Night Circus Costumes

As seen on PatternReview

APR 27, 2022. PUNTA GORDA. by Heidi (Chimera Costumes).

In 2018, Morgan Katsarelas and I made a pair of costumes inspired by The Night Circus. That book is all about the aesthetic: a dark victorian fantasy with monochrome (black and white) styles throughout - and the occasional splash of red accent. For this project, we made matching ballgowns; mine is black and hers is white. 

Bookish Costumes Night Circus Ball Gowns

Since these are Victorian inspired gowns, they require a full complement of underpinnings (drawers, chemise, corset, cage crinoline, petticoat). We made those as well, including the corsets! We discovered that Morgan has a real knack for building the cage underpinnings (hoop skirts), so she did most of my crinoline (in exchange I assembled a lot of her gown when we got tight on the deadline). 

Night Circus Costumes Masquerade Ball Gowns

We couldn't resist the opportunity to take a Phantom of the Opera style photo in this mirror (just one more way these costumes are great as bookish outfits). 

Phantom of the Opera Mirror Costume

Victorian inspired costumes are fun because you can go wild with accessories! We both had way more accessories than we could possibly actually carry: masquerade masks, reticules, parasols, gloves, you name it, we have it in black and in white. 

White Victorian Gown Night Circus

Victorian Ball Gown Gothic Wedding

One of the downsides of a big "princess" costume like this is moving around, especially if you have to go outdoors at all. We definitely were glad to have our lovely assistant on the way to the fashion show! 

Ball Gowns Victorian

We debuted our gowns in the 2018 Vintage Villain Fashion Show (at dragoncon), in early September. Since we were running a little late on completing the project, we violated one of my main sewing rules: last minute sewing. We actually sewed the glittery rosettes onto our trains backstage while we waited for our turn to walk... oops...

Sewing Trim on a Victorian Gown

The crinoline (hoop skirt) is the round cage shaped undergarment that holds the shape of the skirt and allows you to walk easily. It's especially important for these gowns since they have trains that add to the weight and hassle of the garment. The crinoline is attached at the waist, and puts the weight of the gown onto the corset, which spreads it out over the torso (as long as the corset is fitted correctly). 

Victorian Hoop Skirt Black

The drawers and chemise are worn underneath the corset, which is worn underneath the crinoline (hoop skirt). A ruffled petticoat goes on top of the cage crinoline:

White Hoop Skirt Corset Underpinnings

It's important to have the petticoat on top of the hoop skirt (crinoline) because otherwise the hoop "bones" will be visible in the shape of the skirt when the gown is being worn. If you see a gown with odd horizontal lines pushing out from under it - the odds are that it probably needs a petticoat (or more petticoats than it has). 

Victorian Petticoat Corset Chemise

In October of 2018, we wore the gowns again, as volunteers for Night At The Museum (an annual event hosted by the Tampa Bay History Center). We were joined by our late friend Will Corner, in a bookish costume that he had made! Since he was dressed as Edgar Allan Poe, I added a mask to my gown so that I could be his raven. 

Edgar Allan Poe with a Raven and a Victorian Bride

MATERIALS (for one ballgown ensemble)

This is a huge project and requires a lot of expediture on materials (both fabric and notions) as well as some specialized tools. Here's a partial list of what we used for each outfit: 

  • 10 yards of taffeta
  • 2 yards of coutil 
  • 8 yards of tulle
  • 20 yards of cotton (give or take) 
  • 1 corset busk 
  • 2 sets of ice skate laces (or corset laces) 
  • thread 
  • interfacing 
  • grommets 
  • grommet pliers / installation tool 
  • hooks & eyes
  • snaps 
  • ribbon 
  • 4 rings (for train) 
  • corset bones 
  • bias tape
  • lace, flowers, glitter, misc trims 
  • materials for the crinoline (including hoop steel, twill tape, hook & eye, etc)

HOW IT WAS MADE (pattern review info)

This was a joint project that I did with Morgan Katsarelas; we made a pair of matching ballgowns (mine is black, hers is white) which were inspired by Swan Lake and the Night Circus. Morgan and I both love reading and enjoy making costumes inspired by bookish themes. Each of these ensembles includes a corset, chemise, bloomers, crinoline, petticoat, skirt, train, and bodice (plus various accessories). 

Pattern Description: Simplicity 4479 is an Andrea Schewe pattern (I love her designs, they're usually easy to follow and she posts additional info on her personal blog for some of them). I believe it was designed as a costume pattern for the 2004 Phantom of the Opera movie (Christine's pink Masquerade dress). Since it is a Victorian inspired gown, it requires a full complement of underpinnings (drawers, chemise, corset, cage crinoline, petticoat). 4479 is the bodice, skirt, and train.

Did it look like the photo/drawing on the pattern envelope once you were done sewing with it? Absolutely! Very happy with the results (of course, the underpinnings are really important).

What did you particularly like or dislike about the pattern? I LOVE that it's a big elliptical skirt! This is a beautiful historical silhouette but I've almost never seen a commercial pattern for it, so it is really fun to have that as an option.

Fabric Used: Taffeta (for the train, skirt and bodice) and tulle (for the overlays). Cotton for the underpinnings. Coutil for the corset, with steel bones. Hoop steel for the crinoline. I really love how taffeta sounds when you walk so I wanted taffeta for these!

Pattern alterations or any design changes you made: I wasn't happy with the way the bodice is constructed; next time, I'll use more of a flat layering / corset style to assemble it rather than the typical modern "turn it right side out" method (sorry, I'm not sure what that's called). I think part of the reason that the modern method didn't work very well is that it's such a close fit, to get the right look - and it requires a high degree of precision.

Would you sew it again? Would you recommend it to others? I love this silhouette, I'll be making another one as soon as I get the opportunity (maybe in green...) I'd only reccommend it to experienced costumers, though, because it's just such a huge undertaking due to the fact that it requires a complete set of period underpinnings.

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