Sunday, 28 April 2013

Ballets Russes Costumes at the Camberwell Archive

This week I went to have a look at some original Ballets Russes costumes at the Camberwell College of Art. The Camberwell Archive there has almost fifty pieces of Ballets Russes costume, including jewellery, fabrics and garments, dating from around 1920.

Firstly, a beautiful cotton waistcoat with hook and eye at the back, and a tie at the front, decorated with metallic thread, which I found was used a lot in these costumes, probably to create an embellishment that would shimmer and appear very luxurious under stage lighting.

This cape is made of a fabric woven from a metallic thread, which due to its stiff nature keeps a crinkled texture. The edges are embellished with plastic shell-like beads, that are used not only to add decoration, but also to give weight to the otherwise light-weight garment.

This costume is made up of a doublet and hose - a typical Medieval outfit. It is thought to be for the Prince from Aurora's Wedding. The doublet features a crescent moon/fishscale pattern printed in a shiny silver paint. I especially like the fabrics used to create this costume. The slashed sleeves (which were a sign of wealth in the medieval times, as it showed that the wearer could afford a lot of fabric) are made with a beautiful dark blue velvet, framed with a light gold trim. The doublet fastens at the back with hooks and eyes, and has poppers at the cuffs. The doublet and hose join to each other with buttons at the waistband.
There were quite a few collars in the collection, which were most probably used for the 'corps de ballet' as there were multiples of most pieces. This one in particular is decorated, again, with metallic thread on a beautiful rusty orange. It is hand sewn.
Similarly, this chest piece uses metallic thread to created an embossed outline of a shimmery gold printed design. The circular piece at the top goes round the neck, and the lower strip joins around the chest - and just shows how incredibly small the dancers were!
These panels of intricately embroidered fabric were originally made as cuffs, but have since been cut out. They would probably have been part of an 18th century-style coat, and worn turned up.

This costume piece is a cape, consisting of a stiff headpiece decorated with silver thread and metal pieces, and a long colourful fabric panel.
The collection also contains several pieces of fabric - these could either be costumes half-made and abandoned, or back drops from the lavish sets created by the Ballets Russes company. This piece is made up of several pieces of silk, hand painted with dots, and sewn together with shiny gold thread. It is semi-circular in shape, and is very worn. Despite its fragile condition, the colours have held very well, and are still as bold and as beautiful as ever. It is very difficult to tell what this piece was originally - perhaps a full circle? A shawl? Part of the set decoration?

Lastly, this is a hat, decorated with sequins and green painted dots. It is rectangular in shape, and is lined with a gathered fabric to help it fit the wearer better. The sequins are extremely fragile and come of easily. The stains on the lining show it was worn a lot. Also on the lining are two stamps, identifying the piece as owned by the Ballets Russes. Many of the costumes also have names written on the reverse of them, which has helped to identify them as from a particular production or year.
Associating pieces of costume with specific productions has been difficult, as very little of the dances were photographed in detail. Robert Bell writes, in the book 'Ballet Russes: The Art of Costume' that "costumes remains the only tangible part of productions and performances, given before the advent of film recordings". It is incredible that these costumes have survived, in such good condition considering their age, and the sense of mystery that surrounds them is both frustrating and enticing. This collection at the Camberwell Archive is relatively undocumented, and it is unknown which production each piece is from, although information about the items is growing. I recommend a visit to anyone interested in the Ballets Russes, or is looking to do some hands-on research. The collection is meant as an educational resource, so visitors and researchers are very welcomed.
For more information go to the Camberwell website. Camberwell College of Art is in South London, and is part of the University of the Arts, London.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Blackwork Embroidery Sleeves

Here are a few photos of the sleeve embroidery in progress...

I have traced the pattern I had previously designed onto the fabric, without cutting the sleeve panel out just yet. As the fabric frays easily, it is important that while I am handling it a lot, there is plenty of fabric around the seam lines. I will only cut the panel out when the embroidery is finished and everything is ready to sew together. I am using black cotton embroidery thread on white cotton fabric.
Another quick photo of making the chemise - hand sewing eyelets on the front opening...
To learn more about the incredible wall paintings that are inspiring this Tudor costume, you can visit the Much Hadham Forge Museum in Hertfordshire: www.hadhammuseum.org.uk

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Tudor Costume Fabrics

Here are the fabrics I have chosen to make the outer layers of the Tudor costume for the Much Hadham Forge Museum!

