On Saturday the 14th of September I woke up with the conviction that no matter what happened I would smile the entire day. I would not give myself a single moment to process the fact that today would mean that I was less than 48 hours from the moment I would stand at security and cry as I hugged my friends goodbye at Heathrow.
I decided that for this event I wanted something special and decided to tackle a project I have wanted to do for nearly two years. My spencer is fashioned after the one worn by Louise of Prussia. It is the first time I have ever used proper tailoring methods and I now have a great respect for pad stitching. My bonnet was created last February for the Keetje Hodshon Regency Ball in Haarlem by the magnificent Lynn McMasters with a few feathers added on top by yours truly.
I started off the morning with an interview by a Japanese morning show being televised live in Tokyo. I thrilled the reporter by replying in my rusty Japanese. I was then borrowed for another interview for a morning show in Bath. During the promenade I took immense pleasure in photo-bombing tourist photos, especially throwing up the peace sign with Japanese tourist who nearly fainted in shock.
After the promenade a man remarked that I looked like Lydia Bennet rushing off towards the soldiers, I countered by saying that I was indeed Fanny Price searching for Edmund. A complete stranger stopped and turned around to say ‘My dear there is no way you could be plain Fanny, you are Mary Crawford without the attitude’. As a Jane Austen devotee (especially to Mansfield Park) this is one of the most touching compliments I have ever received and I will carry it with me. I was utterly taken aback (in the most positive of ways) and a friend had to make apologies for my sudden loss of speech and thank her for me.
Through friends I was able to find photos of me on three major news websites including The Guardian which I am completely tickled and honoured by. The most amazing moment was when I poured myself a cup of smoky earl grey from my dwindling stock of Fortnum & Mason tea jar and settled down on Flickr to peruse the photos.
Words cannot describe my utter shock at finding so many photos of myself (especially the ones with the little girls. I LOVE photos with children). The best moment came when I came across the page of Steve Wassell ( All rights reserved by fat-freddies-cat ). I don’t want to use the word shy (because I am definitely not) but I am usually very aware of my smile because when I am happy I have the tendency to grin very wide. But to see this photo and see how happy I was reflected in my eyes is completely priceless. Mr. Wassell, I am unsure if you will ever see this but I cannot find the words to thank you enough for the gift you have given me. You have allowed me a form of closure, I am able to look back on this weekend and recognize it for the truly magical time it was. I was fortunate enough to have been able to spend my last few days with my dearest and closest friends before flying off with a smile on my heart and in my eyes.
I finally got around to posting about The Dress like a Georgian Day Picnic last month at St. James’ Park, please click through to The Mended Soul for a step-by-step on making this gown.
Caution: Work in progress
The beginning of the project can be found here and on The Mended Soul but as a small recap the original design is by Jean-Baptiste Martin entitled Paysanne Galante (1722). It is a depiction of a costume from a ballet. I would also like to take the opportunity to point out that I started this project researching dance and theatre costumes of the 18th century which explains why the skirt is so short. At The Mended Soul I will be posting a more in-depth explanation but for now I will merely say that it is a nod to La Camargo who shortened her skirts so that the movement of her feet would be seen from stage.
I sought to put my dissertation and research into practice in the studio and I plotted this year in detail. My first costume was a Fancy Dress costume worn by Alexandra, Princess of Wales to the Devonshire House Ball in 1897 for the exhibition at Buckingham Palace. This costume satisfied my need for a highly decorated historical costume that could be displayed in a museum as a reproduction of an original unable to be displayed. It also related directly to my dissertation as I mentioned the House Ball in detail.
As my final piece I choose this particular design because it is the complete opposite of everything I am. I am very fond of historical costuming (I will have my BA in a month on this subject). That said I don’t normally gravitate to theatre. It’s not that I disdain this type of costume, it is simply that it’s something I have never shown interest in publicly simply because I wanted this costume to (pardon the phrase) shock and awe. Paysanne explores the transitional period from 18th century Masquerade into 19th century Fancy Dress which was the basis of my dissertation. By doing both of these costume I have not only showed that I can tie my research to practice but I can take two very different time periods and translate those into costumes that are harmonious and show a wide range of skills.
