Item: Clara Oswin Oswald’s Custom-Made Barmaid Dress
Appearance: The Snowmen
Combined with: Un-IDed knitted shawl, lace-up heeled boots, and earrings
Price: £110 for materials
Clara’s barmaid dress was the first sewing project for me in a very long time and it was before I bought a better quality sewing and overlock machine. If I re-made this dress today with all the skills and tricks I’ve learned in the meantime, it would probably look a little different, but I’m still quite proud of the results for it essentially being a beginner’s work. If you don’t have the skills or time, this dress is available to buy on eBay and several cosplay websites.
The price is vaguely the same as the finished dress you can buy on eBay and other websites. If you invest more time and money, you can make your own dress more screen-accurate, but as a poor student, I had to keep it as cheap as possible. I’m still very happy with how it turned out and when I wore it to Time Lash Con a while ago, I was really surprised at how many compliments I got for it. But before we get to the actual making-of, here is a photo of the finished product before we go into the details:
Making Clara Oswin Oswald’s Barmaid Dress
I am far from a professional seamstress, but I’ve made historical costumes before for a Baroque club we have in my town, so I already had a vague idea of how I was going to put the dress together. After briefly looking at more professional sewing machines online and discarding that idea, I dusted off my own, old sewing machine that hasn’t really been used since 2012 apart from a short moment when I made Clara’s S9 Viking vest and went looking for Victorian dress patterns online. I discovered some Steampunk-style sewing patterns on eBay that were quite cheap and decided that they would do and that the rest of the pattern could be altered to suit my barmaid dress needs.
The next step was the fabric. During the time I searched for the patterns and fabrics my doctor had ordered me bedrest for 2 weeks, so I had more than enough time to browse the entire internet and really nothing else to do. It wasn’t easy and I felt like giving up for a couple of moments. I wanted the dress to be as cheap as possible while also staying as close to the original as I could and it really took me over a week to find a suitable jacquard fabric for the top and bustle. I decided to go with plain fabric for the skirt. Buttons and other accessories weren’t that hard to find in my usual DIY online shops in Germany. Here’s what I paid for them:
Fabric, 13m in total: £70
Buttons, lace, sewing accessories: £20
Sewing Patterns: £12
That’s quite a normal amount for a historical dress and I’m glad that, in the end, I found jacquard fabric that was cheaper than £45/metre. Here is what I ended up with:
When all the fabric and sewing supplies were delivered, it took me a bit to get started. The sewing instructions were quite confusing and, like I said, I hadn’t really sewn anything like this since 2012, so I studied the instructions for a few days and realised I needed to alter the pattern for the top to fit Clara’s dress.
Clara’s top is a proper corset, but since I wanted to keep it as simple as possible and the corset pattern I had didn’t look anything like this, I decided to mix parts of the patterns together for a simpler top, which in my case consisted of two front parts, two back parts and the sleeves. I realized soon that my jacquard fabric was too soft to really have that corset-like look, so I went through my fabric leftovers and found some from my Missy coat which I decided to use as lining for the top.
I created a quick mock-up of the future top and was quite satisfied with the early result. After a few adjustments and trying it on about 50 times, I decided to cut out the pieces of the real fabric.
All pinned together and stuck on the dress form it looked a bit more like Clara’s barmaid dress already. However, I decided to take the lining out of the sleeves again because they looked a bit too stiff and puffy.
The time had come for some proper sewing and I decided to get started with the sleeves because they were the easiest and quickest part to do. Determining the proper length was a bit tricky because Clara’s dress seems to have ¾ length sleeves, but you can’t properly see where exactly they end. Also, it was quite difficult to find detailed pictures of the lace used as the edging, but luckily a friend provided me with a lovely photo she had taken at the DW Experience. I found a nice lace on eBay that worked for the sleeves and on to the sewing I went.
The sleeves were finished in just a bit over an hour and I was quite happy that I had decided to leave out the lining because they worked quite well without. For the rest of the top, I found that the leftover Missy coat fabric worked nicely to make it appear stiff and corset-like.
As far as I could see from the photos I have, Clara’s barmaid dress had ruffles around the cleavage area, but I decided to use the same lace I had already used for the sleeves because I had so much left over and it turned out nicely, I think.
The top looks a bit odd on my dress form because it hangs off the shoulders a little and my dress form doesn’t have shoulders at all (my tailor-made waitress dress from Hell Bent looks terrible on the dress form as well to my great annoyance). This is as far as I can work on the top for the time being. There is still a lot of length tucked and pinned away because I need the skirt to determine the final length of the top. I also decided to close it with either popper buttons or hooks (cause it’s the easiest and cheapest solution) which added once I knew the final length.
The basic skirt pattern was an easy one and I’ve made so many skirts before that I didn’t think this was a bit challenging, but I soon discovered that the pattern I used decided to play a trick on me. Usually, Simplicity dress patterns are too big for me and I have to use the smallest size and still take it in a bit, but to be safe I had cut out a size UK8 of the top. I was very surprised to see that it fit, so I decided to do the same thing with the skirt… only to realize that half of the skirt was already more than enough to fit around my waist. Thank you, Simplicity, for your non-existent size consistency. Now, years later, I know that Simplicity always adds a seam allowance to their patterns.
Anyway, I won’t bore you with the details of pinning a basic skirt together, so let’s get right on my most hated thing: the pleats.
I decided to leave the skirt open on one side so the pleats could be sewn more easily and it was a right pain. The pattern didn’t come with any hints as to how much fabric I was going to need, so I had to look at Victorian dresses and their sewing progress online to see how much fabric people usually use. I have some left over, but not as much as I would have anticipated because the pleats really needed A LOT. I calculated how much I was going to need and cut out 12 strips of fabric (100 cm x 30 cm). I hemmed all of the edges and then proceeded to pin them to the skirt row after row.
I can’t write that much about the step of making the apron because I simply followed the pattern here and cut out the three pieces that make up the apron and sewed it onto the skirt.
I’ve spent these a few evenings experimenting with the bustle and trying to find the best solution because the sewing instructions here are less than clear (I’m assuming someone wrote them in Chinese and later translated them into English), but I found a way that works pretty well.
I previously added the apron which wasn’t very hard, just a bit of sewing and gathering. Then I made a little belt to go around my waist under the apron to which I fastened the bustle.
After some gathering and sewing, the bustle was finished as well and I have to say that I am really, really pleased with the outcome, especially after not having touched a sewing machine since 2012 and without spending a fortune on fabrics.