Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Courtesan Project

Or- This is the way we destash our space.
Last year I moved into a new house. Prior to this, my husband and I lived in a smaller home that had been renovated to make it wheelchair accessible. Unfortunately, the room that worked as a sewing room was on the second floor and the staircase and hallway were too narrow for a stairlift. This meant that any time I wanted to sew, someone had to carry me up the stairs. Consequently, I spent a lot of time sewing in the dining room. This also meant that anytime I wanted anything from upstairs, someone would have to run up and I'd have to sit at the bottom of the stairs and have conversations like this:

Me: I need the black velvet.
Boy: Is this it?
Me: No, that's black linen.
Boy: How about this?
Me: No, that's black cotton.
Boy: How about THIS?
Me: No, that's black silk.
Boy: I give up. We're going to Joann's to get it.

The new house had an amazing sewing room. The woman who lived there previously had clearly been an avid sewer (as most of her stuff was still in the house when we first viewed as, along with a huge collection of antique sewing machines). There was an entire wall of cabinets, a huge work table, a sink, a small bathroom, outlets every three feet and track lighting on every available surface. The only problem? It was on the third floor. We went back and forth a little bit on the feasibility of making it accessible but in the end I won and two stairlifts went in. And now, after two staircases and four transfers, I have the perfect sewing space.

But after some hasty unpacking and about six months of stalling with no real sewing being accomplished, I realized that I needed a serious cleanout. This may have been prompted by buying some new fabric for a project only to realize that I had the same exact fabric already in a cabinet, buried under a hundred other things. Clearly I needed a different system and some better organization. A cleaner and more understandable workspace.

I spent the better part of a weekend going through a lot of what was upstairs and cleaning out a lot of drawers. I purged a lot of stuff. I also found some amazing things I forgot I had, and was inspired to sew again.

Which started the courtesan project. I had beautiful fabric but it was languishing in a dark cabinet, waiting for the "perfect" project. I took a deep breath, reminded myself that there are factories somewhere producing more beautiful fabric at this very moment and started designing.

My two models are Rebecca, a good friend, and Karen, my sister. If you look through the gallery it's pretty obvious that my baby sister is my favorite model. She's pretty agreeable about anything I want to sew her into and will willingly wear all the necessary pieces to outfits, including goofy hats and all the right underwear. I can always count on her to make my stuff look good.
So two courtesan gowns, modeled by two very lovely ladies, with an attempt to use as much as possible from what is already in the stash.
Rebecca let me go crazy with whatever I wanted to sew, so I started looking at venetian gowns of the 1590's. Around that time, portraits started showing gowns with a much lower bodice line, hitting beneath the bust. The sleeves appear to be attached to the partlet, which were beautifully decorated with jewels and lace.

In the end, this is the picture we both liked the best.  We both loved the under the bust style with  the venetian open and laced front, plus the partlet that's elaborate and pretty without necessarily having one of those ruffs that catch you as you walk through doorways.  We may amp it up a bit with some jewels and lace, like the picture above but keep the collar the same size.

Rebecca's gown is being made out of black velvet with a red silk underskirt that has gold fleur de lis on it.  I haven't found the perfect partlet fabric yet, but we're still looking. 

Karen wanted a much simpler gown, more of a courtesan-in-training as she's a bit younger than the rest of us.  She picked this portrait:
and her gown will be made out of a black and red damask I've had lying around forever.  I've had about four other people covet it and it's taken me years to find something to do with it.  I finally just bit the bullet and cut it up.  The pattern of the fabric matches the portrait pretty closely. The dress is done right now except for the sleeves and the hem, because I want to see if she wants to wear it over her underskirt for dancing.  She'll get to try it on when she comes up next weekend, so hopefully everything will fit and work out.

No comments: