Sunday, 24 November 2013

Mockery on naked fashion 1801 style

As a re-enactor, we very often come across the common misconception, that with the French Revolution and the "new fashion" women burnt their corsets and went without.
Yes. Some might have done so. Those with impeccable social standing could do so. Those with nothing to loose as well. Those with said social standing and the body to pull it off could make a great impression- some ladies (like Thérésia Tallien) at least. And there are those unfortunate fashion victims who inspired such mocking songs as this one...
Tune of La Bourbonnaise* would have a rather bad aftertaste for a contemporary audience, as it was used for rather mean songs only a couple of years earlier

Source "Journal des Dames et des Modes, Issue 61, Year 5" page 487 and 488


La Mode, ou la Sans-Gêne, chanson nouvelle sur un air ancien

Ancien air de la Bourbonnaise*

Grâce à la mode,                                          Thanks to Fashion
On n'a plus d'cheveux     bis.                        One doesn't have any hair** 
Ah! qu'c'est commode,                                 Ah! That's most convenient
On n'a plus d'cheveux,                                 One doesn't have any hair
On dit qu'c'est mieux.                                   One says, it's nicer***

Grace à la mode,                                          Thanks to Fashion
On va sans façon,           bis.                        One goes without putting on an air****
Ah! qu'c'est commode,                                Ah! That's most convenient
On va sans façon                                         One goes without air
Et sans jupon.                                              and without petticoat

Grace à la mode,                                          Thanks to Fashion
On n'a plus d'fichu,        bis.                        One doesn't wear a neckkerchief+ anymore
Ah! qu'c'est commode,                                 Ah! That's most convenient
On n'a plus d'fichu,                                     One doesn't wear a neckkerchief anymore
Tout est déchu.                                             All++ is deteriorated

Grace à la mode,                                          Thanks to Fashion
On n'a plus d'corset        bis.                        One doesn't have a corset anymore
Ah! qu'c'est commode,                                 Ah! That's most convenient
On n'a plus d'corset,                                    One doesn't have a corset anymore
C'est plutôt fait.                                            That's rather done.

Grace à la mode,                                           Thanks to fashion
Un' chemise suffit,         bis.                          A shirt suffices
Ah! qu'c'est commode,                                 Ah! That's most convenient
Un' chemise suffit,                                         A shirt suffices
C'est tout profit.                                             It's all gain.

Grace à la mode                                             Thanks to fashion
On n'a qu'un vêt'ment,      bis.                        One has just one piece of clothing
Ah! qu'c'est commode,                                   Ah! That's most convenient
On n'a qu'un vêtement                                    One has just one piece of clothing
Qu'est transparent.                                         What is transparent+++

Grace à la mode,                                          Thanks to fashion
On n'a rien d'caché,         bis.                        One didn't hide anything
Ah! qu'c'est commode,                                Ah! That's most convenient
On n'a rien d'caché,                                        One didn't hide anything
J'en suis faché.                                              I'm annoyed about this.++++

*La Bourbonnaise is a song coined on Madame Dubarry, and again used in 1792, for mocking tune on émigré. I've found the tune on Youtube, but with different words. 
** probably referring to short hair styles
*** Not the singer/writer, but the ladies wearing short hair say it's nicer
****Without decorum, without air, grace, style, ceremony
+ Fichu or Neck-kerchief serves to cover a ladies neckline, what is widely cut by fashion, yet covered up by modesty
++ I assume the singer/writer means all = good behaviour, morals, modesty
+++ Muslin can be very sheer, it's a very thin and nearly transparent fabric
++++ Whether the singer/writer is annoyed about the fact that he sees everything and it might not always be pleasing to see everything (it's as today, not every hemline or shirt or bathing-suit suits everyone, then as today not all women can or ought to go without support) or whether he's annoyed that the element of surprise is gone, is left to our imagination.