From the shocked response of my peers that I had chosen something so theatrical and different from everything I stand for I would say it worked very well. The common theme of yesterday’s commentary was a very dazed expression of 'It's so PINK … so many roses! Frills! Lyze?! It's a theatre costume!!!' It has been very hard to not contradict everyone the past year who explained that I would not be interested in something because it was so theatrical. I would say that while showing such a disinterest was very hard to maintain at times it was so throughly enjoyable due to the various expressions of utter disbelief present in the faces of those who know me.
This costume has been a work of utter adoration. I feel that I have poured my soul out in ways that I have never done before. Everything that I am, everything that I have worked for the past three years to become has accumulated in this costume. I feel that with each stitch I attached a tiny piece of my psyche and that I have transferred my being onto the fabric.
This costume represents who I am, The Ornamented Being. I am experiencing an illogical sense of nervousness, calm, and bravery in the face of worry of the unknown. I have hopes for tomorrow’s outcome. I am confident in myself but I am still scared. My exam is tomorrow and I only ask that you please think kindly of me as I prepare for the future.
I promise after tomorrow I will return to you with a renewed sense of vigour and excitement.
In writing an account of the Ball for The Graphic, Lady Violet Greville felt, as she spoke of the Princess of Wales, constrained to quote the 16th-century French author Brantôme who described Marguerite de Valois as “robed in cloth of silver with long sleeves, her hair richly dressed and her whole appearance of such grace and majesty that she resembled more a goddess from heaven than a Queen upon earth.”
At long last I can share my costume with the world. Eight months ago I entered my final year at Wimbledon College of Art studying Costume Interpretation. Our first assignment was to create a costume to compliment the new exhibition at the Queen’s Gallery in Buckingham Palace entitled ‘In Fine Style’. As I walked around the Red Room during the Da Vinci exhibition I could never imagine that just a short while later my own costume would grace this majestic room.
I chose to recreate the fancy dress costume of Alexandra, Princess of Wales dressed as Marguerite de Valois worn to the Duchess of Devonshire House Ball in 1897. As I was the intern for The Tudor Tailor last year and helped to make the costumes and work on the photo shoot for the new book The Tudor Child (I cried when I found my name in the Acknowledgements) I was requested to create the costume of the Hon. Louvima Knollys who accompanied Alexandra as her page.
The skirt and bodice is entirely finished by hand. I started with eight small appliqués to build my shape and completed the surface decoration by hand based on the photos. I thought after this costume I would never wish to string another pearl or couch another row again but for my final costume I am still working on beading. I was able to study close ups of the image at the National Archives and I was graciously granted permission to study hi-res images of the 4 existing photographs of Alexandra. Both of these allowed me to re-create what is hopefully a very close historic reproduction of this costume.
I am grateful to both of my models, to all of the researchers who assisted me in this endeavour to track down photos to study, to you my followers who continue to inspire me, and most of all to my mother who was very patient during my frantic midnight phone calls.
I will leave you with the quote that first came to mind when my models descended the staircase into the gallery last night, ‘ She [Alexandra] came down one day in a marvellous … long flowering train. She dazzled me utterly, I was speechless with adoration’.
Just walked in from our rehearsal at The Queen’s Gallery. It’s hard to believe that after nearly eight months this event is a little under 48 hours away.
This final year has flown by so quickly and I can promise that once my two models walk out of the dressing room you will find me in a corner crying tears of joy, stress, relief, and a little sadness. It’s been a good three years at this University and I graduate in a few weeks. It’s a terrifying thought. But onwards and upwards my friends, onwards and upwards.
Calling all followers, I have need of your assistance! I am working on my final project for Uni and I am looking for extant examples of back lacing 18th century bodices or any information on 18th century dance costumes.
There are officially a couple thousand of you so I am very hopeful that someone will have spotted something. Any help is appreciated, thanks so much loves!
Sorry, the first bodice is from FIDM, the second is from the Met, the third is the inside of Sofia Magdalena’s wedding gown, and Marie Antoinette’s apple green bodice.