilled with how my costume turned out, though sadly, not very many people knew who I was. There were a couple of people who got it instantly, and quite a few who remembered with a little prompting, but I'm sure a lot of folks must have thought I had missed the memo about the theme and showed up in a generic Victorian showgirl-type costume. Nevertheless, even those people admired it, and the good thing about it being a bit generic is that I can wear it for other events in the future.

As a reminder of what I was copying, here is Clara's dress from the show:


And here's my version:

Not bad, eh?

The skirt and overskirt are based on the 1886-87 skirt from Period Costume for Stage and Screen (pg 126-7). I shortened both layers a bit, and added three rows of ruffles to the skirt. The bodice is the TV460 1885 Cuirass Bodice. I used the square evening neckline, but with the 3/4 length coat sleeves.


I used a red Kona cotton as the base for the skirt, with the outer skirt layer made from a black/red cross-dyed cotton. The ruffles were cut on the straight of the grain and fringed along the bottom edge, which is how they appear to be finished on the original costume. The top ruffle is accented with a ruche of the overskirt fabric.


The overskirt and bodice were made from an iridescent, embroidered polyester curtain fabric. Unfortunately, it was the only thing I could find to approximate the brocade used for Clara's costume on the show. It was an unpleasant reminder of why I never sew with synthetics — it was a pain to sew and press, and made me very hot and sweaty while dancing. It was a necessary compromise, however, and all things considered, looked pretty fabulous.


I trimmed the neckline and sleeves with a dark red lace trim, and used black vintage glass buttons along the center front opening.

I had intended to knit a screen-accurate shawl to go with the dress, but I got about two-thirds of the way through the knitting, when my right wrist gave out. It hurt so severely that I had to give it up and do without. In fact, over a month later, it is still giving me problems. No more knitting for me! Luckily, I found a second-hand chenille knitted scarf in a similar color that was close enough. It ended up not mattering much, because the dance was too hot and crowded to wear a shawl anyway. I left the chenille scarf in the dressing room for most of the night.

My American Duchess Tavistocks, while not exactly screen accurate, looked great with the dress and were surprisingly comfortable to dance in.

Altogether, I think this dress was a success. I'll keep it in the closet in case I ever need to attend an event as an 1880s saloon girl!


10 comments:

  1. WOW yours looks even better than the original! Very impressive, great job!

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  2. Your dress is so pretty! And I completely agree - it looks even better than the original!

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  3. Oh, it looks marvelous! And I'm so jealous of your button boots!

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  4. That's brilliant. Love the outfit. I want one now.

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  5. Yours is soooo much better than the original ! (:

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  6. Thank you for blogging this - I'm currently trying to make a version of Clara's dress for my daughter's Victorian Day at school. She's a big Dr Who fan and wanted this dress, but, being only nine years old, I thought it would be a little more modest to adapt a Georgian costume, but I'm stuck on the overskirt/bustle bit. Your pictures really helped. Wish me luck! WM x

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  7. Thank you so much for posting this, I want to make this for a convention I'm going to soon but had no idea where to start! This is so helpful!

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  8. Your dress is absolutely fantastic!! I love it so much. It's a shame not as many people recognized you. (I know the feeling. At our Expo this year, only one person recognized who I was cosplaying. Apparently nobody here has watched Primeval.)

    This has inspired me to take up some sewing classes, so that maybe next year I can put this together! Even if people don't recognize me as Clara at Expo, I'll still fit in with the Victorian/Steampunk type :)

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  9. LOVE this dress, I am doing costumes for Oliver! and this will work perfectly for the character of Nancy!

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