Thursday, 14 July 2016

The Lady with the Comb

In March another miniature found it's home on the wall behind my harp, I call her 'La dame au Peigne Espagnol' or sometimes 'Lady with sprigged fichu' either would do. She's another lucky find of Monsieur, and we both fell in love immediately.
The picture of the seller

She's neither signed, not named, nor dated, so we have to let the pictures speak for itself. To me it's quite sufficient that she's in good shape, has no mould and no abrasions :-)

Unwrapped, and ready for a gentle cleaning
The backing paper was gone, as we many
 of the teeth, and the lady moved quite
a bit in her setting

Luckily without major abrasions. She's painted on what appears to
be vellum, contrary to the "Dame au Schall Bleu" what is on ivory.
I love the fine details like her sprigged fichu and her Spanish looking comb

The glass has been cleaned, carefully dried
At the new place, close to the "Dame au Schall Bleu"

By the way, for those who worry about me handling fragile miniatures with bare hands: I wash my hands carefully and use wiping alcohol to remove any left over grease, and keep the handling to a minimum. I prefer to have full control when handling fragile pieces than possibly snagging with cotton gloves. (also - if the gloves aren't clean, you won't be doing your objects any favour)

Monday, 11 July 2016

Un habit d'étiquette

Monsieur wished for some new clothes for the Grand Bal in Lucca, and he wanted it to be fitting for a court ball, thus he made it very clear that his green woollen coat will not do, and that I've promised him a new outfit years ago. True: I started the jacket and the culottes in black silk taffetas last year, originally destined for him to wear in Malmaison, for the 2ième Jubilé Impérial. As so often, it wasn't to be. He was sick like a dog the whole week before the event and dragged himself more or less out of the hotel room for the official bits, but wore his new silk waistcoat with silver bullion embroidery and his old reliable fraque (way underdressed, but I simply couldn't finish in time)

For Lucca, he searched for a year for nice cut-steel buttons, and was asking me more or less non-stop 'I will have my new outfit, won't I?'
To my friends great amusement I was sewing like a princess in a fairytale most of Friday and Saturday, stitch, gossip, eat nothing what could stain, stitch, stitch.
I managed the buttonholes in the culottes (don't look too closely), but had then to decide between covering buttons or setting in sleeves.
The sleeves won, as he could always wear his off-white culottes, but no fraque, that wouldn't do. And thus I've sat in our room, basting, matching, ironing, sewing. I discovered that tailoring is not my pleasure, nor my gift. And when he saw the state of my poor joints afterwards, he contacted a tailor the same evening to start a business relationship for his future wardrobe extension, to my great relief.

Anyway: here are some pictures, I am still quite proud he looked that handsome.
Picture by Coltrane Koh,

The outer material is silk taffeta, the curved edge reinforcement is very starched linen (basically glued linen. The body (and the tails, because they are cut in one) are lined with handwoven silk, the sleeves in muslin (I've run out of silk at the time). The pocket flaps are just that. Flaps. No pockets. The embroidered buttonholes didn't manifest in time, but I doubt anyone noticed, as his buttons were sparkly enough to attract all attention.
Sewing during the garden fete at Palazzo Pfanner
Picture by Antonia Mandic

The culottes were not finished (or rather the buttons were not), thus he's still wearing his woolen culottes, still with the 2 year old waistcoat (new one in red silk satin needs buttonholes, but I guess he'll have it for the next event)

For closing the most fairytale like picture (fitting to the enchanted seamstress, luckily not being the Lady of Shalott, even though I wanted so badly to leave my tower and go out into the town), by Charo Palacios:
Picture by Charo Palacios
I for myself wore the Vernet Toilette de Spectacle, the beautiful comb Monsieur presented me with two years ago in the back of the coiffure, the new comb flanked by silk flowers on the front. My dressing was actually faster than Monsieurs, including a quick wash and hairdo I was finished in 8 minutes. 

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Once in a while...

... A lady needs a new handbag. Or a new jacket. Or new lingerie. Or everything in one (slow) go.

As my sewing doesn't really follow a firm schedule, it can take quite a while until I finish a project. This one here took its beginning back in 2014 when Sabine made a delightful workbag in pale green. The little flame of desire was kindled, and I set off to create a base in cardboard, covered it in silk, and decided that I wanted knotted decoration, thus started knotting.

