Thursday, May 26, 2011

My Efforts to Promote Study & Preservation

Collections: My own collection of reproductions has been a labour of love for the past twenty years. While I may not finish a garment on a yearly basis, the scope of this project has been in the works that long. Basically, my aim is to recreate examples of the evolution of women's dress from 1800 to 1915. I have chosen to focus on five year intervals to best illustrate this development.  I have taken this trunk show to our local high schools, where I am able to work with grade 11 & 12 students in various aspects of their curriculum. Usually, I am able to find one or two young ladies who are anxious enough and small enough to be dressed and laced into corsets, underpinnings et al.  The response has always been very positive and encouraging. It has been great fun. I have also worked with our local historical societies. Often the result is the gift of a family heirloom or bit of lace to add to my collections or a new member for the Costume Society of Ontario.

Display promoting the Costume Society of Ontario at Montgomery's Inn.  Pieces are my reproductions.

Recollections:  I have to say that my favorite period to reproduce has been the Edwardian age.  The details and textiles that one can work with are the most fun.  It also places high demands on your sewing skills and your pocket book.  The black lace dress below, I created in the early 1990's.  The skirt consists of three layers of fabric.  That's 15 yards!  A satin lining, over that, pink chiffon and over that, black lace.  The lace for the skirt is of the period.  I was able to find it in an antique store and it was the impetus for the recreation.  Remarkably, it is woven in one piece!  Only a center back seam is employed.  The lace is one large ovoid shape of gored panels.  Quite an engineering feat!   Even more remarkably, I was able to purchase it for $45.00.  It is in mint condition.  The remaining lace used in the bodice and sleeves is basic yard goods.  I didn't hesitate mixing the laces, the Edwardians did also.

Ambitions: I have been collecting fabrics and trims, as you can see, to recreate an Edwardian tea gown. The process can be a long and involved one for me. Sometimes, years in fact. The printed chiffon I purchased over 2 years ago. The fuchsia linen was given to me over ten years ago and the laces that I am currently "auditioning" have been accumulated for several years. In all, between drafting the pattern and final execution, the project has been in my mind for the better part of this decade, but that is how I work. Don't expect to see the finished project any time soon.

Period photographs, fashion illustrations, colour references, and post cards are all acquired and filed away in my scrapbook for future reference and inspiration.

The dress that got away. Ebay

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Re-creating and Collecting

Collections:  It was exposure to museum collections in Britain, Europe, the USA and here at home that I nurtured my interest in the textile arts.  My desire to learn more about the topic led me to the Costume Society of Ontario in the early 1990's.  Among like minded individuals, my curiosity and understanding of the importance of textile conservation and preservation was developed.
                                          CSO tour to U.K.  Winchester lecture, 1997
Museum collections have proven to be valuable in many ways. Through careful observation, drawing and note taking, I am able to better execute an authentic reproduction or even copy the original with some degree of accuracy.  Colours and trims, seam placements and darts do not go unnoticed.  These details have the ability to take your creation to the next level.  These careful observations can also be applied to more contemporary projects.  The skills of the needle worker of yesterday have gone far to inspire my own work.  I choose not to copy existing garments, but rather to be inspired by them.  In this way I can bring my own creative talents forward, while remaining somewhat in the past.

Recollections:  Eventually, like many of the members I began to re-create and eventually to collect.  The decision to collect is not an easy one, nor should it be taken lightly.  Apart from the costs associated with acquisition, their is always the problem of storage and preservation.  An on going battle between the desire to display and preserve makes for some hard decisions.  Luckily for me, I don't have a mannequin small enough for the former, so the later is naturally taking care of itself.

                                                        1898 silk damask ball gown.  Purchased from Ebay.  Authors collection

Apart from my own small collection, I have had the privilege to view the collections of fellow CSO members.  I have even loaned pieces to the Toronto Historical Society for exhibitions at Spadina House.

Ambitions:  The dress below I created with references from several sources.
                                          Silk dress made by author.  Based on 1825
References below for my re-creation.  How successful was I?
Ackermann's Repository, 1825
Galleria del Costume, Pitti Palace, Florence
Pattern Sketch

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

In the beginning....

Collections:  For my first foray into the material world, I thought that I would share with you how it all began.  My initial exposure to the textile arts, and in particular costume history, came in the early 1980's on my first trip to London, England.  Already interested in art & design, I naturally ventured into the Victoria and Albert museum.  With the furniture galleries my primary interest, I was taken aback and amazed at the depth and scope of the dress collection.  Here, before me, were examples dating back to the early 17th century!  The galleries at that time, and for well over a decade later, presented a chronological display of the evolution of men's and women's costume.  A fabulous resource, which I was able to draw upon many years later while escorting my own students through these very spaces.  In 1997, as program chair of the Costume Society of Ontario, I led 24 enthusiastic members on a 7 day journey into several collections in England.  At the V&A, we were taken behind the scenes into the storage areas where curator, Susan North, shared her access to many pieces too fragile to be put on display.  I particularly remember a woman's bodice of black work embroidery executed in strapwork patterns and insects.  It dated to the late 16th century and unfortunately, the silk thread was deteriorating, due to the mordant used in the black dye.  You can see the areas on the shoulders and upper bust where the silk thread has completely eroded.  What was fascinating is that the penciled pattern and needle holes were still quite apparent.  Susan showed us that this garment was made up first and then embroidered!  It must have been very awkward to decorate indeed.  She suggested that this bodice would probably not last another 100 years unless some new conservation method could be found to preserve it.  Such a shame.  Currently, these galleries are undergoing a refurbishment and won't be open until the spring of 2012.  I am planning to create another textile tour to Britain for that opening.  I'll keep you posted on how that develops.  All are welcome.
                                           16th black work embroidery.  Collection of V&A. CSO tour, 1997.
Recollections: Within a decade of seeing that exhibition I began to sew.  I had been quilting since the age of 17, but garment sewing and its nuisances now attracted my attention.  I began to develop my craft and within a few years, I was able to draft patterns and create my own designs.  In 1991, I joined the Costume Society of Ontario and soon began collecting vintage clothing.  The craftsmanship and textiles themselves had captured my interest.  I started recreating examples of historic dress around the same time.  I volunteered to create an Edwardian wedding gown for a high school production of "Our Town."  The budget was limited, but 13 yards of cotton and 50 yards of lingerie lace later, we had our dress for $80.00!  Two years later, the young lady who wore the gown in the production actually wore it on her own wedding day.  I have continued to sew, quilts and costumes, ever since.  The research and acquisition of just the right fabrics and trims gives me as much pleasure as the finished garment.  I have been fortunate enough to travel throughout Europe, leading groups interested in the arts and design.  Every where I go, I seek out textile and costume collections to view.  Over the life of this blog, I will continue to share and elaborate on experiences with you.  Perhaps you'll be planning a trip of your own and I can point you in the direction of a little known or obscure collection.
                                                      Detail.  Christian Dior day dress. 1949. Metropolitan Museum of Art

Ambitions: Currently, I am creating a sample for a workshop on crazy quilting and embellishment techniques. Silks, antique laces, beading, applique and embroidery are all coming together to make this wall hanging.
                                           Detail:  My current project, 2011

And of course:  Compiling my wish list for a textile tour to the U.K. in 2012!  Any suggestions?  All would be welcome.