Friday, September 28, 2012

Dress of the Week: Court Dress

It is Friday night and I'm all dressed up and nowhere to go. And nothing says 'party' quite like an early-Victorian silk court dress.
Court dress, 1828, Germany. Source: Met Museum
Court dress, back, 1828, Germany. Source: Met Museum
Court dress,  bodice detail, 1828, Germany. Source: Met Museum 

Court dress, skirt detail, 1828, Germany. Source: Met Museum 
Date: 1828
Culture: German (probably)
Medium: silk, metal
Dimensions: Length at CB: 52 in. (132.1 cm) 
As Regency fashion for antiquity-inspired simple white garments began to wane, the early-Victorians developed a taste for lower waists, more bell-shaped skirts and much poofier sleeves, which ultimately resulted in leg o'mutton sleeve fashion, which I am sure people in the early 20th century regarded with as much horror as we do our own '90s.

While I do not much care for early-Victorian style (I think those huge sleeves make one's head look disproportionately tiny), I adore the metal embroidery on the skirt, sleeves and bodice. It makes me think of a dress of a fairy tale princess. It would be great fun to cosplay as Snow White in this lovely gown.

Source: The Metropolitan Museum of Art 

Friday, September 14, 2012

Dress of the Week: Silk Pelisse

We've been having some rather cold and rainy days this week, so I feel obliged to dig into my closet and bring out some warmer clothes. Likes this pretty silk pelisse, for instance.

Pelisse, silk, England, 1820. Source: Victoria & Albert Museum  

Place: England
Date: 1820
Artist/maker: Unknown
Materials and Techniques: Silk, lined with silk and cotton, hand-sewn
This beautiful piece of outwear is called a pelisse robe. It is essentially a dress in a style of a coat, which was often worn for walking or paying visits. Unlike most dresses of the time, pelisse robe opens in the front (like a coat would) and has a wide collar. By the 1820s the waists went up pretty high, and the silhouette has changed from what was popular at the beginning of the 19th century. Fashionable ladies adopted a more A-line shape. In this particular pelisse, the hem is padded to accentuate that shape.    

The most remarkable thing about the gown is that what appears to be embroidery on the bodice, sleeves and along the skirt is actually very elaborate piping (embellishment technique that involves thin rolls of fabric) arranged in a flower pattern. The sleeves are decorated with short puffed oversleeves of stepped bands, faced and lined with satin, and wristbands that fasten with a button. The skirt is slightly gored with a gathering at the back. The collar is stiffened and has a little vent at the back, trimmed with a tassel. The robe is lined with blue silk and fastens with loops and concealed buttons.

This is by far one of the prettiest walking dresses I have seen. The piping makes for gorgeous decorative element and the coffee and cream colored silk is simply divine. I shall also note that the A-shap skirt is much more flattering than the fashions of the preceding and has not yet passed into the over-trimmed nightmare of Victoriana. My only concern would be ruining this lovely silk pelisse in mud and rain of early September.   

Do you have a favorite walking dress? Please share!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Dress of the Week: Red Silk Dress

A red dress is not for the fainthearted, not for the wallflowers. All shades of crimson and scarlet are made for the bold and the brazen. This is why this gorgeous silk gown has captured my heart.

Dress, silk, Europe or America, 1845-49. Source: The Met Museum
Dress, silk, back, Europe or America, 1845-49. Source: The Met Museum

Dress, silk, detail, Europe or America, 1845-49. Source: The Met Museum
Date: 1845–49 Country: American or European
Medium: silk, velvet? 
There is something almost melancholic about the simplicity and the subtle elegance of this dress. It has very simple trimmings - just a bit of velvet around the sleeves and down the bodice. The heaviness of fabric and the gorgeous shade of red give it an autumnal feel. It makes me think of the wonderful poem by Dorothy Parker.

The Red Dress

I always saw, I always said
If I were grown and free,
I’d have a gown of reddest red
As fine as you could see,

To wear out walking, sleek and slow,
Upon a Summer day,
And there’d be one to see me so
And flip the world away.

And he would be a gallant one,
With stars behind his eyes,
And hair like metal in the sun,
And lips too warm for lies.

I always saw us, gay and good,
High honored in the town.
Now I am grown to womanhood….
I have the silly gown.

Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Georgian House in Edinburgh

On my recent visit to Scotland I decided to take a look at a very particular attraction - the Georgian House in Edinburgh. For anyone who is interested in Georgian history, this house would be the perfect treat.

Exterior of the Georgian House, Edinburgh, Scotland. Source: Anson Clark    
Situated at  No. 7 Charlotte Square in New Town, the Georgian House was designed by Robert Adam as part of the Edinburgh modernization efforts. When the rich and powerful could no longer stand the dirt and squalor of Old Town, they decided to build a new elegant neighborhood, and thus the New Town was born.

Plan for the New Town by James Craig, 1768
The Georgian House has been restored and refurbished by the National Trust for Scotland. None of the original furniture or surroundings survived, so most of the details had to be reconstructed and all the bits and bobs taken from other places. But the resulting effect is more than magnificent. It feels like you stepped into the glittering world of Georgian Scotland.

