Monday, October 15, 2018

My Spooky Anglaise

When I was sent fabric by Fabric Anthropology and told I could do whatever I wanted with it. I immediately knew I wanted to do something Tim Burton inspired. I had finally watched Sleepy Hollow for the first time and wanted to combine the dark color palette with my own twist (also, who isn't inspired by Colleen Atwood,right?!). As it turned out, I would be attending a ball with a vampire theme and then Costume College announced the tea theme as "the Haunted Mansion." Perfect! I looked at lots of Tim Burton movie stills and even more of Helena Bonham Carter. I thought  I wanted to do another Italian gown but why make things easy? Instead I opted for a robe a l'anglaise with close pleated back (calling it en fourreau has become an interesting discussion you can find here) because it was still on my list of new things to learn.  A spooky 18th century Tim Burton vampire robe a l'anglaise.

Some images that inspired

I wasn't sure exactly how historically accurate I wanted to stay, as the fabric isn't accurate anyway. I opted for a rough late 1770's/early 1780's (my end result is a bit more of a hodge podge within those dates). Originally I saw some robe a l'anglaise where the pleated back was VERY narrow. I wanted that.

I think everyone loves that LACMA striped gown and several have done very beautiful renditions. 
I am not one of those people.

I know, you are thinking "Sara, that is really really complicated and you have no idea what you are doing." And you would be correct. It was extremely farfetched I would be able to do a back that glorious. So in the end my back was fairly straightforward classic pleated back. I actually am not too bothered that my gown didn't reflect my ideal. I am trying to see each project as a real learning experience and learn I did.

Now for the nitty gritty - Unfortunately I do not have many pictures of construction. I did have to redraft my 18th century gown pattern because I lost mine. Oops. Don't worry, as soon as I cut out all my fabric I found it again. Now I have two, lucky me. I used Patterns of Fashion and The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking in order to both make my pattern and for instructions. I used a basic black for the lining and serged the edges of the fashion fabric just to make sure it wouldn't fray. I had exactly THREE YARDS of 60 inch wide fabric and used every last scrap to get that gown. It was so close but I made it.

The skirt ready to be hand sewn on to the bodice back

Not great photo of me trying on the gown with skirt attached

I will not lie, it was not all smooth sailing. I re pleated the back four times and I am pretty sure I will be ripping out the left pleat and redoing because it is slightly wonky. As usual, following period methods turned out to be the best way. The gown is almost all hand sewn, though I did use the machine for the long side seams (I am sorry, I was on deadline and well, sometimes a vampire has to do what a vampire has to do). I kept going back and forth between a silvery matte grey and a burgundy pettioat, I opted for lighter so that the gown would really pop.

Trying on the gown before trim

Looking at the photos above, you can tell that I was having some shoulder issues. The last time I made a  gown my shoulder straps were too wide. Nothing really horrible but enough to make me want to try better next time. So I went in the opposite direction and made them a bit too skinny. Or so I think? I have poured over many illustrations to help support my neckline and I suspect I may be ok. 

One ring had fallen out when I went to take this picture, hence my lopsided back skirt

I also really wanted the gown to have an elaborate bustle of skirts drawn up, en retrousse. I embarked on an interesting study because I found a gown from the Met that stated the skirts were drawn up from a series of rings. Up until now I (foolishly) assumed most 18th century gowns only drew up via two loops on the skirts. So instead of just doing two small loops, my skirts have six! I did a new split bum pad that is a bit bigger than my last. All of this contributed to a very large back.

Despite my complaining above, the gown did go together fairly easily (see, I have already forgotten my tears of frustration over making my back pleats symmetrical). The front closure is done with hook and eye this time, boning on either side. I can not decide if I prefer this to pinning the gown front. On one hand, the hook and eye went in easily. On the other, pinning really does give you so much give as far as fit. I thankfully was given a bit extra yardage of coordinating fabric for trim. The trim is simply gathered in center on neckline and then a fancy cuff of sorts on the sleeves with double gathers at top and bottom (I think I got the idea from several period illustrations but of course now that I am writing the blog article I am blanking so there you go). I ended up using scalloped shears for the trim. It actually has not frayed yet despite being 100% cotton. I may help it along because I think the fraying may add some extra interest in this case.

I had a lot of fun at the local Michaels, grabbing ribbon, sparkly spiders and dark colored silk roses. I had been given red and pearl drop earrings as a gift so they felt like the perfect splash of red in my otherwise dark outfit. That is all my hair (minus a small donut inside)!

Buckles! I finally managed to make decent buckles! A buckle success!

In the end, I feel like the photos really reflect the look I was going for. I put on my red shoes and black stockings to offset the red in the earrings and off we went to the park.

Dark and moody by the pond

I also did some very dramatic pictures against a red velvet background. Sometimes part of the fun of making something is turning it into a character to play. It was fun to do something so different from my past gowns. 


