Sunday, August 10, 2014

A Painted Empire Gown




I made this dress for a Regency dinner party with a few of my dearest friends way back in March, but it was dark and rainy and my hair didn't want to cooperate that night, so I didn't get very many blog-worthy pictures of the dress at that time.  I kept thinking that I would get dressed up again and do a photoshoot during the spring, but then life happened and time just slipped away.  Part of the problem is that this outfit seems too fancy for most of my usual photoshoot settings.  Plus, once I add 24 inches of ridiculous feathers sticking straight off the top of my head, I'm well over 7 ft. tall, and that's no fun in a car, as you can see from one of the photos from March!  So I made myself a little backdrop in my sewing room last weekend and took some pics that I am finally happy to share.

The inspiration for this dress came from two major sources.  First, I fell in love with the shape of this 1797 printed gown from the Musée de la Toile de Jouy.  It is almost like an open robe with those flaps under the bust, but it appears to be all one piece like a round gown.  I don't think I ever found another example quite like that, but I love it like crazy so I decided to do something similar with my own dress.

But I also fell in love with the idea of painting a design on my dress.  There are loads of examples of painted dresses from the 18th century, but it seemed to be less popular during the Empire period.  But I did find a several examples of Empire dresses with painted borders in Gallery of Fashion, webbed by the Bunka Gakeun library.  One of my favorites was this dress that is described as a "robe of white tiffany, with a painted border of vines".

Painted textiles during this period were typically made with tempera paints, but I couldn't imagine doing work like this with a paint that is water soluble, so I cheated and used satin finish acrylics instead.  It took quite a bit of trial and error before I came up with a design that I liked, but my final pattern was inspired by the top design this 1815 embroidery pattern sheet from Ackermann's Repository.  EK Duncan has webbed a large number of these embroidery patterns on her website, My Fanciful Muse, and they were an enormous help when I was creating my design.

The painting was a bit long and tedious, but not particularly difficult.  My research found that the fabric "tiffany", which was mentioned in the painted border fashion plate, could be a thin silk similar to taffeta.  I was thrilled to find some semi-sheer silk taffeta at my favorite local fabric store, Fabrique, that seemed like it would be a good modern substitute for tiffany.  It made painting a million times easier because I was able to draw off a few repeats of the design, then create large stretches by splicing copies of that drawing together.  I was able to place this pattern under my fabric while painting so I didn't have to transfer the design to my fabric at all.  I painted each section in stages (leaves, then flowers, then final shading) to streamline the process.  I painted the bodice and sleeves before assembly because I wanted to line those areas and I wouldn't be able to see my pattern once it was assembled, but I painted the skirt after hemming since it was unlined.  My original design idea used a very wide border with lots of different colors, but even though I'm a fast painter, I had to scale it back by a LOT because it took so much longer than I expected.


I drafted my own pattern for this dress by altering the pattern from my 1790s round gown.  The silk on the bodice is flatlined with white cotton so that the color would be consistent compared to the fabric over my chemise sleeves and petticoat, and then the bodice is lined with linen.  The gathered front section and sleeves are lined with white voile since they are so sheer and I don't like seeing too much of my undergarments through the dress.  The bodice closes with lacing on the foundation layer, then the front is gathered down on two ties at the neckline and waist, then the outer bodice flaps hook in the center front.  To conserve fabric the gown is pieced in several places, which you can see here under the arms.  The entire dress is hand-sewn using 18th c. sewing techniques with linen and silk thread.


To finish off the outfit, I am wearing my collet necklace and earrings from Dames a la Mode and a super long paisley shawl.  My turban and feathers are huge and crazy and fun, but I think I liked the simple look even better when I switched out the turban for a brass headband, which is actually a repurposed Victorian papier mache bowl handle.


I realize that this style of dress is a bit of an acquired taste.  The crazy high backs and kooky headwear are pretty odd looking, and the heavily gathered skirts are not the most slimming fashions ever created.  But for some reason, I just can't get enough of these late 1790s dresses!  There is just something about these fashions that feel so elegant and exotic when you wear them.  Here are some of my favorite pics, and there are a few more on flickr.










40 comments:

Gina said...

Oh my....I am at a loss of words to describe how this dress makes me feel! I am so incredibly impressed, once again, with your talent! Your painting is astounding! The color of the skirt is luminous! It literally glows! I ADORE your huge feather! What fun! WOW! I am just in awe of this incredible dress and your hair and turbans and fun bits! Very well done Jennifer!
Blessings!
Gina

Katherine C-G said...

So incredibly stunning! And the pictures are just gorgeous.

I'm with you on the 1790s love. It's just such a fun period. It's almost like they were making everything up as they transitioned from 18c to Regency. Of course, they also had no idea where they were going :)

Sarah W said...

Utterly beautiful! Very well done indeed!

I've been thinking about painting a border of flowers on an every day skirt (that in my case are often inspired by history or fantasy), and if the result can be this gorgeous... :)

Kleidung um 1800 said...

This is so beautifully done! Almost speechless! I love that you usually go for the more unusual techniques and deliever it to us with valuable research! Thank you very much for the detailed information and the amazing photos :)

Sabine

Andrew Schroeder said...

Really beautiful, and quite flattering on you!

Magrat said...

I. Love. It. Gorgeous <3

Nora said...

I agree with everybody above, this gown is so gorgeous! I was entranced with the pictures, you've captured the essence of the era perfectly. I love the massive feathers and the colour scheme of the photos. Your work is an inspiration!

cathgrace said...

