Round Peg In a Square Hole-crafts

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Frome the Archives: The Great Pom Pom Search

This is an article I wrote 7 or so years ago, on the occassion of making the described dress. I believe it was published in Squeals at one point, or possibly the Costumer's Quarterly, when that was still around. In any case, it comes from the past.....

It started with this picture, see? A picture in a book that a friend was kind enough to bring back from Europe. It had some pictures of Victorian gowns that I had never seen before, in any other book, including


You must understand that I have this thing about silly historicals. I *DO* do normal historicals, but no one remembers them; all they remember are the warped ones: SWAT (the Strauss Waltz Assault Team) and the Computer Pirate are somehow more memorable than yet another well-done, standard Regency or Victorian gown. And it’s not like I go looking for these Hystericals--they manage to find me. And, I have to admit, they are fun. But this was a PERIOD silly dress--I mean it was actually built that way at the time, a Victorian woman being silly, going to a Masquerade. (Well, maybe she didn’t actually mean to be silly, but I find that hard to believe....)

Anyway, as best I can tell (the book I got this from has no words (wouldn’t help a lot, even if it did, as it was printed in German), which includes no captions (not even dates!) on the pictures) the gown was worn to a Victorian costume party, and was supposed to be a circus performer--you know, one of those women who train little dogs to jump through hoops. Pretty standard late Victorian /Early Edwardian lines on the skirt and bodice, but it was decorated with about a bazillion pom poms, which graded from large at the hem to small at the waist (reversed on the bodice) with huge bows on the shoulders and a small, pointy hat. Since it was a line drawing, I was free to pick what colors I liked (though it was obvious that the bodice was a darker color than the skirt), so I picked rosy pink and forest green, for two reasons: I already had a wonderful net petticoat in those colors; and they were $.88/yd and $3/yd, respectively.

The hitch to all this was that I first saw the picture two weeks (almost to the hour) before the Halloween ball at which I wanted to wear it, and I work full time. (There were also a few projects that needed finishing up (two Halloween costumes for my nephews, and a belated birthday present for a friend), but they only took up about 15 of the available ~50 working hours between the time I first saw the picture and the time I had to be at the ball.) Not only that, I had overtime to do one of those weeks, AND had to get my car fixed. Gaaagh. I hate it when life interferes with costuming......

So, my first stroke of luck was that they sell large bags of all white pom poms with multiple sizes in the bag. (The only reason I knew this is that the first store I went to had an empty hang rack with a label that said “all-white, mixed” and the only way I could think of for all-white pom poms to be mixed was in size....) I bought out all that one Jo-Ann’s had, and called frantically around to all the others looking for more. The bad news was that the largest pom pom in the various size assortment package wasn’t large enough, so I was on the hunt for larger pom poms.

Took me 5 days to get the fabric; built the skirt and bodice in about a day and a half after that. Now, I have a decision to make: start pomming the skirt, and limit myself to the pom pom sizes I know I can get hold of, or take a chance that I’ll find bigger, or more. Kinda took the half-way road--used the largest size I currently had as my largest on the skirt, but assumed I would be able to get more of them.

As luck would have it, I was able to find several more packages of the mixed sizes, as well as enough of the largest size to do. HOWEVER, I had gotten everyone I knew involved in searching for pom poms, and Kate had found a whole nest of an even larger size, and bought out the store. This allowed me to do the top of the bodice and the ones around the neck in these large ones, which was actually pretty correct, according to the picture.

Then, I get this idea that I needed a poodle to carry, so everyone knows what I am (and I was right; no one knew what the hell I was, unless I was carrying the poodle). Fortunately, someone in our sewing circle had just gone on a search for a lamb (she was Little Bo Peep) and so had the names and numbers of several stuffed animal stores (I didn’t even know that such stores existed.....). Only one had any poodles, and they were way more expensive than I was interested in paying (especially after cornering the local market on “albino pom poms of size”....) so, in the end, I borrowed one from another member of the sewing circle. This, of course, increased the work--I now needed a hat, ear ribbons, and a neck ribbon and pom poms for the dog as well. Pant, pant.

We’re up to the Thursday before Halloween. I need to make a hat, but can’t find my hat buckram, and the store was out. Quick call to a milliner friend (Bo Peep) to steal some buckram and extra wire. Hat was built in one evening at the sewing circle.

All this time, I’m looking for gloves and tights to match the skirt and coming up with ZIP! They just don’t *make* them in that color. (Believe me.) So, I finally give in and buy white gloves (I know I have a pair of white tights at home) and Rit dye.

Now, listen to me very carefully: Never dye something you only have one of without testing the dye first. Can we say BURGUNDY?! (I already HAD a pair of burgundy gloves, too!) That was NOT the color of the package! Gaaaggghhh! (Friday night, eep!) I remember that I have another pair of white gloves (which are getting dirty, so I don’t wear them much anymore) and one more pair of new white tights. Off to the grocery store to buy 4 different colors of pink dye. Armed with MANY strips of white fabric, I of course get the correct color on the first shot. (sheesh!) Gloves and tights are subsequently washed and dried and leetle pom poms begin marching their way up the gloves to meet the huge-bow-and-gargantuan-pom-pom-thang which clearly sits on the top of the glove in the picture. (And while the gloves were drying, I whiled away the time making pom pom earrings. I am insane.)

In the end, I (FINALLY!) got my car back on Saturday, all the pom poms on (even on my shoes!), with poms to spare! And no safety pins! The ball was lovely, with some stunning costumes (particularly some of the Comedeia del Arte-types!), but almost no one really “got” the dress. Sigh! But it is very silly---and PERIOD!

By the way, if you need white pom poms of just about any size......