This post includes mainly working pictures which I hope will be interesting to see and which are intended to show what types of paper and processes I used to construct Fading Glory, the Regency Wardrobe ball gown.
As regards my research for this piece, as was the case for each piece in this collection, it too involved a lot of looking at pictures. I have tried to include an accurate range of images, in order to give an idea of the journey of thinking and looking I went through, toward making the style, colour and decoration choices I did.
Queen Charlotte, the Prince Regent's mother, was still presiding over royal drawing rooms in which court fashion and court dresses were elaborate and large even while the silhouette outside of court was slimming right down. Please see: https://janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/2015/10/24/awkward-the-regency-court-gown-regency-fashion/
For more images please click right
I looked at many dresses with trains during my research for this piece. I knew this gown was to be the centre piece of The Regency Wardrobe collection and I wanted it to make an impact. The subject matter of it's decoration, plus that of the chalked floor that would eventually lie beneath it, also added to my conviction that it would need to be of a style that had a train. That this mannequin must be presumed rich from the front was a given but that shewould stand atop (and seem therefore to be pulling the train of her dress through) imagery that hinted at the muddy complicated elements of poverty and war was equally as certain in my mind.
Outside of court evening wear was following general trends:
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London
"By 1810, brightly coloured and embroidered silks were as popular as white cotton and muslin for women's evening dresses. John Heathcote's bobbinet machine, patented in 1809, enabled fine net to be easily produced in wide widths for dresses, which could be hand-embroidered to achieve individual and attractive effects. Net dresses were worn with underdresses of plain silk, sometimes white, or in a matching colour."
It may seem that red was simply an obvious colour for me to choose for Fading Glory because of the associations I intended for it to have with imagery of warfare. However red also fitted perfectly as a contract to the black and white of all the other dresses in The Regency Wardrobe collection and would be, I knew, complimentary of the blue and/or scarlet of the men's uniforms I intended to make. And there was a third reason which I explain below. As I looked at more and more examples of dresses from this period I noted aspects of the decorative detailing that I liked and wanted to integrate, this certainly included reference to the open robe efffect of earlier decades.
The first image shown above is: "Costumes Parisiens 1811, plate no. 1124. A low-cut gown made of a beautiful pink cashmere shawl. Another shawl, white, is carried by the lady. Her headdress is of roses and pearls. The slashing on the long sleeves is part of the fad for Renaissance dress"
For more images please click right.
If I had to choose just one image however, as my primary inspiration, it would have to be this image of this fabulous ballgown, which (I believe) is held in a museum collection in Russia. I wanted this piece to include influences from all over the globe because she was being designed to stand on an image of the hemisphere's of the globe and to reflect international military events from the Regency era and since.
That said there are various images of this dress online and one credits it to Regency England (1811-1820) while another suggests it originated in Empire France (1799-1814). The Russian possibility looks likely when you consider other dresses of the time from there: https://ru-oldrussia.livejournal.com/159893.html#cutid1
It is described as a gold embroidered silk moire ceremonial dress, and in is said by more than one source to have been owned by the Dowager Tsarina Maria Fyodorovna, who according wikipedia was: "...known before her marriage as Princess Dagmar of Denmark...(she) was a Danish princess and Empress of Russia as spouse of Emperor Alexander III (reigned 1881–1894). She was the second daughter and fourth child of King Christian IX of Denmark and Louise of Hesse-Kassel; her siblings included Queen Alexandra of the United Kingdom, King Frederick VIII of Denmark and King George I of Greece. Her eldest son became the last Russian monarch, Emperor Nicholas II of Russia. She lived for ten years after he and his family were killed".
I would get to this...
...but I began with just this
I started out with red Duni tablecloth paper and stitching, folding and pinning I created a basic bodice shape around the mannequin.
I used card to stiften certain areas such as over the shoulders and began experimenting with the decoration, referncing the research I'd been doing into military medals, please see: https://stephaniesmart.wixsite.com/stephaniesmart/single-post/2019/05/01/The-Regency-Collection---research-for-The-Regency-Collection-ballgown---military-medals-buttons
I decided to concentrate on the grandest, this meant I was working mostly with the shapes of the beautiful garter star, the Civil Knight Grand Cross Star of The Order of the Bath and the cross of the The Royal Guelphic Order.