Fast forward two years, after having stashed both the knotted trim and the workbag-base so well away, that they were seemingly lost forever, they re-surfaced. A bag was made from white silk, sewn into (ouch, sewing through cardboard is NOT recommended if one has already slightly damaged joints), the trim attached.


The medaillons are copies from one of my books (l'ami des femmes, a wonderful book about female health and beauty written in 1804 and dedicated to Mme Bonaparte) and as no copy shop wanted to print on my lovely paper, printed on modern paper and stained with black tea. (Two times Venus/Venere/Aphrodite. I'm usually more on the team Artemis/Diana, but the Kaufmann print wouldn't have fit) 

During the same spree of productivity I finished another ufo: a new pair of 1790 stays, based on an 18th century stays what don't fit too badly. It features front and back lacing, is constructed of two layers of sturdy handwoven linen, one layer of silk taffeta, stitched with silk thread, boned with reeds, and bound in leather (what also re-surfaced in the same corner as the half finished workbag)
...And a new little transitional jacket. I used an old caraco pattern for the lining and drafted the silk taffeta shell onto it. The jacket is fully lined in old handwoven line, with the exception of the basques, and has some valenciennes lace around the neckline. It closes with drawstrings and a little belt in the front, the sleevils were set in while travelling with friends.

The pleats are freehand, I've just checked that it's more or less even, but I didn't really measure.
A picture of the free hand pleating of the back, somehow I don't have pictures from the front, but surely there will soon be some. The odd thing is: this jacket only fits over the early stays, the later more rounded shape makes it ride up :-(

Bag and stays and jacket in use, at the Ligurian cost: 

Picture by R. Dumke / J. Bennett.
Shortly after, the water nearly got me, and I decided to forgoe shoes and stockings, and have a splash. 

Other friends like lovely B. followed, and suddenly we've had a crowd of photographer snapping pictures, while we were laughing, chasing ripples and giggling like children :-)
Picture again R. Dumke/J. Bennet 

we can thank Roberto Fusconi, one of the official photographers for this one. Suddenly I've heard someone shouting "Alé!" - and he was waving 
Here a picture showing the coastline, J. and I standing with wet feet, wet petticoats and huge smiles :-)

Friday, 1 January 2016

A Print Dress

About two years ago, the V&A offered fabric reprints in their shop, and I fell immediately in love with this print, called 'Coral Leaves'

The combination of Green and red leaves and twigs captured me, and thanks to the generosity of my sweet Mr R, the postman delivered 4 meters of this beautiful cotton print.

The construction was quite straight forward, but not fast: the challenge being the piecing of the fabric, as it was not sent in four meters, but in 4x1 meter pieces.
Challenge No 2 was my dear old cat, suffering of renal failure who took an unexpected leak on the ufo, washing unhemmed fabric bits caused some additional loss in width, but again, piecing to the rescue: some additional gussets and a fichu when wearing and we were in business again. (The sweet old daft cat left us at the end of June, he's still sadly missed)

The dress is unlined, front closing by drawstring, the back panel is cartridge pleated, and the connecting seam this odd crazy tiny whipstitch we see in surviving garments, what takes forever, but looks so good when finished! The cord to close the dress is made of three strands of white linen thread and three strands of green silk, just for a fun detail. 

First time worn in the New Year 2015, when visiting my friends C & F, to work on the musicians garments for the April ball. Between then and now the dress saw already some good use: to a dance practise, travelled to Weimar and dancing in Schloss Wildegg.

In the grand potager parterre in Wildegg, photo by Helga Váradi

Avec C. In his beautiful 1790 ensemble, all hand stitched by him. 
Photo by F.Robardey

Thursday, 31 December 2015

Aurore. Or my take on a simple and versatile dress with long loosesleeves

I While I love digging in archives, I also love to sew, it's just the blogging about it what is not that much my cuppa. Anyway, I've stitched a bit in the last year, and those garments what have been tested and worn several times under different circumstances will make a quick appearance on the blog

Many of us love to copy dresses or looks, and my look of choice is the combination of White, Black and red. In any way, black dress with white fichu, white dress with red shawl: anything of the kind is fine with me.

