Thursday, December 19, 2013

Cutwork and pearls part 1

I am a bully. A costuming bully. I have been known to force sewing on friends on more than one occasion. My friend Fiametta was in need of some new clothes for Solstice Court but was in the middle of making a wool coat for His Majesty as well as being in the middle of life. I told her I'd make her something. She said she had to sew for her kids and niece. I volleyed back that I'd sew for them too. She returned with the fact that there was only two weeks until the event. I rather forcefully rejoined "just tell me what you want." She dithered. I muscled my way into her house and grabbed the fabric and then proceeded to make what I felt like she should wear. Sometimes being my friend comes with a bit of peril.

She had been thinking about doing the Bella Nani with this fabric. It is a gorgeous, gorgeous painting, but she didn't have fabric for the sheer overlay or ideas on building the large jewelry pieces. She had some lion heads that she wanted to use, but we needed to layer them with something and I was fresh out of ideas. Without the outer layer, that dress really loses something. I wanted to do something a bit more blatantly ostentatious. I had fallen in love with Carol Salhoum's IRCC I dress and the inspiration portrait of Clarice Ridolfi Altoviti
by Christofan dell'Altissimo. The cutwork on the bodice is just scrumptious. And there are beads. It is much more decorative than your standard Italian dress. Since Fiametta is anything but understated, I felt like it was a perfect match.

The fabric I was working with had gorgeous drape and incredible color, but was not a natural fabric and wanted to fray, so I felt no compunctions whatsoever in just deciding to interface the entirety of the pieces. Even with the interfacing, the cut edges still have that lovely fuzzy halo that cutwork can bring. Rather than doing the petal cuts of Clarice's gown, I decided to do hearts. Fiametta's emblem is a flaming heart and I wanted to use a lot of heraldic ideas in this gown. I made up a small stencil of the graduating panels and used that to draw out the entire pattern piece on brown paper.
I used an exacto knife to cut out the pattern and then laid on the reverse of the bodice. I just traced the openings in the pattern with a regular pencil directly onto the interfacing. Then it was just a matter of cutting, and cutting, and cutting out hearts. The pattern is pretty much identical on both front and back of the bodice. The picture at the head of the post is of the back.

I knew this project was going to use a whole lot of trim. As we all know, trim can eat up a budget like nothing else and often costs several times what the fabric cost. This wasn't one of those circumstances where that was going to be okay, so I took a day off sewing and made trim. Once again, this is one of those moments where I use non-historically accurate methods and my tool of choice, a crochet hook. I didn't have the time to do lucet cord because I needed close to 100 yards to do this dress and the outfits for her kids, so I chose to do a crochet version of the square braid. Ingunn Santini has a free tutorial. Or there are several youtube videos of 2 loop i-cord for crochet that all work out to be about the same stuff. It isn't actually crocheting since it doesn't involve crochet stitches, but using the hook to work with your loops makes for a fast trim. I managed to make about 50 yards in the time I had allocated and then ended up using plain interlooped chain to fill in the trim gaps. I used Kuka Bright in Gold by Ice Yarns. It doesn't look like it is available any more, but I laid in a large supply. It's a light metallic yarn about the thickness of a size 10 bedspread weight crochet thread.

I treated the cutwork layer and an underlayer of a bronzy gold as a single layer. The beads and trim are attached to both and keep them together. I've got a large pearl in the center of each square heart motif, a smaller pearl in the center of the diamond cut, and two smaller pearls flanking that. I've also got gold rocaille beads tacking the gold trim down to the underlayer. The small pearls in the center of each heart are only on the underlayer, but I liked the look. Yup, I took the nice beaded look of the portrait and went more than a little over the top.

I knew this dress was going to be a bit fantasy with some weirdnesses (as heralds are wont to call steps from period practice.) I didn't want to blow right through the line, but it certainly isn't comfortably accurate.Ah well, it is fun. And beautiful. And full of sparkle.

I still need to babble on about sleeves and construction, so we'll get around to those in a different post.


  1. I can't wait to see a picture of the whole outfit!

  2. I can't wait to GET a picture of the whole outfit, lol. One of those events where so much is going on that the camera didn't come out. I'm going to have to get Fia to pose for me.