What I am really excited about is this gown will be going through many transformations. The first was self fabric trim and the silver petticoat. For the ball I am going to add lace and black silk gauze (plus who knows what else) and then for Costume College I will rip all of it off and do a black silk gauze fichu and cap. I am really looking forward to reusing and retrimming the gown, as I think it will change the look each time.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Marie Taglioni's Sylph Costume Part Deux

When I left off, I had completed the bones of my Marie Taglioni Sylph costume. As I had mentioned before, I used a Truly Victorian pattern base and modified, using an illustration as my main inspiration. I was pretty pleased with my progress so far but had to make amends with the fact that the costume itself would veer to less accurate than I had originally planned. After taking a short break I came back to it and realized I was being too hard on myself (why are we always so critical of ourselves?!) and my construction, materials and overall lines were historically accurate. Silly Sara is silly. I went ahead and attached the hook and eyes to the back and then started in on the details.

            My main inspiration, Marie Taglioni as the Sylph in Les Sylphides, premiered 1832

To review on my inspiration, Taglioni is shown with a lovely floral crown on her head, flowers at her bust, pearl jewelry and a blue satin ribbon sash emphasizing her tiny 1830's waist. I have never made ribbon flowers before but always wanted to. I bought double faced synthetic satin ribbon at my local shop in orange and deep yellow. I knew I wanted to burn the edges so they would curl and resemble real flowers, hence the poly. The lovely woman at the fabric shop told me to buy three lighters to burn the ribbon as they would get hot with prolonged use. She wasn't joking. In case you wondered, they get really hot really fast. So, I changed tactics and used a candle. And you know, it worked really well!

My new favorite tool

Each flower consisted of four petals and one center petal in the contrasting color. I hand sewed a gathering stitch through four petals and gathered and tied a knot. I then sewed the last petal in the center. I did this 50 times, bringing the petals with me to the pool and around town when I needed an easy project to stay occupied. I then attached a bunch to the front of my bodice.

So many flowers!

Once that was done, I took a strip of felt and sewed a wire to the back, then smothered the front in ribbon flowers. I attached a loop underneath on both sides in order to secure to my hair. It took almost no time at all.


Close up of the floral crown

Once that was done, I simply tacked a blue satin ribbon round my waist once I was dressed and I was done! I ordered white satin ballet slippers and attached white satin ribbon as laces. Originally I had grand plans of making my own but I ran out of time. I may revisit in the future. My wings were a bit of a disaster. I traced out white voile wings and sewed a bendable wire to the edge, then tacked to the back bodice. They kept getting bent (I used thick jewelry wire) and weren't what I had envisioned, so I will probably redo them this fall. 

Close up of the bodice with blue satin ribbon

Playing around with poses

A lovely friend made me all the pearl jewelry, which I promptly forgot to wear for my shoot. I also wore my pearl drop earrings from Dames a la Mode. I think I have worn them with every outfit lately. The bodice was surprisingly comfortable. Early 19th century ballet was very different from today, Movement was not as extreme with a concentration on low port de bras. So due to how I constructed the sleeves I could not raise my arms up over my head. Other than that, I did not feel constricted and was able to move about easily at the pool party at Costume College.

I really enjoyed trying to bring an illustration to life. I will touch more on wearing the Sylph in my Costume College round up, as I noticed several issues at that point. A week after CoCo I took the Sylph back out and took some pictures in the woods.  I'm happy to report that despite three outings I have managed to keep the white satin bodice pristine.

My favorite photo as the orange really pops!

We found this massive tree trunk and it was so fitting

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Marie Taglioni's Sylph costume - Construction Part 1

Romantic ballets have always been my favorite, the port de bras and long tutus are so beautiful. I often play Giselle in the background when I sew.  When I found this illustration of Taglioni (made in 1845) as the Sylph I wanted to recreate it. The Thursday night event at Costume College had  a theme of "Into the Goblin's Lair." I know, my first thought was" yes! This is my year!" since I had already planned to make Sarah's ballgown for the Gala. Then I realized, oh no, I was making Sarah for the gala. What will I do about Thursday?? So close yet so not. When I stumbled upon the print of Taglioni I found the perfect Thursday outfit. The idea of doing a historically accurate costume was enticing.  As usual, I fooled myself into thinking it wouldn't be that bad. Why I continue to repeat this mistake is beyond me but here we are.

Marie Taglioni stunned audiences in 1832 when she debuted her role in the new ballet Les Sylphides. It was an important moment for many reasons. The first is that it signaled the start of the Romantic ballet era. The second, that she appeared on stage in a white costume, her legs scandalously revealed in what is considered the first tutu. And third, she rose to her toes, the first ballerina to dance en pointe (in pointe shoes).

Two images of Taglioni. Look at that short tutu!