I cross-referenced some words with a dictionary from 1836 as well as with my old 1932 dictionary, as sometimes meaning and scale of a meaning can change. (e.g. in modern French most people would understand "fichu" as "damned - lost" (Je suis fichu - I'm lost) - and the term "fichu" for neck-kerchief would only be used in reference to (traditional) costume.
If you are interested into old dictionaries, I recommend Google-Books - here an example from 1762

Friday, 25 October 2013

The Athen of the North - or some friends travelling to Weimar

Over a year ago, having an inspiring conversation with the charming Sabine the thought to meeting somewhere for real and having a good time with friends in a beautiful place came up. Very soon our destination was evident - our Sehnsuchtsort "Weimar".

Weimar. A name what (to anyone who is slightly hooked on the German Klassik) evokes the great names of "Schiller", "Wieland", "Goethe", "Herder", "Schopenhauer", "Anna Amalia" (including her library) and obviuously "Bertuch" (Journal des Luxus und der Moden. Do I need to say another word?) and creates a longing to spend some time in this beautiful city.

We ought not to forget that in the time of all these famous poets and thinkers and patron of arts, most of the inhabitants of Weimar lived in poverty. The average income for a valet was at about 40-60T. Schiller's House cost him 5000T (He had to take a loan, as his yearly income was "only" about 1500), while Goethe received his house at the Frauenplan as a gift by the Duke...
Here a wee footnote might be in order. Goethes house, as we see it today is mostly reconstructed, as it suffered a direct bomb hit in 1944, and it's made up as a museum (we can't see the kitchen anymore, we can only see the public face of the "universal genius", while at Schiller's house, the rooms were carefully reconstructed with support of his children (in other words, _very_ early on) and breathes an entirely different atmosphere)

But back to our plan. We've had some trouble finding a convenient date, and were torn for quite a while between June and September. Retrospectively we need to admit: if we would have planned for June, we would have been forced to cancel the whole idea, as the region suffered severe flood damage in May and June.
We did not set a "year" - on purpose we didn't. It should be an open and fun event, not involving sewing stress as in "I need to finish that". If people wanted to wear 1790ies, early 1800 or go for the bicentennial (1813) look - all would be welcome, as long as the garments would be garments, and not costumes.
Each and everyone would arrange his/her own travel and accommodation, but we would visit sights together. Lovely Mie took care of the carriages for Saturday, Sabine organised the tickets to the Anna Amalia Library, I took care of restaurant reservations.

But be it as it was: It was September. A glorious sunny and late summer/early autumn weekend. And the weekend was perfect (apart from some lucullian hiccups, more to that later)

Friday was our set date of arrival. After the long journey we were actually quite done for - Teddy was such a good puppy, and hold out so well travelling! (Yet my Sweetheart and I got a taste of what it would be like travelling with children, a puppy is somehow a fluffy baby with his own needs).
While we were unpacking, discovering the beautiful little welcome letter by Sabine, we've heard voices of a group walking down the streets. A run to the window, it were our friends on their way to the Indian Restaurant we've booked a lovely and scrumptious dinner at. (If you plan to go there - make sure both brothers are aware of the reservation to avoid confusion ;-) )

Saturday saw me taking out curlers, helping Susanne with her hair, getting Sweetheart into his things and then rushing across the market square to meet our waiting friends.
I talked on Friday with Anne and we found the solution to the "What shall I wear" question - 1790ies.
Anne Elizabeth is the third from the left on the picture below, wearing her beautiful open robe.

By U.

I settled for the Black Dress (see here for details), added Laure (a long sleeved muslin cross-over dress with leaf embroidery all around the hem) plus a diva-style hairdo.

The carriage ride organised by Mie took us around town, and our driver was telling us all sort of fun anecdotes (and also quite a lot of nonsense...) - what made for a happy time on board.

Five persons (and one puppy) in the carriage, one lady at the front and two gentleman on the rear-seat
By Stephen D. Reeves
After the carriage ride, it was time for us to haul our heavy baskets filled with delicacies to the Ilm-Park.
Mr Reeves impersonating the gentleman on Agassé's Landing at Westminster, though contrary to his period example, he donned a waistcoat instead of just the shirt.

