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Mme. de Grande Rose

Mme. de Grande Rose (that’s “Lady of Big Pink”, for
the non-francophones in the audience) was inspired by one of Boucher’s Mme.
de Pompadour portraits. The portrait was used more as a starting point than
a goal, and the dress does depart from the design standards of eighteenth century
dress on several levels. This is a theatrical piece. The purists in the audience
should probably stop reading now. ;)

Still there? Ok. Here’s the gory details…..

I was commissioned by my client, Stephanie,
to make this dress for her halloween festivities. She was kind enough to contact
me almost a full year before needing the dress. Nine months ago, she politely
reminded me that she was, in fact, serious. (I really do need hints like that,
unfortunately.) Four months ago, things finally calmed down enough that I could
really start to focus on this project. Now, she and i still live in different
states, 8 or so hours apart, so I sent her the list of measurements I needed,
and she sent me back the numbers, then I made up a moulage (it’s a draft with
no wearing ease — basically a dress form cover. They’re brilliant, but the
draft is a little tricky). I sent the finished moulage for her to try on, and
amazingly, it fit. (Why is that amazing? You had to be there for the part of
the conversation that went, “I changed a couple of your measurements so
that your bust point wouldn’t end up past your armscye…..”) So, moulage
in hand, I started a little research since the eighteenth century is not, precisely,
my era. And then a ren faire happened.

Around the middle of august, it started to dawn on me that september
was rapidly approaching, and the month after that is october, and I had to send
the dress out. At that point, I didn’t have fabrics or, for that matter, a firm
idea what I was doing. Or a design. So, I did what any good costumer would do,
and stuck my head back into the sands of obsessive research. The eighteenth
century has a very different feel to it, aesthetically, than the sixteenth,
and I was trying to re-adjust my expectations. When september started, I knew
I was well and truly screwed, so I figured I should probably start working on
the corset, at least….. So I picked out some fabrics from my stash, and proceeded
to stare blankly at them for a week. And then I decided I hated them. They were
ALL WRONG. I couldn’t understand why, but I knew they were ALL WRONG.

Well, after about 19 nervous breakdowns and a lot of whining,
I realized that a huge part of the problem had to do with my color choices.
Namely, given any choice, I will choose color. Big, bright, saturated color.
Two or more big colors that don’t, technically, “match” is a preference.
But the eighteenth century was a bit, how shall we say, pastel. (“Pastel”
is only two letters away from a four letter word in my world.) Well then. About
those mental shifts? I burnt out the cranial clutch on that one.

And then I found the *perfect* fabric, and it was good, and
it was right this time (and no one would have to be nailed to anything), and
I went out and bought several more perfect fabrics, and got started. The *perfect*
fabric was a piece of golden-beige silk with raised and cut embroidery in a
floral motif (all in dark reds, latte brown, and dark moss green). I decided
it would go with salmon and dark gold. Just trust me on that one…..

The corset was made following a period sketch shown in Corsets
and Crinolines (Waugh). Unfortunately, this requires boning channels that cross,
which is immensely annoying to sew on a machine. So I used a sew in boning.
Yes, you read that right. I used Ridgeline. I would never in my life have considered
that, if I hadn’t spent the last two semesters with a teacher who feels that
Ridgeline is the One True Boning ™. It turns out there’s a trick to getting
it in so that the little rods won’t poke out, and like any other boning, it’s
all in how much of it you use and how you run it. The corset works. And I didn’t
have to sew down crossing channels. I’ll take that.

What didn’t work, originally, was the blasted pannier. Now,
my client told me that the panniers “couldn’t possibly be wide enough”,
so I added a little extra fabric in to the pattern in Corsets and Crinolines
(and by pattern, I mean sketch), threw a hail mary, and started sewing. Panniers
turn out to be a surprisingly sensitive suspension system, and I, being totally
insensitive to how they actually work, didn’t get that right. And the boning
I used wasn’t strong enough to make up for my engineering mistake. They collapsed,
like a paper kite in a storm.

