Friday, August 31, 2012

Dress of the Week: A Midsummer Night's Dream Costume

Do you like theater? I adore it! And after my theater group had successfully performed a production of Shakespeare in the Park, my head has been full of theatrical costumes. So, this week we shall look at this lovely frock worn by Helena of A Midsummer Night's Dream in 1914.

Theater Costume, 1914, British. Source: Victoria & Albert Museum 
Theater Costume, back, 1914, British. Source: Victoria & Albert Museum 
Date: 1914
Artist: Norman Wilkinson
Materials: Crêpe-de-chine, fringe and beads
Techniques: Sewing; Macrame
The dress was made by Norman Wilkinson for director Harley Granville Barker who earned himself a place in theater history books for his creative approach to stage and costume design. Unlike his contemporaries who tried to recreate historical costumes and 'realistic' sets, Barker went for highly stylized scenery and costumes that suggested period dress but were influenced by the fashion trends of the time.

Barker lucked out with his production of A Midsummer Night's Dream since the 1910s were a time of Empire Revivalism with its linear silhouette and interest in ancient Greek and Roman styles. This was perfect for a play set in the woods near Athens.

The dress above was made for Lillah McCarthy who played Helena and was worn by her for the final scene of the play. It is white crêpe-de-chine with pink stenciled flowers that give it a more folksy feel. The outfit was was worn with mauve shoes and red beads and a wreath of flowers decorating Helena's hair. I love how this dress imitates Grecian style yet still remain very 1910. The stenciled flowers add a bit more color and make it very fun.  

Source: Victoria & Albert Museum 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Dress of the Day: Blue Tartan Dress

This fashionable young lady (i.e. me) is in Scotland and must choose her attire carefully to suit her surroundings. And what can be better suited to the green vastness and natural beauty of Scotland than this gorgeous blue tartan dress?    

Dress, 1845, England. Source: Victoria & Albert Museum  
Date: 1845
Country: United Kingdom
Materials: Silk satin, trimmed with velvet ribbon, lined with linen and silk, hand-sewn
Credit Line: Given by Lady Lindsey
The dress is blue tratan silk satin trimmed with black velvet bows that are decorated with agate stud buttons. The bodice is piped, lined with cotton and boned. The long tights sleeves have open epaulette and the skirt is lined with yellow and white silk. As the fashion of the time dictated, the gown has a high, round neck and a long, pointed waistline.

Did you know that tartan was banned by an Act of Parliament in 1746? The British government was not particularly happy with the unruly Scots and wanted to keep them in check by prohibiting traditional dress such as tartan and kilts. The kilt was still allowed as part of the military dress, though. But when the law was repealed forty years later everyone rushed to stock up on their plaids. And by the 1840s, tartan fabrics like this one were all the rage. The fad was  fueled by Walter Scott's exciting, brooding adventure novels and Queen Victoria's new royal residence at Balmoral, Scotland.

I fully intend to find myself a castle and sit by a window reading Ivanhoe in this beautiful blue tartan.    

Source: Victoria & Albert Museum

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Elegance of Bell Pulls

Imagine yourself a prosperous lady (or a gentleman) in a time before pluming, electricity, internet and smartphones. Let's say you are sitting in your morning parlor and reading a french novel. But suddenly, oh no, you need something. Maybe you feel ill from all the abductions and horrors in the novel and need your smelling salts. Or maybe you feel a bit peckish and want to have some tea. Or what if nature calls and you need the chamber pot. What do you do? You must call a servant.

Suitors scramble to save a woman the effort of having to pull a bell pull, James Gillray, 1805
Most large households in the 18th to 20th centuries were equipped with bell pulls connected to a complicated network of pulleys that would go to a central board in the servant's area. The bells were labeled to inform the servants which rooms required their attention.

Bell board in the servant's area in Downton Abbey 
The bell pulls were usually cords or strips of fabric with a tassel at the end, often ornate and beautiful things, embroidered, painted, beaded and decorated. You can still find some truly gorgeous bell pulls in museums and private collections.

Bell pull, textile, metal. Source: National Trust

Bell pull, 1865, velvet, silk, brass. Source: V&A Museum 

Bell pull, 1820-1830, Russia, cotton, silk, beads. Source: Mikhailovskoye     

Bell pull, Austria, beads, thread, camel hair. Source: Tara 

Bell pull,1820-1850, net, thread, beads. Source: Tara

Bell pull, 1800-1850, Russia, beads, silk, canvas. Source: Tsaritsyno 

Bell pull, 1820-1850, England, beads, brass? Source: Cottrell  House

Some bell pulls were not just ornate decorations, they also carried hidden messages and clever riddles.  
Bell pull,  1820-1830, Russia, bronze, beads, canvas. Source: State Hermitage Museum  
This beautifully made bell pull with a gilded bronze handle and embroidered with small beads contains a secret message that can be read by anyone who knows enough botany. The secret word is formed by the first letters of the names of these flowers. The bell pull should be read from left to right, though when hung, the bell pull would have been read bottom to top.
If we try to decipher the text, this is what we see:

E – Ericka (erica)
R – Rose (rose)
I – Iris (iris)
N – Nelke (carnation)
N – Nymphea (water lily)
E – Erdbeere (wild strawberries)
R – Ringelblume (marigold)
U – Uvularia (merrybell)
N – Narcis (daffodil)
G - Gefüllte Tagetes (type of marigold)

All together it spells 'Erinnerung', German for 'memory' or 'remembrance'. This wonderful deciphering comes courtesy of Julia.   