We've settled under a tree, just outside of Goethes Gartenhaus, and enjoyed Mie's rendering of "Der Türmer", the wonderful food and spirited conversation.

By U.

By U.

After the most urgent culinary needs were calmed, (evidently I took Laure off, I don't want to sully a dress I've spent months embroidering) some ventured to visit the garden, some visited the house, some the outbuildings (where was also the fresh water supply).

As I've started having a slight headache I sneaking up to the outbuilding, to drink plenty of water, what had the funny sight of a lady stumbling and weaving (I've been in hospital just a month ago, caused by an inner ear problem, and was still having some issues with balance) through the shrubbery in "partyfrock" waving a glass.... Well, it's Directoire, it's Partytime (at least for those who could afford to party, sadly the few, not the many)

Just water... by Sabine Schierhoff
To convince Susanne that she looks absolutely lovely we've had her walking (as she doesn't like posing for pictures) and voilà - she now has to believe us, she's a darling:

Goethes Garden and the gate invited to be used as a picture backdrop: Four graces (or three swans and one corbie...)

By U.
Two ladies in 1813, chatting about the merit of Botany and it's influence on fashion.
By Sabine Schierhoff
Black or White

By Stephen D. Reeves

The rest of the afternoon took us to the Bertuchhaus - a wonderful museum, the former house of Mr Bertuch (who published aforementioned Journal des Luxus und der Moden to promote his style and his wares), where we were allowed to examine up close and personal extant garments (provided one was wearing gloves), original fashion journals and accessories. We were allowed to take pictures, but we are not allowed to share them publicly, I apologise. Though I am working on a dress inspired by one of theirs, and I will enquire if I might publish some pictures, once I finish my dress).

The evening took us to the Restaurant Weisser Schwarn. Where when booking we were assured they would be able to cater to Vegans, Gluten-Intolerant and Vegetarians... It might have been Goethes' daily soak there, but honestly, it's not worth visiting today.
The prices are high, the portions are moderate to small, the food adequate, the service between friendly (the reservations staff and some of the waiters), mediocre and plain rude ("There was no gluten in the food" - "I am sorry, but my belly tells a different story.")
No link, no recommendation.

Sunday morning saw Susanne, Fabrice, Christian and I heading to Schiller's house (Mr Reeves preferred to sleep in). It's a wee gem. It truly is. Such a lovely home, where one can actually still hear the copper sizzling, children running through the house, floorboard creaking and live happening. (Fabrice took many pictures, I shall try to make a little post dedicated to them)

More to read you will find at:





Monday, 29 July 2013

Costume Vaudois - In the Age of Napoléon

It is going to be a long post, dear Readers, and as usual, I don't come straight to the point, but take a more winded lane to show you the landscape of my background thoughts, before we come to the final destination - the dress from the 1800s.

In Switzerland we have a rather fixed opinion on how a national costume should look like, how it's made, and who's wearing what. Most of these regulations date from the last 60 decades, usually adapted by close knitted group of people. More information on this you'll find here - on the web-page of the Schweizer Trachtenvereinigung.

Today's folk costume is a nostalgic take on an image we would like to present of Swiss History today, of a proud folk, living it's traditions and values. 
Sadly, it couldn't be farther from reality than that. While many people who wear the modern Swiss National Costumes might hold up "Swiss Values" (Whatever these might be), historical accuracy and/or interest into the not so nice parts of history doesn't take part in it.

While I do like the variety of folk dress, I also would love to see it more improvised. Not "everyone's skirt ends 35cm off ground" or "only this and that fabric are admitted" or "your fichu should be knitted not netted or should have this brooche not that brooch". Yet also I understand the "Dirndl-Phobia"(the development of the regional costume into something generic and undistinguishable as blue-jeans) what hold these regulations up. (as an example: I wear my Costume Cantonal more fitted, and with a 100 year old hand woven linen shirt, an apron what has been washed repeatedly and showing it's been used as an apron. It gives it a sense of reality, but then I have to hear nearly each time I am wearing it "This is not according to regulation", yet no-one ever told me it looks bad, I am usually praised by more conservative people to hold up tradition and "it's nice to see young people wearing the Costume National)

