An Invitation to a Mad Tea Party

I'd like to invite you to send me photos of hats. Any photo of your favourite hat will do, including a hat that you make using the origami instructions shown in yesterday's post, another hat that you make/knit/sew/craft, or your favourite hat (and hopefully are wearing).

My week seemed to be all about hats, including the Mad Hatter's Tea Party in Alice in Wonderland (which I read for Blog of a Bookworm), the exhibition on Hats at the Victoria and Albert Museum, and my washi hat creations. Tristan Robin Blakeman of Enchanted Revelry said he was going to try the origami hat instructions in his studio today. I'd love to see everyone's fanciful hat creations.

Let's have a tea party! Now the question is will I be the only one there? Please email your photos to as soon as possible, preferably in the next week or so.

Book Review: 18th Century Embroidery Techniques

"I would not be a Designer if I did not maintain (and it would not be difficult for me to prove) that Design is the basis and Foundation of Embroidery."
Charles Germain de Saint-Aubin, Designer for King Louis XV, 1770

In the 18th Century, embroidery was an essential decorative element for both men's and women's fashions. Techniques using silk, metal threads, spangles, quilting, and whitework were often all incorporated into a single garment.

Title: 18th Century Embroidery Techniques
Author: Gail Marsh
Publisher: Guild of Master Craftsman Publications Ltd., East Sussex, UK, 2006
Number of Pages: 192
Price: US$24.95, Canada $32.95
Category: Non-fiction, instructional

What it is about:
Gail Marsh compiled ten volumes of research when she did a Master of Arts degree on 18th century embroidery techniques (I wish I could do that!). This book is a culmination of that research.

Laid out like an instruction book, Marsh also provides a history of 18th century embroidery tools and techniques with accompanying photos and illustrations.

Why I Chose this Book:
I'd like to incorporate embroidery into my textile art, but I have yet another of mental block on how to get started (seems like I have a few of those LOL). Last summer, while at the Victoria and Albert Museum's giftshop, I purchased a small embroidery kit. I thought I might try it on the plane ride home, but it ended up in my suitcase since embroidery scissors are not allowed in the cabin. And wouldn't my luck be that the embroidery hoop broke in my suitcase...

After seeing Marie Antoinette's dress at the Royal Ontario Museum in the fall of 2008 (see my fashion blog for photos), I was enchanted by the exquisite embroidery on the train of the dress and my desire to learn embroidery returned. I tried to find an embroidery class in Toronto but that was a dead end!

Guess where I'll be learning embroidery? At a workshop in Paris in May. But in the meantime, I really should practice at least some of the basics and hence, I read this book very carefully.

Rating: A

The book is thoughtfully laid out with clear instructions, colour photos and simple line-drawings. The author adds interest and charm to her instructions with quotes from diaries and writings of the period, such as this:

Felix Hezecques, Souvenir d'un Page de la Cour de Louis XVI, circa 1780
"In the morning the King wore a grey coat until it was time for his toilette. Then he put on a cloth suit, often brown, with a steel or silver sword. But on Sundays and ceremonial occassions his suits were of very beautiful materials, embroidered in silks and paillettes, often, as the fashion was then, the velvet coat was entirely covered with little spangles which made it very dazzling." (page 43)

I am embarrassed to say that I have STILL not tried to embroider anything. I'm almost more intimidated than less after reading this book. The workmanship from the 18th century is so exquisite that I just know I'll never measure up.

Nevertheless, this book is a useful resource for anyone interested in historical fashion, costume design, and of course, embroidery.

Hats and Inspiration

People often ask me how I get inspiration for my artwork. My answer is that I don't really know when or how inspiration will come, but the key is to be open to the world around me.

For example, while researching the newly opened exhibition of hats at the Victoria and Albert Museum curated by Stephen Jones, I noticed this instruction sheet on the V&A website. Artist Nick Robinson lays out visuals on how to make an origami hat.

I gave it a try, first with a regular piece of paper, and then using smaller pieces of paper. After a few attempts, it started to be fun. By that point, I was confident enough in the method that I could modify his instructions to suit my vision. I used pretty Japanese handmade washi paper and applied ribbon trims. In the end, I abandoned the origami method altogether and tried a pillbox style. And this was the result. These paper hats are very tiny (the pink one is maybe an inch tall).

A trio of Party Hats
Mixed media, copyright Ingrid Mida 2009

The Hat

This is the hat that I referred to in my post on hats on Monday. Isn't it fabulous? If only I could actually wear it! But even in the few minutes that I had it on to take my photo, I ended up with hat head.

