Sunday, 9 October 2011

She Has A Name - Adriana Brinkle

After getting my tiny wedding cake toppers mostly dressed I had a real need to work on something a bit bigger. The tiny details I'll have to create on Hazel's wedding dress need to wait until I can shake off a big nasty cold I've had for a while now and concentrate properly on those tiny stitches. The perfect doll to keep me busy was just waiting in the dark corners of my mind, quietly calling to me.

If you follow my tweets you might have seen me mention the work I've been doing on a doll with no name. It's odd for me not know who my dolls are while I'm dressing them and giving them their character. But this time around I just had no name.

I knew who she was, her story, her background and what had happened to her. I had a clear image of her in my head and knew what she would wear down to the last details, and I was getting really frustrated not knowing who she was.
I had to go back through a big stack of books to try and find her, and in the end I found her name - Adriana Brinkle.

Adriana had a sad life. She was young, gay and inclined to be extravagant. And her love of fashionable dress and a financial mistake led her to be locked away in an insane asylum. At her fathers insistence she had been tried at court and a plea of insanity used as her defence to keep the family from disgrace.

Even though she was a bright young woman she was held at the asylum and treated as though she were insane. Subjected to all the indignities and poor treatment that was normal at institutions during the Early- Mid-Victorian era.

Adriana suffered quietly, and with as much dignity as she could. Her only hope were the promises made to her by her father that she would be released as soon as the troubles caused by her debts had blown over.
Little did she know that she would spend a total of 28 years locked away, hidden from sight.

I finally tracked down Adriana's name with her whole sad story in the book Women Of The Asylum by Jeffrey Geller and Maxine Harris. A brilliant book containing 26 first hand accounts of women that were placed in mental institutions against their will between the years 1840 - 1945. Too many of these women were completely sane, and all of them where misunderstood. The rough handling and poor treatment they received, along with the truly barbaric practices carried out by doctors and attendants, left many of them weak, bodily ill and experiencing mental problems they had not had before. But all of the accounts in this book show how strong, intelligent and focused they were. Determined to tell their stories to others to try and make some difference to the worlds they had left behind.

Adriana Brinkle was one of the lucky few that may have had some knowledge of what was happening to her before she was committed. She knew where she was going and why, being convinced that the asylum was better than being sent to jail.
Too many women had to endure the shock of being suddenly torn from their family life and thrown into a new world among a mixture of the helplessly insane and the tormented wrongly committed with no prior thought of what was coming.
The Victorian Insane Asylums were truly horrible places where even the doctors had little understanding of how to treat their patients. And the suffering was made all the more horrid for those that were trying to hold on to the sanity that they had had when they entered the system.

I've dressed my Adriana in a Victorian day dress from around the late 1860's to early 1870's. She has on her split drawers trimmed with lace and ribbon, a short shift, corset, plain petticoat, and a checked trimmed corset cover as she was a very fashionable young lady that would have worn the best fabrics she could get, and wouldn't want the stiff hard edges of her corset damaging the delicate fabric of her gown.

Over these she has a moon shaped bum pad and another white cotton petticoat with ruffles down the whole of the back to try and provide some of the shape missing from the lack of a bustle.

At first I made Adriana a metal band bustle, but had to think would she really have been able to keep up with this level of fashion in an asylum, so decided to removed it. I have to keep reminding myself that she knew where she was going, and even though she was young and admits to being very fond of dress, I just don't think that she would have been so impractical to think she would be able to manage this level of dress at the asylum. I really want to make her dress as accurate as possible, but with all that I've read of Victorian asylum life I know that there would have been no-one to help Adriana dress each morning, and no-one to help tie her into the cage bustle. So even if she had worn it she would have soon had to do without it. I'll keep the bustle for another doll on another day.

Because she was intelligent I think Adriana would have chosen a more practical dress. The things she would have taken with her into the asylum would have been practical, and simpler than the high fashion she loved. Things that she was sure she would be able to manage on her own with no help, but still with as much fashion and clever shaping as was available to her. Both her ruffled petticoat and stripped cotton lawn fine petticoat are gathered cleverly to hold their bulk at the back with a very slight train. The kind of dress that could be worn around the home to allow a little more comfort while still giving a fashionable silhouette, all kept neatly in place with hidden tapes and tied easily in place.

Her dress will be of a beautiful vintage sky blue cotton lawn with a navy pattern that I've had for a while and have been really looking forward to using on the right doll. I've finished off Adriana's three-quarter lace trimmed sleeves, and an oriental inspired cross front bodice trimmed with navy satin and white lace, with a high lace collar worn underneath. Now I just have to sew together her skirts and learn how to make a swag gathered front for her. I think I'll have a go at doing something for the back of her gown I've not tried before too, but I'm still thinking about what that might be :)

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