While we do not usually have servants in our homes to call with bells or otherwise, bell pulls could still make a beautiful decoration for the dinning or living room. Many embroidery books and magazines carry very pretty  bell pull patterns. There are a few free patterns online as well, for instance here.     

Friday, August 10, 2012

Dress of the Day: Elizabethan Costume

My theater group is putting on a production of Shakespeare in the Park, so this week I felt like a bit of whimsical costuming is in order. And since in Shakespearean theater all actors, regardless of the play's period, wore contemporary dress, here is a lovely Elizabethan costume.

Fancy Dress,  1890–1909, French. Source: Met Museum 

Fancy Dress, back, 1890–1909, French. Source: Met Museum 

Fancy Dress,  detail, 1890–1909, French. Source: Met Museum 
Date: 1890–1909
Culture: French
Medium: silk, metal
Dimensions: Length (a): 18 in. (45.7 cm) Length (b): 74 in. (188 cm)
Credit Line: Gift of Orme Wilson and R. Thornton Wilson, in memory of their mother, Mrs. Caroline Schermerhorn Astor Wilson

Sadly, this is not a real Elizabethan dress. Historical clothes is very difficult to find and preserve since they age, wear out, lose color and are altered by their owners. There are very few real pieces left from 16th to17th century. We must content ourselves with imitations, reconstructions, and of course, wonderful peices created in other periods for fancy dress balls and masquerades.

This is a beautiful dark plum silk velvet gown decorated with faux pearls and embroidered with gold metallic thread. I especially love the lines of pearls sewn along the sleeves. The dress follows the late 19th century silhouette, but borrows elements from Elizabethan gowns, like the wide sleeves and the ruff collar. Costume balls were all the rage at the end of the 19th century. They were not just fun, but also educational. Guests were encouraged not only to research dressmaking of their character's time period, but also learn as much about the character as they could and portray him or her as accurately as possible. That way parties would become wonderful improv shows were all the guests were expected to 'perform' for their supper. Ah, if only our own Halloween parties were more like that.          

Source: The Met Museum             

Sunday, August 5, 2012

DIY Flowers and Lace Ring

After I have made the floral headband, I had a few flowers left, which naturally made me think of what to do with them. And as I hate to see good flowers just lie around doing nothing, I decided to make another DIY project. This one is a flower and lace ring.    

Here is what you'll need:

  • Ribbon flowers 
  • Lace 
  • Scissors 
  • Wire cutters 
  • Needle and thread 
  • A glue gun  
  • A metal ring base 

Step 1: Take the lace and fold at one ends. Make another fold and sew it on to the first fold. Continue folding and sewing in a circle until you have a lace rosette like the one above.  

Step 2: With wire cutters cut off the stems of the ribbon flowers.  

Step 3: Arrange the flowers on the rosette and glue them into place with the glue gun.

Step 4: Using the glue gun, attach the ring base to the back of the rosette. 

And you're done! 

This is a really fun and easy project. It makes for a pretty ostentatious ring, but if you are a fan of statement pieces and have a soft spot for lace, this is definitely the ring for you!   

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Dress of the Week: Edwardian Bathing Suit

The weather was rather warm the other day and I had the pleasure of going to the beach and enjoy some sea bathing. It was pleasantly refreshing and the only thing I could have wished for was this striped blue, white and red bathing suit.

Bathing suit, front, 1900-1910, British. Met Museum  
Bathing suit, back, 1900-1910, British. Met Museum 
Date: 1900–1910
Culture: British
Medium: cotton
Dimensions: Length at CB (a): 37 in. (94 cm) Length (b): 31 1/2 in. (80 cm) Length (c): 27 3/4 in. (70.5 cm)
Credit Line: Purchase, Irene Lewisohn Bequest, 1977
Sea bathing for its therapeutic and medicinal value was around since the 17th century, but became really popular in the 18th century. The history of the bathing suit is very long, and I will leave it for another post. Suffice it to say that by the 20th century the beachwear became less cumbersome, more playful and and lighter. However, modesty while swimming was still on everyone's mind and modern bikinis and onepiece suits were still a long way away. 

This pretty cotton number looks very lightweight and has a playful sailor motif going for it, which was common for swim suits and beachwear of the time. It consist of a short tunic-like dress with a stylized sailor collar and a belt and a pair of bloomers gathered just below the knee. The blue, white and red color scheme make it really fun. While swimming in this would be difficult and it may get heavy and deformed when wet, this could be a pretty nice outfit if all you want to do is lounge around on the beach, stroll along the shore and generally look adorable.    

Source: Met Museum
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