Friday, December 30, 2016

Venetian gown (The lady in white project)

This spring I started hearing rumors of an event to be held in our barony specifically for fancy late period dress. It was going to be a feast of St. Nicholas in Queen Elizabeth's court, and was scheduled for the day after our anniversary. We immediately decided that it sounded like an ideal destination for our annual anniversary outing. Originally I designed a pair of tudor outfits revolving round the gown in this portrait of Queen Elizabeth (which I've been obsessed with since I found it in my mother's history of costume books as a child)
However shortly after this my husband started fencing and decided that he wanted to honor his own heritage by taking up a later period italian area persona. So then I was stuck with a dilemma, match hubby, or go tudor in spite of him. I started looking around at later period Italian area gowns (I say Italian area because this was the city states era and united Italy as we know it didn't exist) That's when I stumbled on the 1555 Titian painting. "Lady in white" I was totally hooked. I loved everything about her, and, better and better, I had a huge piece of pewter fabric, bought more than ten years before that was going to be perfect for it. In additional good fortune, on an earlier anniversry my husband had given me a black pearl necklace and earrings that could be the twin of the pair in the portrait.

This gown is almost severe compared to contemporary gowns from England. The silhouette is much narrower, and there's just so much less. Evidently Venetian women preferred to display their wealth by highlighting lavish fabrics in their gowns, silk brocades, cut velvets, and other costly materials were popular. The open ladder laced front displaying the camica (the very full venetian shift) the low neckline, and the uncovered head seem almost scandalous! The Lady in white wears a dress of what appears to be heavy silk, ornamented only with small gold clasps holding the sleeves on and the front closed, and a small pointed lace trim below the puffed paned portion of the sleeve. She also wears a sheer partlet, possibly with some sort of rouching and gold work on it. As an interesting side note, in all my looking at pictures, I haven't seen a single picture of a Ventian woman with a non sheer partlet. That may of course have partially been a function of the climate. The heavier partlet that brought welcome warmth in chilly Engalnd would have been rather stifling in Venice. With the Lady in Whit'es gown in mind, and after spending some time looking at portraits and reading about other people's projects, and finally drew up this design. 

it features a large enough to be visible shoulder strap, a slightly rounded neckline, and  girdle, all slight deviations from the lady in white In the interest of time, I also dispensed with the sheer partlet. Although many ladies did wear them, looking through books of portraits, they were by no means universal. For the Venetian woman the partlet seems to have been a fashion accessory, like her pair of bracelets or fan, not a necessity for modesty. When worn they were frequently ornamented with gold work and pearls, which is time consuming and fussy. Clearly I need to make one, but this event wasn't the time for it. 

I started drafting the pattern from my bodies pattern, ensuring a good fit This meant that I ran into the dreaded fish eye space again. I'd solved that particularly problem in the bodies by adding a side front seam. Impossible in this design. I ended up walking the space out into the center front, ending with a curved front seam. Fish eye spaces are always a problem to work out. the only sure method of getting a good fit is to put a seam where the space is, or reasonably close, but walking it into a nearby seam can sometimes work. It's a bit of a crapshoot though. In this case, thankfully, it did work, and with a few alterations the bodice was a good fit. Thankfully there was a lovely person hosting sewing nights at their home leading up to the event, so I had experienced hands to help fit the back of the bodice. In a pinch I've drafted husband to help me fit the back of things, but for something as specific as a bodice, it's nice to have someone who understands where you're trying to get to from where you are. 

 I cut the bodice from the my pewter fabric and a heavy linen blend tablecloth at the same time, to ensure the pieces would be exactly the same size. I used a half inch seam allowance to make room for boning under the seam allowances. I sewed the seams, pressed them open, and whip stitched the seam allowance down to underlining, forming boning channels. I boned the side and back seams with cable ties cut to length, and then the ends melted and rounded. One one each side of the center back, but only one side of each of the side seams. I then dithered with whether to line the whole thing, or just face the neck and sleeve openings. After a consult with my mother I decided the least bulk option was to line the whole thing with tissue weight black silk (I buy it by the bolt from Dharma Trading specifically for lining things with. The chair of the fashion department when I was at school, Mrs. Hannan, indoctrinated us all to view acetate lining as the creation of a diseased mind) I sewed in the lining, clipped, graded, turned and pressed it.

 Then I turned the center fronts a half inch back over the lining, and stitched them down through the lining and the underlining forming the front boning channels. Before I did this though, I sewed a narrow piece of ribbon down, tacking it down to form little channels to run the lacing ribbon through, a method I had seen employed in other Venetian gown recreations (The Realm of Venus was an indispensible resource during the research process for this gown. under the showcase heading they have a lot of recreations to browse) . Lacing rings are probably more period, but I had the ribbon. The other advantage of the ribbon is that it rather grips the lacing for the front, allowing you to more easily lace up and tie off without everything springing back open on you while you adjust it. I boned the front with a cable tie, and sewed the shoulder straps together, but didn't finish the lining or trim them ,figuring they might need to be adjusted again after I added the skirt. (which they did, as it turned out)