So first the research. I did a lot of research. I found a ton of dance reviews in the 1830-40's with very little description of the costume and many contemporary discussions that said the tutu was silk tulle, voile, or fine stiffened cotton muslin. In the end I opted for the stiffened cotton muslin as that seemed the most logical. The reviews revered Taglioni as being ethereal and floating through the air in her skirts. I purchased 8 yards of light cotton and silk blend voile, 12 yards of sheer cotton voile, 2 yards of white satin for the bodice and satin ribbon in both burnt orange and deep yellow to start with. I also purchased 4 yards of stiff netting, just in case I decided I wanted even more body. The wing construction I will come back to later.

Materials gathered, here we gooooo

The first thing I did was decide on the basic construction of the bodice. Not much is known about Eugene Lami's original design. There are no sketches leading up to the debut and the garment is nowhere to be found. It appears that Lami created a gown based on the current evening style. A low off the shoulder neckline, the waistline at natural waist and a sort of draped gauzy bertha and puff sleeves.

I began with Truly Victorian 455 . What I love is that it comes with both a day and evening version, so I will definitely re-use the pattern.

Illustration from the TV 455 pattern. Here you can see the primary characteristic of 1830 fashion. I knew I would have to modify and get rid of the sleeves, but it was doable.

I cut a mock up out of two layers of cotton, one a cheap quilting cotton and the other much stiffer. This went quickly, I tried it on just to get general idea and as usual, TV didn't let me down. There are some modifications. I lowered the neckline (I ended up doing this twice). I added a much sharper v waist in front, as per the illustration. I did raise the waistline a tiny bit in the back, as I am very short. 

Not bad. Neckline needs to be lowered and that v needs to be deeper.

I did most of the main construction on my vintage machine. I had two bodices essentially, one lining and one satin. I did interline the satin as well. When it came to the darts and boning channels, I switched to hand sewing the satin. I put boning channels in the seams and the darts, using the seam allowance to add the boning channels to the satin outer bodice. The lining, as you can see below, had boning channels added though I later lowered them.

I did the lining first and tried on for fit yet again. I wasn't crazy about the neckline so I lowered it again. 

Bodice mostly complete

Once the outer bodice was complete, I installed a zipper just for fit purposes. I found this extremely helpful! My dress form is not a 1830s silhouette and I really needed to make sure that the bodice bottom would fit correctly since I knew my skirt would be poofy. Once I was done, I removed the zipper and put in the hook and eye. What I am most pleased about is my narrow satin piping (that isn't even visible now that the outfit is complete). If you recall from my Dickens Ravenclaw, I did not do enough research and used modern piping, which did not give the best results. This time, I used my thin cord and created my own piping with the white satin, attaching to the neckline, armholes and bottom of bodice.  It should be noted that I actually laid the lining inside the satin bodice and stay stitched, and then attached the piping around. In this manner, the lining and satin were attached. I did not do this to the bottom of the bodice. I wanted to wait until the skirts were on so I could enclose them within. 

Fit not bad, narrow piping is in on neckline!

At this point, it was time to add the draping to the bodice. I also realized that I had a choice to make about the Sylph. I was trying to stay as historically accurate as possible yet I wanted to recreate the illustration. One would have to give. I decided to stay as historically accurate as possible until I could not recreate the silhouette. My draping ended up looking like a later bertha but I do believe I was successful in the recreation. I think this is something I will struggle with in everything I make. There are some people who are dedicated to being as historically accurate as possible and I love to see their creations. I think most of the time I er on the side of accurate-ish, trying to use the right materials and methods but sometimes I do change things in order to get the final look I am after. In this case, I was after a garment that there are no known examples of. It most certainly was not an exact 1830's evening dress but it wasn't something radically different on top either.  Once I made peace with the fact some alterations had to be made, I went ahead and draped my sheer voile on the bodice.

And it was almost perfect! I managed to get rid of those wrinkles above the point fairly easily shortly after the try on.

I was so thrilled with how the bodice looked I took a good two week break. I was also avoiding the skirt because I had never really starched anything and the thought was terrifying. I finally decided to go ahead and start. 1830's gowns have the skirts attached to the bodice. First, my outer layer, a gorgeous silk and cotton blend voile. I used 8 yards finely gathered by hand. 

Huzzah, first skirt layer and look at that piping

The rest of skirt I constructed on the lining base. My lining of a stiffer 100% cotton had three layers of fine cotton voile. Each layer was gathered by hand then attached to the lining 1/2 from the top edge, one right on top of the other. In this manner, my waistline would remain smooth yet I'd get the necessary poof needed from the layers. I then attached just the cotton lining to the waistline, making sure the voile layers butted up to the seamline. 

And with that, the main construction was complete! The bones of the Sylph came together and I tried everything on. The next step would be the floral details, the hook and eye installation and the wings. I did lose steam at this point. I had been going going going. The francaise, then the Italian and now the Sylph. I took a little break and then tackled the rest, which will be my next blog entry!

Sylph on form, looking very much like Cinderella

I did indeed feel like a Romantic Era ballerina. Or a 1950's bride.

I achieved my desired silhouette and even did a petite allegro just to make sure!