Thursday, April 30, 2015

Cinderella 2015 Ballgown Tutorial

"Have courage and be kind. For where there is kindness, there is goodness, and where there is goodness, there is magic."

It should come as no surprise that I have always wanted to be a fairytale princess. What girl doesn't? So when I saw the poster for the new live-action Cinderella movie, starring the biggest, most princess-y dress ever, I immediately said, "Oooooo. I want to make that." 

Hi-res still of Movie Poster (1688×2500)
Shiny! Sparkly! Swishy! It's got it all!

But even I need a reason (however vague it may be) to make a dress that I knew would cost a good amount of money and time. Cue my wonderful friend Jennifer letting me know that she was going to visit me the same weekend that Cinderella was premiering! I informed her that the dress code for our awesome movie night was going to be 'Disney Princesses' and got to work.

To jump down to a specific section, click the links below:
Skirt Fabrics
Skirt Construction
Bertha Collar
Petticoat/ Hoop Skirt
My Pictures and Resources

1 yard satin for bodice
1 yard for bodice lining (can be any comfortable fabric)
2 yards interfacing (get heavyweight fusible)
3 yards boning for bodice
5 yards for patterned base skirt
6 yards for circle skirt (x5)
Separating zipper for bodice
Hook and eye or zipper for skirts
Definitely more than one spool of thread


2" Pastel Butterflies from FloralTrim (I ordered 12, the movie version has around 24, so any amount in between should be fine)

(Recommended for maximum poofiness)
5 yards of netting/tulle for a petticoat (x3)

Simplicity 1728, based off of Snow White's dress in Mirror Mirror (another wonderful live-action fairytale adaptation), has very similar lines to Cinderella's dress. The bodice seam placement is nearly identical, and I knew that with a few modifications it would work really well.

Simplicity 1728 - Mirror Mirror dress, but could be used for Cinderella dress. Remove sleeves, and add organza overlay. 

The most difficult part was estimating how much fabric to buy, since I was using different fabrics for the bodice and the skirts, but the pattern only listed the total amount for 45" wide and 60" wide fabric. This was also unhelpful in that most fabric comes in widths between 50"-54". 

After making a muslin, I figured out that the bodice itself used about one yard of fabric (plus one yard for the lining, but I just used a comfortable blue fabric I had laying around), and the skirt made from the pattern used a tight five yards. The circle skirt pattern I used for the rest of the skirt layers needed six yards.


Since I knew I was going to be changing the shape of the bodice, I made a muslin, or practice version, first, out of some truly hideous fabric I picked up for $3 at a yard sale. I think it has brown easter eggs on it? Brown Christmas ornaments? Bouncy balls? (So many questions...) Anyway, once the muslin was cut out and sewn together, I compared it to the research photos I had of Cinderella in her ballgown.


The neckline needed to be lower by a few inches, and the waist section needed a more clearly defined 'point' to it, but otherwise, not too much to change in the front.


The back, however, needed a serious make-over. Her bodice only comes halfway up her back, so I needed to get rid of a large V-shaped section on the upper half of the back. 

For the neckline, I marked two inches down from the top, then sloped upward toward the shoulders so that it blended together.

In the back, I measured from where my bra sits to the top of the fabric (since I wanted my bra to be covered), which ended up being around 5 inches. I marked the 5 inches down from the center back, then cut along a straight line from there to the top of the shoulder.

I also tightened up the fabric around the 'point' in the front by pinning up the extra fabric to the seam until the bodice looked right. I marked where I wanted the new sewing line to be with chalk, then took the muslin apart, cut along the chalk, and voila! A new, improved set of pattern pieces!

I laid out the modified pieces on my fabric and started cutting, first on the fabric for the lining, then for the bodice itself.


The instructions had me add interfacing to the lining, and then adding on the boning. I would highly recommend adding heavyweight fusible interfacing to both the lining and the bodice fabric, to minimize wrinkling. I didn't on my first try, which is why my bodice looks rather wrinkled in pictures.

Also, before you add the boning, iron the pieces lightly to straighten them out, otherwise they will curve and show through the bodice side.

Once the lining and bodice fabrics are interfaced, all pieces are assembled, and boning has been added to the lining, pin the lining and the bodice fabric with right sides together. Leave one side of the back center open, but sew the rest of the edges together.

After sewing them together, turn the bodice right side out through the open side. Voila! No bias tape needed for the edges, and it looks great!

This is where we look at how they did the closure on Cinderella's dress.

Hair design crafted by Carol Hemming   

You can see that the dress overlaps in the back, probably using a lapped zipper. I decided it'd be easier to simply tuck the raw edges of the open side in, then add a separating zipper half inside. The other half I sewed to the inside of the bodice about 1/2" in from the edge.


Much better!


Also, can I just take a moment to talk about how difficult it was pick fabric colors for this dress? In my research, I found colors ranging from baby blue, periwinkle, sky blue, and every blue in between. Part of this is that they made several versions of the dress, part is from the different white-balance of each photo, and another part is because there are multiple colors of layers.