To understand how we've ended up with todays National Costume (and the regulations according to each Canton and often according each area of the Canton), we need to look back:

If we jump back 150 years, the outlook is bleak. In many areas textile mills replaced farms as the income source, and with the disappearance of the identity with the region, the costume started to die out, disappeared entirely, only to be revived again to create a new national identity and pride of one's country during the Big Wars. An example is the above cited Costume de Travail, what was fixed as the workdress in 1933 (following an earlier example of a blue workdress we find nearly all over the country, see above the poster from 1905), and evolved over the last decades, e.g. the blouse being now short and not a full shirt any longer) as many other costumes received their last re-design in either WW1 or just before WW2, to help forming the National identity of the Swiss to keep up moral against the raging war across the border up (the ACCV was founded in 1916, this is a retake of a rococo-outfit... (hard to believe, but it is) yet the idea is not new, re-inventing Swissness.

But - 150years back, the whole idea of Swissness started to appear - for tourists. For tourists who three generations earlier loved the pittoresque, and while not individual travellers any longer, but shipped in and catered to in large numbers, we invent and present The Alphorn, the Jodel, the Folky dance;  everything seen today as "Typical Swiss" - but is it "typical?" 
No, it isn't. (e.g. the bagpipe was part of the Swiss musical landscape)

Let's turn the clock back 200 years, to the time of the French occupation, or even a bit earlier. 
200 years ago, Switzerland wasn't a rich country. Money was in the hands of the few, not the many. Regional differences were predominant in peasant wear, and with the beginning age of tourism (as early on as the late 18th century) and the search of the pittoresque, many of these costumes were drawn and thus preserved for us today. These pictures didn't necessarily served as a "costume guide", they were more to show back home some Alpine curiosities. Prominent painters were Franz Niklaus Koenig and Gabriel Lory (Here's the free google book, you can find the reprint from 1980 quite cheaply online)
Evidently, in the cities fashion dripped down to the working class, as we can see very nicely here, with this servant from Neuchâtel, who might not differ so much from her counterparts in a German of French city.

Back in this time, the average tourist was often somebody on the way to Italy, looking for wild beauty, for majestic mountains, for the bit, no-one saw before, the moment of eternity. 
I admit, Caspar Friedrich is later, but he captures what apparently was one of the push-factors what spawned the Victorian mass-tourism (what again created today's Happy-Heidi-Land-Searchers-Tourism completely with non-Swiss-Cuckoo-clocks, plenty of Emmentaler cheese (it's a Swiss cheese, but there are many more varieties of cheese), Edelweiss, The Sound of Music (again, not Swiss) what usually ends a bit forlorn in the middle of a modern country, with next to no-one wearing a dress, everyone waving a smart-phone about and simply not fitting the picture).

Even Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun was taken in. The painting "Unspunnenfest" has it's home at the Kunstmuseum Bern - it's grand in all it's details, not online available - thus I share a Lithography with you:

Lithography from 1808 based on Elisabeth Vigée le Brun's painting "Unspunnenfest", scanned from the book "La mémoire des Suisses - Histoire des fêtes nationales du XIIIe au XXe siècle

I mentioned Franz Niklaus Koenig and Gabriel Lory before. Franz Niklaus Koenig started as early as in 1801 to publish some of his prints, and met immediate success. The reasons were the same. The early tourists didn't wanted to see elegant ladies and gents (they've had them at home), but the pittoresque. The bit they would not see at home. The part what would make travel worth the pain and expense. Lory, Koenig and their contemporaries catered to this market. And thankfully, in their collection of images (there are several versions fluttering about), they also mention in German and French the nature of each attire, down to fabric and what they considered especially charming or interesting)

It was actually one of Koenig's prints what put the flea in my ear, to start digging for the Costume Vaudois in the age of Napoléon. And the more I started to dig, the more variety I encountered. 

