Thursday, January 3, 2019

The Sarah Masquerade gown from Labyrinth -Part One

The first movie scene that had an impact on me was the beautiful Sarah Williams lost in a daydream ballroom, dancing with the Goblin King in Labyrinth. Her dress was the stuff of 1980's legend - giant iridescent sleeves, beading on the bodice, and a skirt so big it couldn't fit in the camera shot. Although the dress loomed large in my mind, I always assumed I couldn't make it. It looked too complex, too much work and too BIG.

Those sleeves! That Skirt! THAT HAIR!

I didn't think much about making it until a friend called to tell me the dress was on display at a museum. I started to really ponder when I signed up for my first Costume College. I knew it could only be Sarah for the big gala red carpet. I started to look up movie stills, photos and movie information.  A friend graciously took photos at the museum when she was visiting Seattle. And then I sat down and started to dissect the gown.

Nothing about this gown looks simple

There are two main components to the Sarah gown - structure and embellishment. Structure was simple to deduce. A grand pannier (a la 18th century fashion), two skirts and a boned bodice. The low neckline, off the shoulder giant sleeves and small waist all pointed to a vague 1830's look. The embellishments on closer inspection were not that difficult - lots of lace, scattered random sea glass and beads, and a LOT of shimmery fragile rainbow lamé organza.

I began with Truly Victorian's 1830 dress pattern. To make matters easier, I had already used this pattern not long before to make my Taglioni sylph. No mock up was really needed. I did some modifications to get the shape I wanted. I extended the dart busts into princess seams for that 1980's look. I also moved the back side seams closer to the front. I let out the seams at the waist a bit and extended the v so that it was more pronounced. Really, the bodice flares over the hips however I changed this part to better suit my body type. It is a change I am ok with this as I prefer how the overall lines of the gown looked in the end.

Classic 1830's dress pattern illustration from Truly Victorian

I had less luck with the grand pannier. Simplicity makes one but it is only on demand. Time was not on my side and I didn't want to wait for them to assemble and mail. However, I reached out in my local costume guild and found someone nice enough to let me borrow it! 

I now had my basic idea formalized and knew how to actually construct the dress. Huzzah! At this point I was a Sarah at the beginning of the labyrinth, gleefully skipping through. "I got this! Its more simple than it looks!" This was however about to be shattered when I watched the actual dance scene again and studied the fabric and beads. Watch the scene here.

The ballroom scene is documented in the making of video that you can find when purchasing the dvd of the movie (or watch it on youtube here). They show that it was shot through a giant crystal half sphere, so that it felt like a hazy dream for Sarah. The lighting is muted and Sarah pushes her way through crowds, so that your views of the dress are limited. We see her dance, the panniers sweeping around in a waltz. What is very apparent is that nothing is clear at all! The gown exists within a made up world, shot through a special lense to create a certain mood. And this is where my conflict arose.

Wake up Sarah! Its not real!

The actual dress,which is making its away across the country, first in Seattle, then Los Angeles and currently on its way to a new city, showcases a very different idea. First of all, the costume designer used some very unconventional materials. Paper, rough glass, newspaper. Fine for a movie but not for me. I love that it is so creative and unconventional however I did not want to worry about bits falling when I was at the gala. There is a great interview with Ellis Flyte, the costume designer,(read here) that goes into a bit of detail. Broken down fabric! Rainbow paper! Oh my. 

The dress on display

Add to that the fact that the gown on display does not accurately portray how it was worn in the film. They have placed the gown high up on the shoulders, creating a very different look and making it difficult for me to figure out how it looked in the movie. The fit of the bodice at waist and the support structure look slightly different than on the actress Jennifer Connelly. The lighting is so subdued it completely changed the color. I was back to my original problem that I had with the Sylph. How do I accurately recreate the dress? Do I recreate as it appears in the movie? Do I faithfully copy the actual dress in the museum? What in the world am I doing? 

In the end, I decided to go with the movie. I had sought out to do an EXACT replica but I think that was overly ambitious for a first time cosplayer. Something had to give. The actual lace used doesn't  even exist anymore! I found the rainbow lamé organza for quite a deal and ordered 20 yards. I found beautiful silver lace on and got two bolts of white tulle. In addition, I purchased white twill for interlining, 10 yards of white silk taffeta, 12 yards of sheer white organza, 8 yards of stiff white netting and 10 yards of basic white cotton broadcloth.

Shimmery rainbow lame and silver lace ready to go!

I began with the grand pannier. The simplicity pattern is straightfoward. I didn't even look at the directions because the shape was simple. I left a slit on either side so I could access a pocket tied to my waist (just like a proper 18th century woman). To be honest, I found the whole thing boring and tedious. It wasn't even that complicated but I did not enjoy the process. 

Don't be fooled by that smile, I whined the entire time

When it came time for boning I had a hard time. American Duchess wrote a blogpost where she used very long zip ties. I tried this but I didn't try hard enough to secure the zip ties to each other and it was a fail. I also watched the Angela Clayton youtube video in which she was not happy with the hoop wire she ordered. In the end I went to my cheap amazon hoop skirt, took out the wire and used that!  American Duchess noted that she added a boning channel to the bottom of the pannier so I decided to copy this idea so I would have more structure. 