So in a fit of total desperation (“I don’t have time for
this to go wrong!”) I went hunting through the local super-mega-everything-mart
(aka, Meijers) looking for *anything* that would trigger a flash of invention.
(It’s important, if you’re at this stage of desperation, to head to a store
that has automotive, hardware, and homegoods all under the same roof. Being
able to get chocolate and alcohol at the same place is a bonus.) The answer
I settled upon involved two children’s animal pop-up hampers — one chicken
(what could be more traditional than sacrificing a chicken while praying for
a miracle?) and one cow (which was cute, in a scary-demented-gay-rodeo-cow sort
of way) — and a pool noodle. It’s just not a costumer trick unless you use
a pool noodle somehow. (The trick here was explaining to my sweetie why it was
that I really needed to find a pool noodle in the middle of september, when
they’re well out of season, and then why it was that I was buying the store
out of them. He didn’t seem to think that these were at all a clothing item,
so I was standing in the middle of the aisle demonstrating the .107 ways to
wear a noodle’.) The problem was that the hampers were 18″ diameter, and
I needed something no more than 16″ diameter (because the panniers shouldn’t
be significantly wider than the person front-to-back), and, honestly, I didn’t
want to explain to my client why I was asking her to wear a freaky-creepy-rodeo-cow
under her skirts. So I thought, hey, easy-peesey, I’ll just make a little tube
the right size, sew bias tape around it, and insert the spring wire. THIS IS
NOT EASY. DO NOT DO THIS. The spring in these buggers is about 20′ long when
it’s not in the stupid hamper, and it has a mind of it’s own. Much better to
destroy the hamper to get at the spring as you’re putting it into the new tube,
inch by inch, than fight the 20′ spring which will manage to thread itself through
the louvered doors of the laundry area and hold on for dear life. Even better,
shop around and find the right size flipping pop-up hamper. Oy. Anyway, I mounted
the hampers on a fitted yoke, secured the side nearest the body to force them
into a maraconi shape, then hacked off a few chunks of pool noodle to serve
as “bumpers” so the highly ornery wires couldn’t beat on my client.
And thus was born the pop-up pannier. (It collapses for packing and driving!
You have to know I’ll use the same trick if I ever have to make a bustle gown….)

Around that time, ten yards of pink taffeta arrived at my door,
and I ordered a million jillion yards of lace, and got busy. The dress is a
sacque-back, which is another surprisingly sophisticated eighteenth century
pattern which I promptly screwed up. But I got it straightened out, and the
assembly of the dress was surprisingly uneventful (especially given my incredible
attention to detail and frequent habit of saying, “eh, I need a piece that
looks about like this…” while cutting). The trim was, well, ok, it was
just plain annoying. I think I made about 45 yards of rolled-edge ribbon out
of changeable chiffon, then I had to put together the trimmings on the dress.
The salmon trim was all sewn with a scallop stitch, which I trimmed around to
get that lovely decorative ruffle effect that was popular at the time. (I spent
a lovely few hours listening to a lecture class while leaving little bitty pink
triangles on the floor beneath the little chair-desk thinger. My teacher was
amused.) The yellow trim over that has a rolled edge and metallic lace. The
full piece of trim for the fronts and neck of the dress is 360″ long, gathered
down to fit and scalloped. The little bits of lace in the negative of the scallop
each have their own little bitty bow. (Because I’m pathologically insane, that’s
why.) Those four dainty butterfly bows at the front of the dress are actually
the closure — they hide snaps. Yes, snaps. Don’t give me that look…. If I’ve
learned one thing from the theater, it’s “rig everything”. Besides,
it’s hard to tie nice bows when there’s someone in the dress squirming, right?
The underskirt was simple enough. It’s just loads and loads of trim work. There’s
somewhere over 65 yards of metallic laces in this dress, I believe. And 30+
yards of regular lace. I also decorated the shoes (they started out white) and
made some fun little shoe roses.

Then I packed it all up into a big ol’ box, overnighted it,
and waited to find out if it actually fit the client. Which it did. Hoorah!
And ain’t she pretty? :)

Anyway, that’s my story, and I’m stickin’ to it.

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