I start with the little picture (I apologise for the lousy quality, it's the result of me taking a picture of my 1980s reprint of the 1820 Koenig edition)
Notre jeune paysanne porte par un temps frais une jupe à manches courtes de cotton rayé; un tablier de la même etoffe (qui remonte fort haut). La tête est couverte d'une cöeffe de soye garnée de dentelle; par dessus elle met un chapeau de paille dont la forme pourrait être plus gracieuse. La chaussure ressemble à celle des villes.
The editor tells us, that the young lady wears a cotton dress, an apron of the same fabric, and shoes resembling the city's fashion. (and he dislikes the hat - the chapeau cheminé or chapeau borne is a bit an oddity, and today only worn with the costume of the Montreux area)

Wolfgang Adam Toepffer shows us the same area a bit more different (and a tad more elegant), completely omitting the black bonnet Lory presented to us in the picture above.
From the Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of New York, Acc No 2008.53

Franz Niklaus Koenig shows us this young lady, from the area of Lausanne (the city in the background is Lausanne). Note the blue dress, the coloured fichu (as already shown in Toepffer's watercolour-painting from the met) and the hat - the same style as the two girls above and the dainty "city-like" shoes. This gravure was the one what really set me off, and made me go "I need such a dress."

I have seen an engraving of this watercolour by Wisard at the Ballenberg Open-Air museum, in one of the houses. Here we have again a similar yet different take on the whole ensemble, but with the added sun-protection of mittens.

 And yet another take, from the web-page Patrimoine - "living traditions" around 1810

A very generous friend also shared this picture of her collection with me, after I told her that I am gathering pictures of the Costume Vaudois. Again the coloured fichu, a necklace (as with Toepffer), a blue dress, the wide sleeves, the flat shoes. By face of the girl, I think it's by Gabriel Lory, but I guess I'd never know. (if anybody does, please give me a heads-up!) Again the blue dress as shown by Koenig (but I guess we see the bodice being pinned to her underwear, the way it dips in)

 I've already started with a blue dress when C. shared her picture with me, and it just helped me to keep going on dark-blue, as I was tempted to go black as by Wisard's watercolour and the modern Montreux-Dress. I settled on a practical apron, of thick cotton (what can be boiled to remove stains) and a pink/orange fichu. The shirt is your average Empire-shirt, but I took the sleeves apart of one of my shirts and added a new fuller top to it.

Now, we have some jumpy thoughts on why and what; as this post is already rather long, I will share my take on the construction in the next one. (Pictures follow after August 1st, I am afraid)

Sunday, 2 June 2013

What Jane Saw - a Retrospective on Sir Joshua Reynolds

My friend Claire shared this link with me, it may very well be that it's old news, but I am still delighted and happy to spend quite a few hours on the reconstructed view of the gallery (see the picture below) what Jane (yes, Jane Austen) visited :-)

Picture found at: (see link below)
ABO Interactive Journal for Women in the Arts 1640 - 1830

You can find an interesting read-up about the project, it's goal and the many steps from idea to reality here:

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Dances to rehearse

Christian finally managed to obtain the scan of the music score of Sophie von Erlach (maybe my asking the head of museums assistant helped a bit too), so we urgently need to practice.
The return favour for having access to this source is us giving three Sundays of performances at Château Wildegg, the first one in August. His friend Esther is currently studying the scores, we have to decide what parts of a quadrille might work on the existing music, and certainly we shall have to practise the valse and the allemande. 

A wee glimpse from an impromptu dance at the very location (not to live music, but to the famous "push the button to hear some music" installation every museum appears to have). As you can see, we didn't plan to dance, otherwise I would certainly not have worn such a long trained dress with embroidery.

Experimenting traverses to the music. Picture by E. Caramanna 

fooling around with Allemande figures. Picture by E. Caramanna

In comparison, our first impromptu dance, in Rueil Malmaison. Picture Copyright Joeri de Rocker

Sunday, 26 May 2013

HSF Challenge 7 - Accessorize: Capote or Casque? A helmet style bonnet and a combat sized réticule

Originally I planned this for the HSF Challenge #7: Accessorize - due April 8. 
Accessories add polish to your outfits, helping to create the perfect historical look. This week is all about bringing an outfit together. Trim a bonnet, paint a fan, crochet an evening bag, sew a shawl, or dye and decorate a pair of shoes to create the perfect period accessory for yourself.

