Some of my earliest memories are of designing costumes for faerie princesses: gowns with silver spider-web bodices and hollyhock-petal skirts, bejeweled with the finest of dewdrops.
A young girl's dreams became a woman's passion: I began to create, in real-world fabrics, the gowns of my youthful imagination. Here are a few of my favorite projects.
In my late 20s, I toured the Fashion Museum at Bath and the costume collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum, and I was smitten! I started sketching details of historic dresses and accessories wherever I could find them.
During the 1990s, I joined a historic dance troupe and began to sew reproductions of historic garments for myself and others. The patterns and materials were modified to permit easy care (frequent cleaning, for one thing!) and dance-abilty, but overall, were as accurate as limited budgets and available fabric choices would permit.
In 2006, I made my first corset—an early 19th-century style constructed from some drawings I found on the internet. Wish I had kept track of where I got the pattern from, so that I could give proper credit to the designer! That corset has served me well for many years now. Four or five years ago I made a mid-19th-century corset from the Dore pattern by Laughing Moon.
The lace butterflies that trimmed the original gown have been reproduced using a motif cut from nylon lace.
As I worked on this dress very late one evening, I suddenly "felt" the essence of the original garment: with its lightweight, floating taffeta, its wing-like, gathered upper sleeves, and its gossamer undersleeves, this dress becomes a butterfly. In a flash, it all made sense to me, and I could almost see the unknown designer smiling because someone, after all this time, understood the creation. One of these days I am going to re-make this garment out of such crisp, airy fabrics.
During the last few years, as my skills continue to develop, my efforts have branched out to include more fanciful dance costumes that incorporate decidedly un-historic (and sometimes barely manageable!) materials. Feathers, artificial flowers and florist’s wire, synthetic tulle and net, and even shed cicada wings became part of garments that were as much works of art as items of clothing.
|Feathers and cicada wings!|
What I most value about the making and wearing of such fanciful costumes is the sense it gives me of getting outside my everyday life: Dressing in gauze, tulle, and besparkled organza brings a freedom of expression that's exhilarating and fun.
And more than just a sense of fun, wearing a corset or a hoopskirt provides insight into the lives of the women who wore such garments every day. Wearing a corset, you move differently, breathe differently, hold yourself differently. You embody a different way of life, one that our freedom-loving age cannot ordinarily experience. My respect for my foremothers has grown enormously.
And in the next post, join me on a journey back to 1843, where we’ll meet a young Quaker woman and some of her friends, and experience much more of what life was like for nineteenth-century women….