A wedding dress to die for

Mrs C is doing the costuming for a new musical, ‘Lonely Hearts’, which is based on Raymond Fernandez & Martha Beck, the original Lonely Hearts serial killers from the late 1940s/early 50s.

The costuming is all being designed and sewn with as much historical accuracy as you can aspire to within the confines of the theatre (quick changes, actors playing multiple rolls etc.).  I lent Mrs C all my 40s patterns and my mid-century fashion books and she’s been calling me up and asking about covered buckles and zips (yep, totally accurate for the 40s).  And she asked if I would be able to help with the sewing – so I said I would do the wedding dress.

I’m using one of Grandma’s 1940s patterns:

Simplicity 4215 ca. 1947

Isn’t it gorgeous?  Perfect early late 40s/early 50s styling with that sweetheart neckline and princess seamed front!  The pattern still has my Grandmother’s alterations, so I know she made it up.

I’m making it with longish sleeves, and in waltz length.

Simplicity 4215 ca. 1947, pattern reverse

The actress who will be wearing it isn’t a 30″ bust, so I’m having to resize it just a bit.

Simplicity 4215 ca. 1947, pattern instructions

Want to see the fabric?

Brace yourself.

Ta da:

Polyester damask tableclothing

Yes, that is totally polyester tablecloth damask.  It’s actually very pretty sewn up, and perfect for on stage, where you really want something with shine and texture and much less subtlety than I usually go in for.  I think it was a brilliant idea of Mrs C’s considering how slim the costuming budget (nonexistent) and how often the dress will need to be washed.

I still teased her and told her it was the most dreadful fabric I had ever worked with.  I hope she still loves me!

Lonely Hearts opens next Tue, the 17th, at Bats Theatre (yes, the one Peter Jackson just spent a bunch of money saving).  And if you really love musical theatre you can come to a special fundraising preview Sunday the 15th to hear a few songs from the show, a few other pieces and (I think) even Mrs C, who is a pretty amazing singer in her own right.


  1. Can’t wait to see this! I have a nearly identical late 40s pattern hiding in my vintage stocks, so I have vested interest in seeing your process and final product!

    • Haha! I have basically the same vested interest – I want to make the pattern for myself, so this is sort-of an elaborate toile.

  2. I have sewn on table-cloth like fabric similar to your picture – not the most fun to work with, but I bet it will look fabulous as an on-stage costume!

  3. Dear Dreamstress,
    Neat use of fabric!
    An aunt of mine wore a dress very much like this one for her wedding. A couple of things that set it apart:
    – the long sleeves, tight, featured a row of covered buttons partway up the backs of the sleeves, and the top of the sleeve ended in a point over the top of the hand.
    – the duchesse satin featured large appliqued silk floral motifs dotted over the skirt. The satin behind the appliques was cut out. It was dramatic but restrained and beautiful.
    You may not have time to do either effect but both sure added a lot to that dress. Wish I had a photo to share.

    Very best,

    • Sounds lovely. 🙂 I did actually really think about sleeves like that, but it’s a quick change to get into the dress, and the bride gets dragged around stage in it, so they just weren’t practical. I guess they and the appliques will have to wait for another real bride who wants a ca 1950 dress!

  4. The bride on the cover of the pattern seems to be annoyed with someone, judging by the position of her fingers… Oh, wait, I see; she’s holding her veil.
    I love the cut of this dress. It’s so elegant!

  5. Teehee!! It IS hideous, but I reckon if red wine doesn’t stain it then being dragged around on the floor of the theatre won’t stain it either. 🙂 I am sure it’s going to be SOOO gorgeous I am going to have to insist that they change the story and Ray marries the bride after all instead of “doing her in”!
    I am so chuffed that you give my costumes and their finish the seal of approval 🙂 It’s important because if neither of us feel like we are deliberately implicated in the execution of an anachronous felony,
    it’s highly unlikely anyone in the audience will feel that way either. And anachronisms are show killers, even in shows about killers! Funny how someone will happily accept an actor miming a cup of tea but if the teacup is from the wrong era, they won’t. 🙂

  6. Wow! This dress looks very similar to the dress I imagined for my own wedding, way back when I was about 12…. lol The skirt is a bit fuller than I had planned but it is still quite lovely. I really like a sweetheart neckline and the material you have chosen is great. Dare I mention that, in my 12-year old mind, my wedding dress was intended to be made of champagne-colored satin.

    thanks for posting this! I still haven’t had the chance to marry but this dress would be a real candidate for my choice should I ever be blessed to be married.

    Elaine \o/

  7. what a lovely pattern! I’m quite sweet on sweetheart necklines (teehee!) and as someone who has worked behind the scenes in productions before you use what you can. Tablecloth win!

  8. Very nice. Will there be any kind of trim, or will the damask just reign supreme? And will the actress wear long gloves with the dress, as the woman does in the sketch on the pattern envelope?

    • Trim is still to be decided (and may be partly based on whether the bodice points need a little support and reinforcing!). I don’t know about gloves – that may depend on whether she has time to get in them or not.

  9. Lynne says

    That is just beautiful, and the fabric will look great on stage! And you have this to finish before the dress rehearsal which could be Monday?? Busy lady! Have a profitable weekend, Dreamstress!

        • Don’t worry – it’s basically done, I just had to do Rate the Dress on Tue, and then the terminology post on Thur, and that dictated Wed’s post, so this got help up days after the finished dress!

  10. It may be table cloth fabric but on the internet photograph it looks nice. I totally see how this would work on stage. Heaven knows you wouldn’t want to be dragging silk taffeta around the stage a couple times a night for several weeks/months on end!

  11. There are still a lot of 40’s details in that pattern – the shoulders for a start. It just goes to show that fashion eras aren’t *quite* as clearly delineated as the history books would tell us!

    • Absolutely. And don’t you have anything in your wardrobe that you bought 10 years ago and still wear, or a pattern you have been making and remaking for a decade?

      We wanted the bride(s) to be bride-y and beautiful, but they are mostly older women who would be wearing older styles.

  12. Ohhhhhh, I love it! I think that now I want a dress like that! Without the tablecloth for fabric (Although I bet it will work quite well, and it does sound like something I would totally do.) 😀

  13. Seconding (or thirding, or whichever it is by now) the voices about the 40s-ness of the pattern. I think there’s a very similar dress in the German pattern magazines I have borrowed from my aunt…
    Is the fabric an actual tablecloth, or do they sell that as fabic?

    Good luck with the show, everyone!

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