Monday, 12 September 2011

Maria Manning - The Killer of Black Satin

After having a total panic when I realised I have 3 commission dolls to finish by the end of October, and then another pair before Christmas, going on a shopping mission to gather all the fabric I need together, and planning out my activities so strictly I could tell you what I'm doing on the Monday in three weeks time, part of my brain decided that I had time to fit in one more doll before I had to start them.
I must be nuts!

To make things just a little more difficult for myself, the only doll I wanted to make right now was the scandalous Victorian Murderer Maria Manning.

Maria and her husband were convicted and hung in  1849 for the murder of Patrick O'Connor - Maria's Lover!
Maria was a Lady's Maid working for a great English lady. And she'd acquired a taste for the richer things in life during her career.
She had been in a relationship with both O'Connor and Manning when both proposed to her. She had to choose between the already rich customs officer and loan shark O'Connor, and the poor Manning who had told her he would soon be coming into a large inheritance. She chose the later, and soon found that the inheritance would never come, and she was stuck living a poor life without any of the extravagances she wanted.

She began her affair with O'Connor shortly after; some say with her husbands knowledge. He was a frequent visitor to their home, and one night when invited to dinner, Maria shot him in the back of the head, Manning battered him around the skull to make sure he was dead, and the couple buried him in a pre-prepared grave beneath the kitchen flagstones, covering the body with quicklime.

 After twice talking her way into O'Connor's rooms and stealing everything of value, Maria then tricked her husband and left for Scotland with all the valuables they possessed and her stolen loot.

She was a heartless, cold , and calculating woman who dammed the court as her sentence was read after trying to blame the whole murder on her weak, pathetic husband. As she walked to the gallows, ironically passing over her own grave site as she did so just as O'Connor must have walked over his in the kitchen, she held her head high and walked with a firm step. She chose to wear a fashionable black satin gown with black lace veil to her hanging. And as there was so much publicity and scandal surrounding the case, it being reported in every newspaper and journal throughout the country, the  popularity of wearing black satin suddenly declined, and it didn't come back into fashion for 30 years.

Maria isn't the easiest doll to have decided to make in a limited time because of the period of clothing that she'll need. 1849 was still 5 or 6 years before the invention of the cage crinoline, and the huge bell shaped skirts favoured by women of the time were created by multiple layers of petticoats alone.

Two of Maria's petticoats are just finished. So along with her baggy bloomers and long scoop necked chemise and corset Maria now wears an under-petticoat of green cotton to protect her legs from the stiff coarse calico fabric of her corded petticoat.

As the two women were living during the same period, Maria's corded petticoat is constructed in the same way as I made one for my Mary Shelley. Just on a smaller scale as Maria is quite a bit smaller than Mary is. Each cord has been individually tucked into the calico and hand sewn into place, with the next cord folded in very close to the first with some gaps left between groups of rows to give some flexibility. When all the cords were in I then sewed a panel of calico to the back of the cording panel to stop them curling up and to keep them in the right shape. A real full-sized corded petticoat would have hundreds of lines of cording sewn into it to create the support needed to keep the voluminous skirts held out in the fashionable bell shape. And I really can't imagine having to hand sew one of these garments for myself as women did then. It must have taken months to complete, and must have been very tough on the fingers. I have a hole in my finger after just sewing in 21 cords, and remember having many small injuries after finishing Mary Shelley's larger corded petticoat.

Now I'm on to the next layer to help create bulk and soften the shape of Maria's skirts - a dark red flounced petticoat. I know that women during the 1840's would have worn any number of petticoats, from six to thirty in varying layers of plain, flounced, corded and ones stuffed with horse hair. But Maria's size is limiting me to how many I can get away with in her costume. After this next flounced layer I think there will only be room for one more plain one, and then her underskirt and gown. I'm looking forward to sewing in the nice floaty black sating I have ready for her. But that low scooped neckline is going to be a real challenge :)


  1. Yikes, Natasha, I'm exhausted after reading all the work you've been doing and all the impending work on the table!! Please bottle some of that energy and send it to West Texas...I need some of that!! LOL

    The doll and accompanying story was very interesting. I love the historical detail, both in spin and doll. Love the fact women didn't wear black satin for many years after Maria's death...nowadays, that just wouldn't happen...the more notorious you are, the more people want to imitate...sigh.

    Have a great week and I know you're overwhelmed, but most of us always do our best work when under pressure and your dolls reflect that.


  2. Thanks Georgina :)
    Not sure if it's energy or madness yet. But for once I'm not feeling overwhelmed. I'm home with a bad back today, so am trying to take it easy, but it's easier said than done as I hate sitting still and doing nothing :)
    Your right that the more notorious seem to get the most attention these days, sadly. It's seems wrong that fashion can be set by those without sense or morals. But there are always those waiting to follow the new trend.
    I'm glad that I'm not one of them :)
    Hope you have a great week too.
    Natasha xxx