Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Pocahontas costume

So I learned my lesson last year -- since I'm such a slow/basic sewer, don't wait until October to start my daughter's Halloween costume. Last year's Rapunzel took me a whole lotta hours to sew...late, late nights. So when the kiddo said she wanted to be Pocahontas (a la Disney), my first thought was to check the availability of "authentic" costume on I was sorely disappointed.

This is a picture of Disney's Pocahontas from the movie.

This is what the Disney store offers ($39.50):

Even without comparing them side-by-side, believe me I've watched the movie enough times to know that the official costume offered by Disney did not look very much like the actual Indian princess. And so as my blog implies, I decided to tackle sewing it. In September this time. :) This blog entry will not give you step by step instructions of how to sew, but might get you over a few hurdles and hopefully will not scare you off from making this costume.

And so I found myself once again (with kiddo in tow, of course) at my local Joann's Fabric store. Lesson #2 from last year -- don't try this blind, get a pattern. And bring a picture of your targeted dress with you. The obvious first place to look is what Disney patterns exist - yep, Disney sanctions patterns too. But don't get your hopes up...while Cinderella, Snow White, and other usual suspects make the cut for patterns, our dear Pocahontas does not.

So here is probably the first useful piece of info I will give. Even if you can't find exactly the right pattern, look for something similar. In the case of Pocahontas, this means I wanted something similar to the princess's one-shoulder, curve-hugging, sweetheart neckline, fitted a toddler or girl's size. I went and sat at the table with patterns in Joann's and flipped through books. There are a bunch, but I selected the two brands of patterns that were on sale that weekend at Joann's. Here's where you have to be open-minded and think about what to revise. My first stab was to look in the Girl's sizes of patterns for a one-shoulder dress. The only one I found was a t-shirt material and hung loosely, more like a pillow-case dress than a fitted dress. So I flipped through the same book again and instead focused on fit and neckline. I found Simplicity 3902 to be the closest (in the brands in sale - I didn't even look at the full price ones!).

In particular, I saw dress B at the upper right with criss-cross ties in the front. Here's a close-up of the pattern dress.

The shoulder straps are the right width, it is fitted, it has the sweetheart neckline. The parts that are less than ideal is that I would have to alter it would be making it one-shoulder, the skirt flares more than I would prefer, and there are two seams in the front when I really want none.

Well, finding that to be best, I bought that pattern and referred to the back to figure out how much fabric I would need and the notions to buy. I went with a size 4 (based on waist/bust/hip measurements, go with the size that is the smallest that will fit all 3 components and then alter it (in my case, add length for my tall and skinny kiddo). I only needs 1 yard of fabric and Joann's offered several shades of tan faux suede (I let the kiddo pick the color), a zipper, bias tape (which I didn't end up even using), one-sided iron on interfacing, and thread. Of course, it didn't list fringe or a belt but I knew I would need these things to make the dress into an Indian costume. I guessed and went with 1.5 yards of wide fringe and 1 yard of a smaller fringe the same color; also 2/3 yard of brown trim to make into a belt. [I was actually afraid that my child, very concerned about authenticity, would point out that Pocahontas did not have a zipper, but she hasn't...yet]

Once I got home, I cut out the thin pattern paper for a size 4, adding a couple inches to the bottom of skirt pieces to compensate for height. It was at this point that I realized I really didn't want to have two seams down the front. So I took a large piece of paper (off my child's drawing paper roll from Ikea in fact) and went to work making a new pattern. The front was supposed to be mirror image pieces for the right and left side of the front of the dress, plus a middle section and a separate segment for the chest area. I really wanted a single piece. So I laid the mirror image pieces down and traced where I thought the dress should fall. This was also an opportunity to reduce the skirt flare and turn it into a one-shoulder.

The picture below isn't great because there is a large rectangle of fabric beneath the white pattern I have made, so its hard to see the edge of the pattern paper.

Here was my finished pattern front.

At this point I realized that I was worried about my pattern-altering--- I've never done such drastic  alterations (well, last year, I completely changed Rapunzel skirt, but skirts are a whole lot easier to alter than a fitted dress). So I looked in my craft closet and discovered I had a yard of brushed cotton fabric leftover from some project. I decided to make a sample dress before I used my "real" costume fabric (which honestly only cost me about $4). Anyway, in about 2 hours I cut and sewed a sample dress. I skipped the interfacing, fringe, and zipper for the sample (I used velcro) but it was great because I could test the fit on the kiddo. It worked pretty well and now the child has a new pair of pajamas! I did decide that I definitely had to go with a zipper (the velcro was too thick to sew with the machine) and that I wanted less of a point on the skirt bottom. (it's wrinkled because my kid didn't want to take it off after her fitting -- all day)

And so I tackled the real costume next. I don't have pictures of each step because the interesting part was really which pattern I picked and the alterations to the front.  I also had to alter the back slightly because one the one-shoulder, but I really just folded down a flap until it looked about right. I had never done fringe before but that went pretty well and I only sewed one fringe strip into my seam (and had to use the handy seam-ripper on). This was about my 4th lifetime zipper and I have always done invisible zippers which do require a special sewing machine foot. They sell plastic zipper feet for only a couple bucks though. To the costume below, I plan to hand-sew a detachable belt with velcro fastener. I thought about sewing it on with the machine, but was worried that it would either fit too snugly or not enough. I also still need to add an hook-and-eye above the zipper; I forgot to buy that.  In all, the sample dress took me 2 hours to sew since I skipped a bunch of steps. The real dress took me about 4-5 hours (over 3 days). Not bad at all!

I am really happy with how it turned out and I think the kiddo will be, too!


  1. So glad I found this! I am attempting to make this with the help of my mom for myself Friday night! I probably should have started months ago though :( wish me luck!