For the skirt I had enough fabric to use 5 panels full 60 inch width of the fabric. That's a whopping
300 inches, or 25 feet of skirt! When we laid it out on the floor at my Mom's for basting, it took up the whole living room, folded in half. Not everyone wants or needs a skirt this full. For my height though, more fabric in the skirt gives a better look. On a more petite frame, 4 or even 3 panels could have given the same look. This fabric, although it has very much the look of a good silk, doesn't have the body of a good silk, so I underlined it completely. Ideally I would have used a cotton/poly broadcloth for this, because it's got a lot of bounce and crispness without a lot of weight but I was attempting to keep a bit of a budget on this project, so instead I used a pair of old poly blend sheets I had lying around. They were satisfactory if not quite as good. The sheets were cut to the same size panels as the skirt fabric and sewn into the seams. Once the skirt was assembled, the top edge was turned down a half inch and basted using a ruler at one inch intervals. Then I pinned it a quarter at a time to the bodice, drew up the gathering threads, spread the pleats evenly and stitched them to the bodice with super duty carpet thread. Cartridge pleating is probably one of the best things I ever discovered. it allows you to gather huge amounts of fabric into a waistband without adding any bulk to the waist, and it encourages the skirt to flare out dramatically from the waist.

In the portrait it's not super clear to me if the Lady in White's skirt is cartridge pleated or knife pleated. It's certainly not as heavily cartridge pleated as my skirt turned out to be, but
other portraits of the same time period show skirts more heavily pleated, like this venetian lady portrayed by a follower of titian, possibly Pellegrina Morosini Capello, which shows heavy cartridge pleating around the waist, amoung other interesting details. I did consider making knife pleats then attaching them as for cartridge pleats, but by the time I was attaching the skirt I was in such a time crunch, I didn't want to try anything new.

With the skirt attached, I put the whole deal on, and had my mom (bless her forever) pin the hem for me. At which point we discovered that the upper back was gapping terribly. This illustrates the problem with rushing to finish something, I'd only done one mockup of the bodice, then made the alterations and cut it. It really doesn't pay to skip steps.

Luckily, the gapping was solvable by cutting the back neck lower, which is completely period. Between that and the camica ruffle, it's not noticeable.  Because of the way the lining/boning is, the quickest least visible way to do this was to trim the gown back, cut the bones to the new length, then fold the exterior in over the lining and whip stitch it down. This doesn't give me the kind of beautiful interior finish I like to have in my projects, but it did work.

That debacle solved, the remaining chore was to put  a facing on the hem. Because of the slinky drapey nature of the fabric, I used a significant hem facing made of the stiffest icky polyester I could find in my stash.  I cut strips at 18 inches, sewed them together, folded them in half and ironed them, then sewed them to the hem. My husband, bless him, ironed the whole thing to the inside for me so I could stitch it down, while I desperately started working on the sleeves, the night before the event.

For the sleeves, I drafted a ladies doublet sleeve from Patterns of Fashion to my measurements, mocked it up and fit it. Then I folded down the cap portion of the sleeve and cut out only the bottom in both the grey fabric and a black cotton lining. The portrait shows fairly wide panes in the puffed section, so I cut 4" strips of the grey fabric, which I underlined with a strip of silk organza for bounce before sewing together and turning. Then I folded up the sleeve cap on the pattern, laid the cut bottom portion down on the pattern, and cut the panes to shape at the sleeve cap, and length at the bottom: they're the same length as the pattern under the arm, which holds the puff up some, then about two inches longer on the outside of the arm. The bottoms of the panes are pleated to fit the sleeve, and then the tops are sewn into a facing of white batiste to match my camica, which was cut from the sleeve cap pattern to give them the proper shape. This sleeve is another lesson in why you do more than one mockup (and don't finish making huge chunks of your gown the night before the event) even after altering, once I got it on with the camica (which does add bulk) the sleeve was too tight, which meant it kept trying to creep down my arm, pulling the shoulder strap with it. It was also too short, which I covered for by pulling more of my sleeve ruffle out, which sort of spoiled the look. Ideally I would have done a second mock up of the sleeve with the whole gown (or at least the camica!) on, but I just ran out of time.

All that remained was to sew on the pearl beads and make the thread loops that would hold the sleeves on. I finally finished this at 5 AM the day of the event, having stayed up all night to finish.

In a lot of ways, this is really a story of how NOT to make a gown. Don't get stuck doing the bulk of it in the last 4 days before your event. Be sure to do enough mockups, WITH the things you're wearing under. But in the end, it all really turned out fine. I'll have to do some remediation of the sleeve to be sure, but other than that the gown is a dream, sort of an instant princess dress. And for all that it weighs half a ton, it's remarkably comfortable as well.

I wore it over a camica made of cotton batiste, since this was a "use fabric you already have" sort of project. Hopefully I will replace that camica with one of handkerchief linen in the near future, which will be more comfortable and look better. I used the pattern from the really helpful italian ren clothing site  which worked out great. one small change, next time I will make the back of the camica longer, and set it higher than the front. I ended up having to twist the whole thing forward to get it evenly out of the top of my gown, and it wasn't the most comfortable way of wearing it. I also bought a pair of red knit stockings to wear with a basic pair of black flats that were at least not obnoxiously un period.  The stockings were amazing because they actually were long enough for me to wear up to my knee and stayed up without me resorting to garters, which I find uncomfortable if I tie them tight enough to do any good.

In keeping with the theme of being late, we were almost late to the event because we were running late and getting dressed took a long time, so I didn't get posed photos of us at my mom's house like I had hoped. But a good friend of mine working in the kitchen took a couple shots of the gown, and they had a photographer at the event that got some shots of me and hubby.

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