14 enchanting stills from the set of ‘Cinderella.’ We may or may not be swooning. (We are.) | Dearest Geeks of Earth  
All the blues ever!

In in the end, I went with the promotional poster (top left) colors, and with the pictures from the costume exhibition, figuring those were as close as I was going to get. (All pictures link to high resolution images for costume reference)

This led to some serious effort to find the right fabrics for the skirts. In the promotional poster, you can see that she's wearing an iridescent blue-purple fabric under a layer or two of sheer fabric. I also found out from an interview with Sandy Powell that her dress changes colors at different angles because there are layers of different blues and purples in her skirt.


To be as accurate as I could, I decided to make a blue satin base skirt, then add the iridescent fabric, a bright sheer blue for depth of color, a glittery fabric in place of bedazzling the whole thing, a light purple and a light blue organza on top for the color shifts. Six layers total!

My skirt fabrics:
(Piled up on top of my dress form because I am just that organized)

Layer 1 - Base Skirt:

Cornflower Casa Collection Glitter Satin Fabric (No longer available)

Layer 2 - Iridescent fabric:
Blue Crinkle Pearlized Sheers 

Blue Crinkle Pearlized Sheers

Layer 3 - Bright Blue Fabric

SUEDEsays Fabric- Sheer Ribbon Organza Bright Royal, , hi-res 

Layer 4 - Glittery Blue Fabric
Casa Collection- Glitter Organza Wave Fabrics- Azure Blue 
Azure Blue Casa Collection Glitter Organza Wave Fabrics

Layer 5 - Light Purple Fabric

Glitter Lavender Organza Fabric - Costume Collection 
Glitter Lavender Organza Fabric

Layer 6 - Light Blue Fabric

Costume Collection Sassy Satin Royal Organza Nylon Fabric - Costume Organza 
Costume Collection Sassy Satin Royal Organza Nylon Fabric


I decided to use the skirt from the pattern as a base, then layer gathered sheer circle skirts on top for maximum twirlability (technical term), and minimum seams. Unfortunately, none of the circle skirt calculators would work for the amount of fabric I was using. I knew I wanted it to be 47" long, to match the patterned skirt, and then I asked Jim, engineer husband extraordinaire, to do the rest of the math for me. Between the two of us, I worked out the diagram below, and figured that I needed six yards of each sheer fabric.

In order to minimize the amount of cutting I'd have to do, I folded all six yards in half, and then in half again, so that the fabric was only 53" long. Using the classic middle school geometry method, I cut a piece of twine to 53", weighted down the end, and then used chalk to mark the circumference that I wanted. 

First, I marked the inner circumference at 6", which gave me a total of 37.7" for my waist. Since my waist is around 31", and I wanted 1/2" seam allowances, I wanted the total to be 32", which allowed almost 6" of gathering. 

Organza has a tendency to slip around, so I pinned all the edges down, and marked the chalk outline from the bottom side up, and from the top side down, so that I could see what the difference was.

After marking the edge, I cut my fabric about an extra inch away from the outer circumference for the error margin.


Once the whole thing was cut out, I thought it looked really good! Now to repeat it four more times...

The next step was gathering all the skirts to 32". The easy way to gather fabric by hand is to set your machine to the longest stitch and the highest tension. This will create ruffles for you, and if you need to gather more, grab the bobbin thread and push the fabric along the thread until it's the length you want.

Once all the skirts were gathered, I sewed all six layers together, then cut out my waistband fabric and interfacing. I attached the waistband in the same way you sew on bias tape; first, I sewed the right sides together on the outside of the skirt, about an inch down from the edge.

Once that was done, I folded it over and sewed as close to the edge of the waistband as I could from the inside of the skirt.


It's fine if you can see some of the thread on the waistband, since the bodice will go over it.

Bertha Collar:

Final touches: The detachable ‘bertha’, which topped the fairytale gown, was decorated with dozens of hand-painted butterflies made by Hiroshima artist Haruka Miyamoto.Right: Lily James uses the ‘secrethandles’ built into the crinoline
From the Daily Mail interview: "The detachable ‘bertha’, which topped the fairytale gown, was decorated with dozens of hand-painted butterflies made by Hiroshima artist Haruka Miyamoto"

The last piece of the dress is the 'bertha' collar, which is defined as "a wide, flat, round collar, often of lace or sheer fabric, worn with a low neckline in the Victorian era and resurrected in the 1940s." I measured from the center front of the bodice, over the shoulder, to the back center. I added a few inches for extra poofiness, then used the length to measure out two pointed ovals. I sewed the two pieces together, leaving one point open.

In order for the bertha to have the same depth of color and ability to change hues depending on the light, I used the leftover fabric from three of my skirts.

After turning them all right side out, I used the bright blue organza first, then stuffed it inside the lavender, then put both of them into the light blue.

