Thursday, January 15, 2015

A Look Back: Consuelo

My love of the Gilded Age, Industrial Revolution, and Belle Epoque time period, is something that if you know me, you probably hear far too much about!  I am a huge Downton Abbey fan.  Growing up in western North Carolina, the Biltmore Estate was a constant family field trip.  We went countless Christmases to see the decorations and more times than I could remember when visitors and family came into town.  The Vanderbilt's life and stories fascinated me.  The Boldini painting hung on the staircase captured my imagination.  It was a time period full of contradictions, full of extremes, full of juicy stories, full of amazing stitching.  Most intriguing to me is how American wealthy family literally bought British and European culture-- their titles and their possessions.

The Smithsonian channel is running a new series based on these Dollar Princesses.  Here is a link to Million Dollar American Princesses.  I am two episodes in and it is fabulous (so are all the books that the guest speakers have written if you are interested!).  It is my excitement about this new series and Downton Abbey season 5 just starting in the US this week that inspired me to do a "throw back" post to my thesis project.  

When it came time to choose the inspiration for my thesis project in grad school, I knew I wanted to focus on bridal fashion and embroidery, but I could not decide on a concept.  One of my peers asked me, "Who would be your dream client of all time?"  "Consuelo Vanderbilt," was my reply without even blinking.  And, so I embarked on a 2 year adventure that took me from North Carolina to Newport, Rhode Island to Blenheim Palace and London.   I read everything that I could get my hands on concerning Consuelo Vanderbilt, America's Gilded Age, Victorian and Edwardian Britain, and a phenomenon that has a grip on me-- the Dollar Princesses, the group of girls traded from wealthy American families to British and European noble families for titles.  The British and European families were in need of a new cash infusion.  The American families needed social status and acceptance, which a title granted automatically. 

For my project, Consuelo:  The Glitter of a Dollar Duchess, I handcrafted a modern wedding gown inspired by Consuelo’s marriage to the 9th Duke of Marlborough using a vocabulary of ivory silk satin and silver embroidery. I explored the blending of tradition with modernity, as illustrated in the many American Nouveau Riche that “invaded” British society at the end of the 19th Century.  It was my desire to honor Consuelo with this dress while also alluding to some of the realities in her situation. 

The final gown was embroidery with over 73 individual motifs including 8 sets of strawberry leaves to represent the Duke's coronet, orange blossoms to represent Victorian wedding happiness, and acorns to represent the Vanderbilt family.  Silver was chosen for the embroidery and the petticoat as it had been a popular choice for numerous European and British royal brides over the centuries that served as the inspiration for these arranged marriages established for economic, social and political gain. 
Below are some images of my final piece, but if you would like to see my whole process below is a link to my thesis blog (or you could check out my written thesis at the NC State University library!).  All the hand embroidery was completed by myself.  The gown and petticoat were handcrafted by myself utilizing traditional couture dressmaking methods.  My blog covers the whole process from the sampling, patternmaking, fitting, constructing, embroidering, and finishing the final gown and petticoat. 

Gown Materials: 
100% Silk Double-faced Satin with Silver metal threads (some are silver plated, some of 90% silver, see previous posts for specifics for each motif)

Petticoat Materials:  
Bra top is ivory 100% silk Duchess satin with natural cotton padded bust cups.
Corselet is 100% cotton tulle with grosgrain casings filled with spiral steel boning.
Skirt Yoke and Lining is 100% natural silk Double-face Satin with tea stained Valencienne lace trim and blue grosgrain ribbon bows.
Outer Skirt and Bustle is Silver Silk Metallic Tissue (warp is silk, weft is metal) with 3" white horsehair braid and tea stained Valencienne lace trim.
Studio Photographs by:  Austin Simmons
Detail photographs by: Katherine Diuguid
Model:  Leigh Hawkins
Pedestal:  Trevor Lacasse
Hair and Nails:  Alter Ego, Raleigh
Make-up:  Katherine Diuguid, Leigh Hawkins, and Shelley Smith
Location:  Carol Grotnes Belk Rotunda, Brooks Hall, College of Design, NC State

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Posey Casket Toy- Finished (I think)

I think I have finished the Posey Casket Toy from the Tricia Nguyen workshop I took at the Winterthur Needlework Conference.  I love the sculptural aspect of these casket toys.  I love the fiddliness of them and the challenge!  Really it has inspired so many ideas I want to try that I want to move on to those! 

 When I did the second flower, I thought it would be interesting to try to cover the center with French knots.  I started with the same silk covered cotton form as the first flower and then added lots of french knots when I attached the center to the flower.  I think it needs some refining, but I'm quite fond of the texture it gives the center.  I'm looking forward to experimenting with this more in the future!
 I tried the bullion knot seeds again on the second strawberry!  They seemed to come out better than on the first one.  The trickiest part of the bullion knots seeds is taking care of the Soie Ovale thread.  It likes to catch on everything that has any kind of texture (including finger prints). 

 Something that caught me by surprise with this exercise is that I found the flowers and the strawberries lots of fun and the leaves very tricky.  I kept getting very annoyed at the shape of the leaf distorting or just not being as "leafy" as I wanted.  Finally by the last leaf I completed, I realized that I was starting with too short of a first turn which meant that the leaf quickly went too straight with the subsequent rows (you can see it in the bottom leaf in the photo below). 
Finally, I found a sharp, sharp needle completely mandatory for working with the Soie Ovale and the silk braids.  I could actually hear a certain squeaky noise when the needle would start to dull and then it would start to catch on the silk braids, damaging the integrity of the thread and silk of the braid.