Saturday, November 3, 2012

Taking Shape

Status: We have a plan

OK I’ll admit I’m backing into the first parts of this.  The materials were accumulated over a year ago.  I’ve made a lot of Italian gowns so I have base patterns to work from though the fit has to be debugged for each fabric.  I was a good way into the project before I thought I’d blog it so I'm catching you up. 

Status: Limits: must be wearable for an event in January, so deadline Dec 31. I wish I’d tracked the hours & $ to date but I didn’t. Suffice it to say expensive in labor and $. I also know better than to do a project this big in spare time in a 2 month window, but apparently I’m a glutton for punishment. It would have been reasonable to do this over a 12 month period. So I will not be the one surprised if I miss the deadline.

Status: Material substitutions: I’m using modern materials which have the look but are heavier and won’t move as well.  The fabric is brocaded cotton velvet.  I’m using cotton canvas inside the bodice for stability and to keep the expense down some.  That will also give me something sturdy to anchor to for closures b/c the velvet is a bit fragile despite its weight.  Plastic buttons for the jeweled sleeve clips b/c they were the right shape and scale. Premade cord trim instead of corded gimp for the neckline & sleeve openings, and the base is black not linen.  If I bother to blackwork the chemise it will be done by machine.  I will substitute metallic soutache or trim for the lucet cord used in the partlet and hairnet because I’m not competing with this, just wearing it.
 Status:Authenticity Level: Close but not authentic. Sleeve strips lined in silk.  Brass rings sewn inside for closures.  Hem guard.  Material substitutions as noted.  Machine sewn because I’m not a martyr (see handwork reference above). Chemise is silk. All goldwork is synthetic. Pearls are real.

Will it look like the painting? Um, nope. Eleanora di Toledo was a much smaller woman than me.  Janet Arnold notes dimensions on the extant burial gown to be about 26” at the waist and 31” at the bust, which puts her near a modern size 6-8 and she seems unusually flat chested compared to other paintings in her period.  We’ll  see in the end how much difference the neckline makes to the illusion.

Status: Pattern drafted & tested.  I started from a 1550s Italian I did that mostly worked in the wearing.  The front waistline and neckline had to be reshaped for the dipped front and to accommodate as much of the brocade motif as possible.  I made a mockup of the bodice in another brocade & lined with the canvas so I could use it for another dress some other time.

Bodice mockup front

Bodice mockup back

Once I had the fit issues worked out in fabric I traced the parts on transparent paper & tweaked the lines to accomodate where the brocade motif would fall.
Pattern front

Pattern back

Strip sleeve upper & lower front.

Note about the strip sleeves: the strips on this one are wider at the top than the wrist by a decent amount. They’re also shaped to get that roll effect at the top. I took a liberty by curving out the front underarm and curving out the back one (freehand so you don’t see that on the pattern). I can’t prove they did it, but it makes the sleeve work better when the fabric is this bulky.


Bugs: That neckline.  I tried every possible trick to get it higher but the geometry won’t work.  Before you say “wear a period corset” think a minute.  I fitted it over a period corset. I’m not a novice. I’m also not a 31A.

Status: Dress cutting complete.

Status: Bodice & sleeves partly assembled.  I did the strips as tubes & left the wrist end open so I could do final length adjusts in the finishing when the dress is fully assembled.  Strip sleeves can be bulky and these have really heavy trim for the edging that makes them stiffer.  I might want to shorten the strips later.  The trim all had to be hand applied.

Raw edges on the armholes will be hand finished & reinforced for the rings to tie on the sleeves.


Statusing Eleanora

I learned a new word this week: statusing.  I’m sure it’s been in use for years in certain environments, but it’s not something I ever thought about.  I tell folks what I did. I’m done. I don’t have to name the process of the telling.  Blogging though, especially blogging backward, seems to require a new presentation method.  You'll recognize this method I'm certain.

