Wednesday, January 4, 2012

the exhausting mental exercise of 1912

A 1912 Evening Dress. I have a very love-hate relationship with the idea of this garment. It's what got me serious about becoming a proficient seamstress and turned me into costumer in high school and it remains my Mt Everest of costuming. A Mt Everest that I have never gotten past base camp with.

I've tried to make my ultimate Titanic Evening dress a couple of times over the years, all ending in failure and defeat - the latest being the Peacock Dress. Even my day-wear forays into this period have left me feeling "eh" if not in complete despair. I mean they were pretty but they weren't "right". I was missing the mark in some way.

Why does this style (theoretically a flattering one on my body type) and period construction (that I find so fascinating), cause me so much frustration, heartache and exhausting mental exercise? I don't know. What I do know is that the definition of insanity to doing the same thing over and over again and expecting the same results when what you want are different results. It is time to change not the Mt I want to climb but how I prepare for and approach it.

So as I've been waffling back and forth the last 6 months about what to do with the Peacock (start over from scratch, carry on and fix all the problems (about the same amount of work), salvage the pieces for another project, burn it), I've been doing lots of research and re-thinking how I *think* about this period.

My conclusions?

1.) My heart is not in the Peacock anymore and I'm ready to let it go. I still want a "Peacock" themed costume someday and while it may have some of the supplies or ideas from this one it will be a vastly different project next time around. It's okay. I learned a lot from this project and I thoroughly enjoyed all the hours of beading, it was my happy place for a very long time. A huge lesson I've learned here is that sometimes the dress doesn’t need to be finished to be a success.

2.) I'm not going to make my Ultimate Titanic Dress on the first try. How do I know this? Because I'm never completely happy with any garment/style until the second or third go. It took a while but I'm finally okay with the idea of not having my "Ultimate" dress for the 100th anniversary year. It was the finial death-nail in the Peacock's coffin - it needs to be an "Ultimate" dress. Instead for the various 1912-2012 events this year I'm opting for pretty and achievable (I hope!), a building block to get me on my way up that mountain. This a marathon, not a sprint.

3.) So a new dress! I have to use fabrics from the stash. For my Ultimate dress I can buy new "special" stuff but for this go I need to use what I have.

4.) I need to build my Evening gown from the inside-out. I think the inner structure of this gown is the key and examining a few extant examples from the period up close (thanks !) seems to confirm that they were built from the inside out. Most of you probably figured this out ages ago but you see I get too excited about the PRETTY and want to rush off and start beading/draping/cutting pretty fabric right now! One of my big mistakes with the Peacock was rushing the important stuff so I could start on the fun stuff. I just assumed everything would magically work out in the end. It didn't.

And so I begin... again...


  1. Jenny you have hit the nail on the head- the lack of structure of the outside of these gowns only works when there is a good firm under structure. That's what stops them being the same as modern dresses, and gives them that bit of 'Aha!'. In a way it's easier to make a polonaise because it is SO different! I think the best example is in Janet Arnold's last book, a black and sapphire blue evening suit that looks like it could have been from any decade in the 20th C at all. But the amount of understructure in it is the key, and why the finished garment would look 'period' and not modern :) Have fun with the Penultimate dress!

  2. Lots of good points. I totally agree that one of the reasons this period is so hard is that is seems modern and familiar when in fact the construction is completely antique and foreign to a modern way of thinking (or an 18th century way a or thinking, which is my comfort zone in costuming).

    I’ve found that puzzling out this complicated period takes lots of brain wattage and different ways of thinking. And tea; tea always helps. :>