All done yaaaaaaay

Then it was time for the bodice. I first sewed up the lining bodice in white broadcloth, lowered the neckline and quickly tried it on for fit. I interlined the rainbow organza with white satin (leftover from the Sylph) and white twill and sewed the bodice up on my trusty 401a.

Easy peasy. HAHAHA yeah right. The organza kept tearing despite me serging all the edges. I would be covering it with lace so I didn't stress too much.

There are no pictures for proof, but I added boning channels to all the seams on the lining, plus four more channels to the back including at center back. I opted for a sturdy separating zipper closure. Next I took my lovely silver lace and carefully cut it out, creating appliques. I hand sewed the lace to the bodice, which ended up taking around 12 hours (thanks to Poldark for keeping me occupied while I did this). The lace is slightly raised, which ended up creating such a beautiful effect. I spent so much time stressing over the lace and finding the perfect one. In the end, I am so happy with how it looks. 

Zipper is in, I carefully hand sewed pieces of lace all over of the bodice.

Front bodice with lace placed to see how it looks

The sleeves were constructed in three parts. First I took sheer white organza, then the rainbow organza and placed it over the lace. I then put silk taffeta under that as an underlining. I used the white broadcloth and two layers of stiff netting cut as a second sleeve. I sewed the seams up separately then attached to the armhole. In between the two layers I stuffed white soft tulle. The sleeves didn't need much thanks to the taffeta and the stiff netting!

Playing around with the the sleeve treatments. In one I used just plain white organza. In the other I did a layer of sheer organza, then rainbow organza and finally the lace. I opted for the second to create a more dreamy look and to contrast more with the bodice.

Giant sleeve! This was before I even added the tulle stuffing!

The top of the sleeves were gathered and I handsewed them to the bodice as it was a bit bulky. I reinforced by serging all around (which was not easy). I then inserted zip tie boning to either side of the zipper so that the back would lay flat. I opted not to wear a corset. The bodice had lots of boning and the skirt supports were light. At this point I tried it on.

The bottom of the sleeves are open and waiting for the second part but it still looks like Sarah!

I then collected beads from all over. I even had friends in different states looking for me. Thankfully the craft shops and local stores had plenty of options. I ordered some rhinestones online, including the giant one in the center. I then used a combination of sewing beads at random and shoe goo to glue them on. Shoe goo is strong stuff! I placed all the beads in a bowl and just grabbed a couple at a time. The beads are scattered on the bodice. There is a small yellow rose made of tulle on one side of the neckline and a giant stone center of the bodice. More stones are seen at the point.

Surely the goblin seamstresses would approve

The skirts were very straightforward. I constructed two petticoats as if they were being used for an 18th century robe a la francaise. This meant they had open slits on either side and tied with drawstrings, so that I could reach through all the layers and access the pocket. 

I draped yards and yards of the rainbow organza to get an idea of how much I would need. I believe the total ended up being 14 yards.

I created a pleated simple 18th century petticoat of silk taffeta. I then attached white tulle one to two inches below the waistline all the way around. I made note of the v in the bodice and made sure the tulle started lower there so the bodice would lie flat against my waist and stomach. 

First two layers of tulle. I am not quite sure how much I ended up using, but I will guess around 50 yards.

The second petticoat to go over the tulle layer was one made of the rainbow organza, one layer of lace and then another layer of organza! This would then be hiked up on one side and secured with a net bag full of goblin gems. I did deep pleats for this layer, as seen on the actual dress. I scrunched the organza up and secured with rubberbands, leaving it overnight. In the morning I took everything out and then hoped the wrinkles would hold. I roll hemmed the organza (and the taffeta) with my serger, which was a real time saver!

Organza petticoat ready to go, minus the gems

The try on of the bodice with the skirts was both exhilarating and nerve-wracking. Everyone goes through the process of fear, frustration and finally happiness. Trying on the gown at various stages kept me going and encouraged. I am going to stop here as this post is so long and there is still much to cover (bottom half of sleeves, details, hair and make up, accessories). Look for part two shortly!

Minus the tulle, marking my waist for the skirts

Trying on the top petticoat. You obviously can not tell but I was very upset in this photo. I felt the pleated layer didn't look right. I  scrunched up the organza for the crinkle look but wasn't pleased. I hated the lace because you couldn't see it at all.

Can you tell how huge I am? The skirt took up so much room!


  1. Absolutely gorgeous! Can't wait to see part 2.

  2. You are a goddess and I bow down to your skills!

  3. BEAUTIFUL!!! absolutely stunning!! Best of luck to you! You are VERY talented! And patient! Lol

  4. That is exquisite; you look incredible. You are so talented! Don’t suppose you want to make me one by any chance? I’m getting married in July and we’re going to San Diego Comic Con for the first week of our honeymoon. Both big geeks (live in the UK) and have always wanted to go and never been. Labyrinth is my favourite film and always wanted to wear that dress from the first time I saw the film. Sadly I have no habadashery talents and finding great replicas of this dress for sale is really hard. I’m figuring no, but figured hopefully you’d see the question as a compliment to your skills at least :)