Following on from my analytical review here’s the creative stuff!!
There was no way I couldn’t turn Lindsay Galvin’s My Friend The Octopus into book cosplay, there’s so much I could completely nerd out about and have me the opportunity to push my sewing skills to the limit to blend my two lives, recreate a historically acknowledging outfit from a childrens book.
Whilst reading the book I noted down extracts about Vinnie’s clothing and what’s described including the beautifully helpful sequence in the haberdashery where Vinnie chooses her own cloth for the first time.
I isolated three looks that I wanted to communicate Vinnie’s growth from the stiffly pressed and perfect Lavinia dressed and accessorised on point by her snobbish mother who looks down on people who don’t wear the finest everyday- to the young Vinnie treading in her Aunt Bet’s footsteps in ‘gaudy’ but fun and practical clothing.
So I began with a HUGE deep dive into 1890s fashions and what was on trend by 1893 and through my patterns, which led to some vintage pattern purchases!!
If you are interested in 1890s or indeed historical fashion in general, I highly recommend amongst others things watching YouTuber Abby Cox who is a costume historian and really knows her stuff.
I really hope you love what I’ve made, and please excuse anachronistic boots!! they don’t do recreation that little!!
The Sailor Dress
‘My fine navy taffeta dress with the sailor collar beneath my travelling cape suddenly felt both stiff and babyish’
When we meet Lavinia she is her mothers little doll, despite being almost a teenager she is dressed like a younger girl would be.
Plus she is basically a walking advertisement for her mothers millinery business as is discussed in the novel and so everything she wore would be finest quality and upwardly mobile in aspirations to catch the eye of rich customers.
The cape equally for the time would be no longer than the waist and highly ornate, in my practice garment I made a high collar which was the fashion but, I actually think this collar is much more wearable in the 2020s without the stand frill collar!
The Sailor Dress was from a vintage pattern in Navy taffeta (not silk though!!) and mercurised cotton for the sailor collar and cuffs.
Littlefae adores this dress, it’s very sensory with it’s whispering rustle of the attached underskirts and also a pretty stunning cut!
The cape is a bouncy navy polycotton sateen decorated with black border lace.
‘I wore a straw bonnet lined with lace and decorated only with folds of lilac ribbon, my long ringlets released down the side.’
I knew hats would be important, and so I looked up how to make a bonnet and used lilac ribbon and ruffled lilac satin hand stitched around the opening of a thrifted children’s plain Easter hat at a tilt to gain that ‘bonnet’ shape. If I were to make again I would definitely buy a better quality hat, as although it does the job, its a bit snug on Littlefae!!
I was shocked at how cute this looked as today we associate bonnets with babies. Indeed by 1893, bonnets were limited in wear to children by the fashions preferring ornate hats to the ‘old maid’ feels of a bonnet.
By her wearing a bonnet Lavinia’s mother is clearly infantilising her rather than allowing her to be a tween-teen at the time who would have been wearing straw boaters or similarly ornate hats to their mothers.
‘How could she know mother chose everything for me?’
However 9 year old Littlefae looks stinking cute in this ensemble!!!
The Striped dress
‘I chose three bolts of fabric for dresses: black and white print, a plain lilac and one with a pale orange stripe that seemed to go with my new cape’
First of all, we need to reframe ‘simple cotton dress’ to us this would mean a shift, shirt dress or similarly loose fitting unadorned dress. To Victorians this would have been raggedy and simply not do.
Victorians communicated their class and standing through their clothes and as there were no longer laws dictating what classes could wear meaning any customer may be able to choose a ‘high fashion’ pattern to be made, it’s the fabrics and most importantly trims that maketh the dress and cost, thus indicating in a silent language whether you are poor, comfortable or rich.
Whilst Aunt Bets wants Vinnie to wear something simpler, cooler and more practical, equally there’s no way that she would let Vinnie or her mother down and so the dresses would be ‘simple’ compared to taffeta gowns and wool suiting dresses but would still have lace and ribbon trim or piping to communicate Vinnie’s middle class standing.
I wanted to reflect the high fashion of 1893 which was leg of mutton sleeves, the ‘shirtwaist’ look as opposed to actual blouse and skirt- this was a dress with a panel of different fabric to resemble a blouse with the main outer in a ‘jacket style’ look.
I think Vinnie would have picked this pattern in a way of pleasing mother with fashion but starting to choose the fabrics for herself.
‘Dear me Lavinia you are quite gaudy’Her mother remarks on the orange striped dress.
The vintage pattern I found has the right sleeves plus a panelled bodice and peplum to create this, I used firm interfacing on the cotton backing the silk organza is sewn to replicate the fact that even at 12, Vinnie would be wearing corsetry – this isn’t the horror we think it is, just Victorian underwear. See Abby Cox, Bernadette Banner and Karolina Żebrowska amongst others with an understanding of historical costume if you disagree.
I couldn’t for the life of me find a pale orange or peachy striped fabric and so with the help of my local haberdashery we we settled on a fine pale pink stripe as it would suit Tinyfae and I used accents of apricot piping, a peachy pink ribbon trim on the skirt and an apricot silk organza panel to trick the eye.
‘The only thing I was sure of was a short summer cape in rich lilac with a jaunty orange and black check… this cape would be my…. Thing.’
I knew exactly what kind of cape I wanted to make- it would be like Primrose’s in The Nevers when they listen to Mary sing in the park. Also if you like historically on point drama- this SFF in a late 1890s setting is awesome and incredible for fashion.
Oh how I hunted high and low for the perfect fabric. In the end I settled for this.
It’s a mauve with orange and dark checks and is actually a thrifted skirt cut in a circle with the existing lining sewn inside out, bagged out and the ribbon tacked on.
And oh I love it, there is a need to bring back capes whatever Edna Mode says!!
The Lilac Dress
‘In reality Aunt Bets was as bright and clashing as the basket of offcut ribbons in The milliners’
This is the dress that for me will communicate who Lavinia wants to be by the end of the book.
It’s a simple colour and textile, lilac cotton poplin, but cut and gloriously trimmed with lace and broderie anglaise ruffle trim in the Gibson Girl style that will carry over into the Edwardian period and define a decade.
This is reflected by young women like Aunt Bets who buck the high and less practical trends of their fashionable cousins by opting for mens influenced sport wear and bicycling bloomers, shocking to the stiff and staunch upper class, but herald the changes that will occur to womenswear over the next 40 years before puff sleeves and statement collars come back again in the 1930s!!
Most importantly it’s longer than the other dresses showing the changes in Lavinia to Vinnie, that she isn’t a young girl anymore and has had her eyes opened to the reality of her world.
This is a vintage Gunne Sax pattern, a brand which is experiencing a renaissance of its original 1970s and 80s dresses which are the height of cottage core fashion, which feeds into the spirit of this book, a yearning for something more simpler, purer, in attune with nature than the dirty dark side of industrial urbanity.
I hope you have enjoyed coming along with me on this adventure in the power of clothes in a book and Bookbounding.
This was a lot of hard work with couture techniques and a lot of learning but was incredibly fun and my girls have three stunning dresses including petticoats to play with!!
I hope this inspires you to read Lindsay’s incredible book.
My Friend, The Octopus by Lindsay Galvin is published by Chicken House
thank you for my review copy 💜