Therefore it can hardly astonish that 'Aurore' (private collection Lancaster-Barreto) and the styling of the outfit was love on first sight. I love the wide sleeves, as I am very self conscious about my spindly arms and bony elbows. It just suggested comfort and elegance and practically jumped on the top of my sewing list.

The French catalogue is still available, via the eBoutique of the RMN (Réunion des Musées Nationaux)

Once I've found a light silk fabric in Berne, I've started the dress, back sometime in 2014. My choice fell on a soft drapey 90% Silk and 10% cotton, what frayed terribly, thus all inside seams needed to be over stitched.  The dress is lined in the bodice with some of the upper fabric, and closes in the back with drawstrings, has some fine English tulle lace at the cuffs and one tuck at the hem. Again, a quite simple and easy project, yet as with most projects, I was sidetracked sometime during the process (the diversion was called the Jubilée Impérial) and only gave it a push to finish when I was invited to a Soirée in Munich by lovely Ms B in January 2015.
I've worn the dress repeatedly over the last year, and it proved its versatility: elegant for an afternoon about town with a chemisette and capote, with a long necklace at the said soirée, and simple without belt or any additional bling for a Yuletide afternoon with friends.

With Ms. B (long sleeves) and Miss M (short sleeves), during Ms B's Soirée. 
Photo by Mrs J.Bennett

Drawstring closure in the back, photo by Mrs S. Reil

In Berne, in the Maison de Wattenwyl, photos by F.Robardey

The garden door leading to the first terrace. Photo by H. Váradi.

And posing for the Holiday Picture with Monsieur R, the dress worn without any additional bijoux or accessories (I was wearing a little shawl for most of the afternoon though, as it is winter after all), though showing the side parts very nicely. Photo by F. Robardey 

Monday, 28 December 2015

Vernet - Toilette de Spectacle

I admit, I am a bit proud of the result. The dress definitely was more work than I anticipated, but mostly due to my choice of materials, attempted shortcuts and redoing some parts.

Sabine ( mercifully asked me early, and I picked one of the less precarious outfits.

But also, lo and behold: the 1815 publication in the Journal des Dames et des Modes, what tells us that the dress material is silk:

I'm really not much into ruffles, chemisettes, falbalas, rushing and rouleaux. I prefer clean sober lines, where good material takes over the stage, based on the enlarged picture of the hem I've settled on two layers, white silk taffeta and a stiff silk tulle. 

Gold braid and fringe would have been the obvious choice, though me being me and not much into glitzy and golden, I wanted to use spun straw, as it's something I've seen in museums, but it's rarely ever done. (I believe Lyze of The Ornamented Being is the only one I can remember having done straw embroidery before). There are some last master artisans in Switzerland, who spin straw to gold, as we call it here, but it wasn't to be. 

Summer 15 saw plan B resurfacing: gold braid and fringe and the hunt of sufficient length of material. Etsy to the rescue. Or so I thought. I spare you the disaster stories, but I offer you to learn from my adventure: forget cheap bouillon, forget Etsy, go to the pros. 
With braid this translates to Hand & Lock, in the UK. I followed a recommendation by Izabela Pitcher on her blog ( and I wasn't disappointed: Quick, relatively inexpensive and at an outstanding quality, a definite 'Yes again!' (Actually, I will need to order some more, as I stupidly ordered too little of the braid)

The sewing is rather straight forward, a simple backclosing dress, following a basic layout for an 1815 style with ribbon closure at the top and a single handmade hook at the bottom of the bodice. I say rather. Basting thread became my best friend. I basted every seam, every layer on top of the other, as the tulle was a true joy to work. With settling on the metal fringe I've had to say goodbye to the idea of two separate dresses, and work the bodice as one layer.
The decoration gobbled up my last nerve. At the beginning I was still set on the edging being bouillon, thus went for whipstitch-gathering instead of a running stitch (what turned out to be completely innessesary once I've unpicked the snagging bouillon from the snagging tulle and added the braid). After the second rushing was added, I realised my error of measurement thus the lack of braid, and had the joy to unpick that part again.
By that time I was certain, absolutely certain I was working at the equivalent of an 1800 Versace. Too much of everything. 