Apparently the opening night gala for the Victoria and Albert Museum's exhibition Hats: An Anthology by Stephen Jones was the talk of today's fashion press. Almost everyone wore hats and those that did not, probably regretted it like Vogue's Plum Sykes (maybe she didn't want to get hat head!). To see a slideshow of the gala evening, check out on NY Mag's Fashion Alert.

Marie Antoinette's Dress goes to Versailles

Today I popped into the Royal Ontario Museum to see what's new in the Patricia Harris Costume and Textile Gallery. Sadly, the answer is NOTHING. They have removed Marie Antoinette's dress but left the cabinet empty.

Although there was no information in the gallery what was to come next or what happened to MA's dress, I happen to know for a fact that Marie Antoinette's dress is en-route to Versailles. It will be displayed in their upcoming exhibition called Fastes de la Cour et Ceremonies Royal or "Court Pomp and Royal Ceremony" which opens on March 31 and closes on June 28, 2009.

I will be in Versailles in May and look forward to seeing this lovely gown again. I'm fairly certain that it will look more beautiful at Versailles.

If you would like to read more about this dress, specifically its history and attribution, please see my postings from October and November 2008.

Court Pomp and Royal Ceremony, Chateau Versailles, France
March 31 - June 28, 2009

Hats: An Anthology by Stephen Jones

One of my favourite fashion haunts is the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, England. Their exhibitions are divinely inspired and innovative. Their latest exhibition Hats: An Anthology by Stephen Jones opens tomorrow (February 24, 2009 - May 31, 2009). Stephen Jones is a top-notch London milliner who has designed hats for people such as Princess Diana and Isabella Blow. He often works in collaboration with fashion designers like John Galliano and Marc Jacobs.

In this exhibition at the V&A, Jones has curated this exhibition of over 300 hats for their cultural and historical importance. "Historic hats redolent of romance and adventure are a constant source of inspiration for many milliners. Simple folded shapes such as the tricore can be reimagined, evoking the drama of a bygone age."

I won't be able to make it over to see the V&A in person for this show but I was thrilled that I could actually view many of the hats on-line. There is also a mesmerizing video of how a hat is created. Making a hat is a labour of love to be sure! And if you'd like to see Stephen Jones talk about his life and his work, check out the youtube video.

Seeing this exhibition online reminded me of a glorious hat that I bought a few years back and have tucked in the back of my closet. I've never had the nerve to wear it but the quote from French fashion editor Genevieve Dariaux seems appropo: "take the one you fall in love with, which mysteriously does something for you, which magically makes you feel more beautiful." I felt beautiful and mysterious when I tried on this hat in the shop. Maybe it is time to actually wear it!

Marie Antoinette's Apple Green Bodice

Elisabeth at kindly provided me with this image of the apple-green bodice that I referred to in my earlier post. It is located at the Musee Galleria musee de la mode de la Ville de Paris.

The bodice does not appear to have any padding. I guess I was wrong. But I will make a point of going to the Museum of Fashion in May when I visit Paris to take a closer look (if it is on display at that time)!

Revisiting Marie Antoinette's Corset Rebellion

French iron corset, 1580-1600, collection of the Kyoto Costume Institute

When Marie Antoinette first arrived in the court of France, she was expected to wear the tightly laced grand corps. Not only was this corset very stiff and uncomfortable, it often "severely restricted its wearer's movements, especially around the arms" according to the Marquise de La Tour du Pin. Others reported side effects like "heart palpitations, asthma, vapors, and stinking breath".

With the oppressive heat of her first summer in France, Marie Antoinette abandoned her corset and went without. She was thin enough to do so but it caused outrage amongst the courtiers. This juicy gossip of MA's corset rebellion quickly circulated through the courts of Europe. It was said that: "Marie Antoinette's waist was growing misshapen, and her right shoulder out of kilter" (Comtesse de Noailles) and "one of the future queen's shoulder blades was more protruding than the other" (quote not attributed). (Source: "Queen of Fashion" by Caroline Weber, page 69).

I couldn't help but wonder whether Marie Antoinette may have had scoliosis, a curvature of the spine. With this condition, it is common for one shoulder to protrude or sit higher than the other. (I was diagnosed with scoliosis when I was 13 and it was my uneven shoulders that was the first hint of a problem. I had to wear a steel corset not nearly as beautiful as the iron one shown above. I'm pretty sure that is why I have an obsession with corsets in my artwork and writing).

