The Regency Wardrobe collection - research & making - Fading Glory
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 in order 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 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 as regards 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. So it seemed right to look to court dress.
As I decided on the subject matter for it's decoration, and that of the chalked floor that would eventually lie beneath it, the belief that it should be a style that had a train became a conviction.
That this mannequin must be presumed rich was a given but that she would stand atop (and seem therefore to be pulling the train of her dress through) imagery that hinted, at least, at the muddy complicated elements of poverty and war was equally certain in my mind.
Outside of court evening wear was following general trends, so skirts had slimmed:
© 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 this piece, 'Fading Glory,' because of the associations I intended, that is, with imagery linked to 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 was also intending to make. Often it is sheer white fabric and white work embroidery that comes to mind when dresses from this period are thought of and reproduced so I was heartened to find so many red examples.
But there was also another 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, common during earlier decades and not lost in the early 1800's.
"...the 'open robe', seen in Sense & Sensibility and commonly referred to as The Picnic Dress. I've seen dressmakers call this as a half-robe, however Norah Waugh in 'The Cut of Women's Clothes' refers to it as an open gown..."
And again here is an image, this time of the Empress Josephine earing an open robe creation at her coronation in 1806:
For an example of another from England please see:
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 real dress however, that served as my primary inspiration, it would have to be this fabulous ballgown, which (I believe) is held in a museum collection in Russia.
I wanted 'Fading Glory' to include influences from all over the globe because it (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. Employing Russian styling seemed apt for this reason alone but as I worked further with research Jill Vigus and eventally with Deborah Gage the curator at Firle Place it became clear that one of the most glittering occasions of the Regency was a ball held for the Grand Duke Nicholas at the Royal Pavilion, Brighton in 1817.
"Late 1816 saw a visit to Britain of Grand Duke Nicholas of Russia (1796-1855, see Figure 1), the second in line to the Russian throne. Nicholas would, later in life, go on to become Tsar Nicholas I, his visit to Britain was an opportunity to learn of another European super-power from personal experience. Britain was the home of the Industrial Revolution, steam power fuelled mechanical processes that led to cheaper goods of a higher quality. Mechanisation affected trade on a global scale and it fuelled an Empire; Britain was proverbially the Nation of Shopkeepers (a phrase attributed, probably incorrectly, to Napoleon), the new peace in Europe brought with it new opportunities. The Prince Regent hosted a ball in the Grand Duke's honour at his pleasure-palace Pavilion in Brighton in early 1817...It's easy, with the disadvantages of hindsight, to miss just how dramatic the societal changes had been in Britain; the Russian state was sensible to take notice." - Contributed by Paul Cooper, Research Editor see: https://www.regencydances.org/paper044.php
It has to be said that there are various images of this particular dress (above) online and one credits it to Regency England (1811-1820) while another suggests it originated in Empire France (1799-1814). But the Russian possibility looks most likely to me, certainly dresses of the next decade would be similarly elaborately embroidered creations with trains: https://ru-oldrussia.livejournal.com/159893.html#cutid1
This particular one is said by one source to have been worn by Maria Feodorovna (Sophie Dorothea of Württemberg) the second wife of Paul I in 1820, and is described as simplified in style compared to those of previous centuries of court wear, with a natural waistline and an a-line skirt. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maria_Feodorovna_(Sophie_Dorothea_of_W%C3%BCrttemberg)
Making the sides of the skirt of 'Fading Glory' I would eventually get to this...
...but I began with just this
I started out with red Duni tablecloth paper and by 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. Then I began experimenting with the decoration, referncing the research I'd been doing into military medals, please see the seperate post I have written focusing on that that by clicking here
I decided to concentrate on the most beautiful medals of all, this meant I was working mostly with the shapes of the stunning Garter Star, the Civil Knight Grand Cross Star of The Order of the Bath and the Cross of the Royal Guelphic Order.
Creating them, their general shapes anyway, involved sewing layers of wrapping paper, gold paper (later changed to gold leaf on cartridge paper to give a more expensive, aged, appearance) and tissue paper.
I then created a line of their halved forms to decorate the border of the train.
There is always waste 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. But while I'm working I'm create a mess on the floor, dropping off cuts and pins and the cut off ends of thread as I go. There's something very satisfying about sweeping everything up at the end of the day, and sorting what can be saved from what can't, while what you've created that day sits waiting on your desk.
I work using masking tape and pins to hold things in place, or to try them out as I go.
This then was the third reason I had for making 'Fading Glory' red. Not only was the decoration of this dress inspired in part by the Civil Knight Grand Cross Star of The Order of the Bath but the shape and colour of the dress was influenced by this fabulous, liquid looking cloak, made for a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Bath, and worn with the 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 came together with the colour and linked to the symbolism that would also be laid out in the design of the chalked floor that was always meant to be part of the final piece. For more on the chalked floor please see here
to see more images please click right...
When it came to decorating the front of the skirt that would show between the two halves of the open robe style I knew I would need imagery that was triangular in shape and pretty quickly the answer was obvious. I needed an image of a wedding cake shaped (ie. tiered) fountain, from the period. So I asked the curator of The Regency Town House Heritage Centre Nick Tyson if he could direct me toward a suitable 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, was dedicated to, Queen Victoria, but 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
So, with help from the team of volunteers I was working with at the Regency Town House, I reproduced the fountain using paper quilling.
Quilling credit to Jane Quail, Jenny Fraser and Gilly Burton
To see more images please click right...
And after several months of work she was done...then stood for a moment with a naval Admiral during a photoshoot in the front drawing room of the town house (where I took took a few quick behind the scenes shots of my own).
To see more images please click right
Details of the finished train, showing parts of the hemispheres of the globe which will continue beneath the dress when the floor decoration is eventually applied
The train includes Duni paper tablecloth, tissue paper, gold quilled shapes, embroidery thread, gold leaf and a lot of stitching
quilling and chord making credit to Jenny Fraser and Jane Quail
Here is a close up of three land based Regency era canons with embroidered plumes of smoke representing the actuality of the raging of war out of the back of the dress, wheeling from country to country. They were pressed over a model of a canon from the time
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 known about The Battle of Waterloo in particular. That is, that dead soldier's mouths were robbed of their teeth so 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
The Regency Wardrobe will be exhibited at Firle Place, in May 2021. As soon as the collection has been shown more images of all the pieces will be made visible on stephaniesmart.net
This project is being supported by:
Arts Council England, The Textile Society and Great Art