Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Mary Shelley - A Lot of Underwear!

Quite a long post as I have photos of Mary Shelley at each stage of dressing to share.
I really was quite shocked when I realised just how much fabric it was going to take to to create the skirts and petticoats for Mary - 1 whole meter for the base of each with extra for flounces and layers!
She's only 46ins tall!

I wanted to make Mary at around the 1840 period, when she was about 42 years old. The Pre-Victorian women of this time created the huge, bell shaped skirts through sheer weight of fabric before the invention of the hooped cage crinoline. Using different fabric, starch and a number of techniques. I've no idea how they actually did anything in them, but Mary's skirts are proving that there was more space for movement underneath them than I'd thought. Sitting is another matter, and I don't think these skirts could have been the least bit comfortable.

After I've added the basic bloomers and shift (Mary is of the crotchless era!), I use a piece of wide elastic to imitate a corset. I know that it doesn't look like the fantastic structured corsets of the time, but when all her clothes are added it gives the right feel.
I had a bit of trouble getting the right shape to the top of the shift as the neck is so wide. I'm trying to dress her as she appears in a well known portrait by Richard Rothwell of the period. And her black dress sits very wide on her shoulders, almost off-the-shoulder, so her shift had to match.

The first bit of colour, and the first of her skirts, is a red cotton basic petticoat with no trim or decoration as it's just to help keep the next layers clean and stop the rough material rubbing against her legs. It's cartridge pleated to a wide waistband, and is just as long as her legs.

If your wondering about the odd wrap around her hair it's to keep the feathers from getting in the way while I dress her. I've tried putting their hair on last, but it just doesn't work for me. I like to see them as they should be to get a better idea of how to dress them. And it helps when choosing colours too.

The next layer is a corded petticoat made of rough starched calico.
I've no idea how any woman managed to make a full sized one as this one was enough to drive me nuts!
There are 21 cords sewn into Mary's corded petticoat, with a cover over the front, and backing added to provide further stiffness. (You can see the cords here before they were enclosed.) I've read accounts of full sized ones having over 100 cords. I really didn't think this technique would work as well as it does without a lot of starch. But  it does, and I only had to add a little in the end. It even stands up on it's own.

It adds a lot of bulk to the shape of the skirts, and does a good job in place of the later hooped crinolines. I think these may have been a bit more comfortable than the metal or cane hoops as the cords still have a lot of flex in them, and collapse when sitting down.
Even now Mary is starting to feel heavy. And this is only the second layer of up to six. She's not quite bell shaped yet, but the width is there at the bottom, and the next flounced layer should add the width at the top. I'm really hoping that she looks as I want when she's done as I still have sore fingers from all the stab wounds from sewing this layer.
I think I might loose it if I have to take it off again.

 Another layer, and tons more rough calico to create a huge puffy flounced petticoat.
As the layers are added it's surprising how much length needs to be added to each. I think the skirts started out at 33cm long, but this layer is closer to 38cm. I had to add an extra ruffle to make up a mistake in the length. Like the corded one, it's cartridge pleated to the waistband of the original under-petticoat to help keep down the bulk at the waist. Need to aim at a tiny waist and huge skirt that sticks out horizontally from the waist and falls into a bell shape.

Even though this is only one of the layers in Mary Shelley's skirts, I was so happy when I saw her in this I was giggling to myself. She's really started to get that Scarlet O'Hara look about her now. And sits perfectly unaided due to the bulk of fabric that spills out around her.
I've already started work on the next and last petticoat. I've decided to leave it at four as she really doesn't need any more. Although I can understand that more would have been worn at the time, I'm in danger of her looking like a loo roll cover if I carry on as she'll be totally stiff in her clothes. I also need to keep her waist as low as possible to keep the finished dress as authentic as I can, and the cartridge pleating needed to get the amount of fabric to fit around her waist is quite wide. After that is a silk shirt with bell shaped sleeves, and then her black dress. I can't wait to see her finished.