Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Gala Nocturna - The Swan Princess

Well, of course I did not sew the dress from my last post without the prospect of an occasion to wear it! Just like the last two years, we went to the Gala Nocturna, a dark-romantic costume ball in Belgium. This year, it not only moved to a new venue, but also to a new city: After having taken place in a baroque church in Antwerp for several years, the Gala had moved last year to a beautiful 19th century hall and an adjacent orangery in the Antwerp Zoo and this year to the Concert Noble in Brussels - an 18th century ballroom and therefore probably the most 'conventional' venue for the Gala so far.
But conventional does by no means mean it was boring: several grand halls in Louis XIV style, connected by brocade-curtain adorned doorways, stuccoed ceilings, antique portrait paintings on the walls and the grand ballroom sported the largest crystal chandeliers I have ever seen. In short, everything you would imagine for a fairytale ballroom.

Only too bad I'm not into fairytales - but we'll set that aside for the moment.

The motto this year was The Swan Princess, mostly inspired by Swan Lake, and so most female and some of the male guests showed up adorned in gazillions of white and/or black feathers, many ballerinas and some rather creative dark swans could be spotted as well. Last year ("La belle et la bête"), everyone had horns, this year everyone had wings.

When we arrived, the historical dance lesson had already started and we joined in for one or two dances, until I got a little bored and a slightly annoyed, since people kept randomly entering the dance lesson without knowing the steps that had been taught before - chaos ensued, and off to the absinthe bar we went!
I was rather glad that the bars were a lot better organized than during the last years - one absinthe bar and two regular bars, both with incredibly fast and efficient staff. A direly needed improvement! The main bars served several themed longdrinks of which I only tried the White Swan, Prosecco with elder syrup, Not exactly exotic as a combination but nevertheless a nice addition to the drinks list.

Apart from the dance lesson, the program also featured an opening dance of the swan princess and the evil sorcerer - ballet, of course and a swan buffet, "for true swans only". We kept on making jokes what that might mean beforehand and we were right: It was a buffet featuring grasshoppers, maggots, worms, and other niceties of that sort. I did not bother to queue for the buffet, but I was told that the grasshoppers were deliciously crispy and comparable to chips.

What else happened? We chatted with friends and strangers, had a look at the little market that was set up between the entrance and the ballroom (not much temptation there, except maybe for the stall with gorgeous copper jewelry) and had our picture taken in the picture corner:

Don't we look elegant?  I think this is the prettiest picture I have of us two so far! I'm wearing my Victorian Oriental gown, my dashing partner is wearing a frock coat I found for him at a theatre sale last year. I really need to make a cravat for his outfit though...

Oh, and we danced! Someone took a video of the dancefloor, beautifully capturing the general splendour of the room, and you can see us waltzing by several times, looking very professional. If you're in Germany, you will probably not be able to see the video (Hallo GEMA!), but there's another version of it here on Facebook

All in all, I think the word "nice" applied best to the Gala Nocturna this year. I did have a good time, but I missed all the little surprises that made the last 2 years so special: the walking acts, the living statues, the spontaneous sword-fight shows...
The organisation has definitely improved since last year and I did not have the feeling of spending half of the evening in a queue. You still needed to exchange your money for drink tokens before buying anything at the bar, which is probably a lot easier for the bar personnel, but the fact that you weren't able to change leftover tokens back to "real" money at the end of the night was slightly annoying. Although, at least this year it was clearly communicated that they wouldn't be taken back anymore: I remember standing next to a poor girl 2 years ago, who still had 50€ in tokens at the end of the evening and Viona at the cashier station simply refused to exchange them again.

Also, the motto and the venue this year weren't quite my cup of tea. As I said, too much cliché  fairytale, too one-dimensional (hey, lets take a goth dress and glue some feathers on!), not historical enough. I guess this is owed to the Gala having grown rather big by now: a motto like this is just easier to relate to for a wider audience than "The Pope's daughter". Still, next year I'd like a proper historically inspired motto again, please!

But I'm not really complaining, my expectations got fulfilled: I got to wear my pretty new dress, met friends, danced until my feet hurt and got a little drunk on absinthe and prosecco. Let's see what the 2016 edition holds, after all it will be the 10-year-anniversary!

