Red Renaissance Gown

A couple of months ago my wonderful dance instructor, Anna, at Seattle Early Dance gave my number to one of the ladies in her Renaissance Dance class. They had a performance coming up in six weeks, the first one for the lady in question in the Renaissance genre, and she needed a new gown. We talked, exchanged a couple of emails, and a week or so later I went ’round to her house to take her measurements and get started on her dress.

When we first spoke, she showed me a painting of a very young Queen Elizabeth I that she fancied. We then went over some fabric samples that I had brought and discussed various options that she could go with as well as some modifications to the original dress that might be better suited to a dance performance, like making the under-sleeves more tightly fitting to better show arm movements. We settled on a mid-weight cotton velvet for the main body of the dress and a pleated silk taffeta that I had brought a sample of for her to look at. We opted to keep the trimmings simple, with no treatment at the shoulders and just a very simple skirting at the edge of the bodice that would make sure the waistband of her overskirt stayed covered. The neckline would be done in alternating ruby-and-gold ‘ouches’, which is the period name for what is effectively a jeweled button, and little clusters of glass pearls. After showing her various hat options she settled on a darling little pillbox style with a long veil that we had decided to do in a metallic gold silk organza. I sketched up her design for her approval and the next day I mailed her a list of what we’d need so that she could order the fabrics and findings herself. I took her measurements and we were off and running.

About a week later I came back with a toile of the bodice to fit on her. A toile is sort of a test/pattern garment that you use to get the fit just right before you cut it out of the real fabric, which I was just picking up at that point. I marked some adjustments on the toile and picked up the velvet that had just arrived, and went to work in earnest. Two weeks and a couple of fittings later we were almost done and I just had to tack the hem over the hoop skirt and trim the neckline of the bodice with the jewels that had just arrived.

We were pretty close to their dress rehearsals at that point so I speedily whipped through putting the hem in and trimming the neckline of the dress. I had originally planned on using a bias cut strip of the underskirt silk as a backing for the neckline trimming, but it proved not quite flexible enough and so instead I opted to go with a lacy bit of gold corded trim about an inch and a half wide, and that worked perfectly. The large band of gold and gems at the neckline looked beautiful under the stage lights as she danced,  twinkling beautifully, and the scarlet color was just stunning.

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