I saw this gown on a trip to Paris in January 2013. I loved it and spent a while drawing the pattern and making notes on the colours. I have always loved the 18th Century—definitely a favourite thing of mine!!—and when the chance came to make the gown I took it.
I love the beauty in the detail, and have always loved passementerie, so this gown gave me the chance to actually try my hand at it! I had no idea how I was going to do it, but with some encouragement I decided just to go for it and take some risks. The original gown was made of cotton, which helped a lot with finding a suitable fabric. I used a very simple unbleached, scoured cotton - basically a lightweight calico - which had a suitable creamy colour, with the flecks of darker natural tones. I used this for the whole gown, and for the robings.
Other fabrics I used included linen or the inner bodice and pocket hoops, and silk and coutil for the stays. I created period correct underpinnings, the corset from Norah Waugh’s Corsets and Crinolines, and the hoops from Jean Hunnisett. I used plastic bones rather than steel, as I felt they were the closest thing to whalebone currently available.
There were three major parts to the gown aesthetically - the print, the buttons and the trim. I found a photo of the original gown online and used that to digitally create the outline of a pattern that could then be printed onto the cloth. I used two screenprints, and then hand painted in the other six colours. This didn’t take as long as you might think, I thank God for audiobooks!
The buttons required a lot of research, and some trial and error. But I’m so pleased I persevered, as I think they are a key element to the final gown. Deathshead buttons are made by wrapping a thread around a button mould in a star shape, until the button is full of thread. Changing colours gives the star appearance.
The trim was another trial and error situation. Original 18th century passementerie was hand woven, and anything vaguely along those lines is very expensive. So instead I worked out a way of free-machining along a fine russia braid to give a looped edge to the braid. The hat and shoes were bought and then reblocked/dyed/trimmed.