Monday, March 11, 2013

Ursula Cocktail Dress

For Bronwen's *8th, Disney Princess themed birthday party I decided... "Shiny, let's be bad guys" and selected Ursula, as my villainess of choice. I sifted through racks at St. Vincent's thrift store, and found myself the most perfect long, fitted black dress and long, A-line purple prom dress.

This is one of my first real build instructional posts, and I'll do my best to detail each step. Please comment or email me with any questions or missing steps.

Black Dress:

  • The black dress I'm using for the actual structure of the dress.
  • First I tried it on, to design where the tentacles should start.
  • It was a little tough finding a balance between maximizing tentacle length and my desire to maintain some modesty.
  • The dress length I was happiest with started just below hips (and butt).
  • Marked the front, back and sides, while still in the dress, we'll call these "modesty marks".
  • Then, once I had the dress off and back on the table, I made the real marks, measuring 25" up from the bottom hem, making sure I was a falling below my "modestly marks" from the fitting.
  • To get more length and width for the tentacles, I let out the hem and closed the back slit to maximize the material available. This gave me a perfect rectangle of 42" wide, by 26" long.

Tentacle Patter:

  • Cut out a rectangle of pattern paper, 42" wide, by 26" long.
  • I knew I wanted eight tentacles, so that means 42" / 8 = 5.25" at the base. With a 0.25" seam allowance, this will give me a finished width of 4.75" - I cut out an example tentacle from scrap paper, and found that I was pleased with the result. 
  • Then divided my pattern paper into eight, 5.25" tentacle "templates", to show me the spacing. 
  • Alternating straight-ish and curly tentacles, I designed each one to be unique and full of life!
  • Cut out the pattern pieces and labeled them tent-1 to tent-8
  • The front of the dress will have tent-2 centered on it, and the back will have tent-6 centered on it (rather then having the slits between tentacles centered).

Purple Dress:

  • The purple dress I am using for material only.
  • Cut the top bodice off first (which I might use for a later project) and set that aside.
  • Then I cut out the liner from the skirt and and set that aside too (I will be using this later in the project).
  • Laid the pattern out and tried so see if I could make them fit without having seams running across them, that's when I noticed that if I split the seams and pressed the pieces flat, the pattern would fit perfectly!
  • Carefully ripped the seams to separated the seven pieces of the gore skirt, then I presses them open to give myself seven pieces of fabric.
  • I was very lucky that all eight tentacles fit on the fabric, with tent-7 and tent-1 sharing seventh, wider segment from the skirt.
  • Cut all eight pattern pieces out, and saved the larger pieces of scraps ( like everything else I don't discard, I may use them later in this project).
  • WARNING: The purple fabric frays so easily! Crap… I might need to use an overlocking stitch, or some hem glue to keep if from falling apart later.
  • Did a zig zag stitch framing the sides around the top 5" of each tentacle (to prevent fraying)
  • Created a little pocket, so that when turned right sides out they would keep the tentacle stuffing from coming out


  • Before I started sewing, I wanted to make sure my idea worked with a tiny curly proof of concept. It worked! But was distorted in the process because I skipped the zig zag sticking. Yikes.
  • I also did a quick test to see if I would like the look of using the skirt liner as ruffle detail on the tentacles. I love it!

Purple skirt liner:

  • Cut the existing hem off at about 3" and cut into short 4"-8" pieces, these will be used for ruffles.
  • Then re-hemmed the liner with a tiny hem, and repeated the previous step to get lot's of pieces for ruffles!
  • I was quickly reminded why I hate doing baby hems, and vowed once again never to use them in a project… after this one.

Back to the black dress:

  • Laid out and traced all eight tentacles (Yay, they fit!).
  • Before cutting, I put some tight (basting?) stitches (one back-stitch) at the top of each division, to prevent the cuts from ripping up into the dress.
  • I may also put thread lock on it, this fabric worries me too…. i'm pretty sure I "FRAY CHECK"
  • I marked 1" and 4" down from the top of the tentacles. I will stop sewing at this mark so that I have wiggle room to turn the tentacles right side out later.
  • I cut out each tentacle up to the 4" mark
  • Keeping the dress right side out, I pinned the purple pieces (right sides together, to the black dress tentacles.
  • Anywhere there was gathering, I pinned like crazy and did a basting stitch to make life easier for myself. It always seems like more work, but it saves me headaches later!
  • Once all of the tentacles were sewn into place I carefully turned them right side out with a fasturn, and stuffed them with upholstery batting.


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