Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Beautiful Dress

I have been dying to make a dress like the ones in this picture:
This is a Spanish style from the end of the 15th century, called a Spanish farthingale. The skirt is what we might call a hoop skirt, and we're used to having it as a sort of undergarment. But while the style soon evolved to have the hoop structure hidden, it originally was an outer garment, and as you can see a decorative one at that.

The dress I'm going to make is a composite of the three dresses in this picture.

I don't know precisely how this sort of dress was made or what went under it. It is pretty clear from the pictures that there is an overdress with a bodice, sleeves, and farthingale, and some sort of underdress that is seen through the bodice opening, neckline, and sleeve openings. The overdress on the right would appear to lace up the back, since it clearly doesn't have front or side lacings; while the dress in the center clearly laces in front (also in back?) and the dress on the left doesn't lace in front. The sleeves are closed with latchets (you can see them dangling down). Whether it is a one-piece dress or a two-piece is unclear. The ladies are wearing matching bodices and skirts so it doesn't appear to be a mix-and-match situation, but that doesn't mean the dresses are one-piece. It appears that some of the bodices lace in the front, but clearly the skirts don't, and you can't get into a skirt that fits at the waist unless you open it somewhere, so it looks like the skirt opening is probably in the back. It's also unknown how the skirt might attach to the bodice. There doesn't appear to be much gathering at the waist, nor any darts or seams that I can see.

The nature of the underdress is less than clear. Is it a chemise type garment? Is it more like a kirtle? Is it a plainer dress with a fancy stomacher piece inserted in the bodice front? I would imagine it ought to be full length, at least for me, because (a) there are times when you have to lift a hoop skirt to sit down, and (b) it gets DANG COLD under a hoop skirt in wintertime. Clearly there are sleeves that are a bit on the full side, at least at the wrist and possibly all the way up the sleeve as well. And how the heck does the skirt do that "poof" thing at the waist? As anyone knows who's worn a hoop skirt, they definitely hang in a cone shape, not come straight out parallel to the floor at the waist-- even if the first hoop is extremely wide, and these hoops clearly are not. I'm guessing there's a moderately sized bum roll under there; it's the only way I can think of to get the skirt to go straight out from the waist that way. The "bumroll effect" can result from pleating or gathering a very full skirt into a tiny waistband, but for an application like that, it'd be pretty damn clear that there were some serious folds of fabric. An artist of this caliber would not have smoothed those over if they were there. Besides, the hoops are pretty clearly defining the width of the skirt, and it isn't full enough to have a "bumroll effect". You've gotta gather several yards of material into the waistband to get it to stick out that much. Another mystery is how that wacky center bodice piece on the red dress defies all the forces of nature and the will of Boobula the Breast Goddess to stay precisely in the middle of the wide laced area over the woman's bust, without apparently being attached to anything. And finally, it looks like there's a pretty simple round hat above a fabric- and ribbon-covered braid of hair, and some kind of sheer scarf or partlet being worn in the necklines of the dresses on the left.

And then there's the whole issue of, shall we say, support. The Blessed Ones of Boobula can't ignore this. Eventually I want to make a hemp boned corset, but I kinda don't have time for that right now (Solstice Court is in 1 1/2 weeks). So support will have to come from either my own 21st century undergarments (which give entirely the wrong silhouette) or from the underdress. Since I still have the shell from a very supportive bodice I made before, based on the old duct-tape-and-t-shirt fitting method which was the only way I could fit something like that on myself, I'm pretty sure I can pull that off. If I line the bodice on the bias, I can get firmer support and less stretch in the material and avoid the problems I had with the previous incarnation of the supportive bodice. And if I lace it on the sides, not only will I be able to get myself into the underdress unaided, but the lacing won't show through the overdress.

So here's my idea of how to reconstruct this outfit:
(1) standard medieval linen undergarments; these will be invisible, so since I'm short on time I'll skip these and just wear my own
(2) supportive, side-lacing under-kirtle with decorative front bodice and full sleeves, in a straw gold color with black ribbon and freshwater pearl bodice decoration.
(3) red overdress (1 piece? 2 piece? with back lacing, or just open at front with the skirt tying at back?), bodice and sleeves lined in black velveteen, and hoops in skirt covered in black velveteen
(4) hat with false hair braid (my hair isn't long enough to braid, and since the braid is covered in fabric it won't matter that it doesn't match or is low quality)
(5) partlet or scarflike piece of material
(6) bumroll worn between under-kirtle and outer skirt

Here's what I bought so far to make the dress:
  • Two red tablecloths (cotton/poly blend) from Wal-Mart, plus a gold one from Bed, Bath, and Beyond. ($9.99 for 3 to 4 yards of material? Game on!) The red is for the outer dress and the gold is for the skirt and bodice lining of the underdress.
  • One gold curtain from Wal-Mart, with a woven stripe pattern, for the outer bodice of the underdress. This wasn't strictly necessary, but I thought the stripe pattern would make it easier for me to position the ribbons and pearls.
  • One black velveteen curtain from Wal-Mart. Cheaper than black velveteen yardage at JoAnn Fabrics!
  • Two yards of gold lining fabric for the underdress sleeves.
  • One remnant of gold sheer fabric for the partlet.
  • 1/8" black ribbons and 4-5mm freshwater pearls.
  • false hair braid from eBay. This was cheap and the seller (despite having 100% feedback) couldn't spell or make anything clear in the English language, so I have my doubts about whether this will be as advertised, but we'll see what it ends up looking like when it arrives.
Still to buy:
  • Plastic tubing from Home Depot, or some other such hoop stiffener. I thought about basket reed, but decided I'm really looking for something easier to work with. I'd have to put several rounds of basket reed in each of the half-dozen hoops in order to avoid the ends poking out much, and I just don't feel like it.
  • Black cord and crimp tubes for the latchets
  • Probably about 50 million other things I've neglected to think about