But I needed the new things already for February, when I travelled to Keetje Hodshon's ball in Haarlem. The bag and the hat are made from blue cotton velvet, both lined with some silk left-overs (inside of the bag there's some piecing too).

a fan from the late 1790's with ladies copied from fashionplates - it gives you a nice look through the different styles all up and about at the same period.
Picture posted on Facebook by D. Moldoveanu

The Challenge No 7: Accessorize

Fabric: Cotton Velvet, Silk scraps
Pattern: my own for both hat and réticule
Year: 1797 to 1800. It's a wild and early style, perfect with the crazy fashion during the Consulat.
Notions: Black silk thread, ribbon (stash), feathers, silk yarn for tassels and cords.
How historically accurate is it? Fairly accurate, I'd say, given the fact that the velvet is modern and the cardboard of the brim is modern too and does not contain any textile fiber. Handsewn with stitches known and used in the period.
Hours to complete: Can't really say. All handsewn in a lazy weekend...
First worn: Keetje Hodshon's ball, February 23, 2013 (or 1813...)
Total cost: I found the velvet on sale, and the silk scraps came from my scrap. Ca. 7 to 10 Euro.

I wanted something cute, but not sugary as I am not a huge fan of bonnets, I prefer the more daring "Diva-Style" of the Consulat. Dramatic veils, trailing dresses, weird hats. And I wanted it to be versatile more or less practical. 

Inspiration for the casque (helmet)

What made me construct the casque the way I did
And now we come to the various chapeau de velours:
Not just black hat with black feathers, but more daring colour contrast works out as well. I know that it's a very nice contrast, but I usually feel better if I have something contemporary to back up my feelings.

Another one with lopsided feathers and double ribbons

This hat is simply a stunner. And you can see where the ribbons of my hat had their inspiration from

I simply loved the big réticule, and only realised later what a nice hat she's wearing.

And the result. The pictures with all black feathers are from the first wear, in Haarlem, while those with the mixed feathers were taken at Château de Wildegg in Switzerland, during our Sunday stroll in April.
In front of the Teylers Museum. I think it's visible that I didn't sleep much on the train. The gigantesque réticule is the other half of the challenge. In the evening my dance shoes plus an additional silk shawl found room in there too.
Picture by by A. Berkestam Drysén 

The front door, when the wind caught my pelisse and made me feel as I would fly away that very moment.
 Picture by C. Hanley. 

The Teylers Museum hosted a special exhibition of Redoutés Flowers, and we used the opportunity to snap pictures in front of "La Petite Malmaison". The belt usually wouldn't sit so low, but with a thick wool dress and fichu underneath (it was february after all), it simply started to wander down :-(
Picture by L. Lynch. 

As I received several comments that the pure black hat gives me a unhealthy complexion (despite the hat being dark blue, and not black), I added some white feathers this time for the Spring promenade

With my friend Suzanne. Twice cotton velvet used for hats, but two different results.
Picture by E. Caramanna

Walking down the hill with J. and F.  The dress (Nicknamed Laure) would be the Flora and Fauna entry, with the exception that the embroidery doesn't show on the pictures, and I couldn't enter it. Again the giant réticule what housed many many things that day. (though not the cups and saucers, those travelled in a wee basket)
Picture by E. Caramanna

With my friend Kitty. She's wearing an 1800 interpretation of her national costume.
Picture by E. Caramanna

and a rather saucy look - captured by afore mentioned Kitty (A. Schläfli). 
The hat is much fun to wear, and certainly hasn't seen the last of the styling options. 

Saturday, 25 May 2013

HSF Challenge 10 - Literature. Part 2: The pictures of the dress

Thanks to my wonderful husband I now have a fair set of pictures, and it was very difficult to choose from them. It was a very stormy day, and between freezing wind, rain (buckets of it) and hail we managed to find a short dry spell, went up to the old way cross (where the view is not too much spoiled by modern civilisation).

