The Ghost of the Singing Tower
Sophia Khan, Florida, USA
Blog: Romancing the Sewn
Photography: Christa Newman
The intriguing mix of Neo-Gothic Art Deco at architect Milton B. Medary's Singing Tower inspired the creation of a tea gown with matching undergown and overbust corset. Bok Tower Gardens was the dream of Edward W. Bok, the editor of Ladies' Home Journal from 1889-1919. The sprawling grounds were designed by Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., the son of the renowned designer of the Great Colombian Exhibition in Chicago.
I took inspiration from the repeated arches and strong graphic lines of the Tower. The pink Etowah marble and gray Creole marble inspired my choice of textile. The main silhouette was taken from Edwardian home wear, since Bok is credited with the invention of the idea of the modern living room. The tea gown was an informal garment worn when entertaining in the home. The corset would never show of course, but I was going for historically inspired, not historically accurate.
My main fabrics are hot rolled rayon/cotton moiré. The corset pieces are fused to washed cotton coutil using Wonder Under. To pattern the corset I used a basic corset block that fit me well and cut all the pieces out of stiff brown paper with no seam allowance. I carefully taped the pieces together to create the corset shape. I then sketched out my lines to mimic the arched forms on the Singing Tower. Once the pieces were cut out I traced them on the fresh paper and trued my curves, adding 1/4" seam allowance. The corset was then sewn together on my trusty Singer Featherweight 221.
The tricky part was making a corset with no visible boning. The lining has 16 bones placed inbetween the layers. I then flatted the lining to the self fabric after setting in my busk placket and clean finishing my center back. Once the two layer were secured I stitched in the ditch in all my seams, starting and stopping after each bone. There are still some wrinkles, but the smooth effect was worth it. There is one visible stitch line behind the grommets that was a necessary concession.
The tea gown was made using a heavily altered Truly Victorian pattern. I drafted the sleeves, belt, and the collar and cuffs to match the Watteau pleats. The matching underdress was made from two layers of French seamed chiffon, and has interior elastic to keep it snug to the body but not visibly fitted.
What was it like to compete this year? What would you say to someone who is on the fence about entering next year?
It was great! I really pushed myself out of my historical bubble and tried new techniques. I would recommend entering as a challenge for yourself, not to compete against others.