Aligning their halved outline forms meant I could use them around the border of the train.
There is always waste though of course. I try and recyle, by reusing, what I can; meaning I have boxes and boxes of off cuts of paper in my room. While I'm wroking I'm always creating a mess on the floor, dropping off cuts and pins and the cut off ends of thread as I go. There's something satisfying however about sweeping it all up at the end of the day while feeling you've progressed something.
I work using masking tape and pins to hold things in place and to try them out as I go.
This then was the third reason I had for making Fading Glory red. I was inspired both by the shape and colour of this fabulous liquid looking cloak made for a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Bath, and worn with star embroidered upon it.
Images and text from Dressed to Kill: British Naval Uniform, Masculinity and Contemporary Fashions, 1748 - 1857 by Amy Miller
So the shape of the dress and sleeves came together with the colour; though I chose red also to signify the blood of battle for the symbolism of the dress is not straightwforward. For more on this please see: https://stephaniesmart.wixsite.com/stephaniesmart/single-post/2020/01/07/The-Regency-Wardrobe-Collection---research---designing-the-chalked-floor
to see more images please click right...
When it came to decorating the front of the dress I knew I wanted a wedding cake shaped (ie. tiered) fountain, from the period. So I asked The Regency Town House curator Nick Tyson if he could direct me toward an image of one. He said of course it must be the impressive Victoria Fountain in the Old Steine Brighton. This fountain is, as it's name suggests, is linked to Queen Victoria, however it's orgins are earlier than that.
© Victoria and Albert Museum - Topographical print 1850
"The Victoria Fountain is located in the centre of the southern enclosure of the Old Steine Gardens. The fountain is thirty-two feet in height and includes a large, cast-iron pool with a rim decorated with egg-and-dart mouldings. Originally, the pool was filled with water lilies and goldfish. Sarsen stones in the centre of the pool were first found in the Steine by workers digging a trench in 1823. The sandstone blocks support three intertwined dolphins, upon which rests a shallow, cast-iron basin. Above this are two columns with an additional basin. The fountain owes its existence to the efforts of John Cordy Burrows. After the commissioners of the town of Brighton decided against erecting a fountain to commemorate Queen Victoria's accession to the throne in 1837, Burrows placed a private commission with British architect Amon Henry Wilds. The project was financed by Burrows and a public subscription, as well as the proceeds of a bazaar, concert, and night at the theatre. The dolphins were sculpted by William Pepper (1806–1887), who was from a Brighton family of wood carvers and sculptors. The castings were made by the Eagle Foundry on Gloucester Road in Brighton. The foundry was owned by partners John Yearsley and Robert Williams. Their firm also installed the fountain. The Victoria Fountain was inaugurated on 25 May 1846 in celebration of the twenty-seventh birthday of Queen Victoria. The ceremony featured a royal salute fired from the pier head at noon, coordinated with the starting of the fountain. Music had been commissioned for the event, including "Fountain Quadrilles" by Charles Coote, the son-in-law of Burrows. Local businesses closed at 3 o'clock that afternoon. The day's festivities concluded with fireworks."
Research photos by Liz Fitzsimons
With help from the RTH volunteers I reproduced in using paper quilling.
To see more images please click right...
And after several months of work she was done and stood for a moment with a naval Admiral during the professional photoshoot where I took took a few quick behind the scenes shots of my own.
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Details of the finished train
Three land based style Regency era canons with embroidered plumes of smoke represent the actuality of the raging of war on the back of the dress
Beautiful military buttons representing land and sea are sewn down the side of the skirt, made using coiled quilling paper as a base, card, paint and varnish.
Button credit to: Gilly Burton
I embroidered 4 sets of three teeth along the mid line of the end of the train to represent another gruesome truth about The Battle of Waterloo in particular. That is, that dead soldier's mouths were robbed of their teeth such that they might be wired together as dentures for the wealthy at home. To read more about this please see: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-33085031
To see this piece completed please check back in regularly at stephaniesmart.net
When the collection has been shown it will also become visible digitally.
The exhibition of The Regency Wardrobe collection has been postponed due to Coronavirus as soon as the collection has been shown more images of all the pieces willl be made visible on stephaniesmart.net
This project is being supported by:
Arts Council England, The Textile Society and Great Art