Statusing.  A project must have a plan.  Even the creative process can be forced into a Visio chart to make us, the messy creative class, appear more organized and efficient than we ever truly are.  Here then is the bona-fide Plan for the Eleanora Dress (or any other period costuming project)

1.       [Evaluate Project] Study the 2 Bronzino portraits for detail. Take notes. Ask “why?”.  How do you put it on, close it, clean it, move in it? Research other period paintings and sources.  Find out a little about Eleanora. Why is she wearing that dress? Is it a reasonable dress or something Erte-esque?  Make a list of all the materials and the pieces necessary to complete the illusion.  Remember, period costumes require period underpinnings and period materials to look truly period. What sequence do you need to build the parts in? You can’t fit a pattern over a corset you don’t have!

2.       [Determine Scope] Will it be period or peri-oid?  Are there material limits? Time limits? What corners are you going to cut and why. Always ask why.  How authentic does it need to be? Who will see? Who cares?

3.       [Draft Pattern] and [Obtain/Prepare Materials] These two key processes depend on each other.  The materials can and mostly do affect the pattern, but you may need the dimensions or even the pattern itself to decide what to buy and how much.

4.       [Test Pattern] You really think it will fit on the first try? You’ve never done this, have you?

5.       [Cut] The most stressful part from whence there is no return, only success or failure.

6.       [Assemble] Sew. Glue. Rivet. Pray.

7.       [Fit] You did this eleventeen times in the test step, so you should only be making minor tweaks here. 

8.       [Finish] If it’s a period costume this always seems to be the longest part.  Handwork handwork handwork! Did I mention handwork?  I hate handwork. See item 2, scope.  How can I avoid the handwork?

9.       [Show Off] You did it, you earned the glory, take it!


The Project Begins!

Croeso! Welcome to the still nebulous “new blog”. Here I jump in with both feet and a wish that I can find time amidst my two hundred dozen hobbies to write something interesting about a few of them. Well-intentioned folk are always encouraging me to sell, teach, post, without the remotest idea of how impractical such a thing may be.  This, I guess, is for them.  Pray forgive my lapses in time and coherence and take joy or entertainment if you will from my feeble attempts to beat the universe (and some really nice textiles) into submission.

Illusions & Lagniappe was the name I gave my once and future business, some time around 1979.  It seems an apropos title for my ramblings.  Illusions are the best products of a costumer, and the lagniappe is what takes the illusion over the top. Accessories? Language? Lighting? Carriage? A hundred little details take clothes to fashion, and fashion to costume.  Without the lagniappe, Johnny Depp is just a guy in a fancy coat. 

Thus we begin.

We begin in the middle.

This we must, for the beginning of me, of what I do, seems so many lifetimes ago that I’ve lost a bit of it, and family history isn’t what you signed on for.  One truly horrid Halloween costume and a sewing machine in a dumpster launched a lifetime love of “those dresses you can’t wear”.  A bit of silver eyelash was the lagniappe.  And then there was Eleanora.

Meet Eleanora:  Italian, regal, flawlessly gowned, and, well, dead.

Which is how she got my attention.  Somewhere in a boring history book there she was, serene as Mona Lisa and covered in swirly-curly op-art (or possibly auntie’s curtains).  **PING**On my bucket list: one brocade dress.  Never mind that I didn’t have the language yet to call it brocade, or the remotest idea where to buy such a thing (New Orleans—you should be able to get ANYTHING there, right?). I needs must have the dress.  Small towns in South Mississippi are not repositories of 16th century Italian brocades however, and that proved an insurmountable obstacle.  If you’re a costumer yourself, or a fan of Renaissance art, you’re nodding sagely. Yes, I too was captivated by “THAT DRESS”.  In the costuming world, it has a life of its own.  I salute all the others who have come before me, and the ones who will come after.  I finally (after 30+ years) stumbled upon an acceptable fabric.  I must make the dress. 

For you who are completely mystified, here is a link to Bronzino’s Eleanora di Toledo portraits and a history lesson (thanks Wikipedia!).

And here is my oh so glorious fabric.