My first encounter in replicating a portrait was a few years ago when asked to bring Henry VIII and Elizabeth I to life. Replica costumes were needed for teachers to dress up as the two monarchs whilst working on Curriculum themed projects at Compton Verney Gallery, Warkwickshire, UK.
Challenge number one was the practicality of putting on/taking off the costumes quickly, and making them suitable to fit various sizes. I chose to use ribbon fastenings on back openings to allow flexibility. Authenticity regarding fabrics and how they were made was not important; the priority was to achieve an exact copy of the portraits so that the children believed that the monarchs had "walked out" of the portraits.
The key elements for Henry VIII were the fine gold decorations, jewelled embellishments and the need to be padded to accentuate size. I chose to use a pinstripe fabric with stripes, which I stitched in gold on the lines. I decided to hand-paint the filigree designs with gold fabric paint, as the panels were not too big. The embellishments were made from different layers of trim on top of one another to create the finished look.
The fabric for Elizabeth I's dress was the most challenging to replicate. I knew that it would be impossible to hand-paint because it would be too labour intensive to decorate fifteen metres of silk dupion. Following a chance visit to a local sewing machine retailer I discovered the concept of digitising with a computerised machine, and decided to buy one. The designs were drawn and scanned into the computer and then downloaded to the machine. The rest was plain sailing, and free-hand embroidered feathering completed the design. All that was left was to embellish the dress with jewels and pearls. The new machine has proved to be invaluable since, and has been used many times on different projects.
I also made a red satin farthingale and a bum roll to be worn as underpinnings.
My most recent project gave me very different challenges to face when I was asked to copy the costume worn by Calypso from Pirates of the Caribbean. In order to replicate an exact copy it was important to find the correct fabrics that looked as close as possible to the original. My interpretation of the costume was a boned bodice, using an open weave lace to look like netting, a frilled top skirt, attached to a brocade edged underskirt, and a top coat, with a detailed back feature. Different furnishing braids were used as decoration. A leather belt trimmed with shells, beads and goose feathers finished the ensemble. Once completed it was necessary to distress the costume in order to age it. I soaked the whole outfit in salt water and dried it in strong sunlight two or three times, which helped to fade the colours. I also soaked the cream lace cuffs in cold tea to give an aged look. Once it was completely dry, I had to take the scissors to it! Although I felt that I was destroying my hard work, the finished "distressed" costume looked far more realistic.