I came across Gibson Girls at the beginning of last year and thought, "With my hair, I could belong in that crowd!" I decided to challenge myself by making a dress worn by the definitive Gibson Girl, Camille Clifford. And to justify the expense to myself I settled to make it for the YWU competition.
The biggest challenge was the source photographs (apologies that most of them are not in the public domain, you'll find some examples side by side with the photos of my recreation in my dress diary). This is probably Camille's most photographed dress, and it seems to have been altered with almost every photo shoot. The arm ribbons are in different configurations, the fit and fullness seems to change, and her hair is in a slightly different arrangement each time. I had to composite a dress from all these different photos.
In the original images the velvet also soaks up all the light, making seams almost impossible to see. As she was only in the business for a short time between 1902 and 1906, and all her dresses are one-piece numbers, it felt logical that they might be cut from the same or similar patterns to ensure a consistent look. So I studied all her other dresses to pull together a plausible pattern, altering a 1901/2 pattern from Janet Arnold to match. I've tweaked the lighting on a few of my photos so that you can see some of the construction and drape of my reconstruction.
Then there's Camille's figure. I'm not a tightlacer, and I'd never made a corset before in my life. I ended up making two. In the first attempt I didn't have the curves I needed through the waist, and didn't put enough pressure on my tummy for a true flat-fronted S-Bend look. The second was a Sanakor plunge - thank you Nikki! - which is a big improvement. I also made a chemise with ruffles to cover corset lines, a small bustle pad, bust enhancers (both Truly Victorian) and a ruffled taffeta petticoat based on examples in the Met Museum to support the velvet and give a good silhouette.
This was my first time working with velvet and I feel that if I did this again I'd deal with the fabric better. My sewing machine didn't like its slippery nature one bit, and I ended up doing everything but the ruffles and underthings by hand.
I'm really lucky to have a supportive sewing and costume-friendly family, who don't disown me for things like making my own hair rat! My mum has been a stalwart companion in fitting, pinning, corset tying, and that all-important honest opinion. My Nana has donated cotton lawn for my chemise, a lot of old trimmings and bits of lace from her magical hoard to the cause, some of which is the real thing by the look and feel of it.
I've come to absolutely love Camille as a person whilst researching this dress, and I hope I've done her justice!