The Kitchen in Georgian House gives a glimpse into the lives of the servants    
When visiting Georgian House, make sure to start from the basement. This is where they have the kitchen, the wine cellar and the china closet. You can watch a short film about the history of New Town and the lifestyle of the Lamont family, the first inhabitants of the house, in 1810.

The kitchen was my favorite space in the whole house. As someone who greedily devours all Georgian period film, I have seen enough parlors, ball rooms and bedrooms to last me a lifetime, but the kitchens and servants' quarters are usually left off the screen.

Still life with fruit and sugar loaf, 1720, Unknown artist
The kitchen had a a wonderful collection of period cookware and a whole assortment of things I have never seen before, so it was great fun to explore. On one side of the table I found a strange large whitish-gray cone. I was promptly informed that in the 18th century they did not have granulated sugar that we know today. Instead, sugar had to be purchased in large conical loaves. It was then broken into smaller pieces with the help of sugar nips. The cones were never seen outside the kitchen and sugar always arrived on the table in small manageable pieces in beautifully ornate silver or porcelain sugar bowls.

The white cloth signals that the food is ready to go to the dinning room. Source: Neil Holmes/The Bridgeman Art Library    

We often think that our ancestors were overburdened with technical incapacity, but I was amazed at how many clever devices they had to make their lives easier. The Georgian House kitchen hearth was equipped with a meat skewer that was designed to rotate automatically using the heat and steam from the fire. The scullery had a water pump that had been installed in 1819. I can only imagine how cutting edge and innovative this must have seemed to the young scullery maid who no longer had to haul the water from a well.   

Georgian House Dinning Room. The table is set for a 1810 dinner party 
The first floor has the Dinning Room and the Bedroom. The dining room is richly decorated with portraits and the table is set as it would have been for a dinner in 1810. I was surprised to see a bedroom on the first floor, but was informed by one of the guides that it was common for Scotland in the 18th century. The bedroom was located so close to the dinning room and other public spaces because it was often used as an informal sitting room by the lady of the house and her guests. The women would retire there after dinner and before going up to the drawing room.  

The lavish Drawing Room was used for balls and formal entertaining
The first floor had the Drawing Room and the Parlor. The Drawing Room overlooks the Charlotte Square and is the whole width of the house. This is where the family would entertain in a more formal style. It was also a place for balls and other social gathering of the season. The room is filled with portraits and paintings by popular artists  and has a large neo-classical fireplace showing off the master's wealth and fine taste. The mood is set by a faint sound of a piano recording playing in the background. I would not lie, I would have loved to start dancing in that room.

The Parlor is a private family room for the more intimate circle 
The other room on the first floor was the Parlor. That was a room where family members would gather for more informal pastime. It was a much smaller room and had a very cozy family feel to it. There were popular novels in the bookcase, newspapers on the table and embroidery on the walls, showing the elegant accomplishments of the young ladies' of the house. This was also the room where the family would take tea. The table had two tea caddies and a lovely silver tea set.

Tea caddy decorated with filigree, Grey Family of Nunnington Hall, Yorkshire.   
One of the things that drew my attention in the parlor was a lovely filigree tea caddy. Paper filigree, also known as quilling, was a popular accomplishment in the 18th and early 19th century. It involved curling colorful strips of paper into spirals and then arranging them into different designs to produce a very pretty effect.              

If you are wild about history, Jane Austen or just enjoy looking at beautiful objects and surroundings, I cannot recommend this place enough. There is a volunteer guide in every room who will help you with any questions as well as cards with detailed description of each room. The only drawback is that you cannot take pictures of the rooms or the exhibits. That is a bit disappointing, but you can always get a few nice postcards from the gift shop. This is the one that I got.

Sunderland Lustre Chamberpot, The National Trust of Scotland  
The inscription reads:      
This Pot it is A Present Sent.
Some mirth to make is only Meant, 
We hope the same you'll not Refuse 
But keep it safe and oft it Use. 
When in it you want to P-ss. 
Remember them who sent you 

You can find out more about the Georgian House here.  

Sunday, September 2, 2012

How to Turn Buttons into Earrings

I often find myself buying cute buttons without actually knowing what I am going to do with them. Well, last night I had an epiphany - I could turn them into earrings. Not only would that expand my own collection of jewelry, but I would be able to stock up on presents for all my jewelry loving friends. 

Here is my quick and easy tutorial that will help you turn your buttons into tiny pieces of delight.
You will need:
Wire cutters
Super glue (Don't use a glue gun, it's difficult to apply the glue and it can get a bit messy)
Earring posts and backings (available from any crafts store)
Note: When working with super glues, make sure the room is well-ventilated; and mind your figures and surfaces. Always follow the instructions on the tube.

Step 1:
Take the wire cutters and cut off the back of the button as close to the base as you can. 

Step 2: 
Put a bit of glue on a piece of cardboard and with a toothpick apply it to the flat part of the earring post. 

Step 3: 
Press the post onto the back of the button. Apply some pressure to make sure it sticks. 

Step 4: 
Repeat the same process with your second button and then leave them to dry over night.

In the morning you will have a whole assortment of new pretty earring to wear.           
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