Monday, 16 July 2012

Great Aunt Margaret, Cousin Clara, And Christina Rossetti In Progress

 It's really nice to be off work on Annual Leave. I've had lots of time to work on my dolls, and we've been having fun and doing lots of good stuff. Two of my bald Victorian beauties have been finished, and Christina is coming along really well too.

Great Aunt Margaret love to dance. If she could she’d dance all day long and balls would last forever. But now she waits, clinging to the portrait of her as a young girl, hovering in the background and sometimes playing a few harmless tricks on the people of the house. Sometimes she blows on their neck as they sit quietly, sometimes tapping them on the shoulder or brushing past them so they feel her cold presence. Mostly she waits for the music and the lights, the beautiful, colourful dresses and smart young gentlemen to offer her their hand. She waits for the day when everything will make sense again as she’s really not too sure about these new styles – the girls look hardly dressed at all. But she likes them, and longs for the day when she’ll be able to dance alongside them.

While flicking through Facebook a few weeks ago I spotted a post by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York and fell completely in love with the bronze of The Dancer by Bessie Onahotema Potter Vonnoh. I decided to make Great Aunt Margaret in the same style of dress as this beautiful figure. I really enjoyed finding out more about the styles of this 1820’s/30’s and sewing the stunning fabrics to make her outfit.
Great Aunt Margaret saw some unusual fashions during her life time; from the gauze hardly opaque fine muslin of the Regency period to the huge cage crinoline skirts of the early Victorian. But she always remembers her youth as her happiest time, right in between the two, so that is how I’ve dressed her. She has no drawers on as they hadn’t come in then (she always thought them horrible un-hygienic things anyway) and wears a long shift and a number of petticoats, one of white cotton and three of white cotton voile two of which are trimmed at the hem with lace (this is a party dress after all). Her soft cotton muslin gown is fitted to be fuller at the sides and back with a flatter stomach, and the waist isn’t quite so high as it had once been. Full sleeve were in full fashion at the time, so I have supported her puffs with a little stuffing to replicate the supports that ladies wore. And her white muslin shawl has been hand embroidered in tiny chain stitch to give it more style. She’s all ready to dance…

Cousin Clara is in the unwanted position of having to live her life at the beck and call of an older, richer cousin. Like many ladies of her class during the 1840’s – 1850’s poor Clara was left destitute by the death of her husband and had no other choice than to become a “Companion” to her relative. She lives a life that is not her own, not quite a servant, but not near an equal. She’s a quiet, kind, beautiful woman that’s still quite young. Maybe one day she’ll be lucky enough to have a family of her own.

For a woman like Clara there were very few options. She had no father living or brother available to look after her. She could lower herself to work as a governess, and for a time spent her days teaching the children their music and needlework, but her cousin insists that she’s a needed member of the household, even though in many ways she treats Clara more like a pet than a woman. Clara I one of the lucky ones; hers could have been a much worse fate.
Cousin Clara wears all the right period undies, and so many petticoats she can actually stand up by herself. As well as her standard white cotton petticoat she has one of calico with a corded hem (before the cage crinoline), one of course brown cotton, and a fancy black and white stripy number with a deep ruffle at the hem. Her orange cotton gown has a small line and dot pattern in a darker shade, and has a wide set neckline worn over a silk neckerchief. The pointed bodice, accordion pleated skirts and tailored sleeves I made to show some of the simple details of 1840’s – 1850’s fashion. Clara also wears a warm Welsh wool shawl and a lace cap.

Christina Rossetti has been a long time in the making as I wanted her to be perfect so had to wait for the perfect material to arrive for her dress. She's been sitting in her undies for ages it seems, glaring at me over a pile of fabric on my table. Accusing me of keeping her in a state of undress. But the perfect fabric at last arrived and I got to making her dress as soon as Great Aunt Margaret and Cousin Clara had stopped demanding my attention.

I bought the nicest dark navy cotton lawn fabric that has an almost satin finish and gentle sheen. I can honestly say that I'm never disappointed with the fabric I get from Croft Mill, and if your looking for something nice for a project don't forget to check them out -

I'm making Christina as she would have been during her early to mid 30's, around the early 1860's as she was born in December of 1830.

I'm not really sure if you can see because of the pattern of her fancy top petticoat, and I've tried to fluff it up a bit, but there's an extra panel sewn onto the back of it that has been gathered to add extra weight. Both the top two petticoats, this one and the pale blue cotton one beneath that has a deep ruffle at the hem, are gathered more tightly at the back and the front kept as flat as possible to help control the skirt shape further.
I'd honestly love to spend a day wearing clothes like these. One day I'm going to have to bite the bullet and make myself my own Victorian outfit I guess, but for now I'll stick with my vintage rather than the antique :)

It's taking me a while to get Christina's skirts finished as I'm trying out something new to trim the hem. I've added ruffles and ribbon, tucks and embroidery before. But this era demands something a little more.

The navy cotton lawn is such lovely crisp fabric to work with, although it is quite grippy on the needle and has resulted in a few extra holes in my fingers. It does lend itself really well to pleats and gathers, not creating too much weight or fullness. And I've been drooling through my Manipulating Fabric book again so really wanted to try something a little different. There were so many techniques I could have chosen, but I've always thought of the gathered puff as something particularly Victorian. Around Christina's skirt hem there is now a ruffle of pretty lace followed by a 2.5cm gathered puff panel. I still need to add a gathered ribbon trim and some other bit's and pieces. Then I get to start on her sleeves and bodice :)

Hope your all having a lovely summer.

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