I no longer remember where in the wilds of the interwebs I found this charming servant, but find her I did, three years ago. I probably came across her researching servants, and found her striking (since she is), so saved the image while moving on to Pyne or Krimmel for more geographically appropriate sources. Still, I’d picked up a remnant of brown and pink printed cotton at Genesee, and had a start to this ensemble.
A scrap of that print was in my pocket when my dear friend (formerly m’colleague) and I went took the train down to New York for a fabric spree. We went in late June (Genesee was early that year), trying to use up vacation time so we didn’t lose it before the end of the fiscal year– any year I didn’t have a hip replacement, I tended to lose a week of vacation so we were motivated to take time off.
I remember that my favorite dress demonstrated a peculiar friendliness, and required a safety pin for modesty’s sake. I remember m’colleague being overwhelmed in the crosswalks at Herald Square, and taking her hand to get her through the sea of bodies and cars. (She grew up in a very small town in northern Rhode Island, where apple orchards were within walking distance; I grew up on the north side of Chicago, taking the bus to the Loop.) But at Mood, I found the fabric that I knew would make the petticoat.
Pink tropical weight wool, don’t ask me how much a yard. I don’t remember, but it was certainly more than I’d paid for any fabric before, with the exception of silk dupioni I bought for a wedding dress. Madness, I thought– but beautiful madness. I started on the short gown (see above) with an extant European garment as inspiration (probably found through Sabine’s work); then I started on the petticoat.
And promptly dropped the project while I changed my life completely. The short gown I finished, and wore as a housekeeper for some Wednesday afternoon programs, but I never managed to get that petticoat finished– until this past week. The pink and black bonnet needed an ensemble, and half of it was present, in the form of the Spencer.
But what I wanted to do was to recreate that plate, short gown, cap, and all. I’m still short the black silk apron, and my cap will always be Anglo-American, but I got close enough to be satisfied that I reached the goal I set three years ago. What I did discover in trying to replicate this image was slightly unexpected, and entirely useful. Just as fashion images are exaggerated today, so too were they exaggerated in the past. M’lady in the image at top is elongated– I’m nearly six feet tall, and I cannot achieve her length. Granted, the waist on my short gown is lower than hers, but still: she’s drawn as if she has the proverbial “legs up to here.” What’s useful about this, and about trying to recreate images from the past, is that these exercises reveal some of the foibles and preferences of the past, which help us see past the filter of the present and get closer to understanding the past.