Saturday, August 25, 2012

Dress Diary: Steampunk Cleopatra -The Idea

So I am about to begin a new long-term project for myself.  In a new thing for both myself and this blog, I'm going to document the project as I go.  I'm not really sure how long this project will take me, but I'm just starting to acquire the beginning supplies.

The idea started as I was randomly looking through historical fashion photos and I saw a fashion plate of Victorian fancy dress costumes that included an Ancient Egyptian outfit.  This started my brain working.  I suddenly feel in love with the idea of doing a costume of a Victorian VERSION of an Ancient Egyptian outfit.  I've had a passion for Ancient Egypt since I was very young and came very close to going into archaeology as a result.  So this was really a perfect outfit for me.  But the dress in the fashion plate was not really what I had in mind.  So then I went looking for more Victorian-Egyptian dresses.

There is this stunning Cleopatra outfit created by the House of Worth in 1897.  I have two different photos of it.  And it IS remarkable.  But it really wasn't perfect for my purposes.  For one, I don't have the ability or patience to do as much beading as there appears to be on that dress.  When it comes right down to that, I don't have the time, money, or skill to recreate that dress.   It's Worth.  It's exceptional.    But there is good reference material for possible accessories.  That fan is great.  The headdress is nice, although probably more ornate than I would do.

And then I found it.  I found the outfit I wanted to recreate.  I found it depicted in a watercolor on ivory portrait.  Here is the info I have about it: Mrs. Arthur Henry Paget (1853-1919), 1891 Watercolour on ivory The subject is dressed as Cleopatra, the costume she wore to the 1875 Delmonico Ball in New York City. In mock ancient Egyptian costume, including a headdress in imitation of Egyptian pharaohs, she is posed against a background of palm trees, a river, and distant pyramids. New York Historical Society - ALLURE OF THE EAST: ORIENTALISM IN NEW YORK, 1850–1930

Interestingly, this lady is also called Lady Paget, and so is the lady in the above Worth dress.  Without doing more research, I'm not sure if this is the same woman who upgraded her costume over time, or if this is internet attribution confusion about two women in Cleopatra outfits.  I'm horrible with faces, but they look similar enough to be the same woman?  Historical MYSTERY, y'all.  

Anyway, this outfit had it all.  The central piece seems to be a corset, which would naturally be part of any costume I made.  (Although it's probably a bodice, or boned bodice over an actual corset.  But I see a corset.)  A fairly simple black and gold draped skirt, sheer top, headdress, jewelry.  And more than the fact that I think I can make this, I really, really like the style of it.  I like the black and gold.  

And then something REALLY exciting happened.  I found a PHOTO of this costume, months after I had already decided I had to make it.  So here you can see the full skirt, with train.  I'm really glad I have the painting to capture the feel of the color, even though it's not too detailed, either.

So yes, I am basing my Steampunk Cleopatra on this outfit.  I'm not slavishly recreating this, and I want to add some steampunk elements.  But this is the basic blueprint.  

I've purchased the patterns I am using for the skirts.  For the underskirt I am using Truly Victorian's 1892 Umbrella Skirt with Train.  It will be all black, and I am doing the train.  I might or might not add some gold trim to the bottom, but if I don't I'll have a black skirt to wear with other things, so it will probably be a decision I make later.  For the overskirt, I'm using the TV 1880 Hermione Overskirt.  It has the drape that I want, and looks actually rather close to the photo.  It will also be mostly black, with gold for the pleated panniers and probably some gold trim that I will have to decide on later.  

For fabric, I would love to use silk dupioni, but for these two skirts I need almost 15 YARDS of fabric.  I am not independently wealthy.  So I will be using polyester shantung for the black bits, at least.  I'm undecided about the gold parts, and it depends on what fabric I find.  I would love to use silk for the gold parts, but I have to be able to find just the right gold and also be able to afford it.  So since I have a 60% off Joann's coupon that's good this weekend, I'm going shopping for my black fabric.  
This is the only half of the corset remaining.

The plan for the corset is a little up in the air.  I am considering doing a replica of the Gold Exotic Corset from Jill Salen's Corsets.  The corset is a bit tricky, particularly in construction due to the belt and grommet ventilation.  But I really like the look of it and would like to challenge myself.  Plus I think a gold belt on a black corset would be stunning. But whether that is doable or not will come down to a mock-up.  This pattern might be a disaster, or might not fit me at all.  Although it appears to be very curvy and that's what I want for this outfit.    

But I DO know that for the gold ornamentation at the top and bottom of the corset, I want to use clock and watch parts.  Gears and such, but also clock hands.  Where comfortable, at least.  This costume calls for lots of gold ornamentation and that's where I'm adding the steampunk element.  In the trim, jewelry, and whatnot.  The headdress, which I haven't even CONSIDERED how to make, will also be steampunked, I imagine.

So that's it.  That's my grand plan.  I have a couple of smallish projects I should really do before I start seriously working on this.  (One is a under clothing corset for myself that I desperately need for back support under normal clothes.  Another is another sewing pattern that I hope you guys will like.)  And then I'll start with the skirts, and maybe the corset patterning and mock-ups.  I don't expect to have this outfit done this year, so I won't be aiming for Dickens on the Strand.  But I really have no idea whether I should be aiming for a March-ish date or maybe A-Kon in June.  I'll just have to see how it goes.  I also have to fit this around any sewing I have to do for vending or commission. 


  1. That is absolutely amazing idea! And now you made the gears turn in my head too.

    I'm so going to follow your project. I love it:D That dress you chose was, by the way, the most beautiful of them all, if you ask me.

  2. Really great idea for a steampunk outfit. Can't wait to see your progress

  3. That's so cool. I was going to do something Steampunk/Egyptian myself for Steamcon this year, but ran out of time. That costume has been put aside until later. But I so love the idea, and will love watching your version take form!

  4. She even resembles you in that picture. :-)

  5. Your project was so wonderful and creative.And your grand plan to go to do your job is great.

  6. Your idea about your project is creativity and wonderful. Amazing idea. The plan you choosing for your accessories all are very suitable for your outfit.

  7. I thought you would enjoy this corset ad from my collection, with a Cleopatra theme:

  8. Yes, it is the same woman and the costume was adapted.
    "Wearing a previous incarnation of her Cleopatra costume in 1891, Mrs. Paget
    was painted in watercolour on ivory by
    the French artist Fernand Paillet (1850-1918)"
    and more informationa at:

    I am getting together a series of photographs of this costume, when I upload they will be at (should be up by 4 July, 2017)