The dress or rather the colour of it didn't like the pictures too much, and when I tinkered with contrast, the result wasn't very satisfactory, yet we have a back shot and a front shot what show some construction details. The rest of the set are pictures in the spirit of "Sturm & Drang" and "Romanticism".
It was fun to go out of my normal classicists comfort zone, and I think this dress will get some more fresh air very soon :-) (Especially as sweetheart bought me now a black lace veil... this gives ideas indeed)

The back view, with the pleats. While many dresses have gathers, pleats appear to be much more common, especially in the earlier years.

Pulling the small veil up. I didn't take the nice one out, as I didn't trust the weather, and wore this one originally as a fichu, but so much wanted to replicate the look from the Velazquez painting. 

It was way too windy though, and there was no way the veil wanted to stay put. But at least this is one of the pictures where the front closure's coulisses can be seen. 

We then decided to play about with the wind, and use it as a help together with the big silk shawl. 

Trying for a melancholic air. The letter by my friend Théo is rather joyful, on the other hand :-)

The poppies. Despite the cold temperatures (close to freezing point last night), the poppies are out and insist that we're actually in summer. Also you see my shirt peeking up. I should remember pulling it further down next time.

Sitting at the way-cross with my 1790's edition of Kleist.  This is one of the pictures where I think the combination of black/white/red is really working out. 

A bit darker, I think a painter from the time would rather set a valley in the background than our wee hill, but we're living in the vale, not up the hill.

And trying to be in a Carus painting.

HSF Challenge 10 - Literature. Part 1: Inspiration and Thoughts what followed

The Challenge: #10: Literature - due May 20. In this challenge make something inspired by literature: whether you recreate a garment or accessory mentioned in a book, poem or play, or dress your favourite historical literary character as you imagine them.

To be all honest, I am not very good with these challenges. I usually tend to follow my own schedule, and even if I manage to finish a challenge, I either lack pictures, or miss the timeframe to post them or loose the interest posting them. 
The Literature Challenge though was a challenge I was keen to enter, as I love to read. But what to make? What character, what dress? In the end, it's not as simple as that, as there is much more to women's life than just Mr. Darcy.

I've recently read the Memoirs of Hortense de Beauharnais (Daughter of Joséphine Bonaparte, Hortense implies to me the romantic image of the early 19th century, this mixture of good education, taste and melancholia. But if you read about her marriage, you can actually understand her) - and it struck me - she lost her father, when she was but a teenager (guillotined), she lost one of her children at a very young age. And the thought started forming: How many women, in literature but also real women suffered severe losses in the Period between the Directoire and the Restauration?
Nearly every woman would have suffered a loss - a mother, a father, a sister, a brother, a child, a husband. The line between life and death was so small, and so easily crossed. Let's remember Elinor & Marianne:
"Mr Harris was punctual in his second visit; - but he came to be disappointed in his hopes of what the last would produce. His medicines had failed; - the fever was unabated; and Marianne only more quiet - not more herself - remained in an heavy stupor. Elinor, catching all and more than all, his fears in a moment, proposed to call in farther advice. But he judged it unnecessary; he had still something more to try, some fresh application, of whose success he was almost as confident as the last, and his visit concluded with encouraging assurances with reached the ear, but could not enter the heart, of Miss Dashwood. She was calm, except when she thought of her mother, but she was almost hopeless; and in this state she continued till noon, scarcely stirring from her sisters's bed, her thoughts wandering from one image of grief, one suffering friend to another, and her spirits oppressed to the utmost by the conversation of Mrs Jennings, who scrupled no to attribute the severity and danger of this attack, to the many weeks of previous indisposition which Marianne's disappointment had brought on." Jane Austen, Sense & Sensibility
We all know that Marianne recover. But what we most of the time forget: Elinor was in risk of losing a beloved sister, only months of having lost a father. The loss of a close relative is a simple matter of fact in the literature of the time, I concentrate here on Austen, because she's best known to most participants of the HSF - think of Anne Elliott's mother. Of the threat of losing Mr Bennett, of Emma Woodhouse's mother - but also remember that Kleist's Marquise von O lost her husband. 
If we venture a bit further into the 19th century, we have Tolstoy looking back - and again - it's the red line - by the end of the book Natascha Rostova would have lost a brother (Petja), her ex-fiance and love Andrej - both during the war - even her father. Maria Bolkonskaya lost her sister in law (childbirth), her brother (war) and her father. 