I suppose there will never be a definitive answer to this question since so few MA garments survived the scourge of the French revolution. But there was an apple-green bodice belonging to Marie Antoinette that still exists somewhere.

"An English lord touring Marie Antoinette's apartments after she and her family had been sent to jail asked to examine a bodice of hers that revolutionary loots had left lying on the floor. He explained to his puzzled French companions that he had long ago heard tales of the young woman's misshapen right shoulder--attributable to her avoidance of the grand corps--and was curious to see whether her bodice was padded to disguise the deficiency". (Source: Queen of Fashion by Caroline Weber, page 69). Weber does not reveal whether or not her apple green bodice was padded or not.

I'll have to do more research to find out. If anyone knows where this bodice is, please let me know. The credit that accompanies the photo of this apple green bodice in Weber's book reports the photo is from the NY Public Library but obviously they don't own the garment itself.

Grande robe a la francaise

A little gift for all my new blogging friends...another fashion plate.

Fashion Plate #51 (partial image), copyright Ingrid Mida 2009 12x12, Mixed Media

In the second and third quarters of the 18th century, woman's court fashion was characterized by huge skirt with paniers and high coiffures. The robe a la francaise consisted of a tight fitting bodice with a stomacher, exaggerated skirt puffed out by paniers, and a sack back (two large double pleats which hung freely at the back from shoulders to hem).

While one often sees images of Marie Antoinette dressed in this manner, she, in fact disliked the discomfort of wearing a grand corps. The corsets of the French court were much stiffer than those worn in Austria and she decided to stage her own form of corset rebellion (please refer to my posting of October 13, 2008 if you'd like to read more on that).

Lies We Tell Our Mothers....

Official Portrait of Marie Antoinette by Gautier d'Agoty (1775)

Marie Antoinette often ignored her mother's written admonitions about her dress and hair at the French court. (Who can blame Marie Antoinette given that her mother used her as a political pawn in the chessboard of Europe?) However, in two letters, she attempts to answer her mother's criticisms.

Marie Antoinette to Maria Theresa
Versailles, 17 March 1775

"It is true that I take some care of the way I dress; and, as for feathers, everyone wears them, and it would seem extraordinary not to wear them. Their height has been much curtailed since the end of the balls..."
(page 160)

Marie Antoinette to Maria Theresa
Marly, 13 June 1776

"I wasn't able to have the drawings of the coiffures before the courier left; my dear Mama must have received them through the baron de Breteuil's courier. Coiffures for women of a certain age are like all other articles of clothing and adornment, except for rouge, which old women still wear here and often more than the young ones. For the rest, after forty-five, they wear softer, less noticeable colors, the dresses are less closely fitting and heavier, the hair is less curled, and the coiffures are less high."
(page 192)

Source: Secrets of Marie Antoinette by Olivier Bernier, Doubleday & Company, NY 1985

Marie Antoinette's Mother Warned her about Extremes in Fashion

In at least three separate letters, the Empress Maria Theresa reprimanded her daughter Marie Antoinette for her extravagant and extreme sartorial selections.

Maria Theresa to Marie Antoinette
Vienna 5 March 1775
"In the same way I can't prevent myself raising a point which many gazettes repeat all too often: it is the coiffure you use; they say that from the forehead up it is thirty-six inches high, and with so many feathers and ribbons to adorn it! You know that I always have thought that fashion should be followed moderately, without ever exaggerating them. A young and pretty Queen, who is full of attractions, doesn't need all these follies; on the contrary, the simplicity of your adornment will show you off better and is more suitable to the rank of a Queen." (page 159)

Maria Theresa to Marie Antoinette
Vienna 30 May 1776

"Madame my dear daughter, ....You have forgotten the drawings showing how you dress; we are being shown outfits so exaggerated that I cannot believe that the Queen, my daughter, should wear the like. Please also add how women of a certain age are arranged; it is not that I want to be critical, but I cannot believe that reasonable people dress as we are told over here, and I want to defend the French nation and only attribute these childish displays to the young, with whom one must be indulgent." (page 190)

Maria Theresa to Marie Antoinette
Schonbrunn, 30 June 1776

"Madame my dear daughter....I am delighted that you go on with your reading and your music; they are necessary resources, especially so for you. I must say that the drawings of the French outfits are very extraordinary; I can't believe that they are actually worn, and even less at Court." (page 194)

Source: Secrets of Marie Antoinette, by Olivier Bernier, Doubleday & Co, 1985
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