Jimminy Crispies! There’s a Charles James gown in my livingroom!

by brocadegoddess on April 4, 2014 · 54 comments

in 1950s,Dresses

Back in October I posted on here an introduction to a big sewing project I was taking on: reproducing a version of Charles James’ Tree Gown:

Charles James: The Exhibition - Threads

My excuse for tackling this, apart from the challenge of it, was to wear at the 2014 Toronto Garrison Ball.  Which was actually last weekend – yes, the dress was finished beforehand ;o)

This project was made possible/feasible by the generous loan of a pattern taken of the dress’ foundation made by a former curator of the Chicago History Museum for their Charles James exhibition in 2011.

I documented the process at each step along the way and blogged about it, but didn’t post all of those here because I thought they’d get tedious.

But now it’s FINISHED and I’ve caught up with my blogging (that lagged when it got to the stress-sewing point) so I’m sharing here again!

Here’s a brief(ish) retrospective on the process:













And finally I ended up with this:



I cannot tell you how RELIEVED I was that it actually turned out well, lol.  I was nervous about it right to the very end.

If you’d like to follow the process in more detail (there is some fun stuff in there) here’s a link to all the Tree posts.

You can go here if you just want to see more of the finished dress – and the “superhero” evening cape I made to wear with it!

This post was written by...

– who has written 8 posts on WeSewRetro.com.

brocadegoddess's posts / brocadegoddess's website

{ 54 comments… read them below or add one }

June April 4, 2014 at 8:08 am

I am speechless. WOW. That dress! And your skill! WOW. Please, teach me! :D


brocadegoddess April 4, 2014 at 9:05 am

Lol, thank you! Funnily enough, this dress really just employed all the normal sewing skills one picks up along the way. It’s just a more extreme/intensive use of them. I found this project to be more about commitment and patience than special skill. The true genius of this dress is all Charles James’!


Nicola April 4, 2014 at 8:27 am

That’s actually incredible! I am truly amazed with your talent!! Well done :D


brocadegoddess April 4, 2014 at 9:06 am

Thank you! I won’t lie, it was long hard slog! And now I want to just do simpler, smaller things with no deadlines for a while! lol


PepperReed April 4, 2014 at 8:32 am

Holy AMAZING, Batman!!! That’s just incredible. What a spectacular dress and learning experience and I hope you had a fantastic time at the ball!


brocadegoddess April 4, 2014 at 9:08 am

Lol, thank you! It was a really amazing, eye-opening learning experience. It’s set my PhD thesis back a few months (that’s what I’m *supposed* to have been working on all this time) but I regret nothing!
I did have a fantastic time at the ball! This dress is not horrendous to wear, but it is a little more cumbersome than we’re usually used to. I had to sort of perch on the edge of my chair at dinner and the dress did. not. want to fit under the table, lol.


Sewcial Warrior April 4, 2014 at 8:38 am

Oh my goodness, that dress is amazing!!!! Well done! Truly incredible


brocadegoddess April 4, 2014 at 9:10 am

Thank you! I felt pretty amazed looking at if finished in my humble living room!


Reading Goddess April 4, 2014 at 8:42 am

You are a true goddess! Your sewing is art.


brocadegoddess April 4, 2014 at 9:09 am

Ooh, coming from another goddess – thank you very much! ;o)


Evie April 4, 2014 at 8:58 am

WOW!!!! You did an absolutely incredible job on this!!!


Evie April 4, 2014 at 8:59 am

And I so love that you reproduced that cape, too! I have been lusting after that thing for a while.


brocadegoddess April 4, 2014 at 9:02 am

Ha! So I’m not the only one! It took some fussing to get the pleated fronts right, but was otherwise pretty easy. Of course, a lot more things may seem easy now in comparison with that dress, lol. While I don’t have in-process photos for the cape I could probably do a post showing the shape of the pattern pieces I came up with and some sort of explanation of the process.


Claire Cooper April 4, 2014 at 9:27 am

That looks amazing, must have been a labour of love.


brocadegoddess April 4, 2014 at 10:28 am

And how! Thank you!


Jet Set Sewing April 4, 2014 at 10:31 am

Wow, what a feat! That’s a work of art. Enjoy wearing it!


athene April 4, 2014 at 10:42 am

GAH! So beautiful! James is my favorite couture designer ever, and you did a beautiful job of realizing this dress!


brocadegoddess April 4, 2014 at 11:06 am

Thank you! He is truly amazing, isn’t he? Maybe one day (probably a long time from now, lol) I’ll try tackling another of his. I love his unconventional approach to dressmaking/couture – a mash-up of architecture and dressmaking.


T J Hanks April 4, 2014 at 11:09 am

A stunning piece of art! Bravo! Keep up the good work.


Katherine April 4, 2014 at 11:18 am

I popped in for a second, saw this, and immediately trotted over to the WeSewRetro facebook page (with my mouth still agape) to post it there.