This gave it the same color-changing effect as the skirt, pulling the whole dress together. After I tacked the collar on with twists and puckers, to mimic the screen-accurate collar, I hot-glued the butterflies on at random.

Petticoat/Hoop Skirt:

Now, Cinderella's dress is big. Huge. Ginormous. The epitome of poofiness. This was accomplished with a combination of a steel crinoline ('skirt cage') and a ton of petticoat ruffles.

Frilling: The petticoat had flounced frillsat the hem, with a second three-layeredorganza petticoat placed over the top Behind the many layers, the gown is a feat of structural engineering. We started with the underwear: the corset and the crinoline (skirt cage), which was made of steel

So in order to attain some of that fluffiness, I got a 5-hoop skirt from Amazon, and made a series of petticoats to wear underneath my skirts.

Pictured: a giant dork wearing a giant lampshade and twirling while shouting "Wheeeee!"

Using the ratios suggested by Christine from our-solemn-hour for her Petticoat of Doom tutorial and her Petticoat of Doom Fabric Calculator, I decided to go with a ratio of 1:2:4:7:11, which ends up with 25 lengths of 9" x 32" tulle for each petticoat. I cut out enough pieces for three layers of petticoats (75 rectangles!) because I wanted a good amount of lift underneath. (Remember, tiers don't add poof, layers do.)

Having a cutting mat with a grid underneath really helped me with all of those 9" by 32" pieces.

Two piles of 25 pieces! Only 25 more to go!

Once those were all cut out, I sewed all the lengths for each tier together (keeping track by drawing on a paper towel because I'm so fancy). I sewed 11 pieces together for tier 5, 7 for tier 4, 4 for tier 3, 2 for tier 2, and didn't have to do anything for tier 1. After gathering the tiers to the length above them (tier 5 had to be gathered from 352" long to 224" long, etc), I sewed them to the tier above. I worked from the bottom up, because I heard that was easier, but whatever works best is fine.

For the movie premiere, I wore my petticoats underneath (the hoop skirt I ordered later), and my bodice only has one layer of interfacing, which is why it's wrinkling.

Overall, I think it looks pretty good!

I was still super happy to go to the movie, especially since my fellow princess Ariel (who looks a lot like my amazing friend Jennifer) came out to help me celebrate!

The best part was taking pictures with all the of little kids after the movie. They were a lot of fun to talk to, and it made part of my dream to be a Disney princess come true.

Resource links:
My Pinterest research board
Daily Mail Interview with Sandy Powell (great construction pictures)
Vanity Fair First Look Interview with Sandy Powell
Make-up and Hair Interview
Cinderella Hair Tutorial


  1. That's awesome!! It looks fabulous! Keep it up! :)

  2. Amazing, makes me putting of my first (much simpler) costume attempt seem quite cowardly. Will have to keep watching you for inspiration.

  3. Hi! Your dress looks so fabulous! Thanks to your tutorial I'm going to take a stab at making this dress. I'm kind of a novice sewer so if these questions are basic, forgive me but did you leave the edges of the organza raw or hem each layer? Also did you use a special needle when sewing organza or will a multi purpose one work? Thank you!!

    1. Hi E! I'm always happy to answer any kind of questions! I was planning on hemming each one individually (leaving organza raw results in a lot of fraying), but then I got a serger. After struggling with it a while, I finally figured out how to serge the hem of each skirt.
      Some places recommend a special needle for lighter fabrics, but my multi-purpose one worked fine for my sewing machine.
      I think that was all, and good luck on your dress! Be sure to post a link when you're done so we can see!

  4. Thanks to your post, I'm planning to replicate the dress for my daughter'so birthday. Hopefully I get it right.

  5. do you manage to get it on? I'm new to ball gown skirts. It's waist size, but there's no zipper or anything, right?

    1. Hello Michelle! I'm sorry, it's not clear in the tutorial, but I added an invisible zipper along one side where the circle skirts are sewn together, and put a hook and eye on the waistband as well. Hopefully that helps!

  6. Very informationa and valuable tutorial, thanks for sharing , may i have your permission to share it on my blog,Of course i would identifers you

  7. Wow! So impressive! I'm hoping to sew a Cinderella for Halloween, but you really went all out! What an amazing job!

  8. Do you have any extra blue casa glitter fabric to sell?

    1. Sorry, I used it all up. The skirts take a lot of yardage to make.

  9. how many yards did you need to make one layer of skirt ?

    1. Hello Thea - I actually list out the yards for each layer under 'Supplies', but in case it wasn't clear enough, the base skirt that I used from the pattern was 5 yards, and then I used 6 yards for each circle skirt.

    2. I was too quick when reading, i see it now - Thanks for replying! :-)

  10. Hi, I'm looking to make this costume, but I'm on a budget. How much would you say the materials are?

  11. Gorgeous dress! Thank you for posting this, it will help me greatly when I alter and finish a Cinderella dress a friend purchased online. Half the layers of skirt are missing.
    Sidenote: your muslin is covered in seashells ;)


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