Monday, 10 August 2015

Great Queens of History

I'm very lucky to have wonderful strangers contact me asking me to make their ideas for them. Each one of these people have been kind and friendly, and interested in what I do and how I make my dolls. Many are from far away lands and can tell me about their homes as well as asking me about my country Wales and what it's like here. Recently I received a message from another of these lovely people, and this one has been very special.

Sari sent me a beautiful message after he came across my dolls on Etsy and ordered two of my ladies. His kindness was so touching, and really brightened my day. He has the rare skill of being able to make someone feel very special with only a few words. And he made me realise that there should be more of his kindness in the world. I will be taking his example and showing my appreciation for what others create in future by e-mailing and messaging them. I know how difficult it is to put what we make out into the world for others to judge, and hearts and likes on websites don't always convey how much someone else's art has touched us.

Our conversations turned to a mutual love of historical women and how women have been treated through the ages. Sari admired many of the same women that I do, and is fascinated with historical dress and the oddities that come up about social history through what we wear. I was thrilled when he asked me to make him not one but three very special ladies - Three Great Queens, Catherine de Medici, Anne Boleyn and Elizabeth I.

Each of these regal ladies are from different time periods - Catherine born in 1519 I chose to portray at age 34. A famous portrait of her by Francois Clovet shows her in black silk richly trimmed with gold and jewels and wearing a French Hood. Anne was Queen of England between 1533 and 1536 when Henry VIII had her beheaded for suspected adultery. And Elizabeth became a young Queen at age 25 in 1518 and went on to rule the country for 85 years. I find Elizabeth especially fascinating, and making Mother Anne and Daughter Elizabeth has been very interesting as Elizabeth was only 2 and a half when her mother was killed.

I started these three Royal ladies by researching costume design and ordering up the fabrics and trims I would need, and after carefully sculpting bodies, arms and legs, sanding and painting and stringing together I started on their underwear. The order I finished them in would depend on which order the fabrics I had ordered arrived. So I thought it best to start all of their underwear at the same time.
Catherine de Medici is rumoured to have introduced the wearing of drawers into France from Italy, but it was a long long time until such things became popular in England. Not until the sheer clinging styles of the Regency period in Britain did women start to wear underwear that now we wouldn't leave the house without (well, most of us anyway). And before then wearing such things was considered risque, not the lack of them.

So Catherine got her drawers while both Anne and Elizabeth had only their shifts to cover their modesty. All of them wear the same style of shift a this didn't change over a very long period, and I decorated them all with different patterns of blackwork. After this the underwear for each starts to differ, with Catherine and Anne needing softer stays while Elizabeth gets a stiff unbending corset. Catherine wears 2 petticoats of mustard coloured cotton lawn trimmed with gold lace under one of gold silk jacquard. Anne has one of red, one of Embroidery Anglaise, and another of fine white cotton lawn embroidered with Tudor roses. And Elizabeth has a red petticoat under one of thick stiff linen decorated with a wide tapestry band instead of a Farthingale (either were worn to hold the large skirt shapes).

Catherine is a very smart sophisticated French  Queen who is often shown by her portraits wearing black silk. I made her an underskirt of white silk decorated with gold and ruby coloured glass beading which she wears under a split over skirt, Barely visible over her neck and shoulders she has a silk panel before the square neckline of her gown, and her sleeves are simple with slight lace cuffs. She has a ruff of white and gold lace tied tightly at the neck, and her whole gown is decorated with an edging of gold lace and silver lined beads, ruby glass beads and tiny tiny pearls. On her head she wears her French Hood that I made using millinery sisal silk fabric, silk organza for the veil to hang in back and more beads and pearls. At her neck hand gold chains and a sparkling tear-drop shaped jewel.

Elizabeth has a more complicated over-decorated gown. She was known as The Virgin Queen and renowned as an icon of her country. All of her portraits show her dripping with rich silks, jewels and pearls, so I wanted to make sure I showed this in the gown I made her. Her silk jacquard underskirt is a bright gold with orange tones which works well with the cooler colours of the heavy silk brocade of her sac-back gown. She has mutton shaped sleeves with lace at the cuffs, and a gold silk open ruff around the neckline of her gown. The deep V of her bodice is layered over more of the gold jacquard and laced up each side, the stomacher decorated with lace, beading and pearls. I attached a rich gold wide Venice lace around the whole edge of her skirts, down the front edge of the split skirt and around the hem with it's slight train in the back. I also used parts of the lace to create designs in the front corners and on the back of her gown to add more detail.

Elizabeth sparkles and shines like nothing you've seen, but I'm afraid this doesn't show well in the photographs. It took me many hours to fill this lave edging with a mixture of gold lined beads in 2 sizes, opal glass beads, sterling silver, real pearls and cut crystal beads until every open space of the lace was filled with jewels. as you can imagine she now weighs quite a bit and again my mind is wondering on how these women managed to move at all with all that on.
On her head Elizabeth wears a pearl and gold tiara with a crystal jewel to match the one she has hanging at her neck. The back of her hair is decorated with loops of gold beading and pearl hair sticks.

Poor Anne is still being dressed as the silk for her gown took a long while to arrive from India. For all of the waiting this silk is a wonderful quality and has a beautiful sheen to it. I have her skirts and bodice attached, and her sleeves are half done. Next I'll be working on hanging velvet sleeves and her decoration.
I hope I can show you her very soon xxx