I really think this is honestly the most stunningly beautiful recreation from this era I have ever seen, it's amazing!

Anne Elizabeth said...

Wow! The borders are beuatifully done, I love your hairstyle, tiara and jewellery, and I am in love with the construction of the gown! I would love to make a similar one.
I also love the fluffy 1790s!

vintagevisions27 said...

Absolutely beautiful! The painted border is wonderfully done. :) And you photos are perfect, they look just like paintings of the time period.
-Emily

vintagevisions27.blogspot.com

Glennis Siegfried said...

The paintwork along the edges is absolutely beautiful! I've never seen a dress with this detail work before and it definitely makes it stand out. Congratulations on such a beautiful dress!

Steph said...

This is exquisite! You look perfectly 1790s, and the painting blows me away. So perfectly shaded! I love the 1790s, too. Just because a style doesn't create the slimmest silhouetted doesn't mean it isn't beautiful. It's elegant and yes, exotic. I actually much prefer the earlier neoclassical influences of the 1790s and first few years of the 1800s to the later, more romantic and overwrought styles that developed. And the flat fronted gowns are harder to look elegant in when you've got curves. You've inspired me with this gown.

TessQ said...

This is stunning!!! Every laudatory word that comes to mind somehow doesn't seem adequate enough -- I am in awe of your accomplishment.

Congratulations!

Fiorina said...

I'm blown away - incredibly beautiful! It was worth waiting so long for you to make pictures!
So very very beautiful!

D' Nalof Fashion said...

I never knew that they painted designs on their gowns of that era! Thank you so much for that bit of information. Your workmanship and commitment to quality shines thru on this amazing ensemble. Thank you for inspiring us all!

Lauren Stowell said...

WOW! Just incredible. You make it look so simple!

Eleonora Amalia said...

This photoshoot is flawless, honestly, each picture deserves to be painted and I swear they would be masterpieces! (Well, ok, except the wedgie one, it will be weird, haha). Swoon! Not to mention the gown, which is, not surprisingly, gorgeous as well. Aah, so well done!

ZipZip said...

Darn it, Google apparently ate the first comment.

As usual, you nailed the era perfectly. It's a fantastic outfit and it's so good to see someone else trying out the painted effects. Sure, they're time-consuming, but the result is gorgeous.

Chinese-painted export textiles used mineral and vegetable paints in a very limited series of colors, and flowers were painted over a white base, perhaps to help them pop more, perhaps for chemical reasons. You can still get mineral-based paints today, although they're not everywhere and you might have to mix your own. There are some good research articles on 18th century painted textiles out there.

Very best,

Natalie

Caroline said...

I believe you have outdone yourself. Perfection. Just Perfection!

Caroline

Black Tulip said...

Absolutely beautiful, and I am in awe of your skills with a paintbrush.

Samantha said...

these pictures are SO gorgeous, i can't stand it!!! you remind me of holiday grainger in some of them!

Eva said...

You really are my favourite costumer in the whole world - everythign you do is so amazing, often unusual and always spot on!

Time Traveling in Costume said...

Bravo! It's just exquisite and the photos are breath-taking. Your attention to details really finish this gown.
Val

The Quintessential Clothes Pen said...

I love this dress. The painting is exquisitely executed. I would steal it right out of your closet if I could!

Best,
Quinn

Jen Bristow said...

Beautiful! I love 1790s too. Such inspiration!

Kendra said...

Keel over and die STUNNING.

Jennifer Rosbrugh said...

Simply fabulous!!

thepragmaticcostumer said...

This is so perfect! I would never have the patience to paint so neatly around every edge as you did and the tissue-thin silk shimmers like angel's wings. Which brand of acrylics did you choose? They applied very nicely. Did it make the hem stiff at all?

You look gorgeous as always! I hazard to say many lovely poems would have been written about your elegance and charms back in the day. Josephine would have been so jealous!

Siri Andersen said...

You have some serious skills, woman!
This is just lovely :)

Natalie Ramirez said...

This is so amazing!

Sandi Dreer said...

Love this! And you look amazing in it!

theladyrebecca said...

Gorgeous! Your dress is beautiful, and your pictures came out so perfectly!

Jennifer D'Onofrio said...

The silk you chose is gorgeous and drapes beautifully! What kind of silk did you use.?

Jen Thompson said...

Thanks for the super nice comments, everybody!

thepragmaticcostumer: I used Americana multi-surface satin paints. They are the small 2 oz. bottles sold in craft stores. The painting didn't make the fabric stiff at all, and it didn't bleed or soak through the fabric either. I also was able to spot wash the hem and iron it after my evening in the rain, and it didn't hurt a thing. I was really happy with them!

Jennifer: the fabric is a thin silk taffeta that I bought from a local Dallas fabric store called Fabrique that caters to the bridal market.

americanseamstress said...

Holy mackerel! That is amazing! And the pictures set it off perfectly!

love3angle said...

Oh Jennifer, from the Magical Closet of Beautiful Things, this takes the cake! Really, really well done, my dear.

Isis said...

My goodness, I'm in awe of your patience! The result is gorgeous!

threadingthroughtime said...

Absolutely exquisite work and such a lovely gown! It does indeed look like it's glowing. I've wondered how the painted satins were done - thanks for the mini tutorial!

Claartje Steenbergen-Dekker said...

This is gorgeous! Wish I could make something like this!

eva´s kleidertruhe said...

I love ALL pictures of you in that fabulous dress! It´s perfect!!

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