I am going to be making the dress as it would have looked like, so I have tried to image what the wall painting would have looked like before the colours faded to what they are now.
For the bodice, I will use a beautiful red silk dupion (center). The forepart (the patterned front panel of the underskirt) will be made with the gold and off-white jaquard weave fabric (right), and the brown shot polyester on the right will be used for the gown.
Each one of these fabrics react wonderfully with the light to create plenty of depth and a really luxurious look - I can't wait to see them as garments!
To learn more about the incredible wall paintings that are inspiring this Tudor costume, you can visit the Much Hadham Forge Museum in Hertfordshire:www.hadhammuseum.org.uk

Friday, 12 April 2013


'Blackwork' is a form of embroidery using solely black thread, traditionally on white cotton or linen. This form of textile decoration was immensely popular in Elizabethan times, and features on the dresses pictured  in the wall paintings at the Forge Museum in Much Hadham. You can see more detail about the blackwork sleeves from the wall painting in this post - The Mysterious Sleeves of George Gower's Paintings.

Here are a few examples of blackwork used in Elizabethan fashion, from the V&A collection:

Blackwork sleeve panels - Slightly later than Elizabethan (c.1610), but these sleeves are very similar in style to those in the costume I am making. They are made of white linen, with silk thread embroidery.
Detail of sleeve above
Elizabethan coifs (women's informal headwear - it was customary for men and women to cover their heads in public) c.1600-1625. These pieces feature lavish floral designs embellished with silver and gold.
Stomachers (decorative panels at the front of dresses, covering front lacing) c.1590-1610. This blackwork design is inspired by strapwork in Elizabethan interior design.
Detail of blackwork on a coif, with gold embellishment. These beautifully intricate and detailed patterns often feature motifs from nature - here, holly sprigs.

Elizabethan blackwork was usually done with running stitch and back stitch, varied to create speckle textures and raised areas. Speckled stitching was used to recreate the look of woodblock prints used in books and expensive artwork.

Blackwork was used decoratively in many parts of Elizabethan costume, though mainly sleeves, coifs, chemises, smocks and on accessories such as handkerchiefs.

In the wall painting at the Forge Museum, it is clear that the costume I am interpreting features blackwork on the sleeves and partlet. Drawing from a wide range of research, I have designed this blackwork pattern for the sleeves:

In my design, I have included some of the motifs that I can see in the wall painting (diamonds with crosses inside them, down the center). In the portrait of Lady Kytson by George Gower, the sleeves she is wearing are embroidered with swirls of leaves and flowers. Taking this further, and thinking about the context of the wall painting and the scene it depicts, I have chosen to use Tudor roses in place of plain flowers. This led me to think about the symbolism in costume - it was popular from the medieval times to dress in the colours of your family crest, or to use family emblems in clothing embellishment. Imagery in embroidery was also used to tells stories. So, to give my costume more of a personal touch I have incorporated the family crests of the Kytson and Cornwallis family, to represent Lady Elizabeth Kytson's identity. These crests are displayed at the grand entrance of Hengrave Hall, Suffolk where the Kytson family lived and Queen Elizabeth visited during her progress, on her way to Much Hadham.

I will use black thread on white cotton to create these sleeves, using a variety of stitches to create different textures and patterns. The sleeve will be constructed in two parts (this decorated panel being the outer one), as they were in the Elizabethan times. A small ruff will be attached to the cuff, and the sleeve will attach to the bodice with ties at the shoulder - sleeves were rarely permanently attached to bodices, to enable the wearer to make many different combinations from a small number of garments.

I'm really excited to see these sleeves finished - I think they'll add much needed intricate detail and will really give that wow factor! In my next post I'll show you all the fabrics I've chosen for the costume, and hopefully some photos of the finished chemise, corset and farthingale.

To learn more about the incredible wall paintings that are inspiring this Tudor costume, you can visit the Much Hadham Forge Museum in Hertfordshire:www.hadhammuseum.org.uk

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Progress on the Tudor Costume

Here are a few photographs of the work I've been doing on the Tudor costume lately...

Pattern for the chemise - the first layer of clothing
Hand sewing the binding on the chemise neckline

Sewing the waistline tabs onto the corset

Eyelets on the corset

Designing the embroidered sleeves
(you can read more about the (super exciting) sleeves
in this post - The Mysterious Sleeves Of George Gower's Paintings)
To learn more about the incredible wall paintings that are inspiring this Tudor costume, you can visit the Much Hadham Forge Museum in Hertfordshire:www.hadhammuseum.org.uk