Closer to home - at Wildegg the writer of the château's records, Sophie von Erlach, a very sophisticated and learned lady, lost a friend Marie Louise Saint-Simon Montléart in 1804 who was buried in the woods behind the château. And until this day, each evening music is played each evening (nowadays of course from a tape) out there in the forest, where amidst trees and sprouting life a young woman was laid to rest, and sweetly remembered by her writing friend for many decades to come. 
As we can see, in this period of classicists ideals, we have romanticism preparing. We're only a couple of years away from painters as Caspar David Friedrichs wonderful paintings full of longing and melancholia, or this wonderful work by Carl Gustav Carus: 

I simply asked myself - how can I render homage to all the women who's stories, fictional and real inspire us, and how to be close to the thousands of women who's stories remained untold? The black dress would be the link, and while it's not all "mourning" I could still use it in a more fashionable context. (Another advantage in my eyes: Ink-stains will never show...)

The custom of mourning wasn't yet so strictly observed yet as it's in Victorian England, but most women would have had to wear black for a couple of months, and if misfortune prevailed, more often than they would have liked to. When I started with the colour boards on Pinterest, I sorted black into its own category. (By now the colour boards are a team-effort, several friends are contributing and the database is growing steadily). And while some paintings are clearly depicting a state of mourning, others were very fashionable, daring even. 

Comtesse Vilain XIIII (1780-1853), wife of Philippe Vilain XIIII, who was ennobled by Napoleon in 1811. She was lady-in-waiting to the Empress Marie-Louise. After the fall of Napoleon she had to escape to Brussels, where David, also in exile, fulfilled the portrait. In the portrait the Comtesse is with her five-year-old daughter, Louise. Her husband was still alive, when this painting was commissioned.

Portrait of Ann Penington, by Gilbert Stuart, 1805. The silhouette in her hands is some how saying: It's not just me, there would have been another girl in this picture, if only... 

But I also encountered some remarkable ladies, what gave me the impression "Live goes on, mourning doesn't last forever" - and had my interest in stark colour contrast spiked (I love strong contrasts. White with red. White with dark blue. White with black. Why not black with Red and white?)

Zacarías González Velázquez (Spanish, 1763-1834) Portrait of a Lady with a Fan (Retrato de dama con abanico), c.1805-10 Oil on canvas

Fabric:  fine black linen
Pattern:  my own
Year:  1796-98
Notions: black yarn, some ribbon for the coulisses.
How historically accurate is it?:  I think quite accurate, At least accurate enough that it would not fall out of everyday life if transported back in time. The dress is hand-sewn, with appropriate stitches for the time, the fabric cut into period width panels before starting to cut them, the thread-count quite the norm for period weaves.
Hours to complete:  not that many, actually. I can't really say, as I worked on and off for about 6 days, it was just some sort of "lazy" project when I didn't want to think.
First worn:  May 25, 2013 at the Gheidkreuz near Olten for the pictures. 
Total cost:  As I only had to buy the linen, I dare say about EUR 40.-? 
Props for the photoshoot:  Ewald Christian von Kleist "Sämtliche Werke" - edition of 1790 (no, not the same Kleist as the one with the Marquise von O), some handwritten letters from my correspondents. The earrings are not real coral, but from the 1950's (the weight is close to real coral, and they are facetted, but I don't like buying new coral as they are endangered, and period one cost an arm and a leg. The necklace is period coral see-pearls though, the re-threading took about 3hrs per strand. The embroidered veil is from the first half of the 20th century, the silk shawl a simple bit of plumetis-silk.