I was planning outfits for a local fashion show a while back, and I knew I HAD to have a mermaid. No question about it. I had a few technical challenges to work out, such as how a dress that was backless AND strapless was going to stay up. I also wanted the model’s knees to be close together, and the fin at the bottom had to be flared out, not drooping down. But she needed to be able to move her knees in order to walk, and the fin had to flex at the bottom so her feet could move. I also didn’t want to be able to see darts and seamlines, because that would ruin the magic of the dress. Real mermaids don’t have seams in their scales, or straps holding their skin up. Sheeeeeeesh!
I was in Tucson visiting a friend, and she told me that she’d seen some mermaid fabric for sale that I had to check out while I was there. So we went shopping, and she showed me this magical metallic fishscale fabric she’d spotted. I loved it, and bought 2 yards to make my mermaid.
So, back to the first problem: I wanted the dress to be backless and strapless. And it obviously couldn’t fall down, because this was not supposed to be THAT kind of fashion show. So I decided that the mermaid would wear a necklace, and the necklace would discretely support the entire dress. I guess it’s technically not strapless, but what I mean is that I didn’t want it to have an obvious means of support.
The necklace was built around one sturdy silver chain that was sewn to the top edge of the dress. Thinner chains were added, in varying lengths, to give the necklace a waterfall effect. My sister (who made the fascinator headpiece as well) added coins and beads to the chains, and worked in some shorter pieces of chain that hung from the clasp and dangled down the back.
The fabric was stretchy enough that I could make the knee area pretty narrow, and the model could still move. From the knees down, the dress flared out to a flat, wide fin at the bottom. But I didn’t want the fin drooping and puddling on the floor, so I held the fin out from side to side with pieces of flexible poly featherboning in the hem. The fin would revert to a wide, flat shape when she stood still, and flex outward when she took a step. The whole issue of the model being able to walk was mostly solved… she still had to take small steps. But she did a great job, and she made a beautiful mermaid.
I added teal tulle (repurposed from a worn-out dress) to the fin over the scale fabric, with a pattern of gathers and ruching to add some interesting texture to the tulle. The transition between fabrics was softened because you could still see the colors and the glint of the metallic mermaid fabric through the tulle.
I had to have seams and darts, but I didn’t want them to be visible. The fishscale pattern was perfect the way it was, and seeing half-scales bisected by seams was just not what I wanted. So I decided to camouflage the side seams with fringe. I trapped strips of thin teal tulle in the side seams when I sewed them, and then I cut the tulle into fringe after it was sewn. I still had half-scales, but you couldn’t really see them very easily because the sheer fringe was fluttering when the model walked.
The darts were concealed differently than the side seams. There are two darts at the front of the dress near the neckline, where princess seams would start. And the necklace is attached to the very top of each dart. So the waterfall of necklace chains distracts your eye from being able to see the darts themselves.
My sister had wanted to make a fascinator for the mermaid to wear, one that looked like it was made out of objects a mermaid might find in the sea. So I used wire and a large hoop earring to make a comb base for the fascinator, and she worked on decorating that while I made the dress.
She ended up with a fabulous hair accessory that looks like it was pulled right out of a mermaid’s treasure box. Seashells, costume jewelry, glass beads, coins, and fake pearls were glued to the base. She added strips of fabric that look like seaweed, and netting that came from an avocado bag. She tied it in with the dress by adding some of the fluttery tulle strips, and even a piece of the fishscale fabric.
I had so much fun designing and making this outfit, and check out how happy the model looks! She said being a mermaid was a dream come true.
I’m thinking the mermaid theme might make another appearance in my designs down the road. Probably because I’m part mermaid myself. 😉
Many thanks to Michael Hostetler Photography and Sebrina Walter at Sewcially Inspired for sharing their photos from that show.