Thursday, November 21, 2013

How to Dream of Jeannie

Earlier this year, I learned that the beautiful Barbara Eden would be a guest at the Gold Coast Supanova. I was over the moon and decided that it was high time I made my I Dream of Jeannie costume. I had most of the fabric sitting my stash just waiting for the day when I would make it up.

Now, while most people dream of being Jeannie with her pink suit and blonde hair, I have always loved her twin sister Jeannie who likes to live on the slightly evil side of life. My first step was research. I found as many screencaps of the original costume as I could, I looked at how other costumers had made their versions of the ensemble and I pulled out my DVD collection to do some further study. I then jumped online and ordered the rest of my sewing supplies – trimmings, wigs, fabrics, shoes. I then broke down the costume into all the different components that I would be making – skirt, bolero, wig/hat, bra. It makes it easier for me to get a handle on everything that needs to be done.

First up the skirt. I drafted up a simple 10 gored skirt pattern using a wonderful formula that I was taught back in my days of TAFE (see link). However instead of making the skirt fitted at the waist, I added in ½ my waist measure for some extra fullness. I wanted the skirt to float and the original seems to sit gathered under the attached yoke.

The skirt is made of alternating panels of dark and light green chiffon. I went with synthetic as most of you will know, attending conventions can be hell on the costumes and it is much cheaper. Each panel is sewn to the next with a zig-zag seam finishing on the inside. I then machine hemmed it. In hindsight, I would have used the rolled hem function on my overlocker to do the hem, however at the time, I didn’t even know my machine could do a rolled hem * forehead desk *. The yoke section of the skirt is a separate piece. I can’t say that I used any particular pattern. I just took my measurements and drafted up what I wanted. The front is cut on the fold, the back with a seam (for zip insertion) and some curved side seams so that it sits over my hips neatly. A couple of mock-ups later and I had my pattern pieces. The piece is made separate with trim machine applied, while the skirts are sewn to a separate curved waistband and whipstitched to the lining layer of the yoke. It allows me to easily remove the pieces and adjust size.

The only change that I will be making to the costume is to make a petticoat layer out of my leftover chiffon. I didn’t realise the skirts were so sheer and even though I was wearing dance tights underneath, still felt a little too revealing for my taste.

Then came the bolero. I searched through my commercial patterns and found a couple that seemed to have the right sort of design and seam placement. The main change I had to make to the pattern was to add short capped sleeves that curve and to curve the front of the bodice so that it would skim the front of me without meeting. Again, it is made with velveteen and lined in cotton. I tried to keep the bodice all cotton so that it would breathe a little better in the summer heat of Queensland. It’s fully lined so I don’t have to deal with the fluff that velveteen produces. To finish it off, I stitched on the trim and a couple of my purchased tassels.

I then decided to work on the hat and wig. I’ve done a lot of work with wigs in the past, so wasn’t too worried about putting it together. Likewise, the hat didn’t scare me as I have done my dash with millinery on all my historical costumes. What worried me, was putting the two together. I decided to make two pieces that pin together. The hat and the wig. The hat pattern I self-drafted on a bit of A4 paper. Putting the pieces together until I got the right shape and height. I then made my buckram and wire frame which is whipped together. I added a mull layer of some wool I had left over from another project, and then my layer of velveteen. I then added elastic tabs – the purpose being to pin into the wig. I decided to finish the inner edge of the hat with a piece cotton twill tape – to encase the raw edges of the evil fluff of the velveteen. The next step was the trimmings. I started with the rows of trim and tassels. I then cut up two of the wigs I bought for the project and created two plaited sections, these were then stitched onto the bottom of the hat. If I was doing this again, I would try and buy one really long wig piece to plait. It was a nightmare to get the two plaits merging well so that a distinct line wasn’t visible. My reason for using two shorter wigs – they were $8 each.

The next step was to use some more of the wig pieces to create the ponytail for the top of the wig. It, as well as the gold wrapping is stitched into the centre hole of the hat. The piece just fits in snugly so that both force and my stitching hold it in place. I then made the net pieces out of my gold wire and tacked it in place. This is where the overlocker came back in – I tore off a strip of my chiffon, rolled hem the ends (worked out how to use that after owning the machine for 15 years), and tacked it in place on one side. The other side wraps around my face and just pins in place into the wig. As for the base wig, I popped it on and trimmed up the chin length fringe. I the created a twist in the back that ends in a bun which the hat is then pinned over for wear. It actually works well, and I’m able to restyle the base wig if it gets messy after use without destroying the hat.
And yes, the hat is entirely hand-sewn. I learnt very early on not to use glue in millinery. If you use glue on one layer, you will later find out if you try and sew on another layer, that the glue is hampering your efforts.
The bra was the next part I dreaded tackling. I looked to bellydance websites and how they create bras. Essentially, you start with one that fits you well and cover it. So, that’s what I did. I got out a bra that I liked the fit of and cut off the sides, straps and trimmings.
 I then covered it with a lining layer of green cotton, to base the chiffon. Unfortunately, because of the wire and foam cups, the entire process had to be completed by hand.
 After lining the cups, I pinned on the chiffon, hand-gathering it up to fit the cups. I stitched it down and then repeated it on the bottom. I finished each edge with a strip of bias chiffon to bind.
 The hard part over, I then made straps. I added boning in the side seams to keep the sides from bunching up, and hooks and eyes at the back to tightly secure the bra to me. The shoulder straps are sewn towards the centre in the back to keep the straps from falling off my shoulders. I decided to make the bra fit very tightly to eliminate the threat of movement throughout the day. And while I can’t put the bra on by myself, I’m not scared that someone will get an eyeful when I am wearing the costume. To finish it off, I added my trim and tassels.

The final part of the costume was to dye my shoes and create my jewellery. When I was buying my shoes online I could only find ones in a perfect style and fabric in a teal blue. If I wanted the correct colour, the style was wrong. So, I decided to try my hand at dye. I purchase a green idye packet, dissolved it in some hot water and sponged on the colour to the shoes. It worked quite well, darkening them to somewhere in the vicinity of the colour I needed.

For my jewellery, I trawled around all the costume jewellery shops in my local area. Lovisa proved the best for my collection. One of my necklaces I had to create by pulling apart two purchased ones but it worked out well in the end. My biggest lesson here, is do NOT tell the shop assistant why you are buying so much jewellery. They just don’t understand.
I guess the other lesson I learnt from this costume is do not underestimate hand sewing. Yes, it is time consuming, and yes it is a pain, and yes, you will kill your fingers, but it is worth it in the end. I am very pleased with how my costume turned out and I guess the biggest compliment is having Barbara Eden herself love it.


  1. You look so cute and the costume came out fabulous! That photo of you standing next to Barbara Eden is priceless. :)

    1. Thanks. I was over the moon to meet her. And I love the photo too. :)

  2. Hi Mel,

    What a fantastic costume and great to read about your process.
    I just sent you an email about this :)