Seriously amazing. Your next cocktail is on me.


brocadegoddess April 4, 2014 at 12:13 pm

Thank you! And – woohoo! lol


Mel April 4, 2014 at 11:43 am

Amazing, no more words…


Mother of Reinvention April 4, 2014 at 12:53 pm

Your dress is absolutely stunning. I hope that you had a great night at the event. You must have got a vast amount of compliments. X


anthea April 4, 2014 at 1:12 pm

Wow! What a craftmanship! I admire your talent! This is very inspiring!


Kait April 4, 2014 at 3:34 pm

I am so happy to see that you did it, and on time too! I was very curious when you announced this at the start of the year, and it’s very exciting to see how well it turned out! It’s amazing.


brocadegoddess April 4, 2014 at 5:16 pm

Thank you so much! There was a period towards the end when I wasn’t sure I actually would get it done on time. I was afraid the draping would take forever, but it ended up going much quicker than I anticipated – whew!


gillymakes April 4, 2014 at 3:58 pm

WOW that is awesome. I am truly impressed. That is a fabulous dress.


ohsewdarling April 4, 2014 at 4:54 pm

Absolutely beautiful and very impressive! I love it!


Deb April 4, 2014 at 5:18 pm

At risk of repeating everyone else, this is incredible! So beautiful and just mind-blowing. It looks just like the original, and I can’t imagine the patience this had to take. Gorgeous!


kathy April 4, 2014 at 10:02 pm

I am in total awe. You have mad sewing skills. What a beautiful gown! I cannot find the words to describe how wonderful it looks. I live in envy of your creation.


Carole April 5, 2014 at 4:11 am

Truly amazing, Enjoy…


Laura April 5, 2014 at 5:27 am

This is a spectacular dress!! Well done, a real work of art. You must be so proud of yourself!


Aimee April 5, 2014 at 7:49 am

Holy moley! That is just stunning! Wow


tanyamaile April 5, 2014 at 8:34 am

Utterly magnificent!!! What an excellent job on an extra special dress. I love seeing your dress making process as well.


Meg April 5, 2014 at 10:12 am

Wow. Just, wow. Congratulations, enjoy it for years to come!


HeatherLeeBea April 5, 2014 at 11:11 am

As a costume history nerd, I loved seeing the understructures as much as the finished dress. I often have to reverse engineer design elements on custom pieces, and your documentation of the process is spectacular. No matter how long you’ve sewn, there’s always more to learn. This post inspires me to start investigating this dress: http://www.heatherleebea.com/2013/03/08/design-inspiration-cristobal-balenciaga-1951/ and maybe make a replica of my own soon!

Will this work of art have a permanent display? I was thinking of how hard it must be to store without crushing the structural elements.

Congrats on making it through! Glad you had fun swishing that skirt!


brocadegoddess April 6, 2014 at 1:43 pm

I’ve always liked that style, and Balenciaga? Hello!


Lauriana April 5, 2014 at 11:12 am

Wow, that is SO impressive! It looks absolutely great.


Claire April 5, 2014 at 3:24 pm

Congratulations. You must feel so proud of such an epic achievement. It is such an amazing dress.

I will be going to see the Charles James exhibition at the MET this summer so it’s great to see a break down of the process of making a dress like this. So much work and technique.

Thank you for sharing it with us.


brocadegoddess April 6, 2014 at 1:44 pm

Ooh , you lucky duck. I so want to see that exhibition, but don’t know if I’ll make it.


Rebecca April 5, 2014 at 3:43 pm

Woooooooowwwww! That is so amazingly gorgeous. The cape suits it perfectly, too! Great job!


Lorna April 5, 2014 at 3:46 pm

Oh my so want to do this all alone ! What à release indeed.
This is so great. Now I want to purchase it haha



Snowma April 5, 2014 at 8:28 pm

Wow. Inspirational. Bet you felt ridiculously elegant in it! Interesting how much the lines harken back to turn the of the century’s own kind of “va voom” silhouette. Bravo.


Catherine Alekna April 6, 2014 at 5:38 am

wow! i am so flabbergasted! I would never know where to begin with a dress like this! your such an amazing seamstress! this is such an amazing piece of work, i hope you are very proud of yourself


Caroline April 6, 2014 at 10:37 pm

My goodness my jaw dropped! I hope your blog has a photo of you in this masterpiece! Stunning.


Bellis Winter April 7, 2014 at 1:18 am

It’s amazing, I have no word to say how it’s perfect !


Leigh Ann April 7, 2014 at 6:53 pm

This might be the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen. Well done!


TheBrownBombshell April 8, 2014 at 2:21 am

That cape is EVERYTHING!


datura April 8, 2014 at 6:10 pm

Stunning in every single way…it looks like it came straight of out Charles James’ workroom. And I can’t believe you finished it in just four months. I love seeing all your detail work…can’t wait for your photoshoot to happen so we can see a picture of you in it!


Bex April 9, 2014 at 9:43 pm

Floored… absolutely floored!


Stacey Stitch April 10, 2014 at 3:40 am

wowzers, this is A-MAZING!


cup + penny April 14, 2014 at 10:52 am

Oh. My. Gosh. I can’t believe you made that. It’s amazing!


Smee April 21, 2014 at 8:26 am



ShirleyDont July 6, 2014 at 3:51 pm

This is breathtaking! I cannot even imagine how long this must’ve taken, it’s absolutely lovely!


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