The hat on the other hand turned out quite nicely. I've covered an old felt riding hat I bought 5 years ago in Florence with rose coloured silk taffeta, combined three ostrich feathers into a single plume each, and fixed my new and now fluffy plumes with a couple of stitches onto the hat, added a bit of ribbon to the front and the chin-strap. I usually avoid bonnets with chinstraps, the are not very becoming to me, and the final pictures showed that chinstraps don't do my face any favour, and I liked wearing the hat without the strap much better.

The gloves are my dear old trusted Friedlin Suedes, the short shawl is a modern reproduction I obtained at the eBoutique of the RMN, thus too short for the Big Shawl, but just the ticket for the shorter stoles worn. The shoes are white Thistle dance shoes. 
I decided to forgoe any bijoux, with the exception of the comb, as the dress was already way too sparkly for my taste. The lady who wore such an outfit in 1814 had apparently similar thoughts, there is nothing visible in regard to jewellery.

I interpreted Toilette de Spectacle into 'something to be worn to the Opera' and interpreted the lady on the plate having already shed her coat, and will hand over hat and stole to an attendant. 
My picture is more the lady getting ready to leave the house, maybe having a last sip of coffee, checking a last time a communicated detail before setting out.

The look I liked best though was when playing around with the echarpe, what lent the gaudy dress a flowing and elegant air, and reconsiled me with my fluffy, glitzy tulle monster. (And show me the woman who never read War and Peace and wanted to have Natasha Rostova's tulle dance dress?)


And now: time for the morning tea :-)


Monday, 21 December 2015

Der Spiegel von Arkadien

Don't you just love it when one bit of information leads to another hint, around another corner and leads you to yet a new facet from times past? 

This happened just today. 
In the last couple of days there were some nice pins coming up on Pinterest, mostly by Sabine. Among them was also this lovely one from the Rijksmuseum

Another friend, lovely Miss A. asked me what is written on the poster, and I obliged by translating. Der Spiegel von Arkadien - Arcadian Mirror. 
Suddenly the line struck something. 
Der Spiegel Von Arkadien. Where did I read this? Thoughts went racing. 
Arcadia, the Idyll? Nope. Arkadien in Arenenberg? Nope, that bit of Arcadia was created 20 years later. A play by Gessner? Negative. The landscape garden in Arlesheim? Negative again. 
Music. Possibly music. Must be music. Yes! The song 'Seit ich soviele Weiber sah' started in my head, I've heard it years ago during a recital of contemporary composers of Mozart at the Mozartweg in Aarburg, and I remembered it was from a work called 'Something Arcadia'. 
Must be Schikaneder, because of German and bearing similarities to Papageno's airs. 
And then again happened, what I adore of today's world of digitalisation: I've had some clues, punched them into the search engine, and had all the information at my fingertips. 

What luxury, there lies so much information, about this opera. The full score, the libretto, all of what was considered to be one of the most popular operas of the late 18th century, composed by Franz Xaver Süssmayr, libretto by Emanuel Schikaneder is available to us.
The opera premiered in November 1794 in the Theater auf der Wieden, had grand success, apparently translated in many languages. (If you happen to stumble over a local advertisement from 'our' period, please share, I keep my eyes open) 
A modern (2014) review:
Quote: "Franz Xaver Süßmayr (1766–1803) launched a career as one of the most respected German opera composers of the time with the success of Der Spiegel von Arkadien.

The critical reception was almost uniformly enthusiastic; the score was even compared to that of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte, rare praise for the time."

The full libretto can be read here:

A CD recording came out back in 2006, I will certainly endeavour to order it, what I've heard so far was easy and pleasing to the ear, it's just this bit of light and airy music what makes me cheerful and chipper.

And to have the circle closing - there are our lovely fashionable ladies, in Spring/Summer 1795, apparently discussing whether or not to go and hear the latest Big Hit, or maybe discussing details of it? What thrills me is the fact that this piece of music was popular enough to be integrated into a fashion plate. And yes, I admit, having a little earful of popular music and plays (taking up the long dispute between Schiller admirers and Kotzebue-Acolytes) gives us just yet another tiny glimpse into everyday life 220 years ago.

Isn't this grand on what wonderful little promenades one fashion print can take us? Contrary to the ladies in the print, we don't have to wait for the music.

Edit: Sabine supplied me with this link regarding the adaptation by Christian August Vulpius in Weimar