Those of you who've been reading this blog know that I've been working on the Netherlandish Working Woman's Outfit. Well tonite as I walked past my Netherlandish gown on the mannequin tonite, I thought, "Man, doesn't that look like a Cranach Gown!"
I'm having a thought. A friend of mine is making a German dress of the kind often seen in the paintings of Lucas Cranach. The dress appears in paintings most often in the 1530s and on women of wealth. They are typically made of velvet and gold brocade and embellished with jewels and other rich adornments. I made a reconstruction of this dress about two years ago and have since produced a pattern for it.
Here's the main picture upon which I based my reconstruction:
My reconstruction is meant to be the one on the far right. Here's another picture of an almost identical gown in a different colour:
And here's a full length shot of my reconstruction:
I'm extremely pleased with the way the sleeves came out. And the skirts I think are spot on. But I've never been quite happy with the way the front hangs together.
Here's a closer shot (without the harsh sunlight):
There are two main problems with the front of this dress. Number one, the Brustfleck doesn't lay correctly. I think I can blame this entirely on the fabric. In the mockup, I did the Brustfleck in linen cut on the bias and this made it conform to the bust as seen in the portraits. But the only fabric I could find with the right scrolling leaf pattern in gold was a silky polyester that needed a backing if it were to hold its shape. Unfortunately it holds its shape too well. I believe that a Brustfleck made out of thicker fabric cut on the bias will solve this problem.
The second problem is that the lacing distorts the front edge of the dress. In the paintings the front edges, if not straight, are still very smooth. Some of this can be attributed to the painter "fixing" the lines of the dress. Many of the dresses look artificial in this way. But other paintings by other artists do not show the level of distortion I'm experiencing.
I think two things are contributing to this distortion. One is my fabric. It's too soft. It isn't creating a stable edge, even when not under tension. (And friends, please do not tell me to press interfacing to the wrong side of the velvet. Ewww...)
The other thing contributing to the distortion is that I cannot pull the lacing tightly enough to draw the sides as far as they should draw. This is partially due to the split rings I used as lacing rings. They're just not the right tool for the job. And they aren't sewn on terribly well. So when I lace up, I don't pull as much as I need to, as much as I pulled when the gown was on my mannequin and looked right.
I think these are really two artifacts of the same problem: the edge of the gown needs to be stable enough to draw it tightly across the torso. Looking at the paintings tonite, Bob said, "Those robings almost look like hemp webbing covered with brocade!" Well, he just sold some hemp webbing to a customer, so you can't blame him for having hemp webbing on the brain. But hemp webbing is stable yet flexible. And I have yards of it right here. I think the cotton twill tape is too soft and the linen tape isn't wide enough to take the strain.
I'm also going to take off the split rings and substitute metal eyes from sets of coat hooks and eyes. This is what I used for the Netherlandish Gown and they are extremely stable. See?
And what is the moral of this story, dear friends? Don't Substitute Fabric! Although Cranach is clearly painting velvet gowns, I know that our modern cotton velveteen is hardly the same fabric. And my particular velveteen was very soft indeed. The simple truth is that if I had made this gown from wool kersey, I would not be having these problems.
I know that many people make this gown with a kirtle or even corded corset underneath, but I cannot agree with their reconstructions. Stringent analysis of the paintings has given me no reason to believe that there is any kind of corsetry of stiffening in either the bodice of these gowns or underneath them.
That being said, the gowns are only ever seen on young women of slight build with very small breasts. Matter of fact, in a painting by Cranach called "The Fountain of Youth", the old women who are being carried or wheeled into the "fountain" are not wearing Cranach Gowns. But when they emerge from the fountain of youth young and rejuvenated, they all seem to put on Cranch-style gowns.
Sidebar: I think one of the aspects of historical costume that we most often ignore is age-appropriateness. We fall in love with a style in a painting that is shown only on teenagers and we disregard that it won't fit someone of out time of life.
Another thing we often ignore is body shape. Some types of clothing aren't shown on all types of bodies. It could be argued that the subjects of portraiture are like fashion models -- there's an ideal body type and the painters make everyone look like that. But a survey of the same style of gown painted by different artists will often belie that idea. However, the fact that we never see long lanky women in some of the Venetian styles nor big-breasted women in Cranach Gowns is a fact that cannot be ignored.
But I digress... I may be nearly 40, but I have the breasts of a 12 year old. Yup. I can still wear my training bra! LOL
More to follow...
© 2007 Kass McGann. All Rights Reserved. The Author of this work retains full copyright for this material. Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of this document for non-commercial private research or educational purposes provided the copyright notice and this permission notice are preserved on all copies.