Saturday, 21 March 2015

A passage to india - My Victorian Oriental Mashup Bustle Gown

The idea of an orient-inspired historical gown has been lurking in the back of my mind for quite a while now - during all my holidays in south-east asia I've seen so many lovely fabrics in vibrant colours and exotic patterns, traditional costumes and headdresses and embroideries, I really wanted to create something using this as an inspiration.

And a project like that wouldn't even be inauthentic: there have been several waves of orientalism during the 18th and 19th century, the late 18th century Robe à la Turque being one of the resulting fashion trends. I however preferred to go more towards the late bustle era, because

1) I've made several 18th century style dresses now: a Chemise dress, a regular Robe à l'Anglaise, a zone-front Anglaise, and a Robe à la Francaise...time for a new time period!
2) I wish I could insert more profoundly researched reasoning about victorian orientalism and imperialism here, but: I like bustles -

  • Bustles have lots of draping
  • Indian Sarees are drapey, too!
  • Embroidered sarees are gorgeous!
  • Indian vintage sarees are dead cheap on ebay
  • Therefore: saree bustle, here I come!

While looking for inspiration, I also came across the Duchess of Devonshire's Diamond Jubilee costume ball in 1897: The british high society assembled and dressed up as characters from history, literature, art and mythology, everything documented by photographers (so basically, just like today). Most costumes were exclusively made by haute couture designers like the House of Worth and some of them have survived until today. Especially the mythologically inspired dressed caught my eye: the hostess herself dressed up as Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra, the green embroidered dress reminds me a little of peacocks.
A nice collection of portraits from the ball can be found in this blog, including some analysis about the costumes.

So, anyway, I went on ebay and ordered 2 sarees, a red one and a plainer black one, and then I started working!

One of my sarees, before I cut it up - gorgeously embroidered!

Step 1: new underwear!
Of course I have dozens of victorian corsets, but none of them are really suitable for underwear, and I also needed a bustle.
While making the corset, I discovered one of the advantages of living in a large city now: I can spontaneously go to the store and buy a corset clasp, without having to order online, imagine that!

I found the lobster bustle pattern on American Duchess, while the corset pattern is probably my 5th Laughing Moon Silverado corset - it just fits comfortably and results in a nice silhouette. I made it from 2 layers of floral and herringbone coutil and a mix of spiral steel and flat steel boning - business as usual and nothing special.

Finished - lobster bustle and corset

Step 2: Foundation skirt
The black saree that I ordered as well got cut up first and I made a basic foundation skirt from it. The nice thing about working with sarees: they're already hemmed and this one even has some sort of facing on the hem, so it doesn't get damaged as easily. Amazing stuff for a lazy seamstress!

I actually intended to also make an additional cotton petticoat to go under it - but the flu and a family emergency got the better of me, so I didn't have enough time in the end.

Step 3: Drapery
This is where my lovely red saree went: The Truly Victorian 374 pattern for an asymmetrical overskirt was just perfect, since it allowed me to make full use of the beautifully embroidered border of the saree. It came together easily and nicely and I was glad that the saree silk was so light: in the back, lots of fabric had to go into little pleats, which would have been quite annoying with a heavy fabric!

I used the Pallu, the pretty embroidered front part for the front part of the drapery - I love how all of the pleats are falling, the TV sewing pattern is really amazing!

Step 4: Bodice
This was the part that I was a little afraid of: I had to modify the bodice pattern a little, since I wanted it to be closed in the back instead of the front. Also, I wanted it to fit perfectly over the corset to show off my corsetted waist :) . But once again I had the luck of fitting into the sewing pattern almost without any modifications, only for the sleeves I should have taken a little more width. They are designed to be off-the-shoulder, but for comfort it would have been nice to have them more closely fitting.

All in all, the bodice is made from 4 layers: Saree fabric, fusible interfacing, interfacing and lining, plus 12 steel bones to make sure the fabric lies smoothly.
Once the bodice itself was finished, I hemmed what was left of the red saree, folded it up and hand-stitched it to the bodice. I had originally planned for a more sophisticated drapery here, but in the end I stuck more closely to how actual sarees are worn - and I quite like it!


This was the first project where I used piping - gives it a so much cleaner look!

I finished it just in time for this year's Gala Nocturna (and by "just in time", this time I don't even mean "had to hand-stitch the rest on the train", but "the evening before", I guess my planning is getting better)) - but I'll write extensively about our trip to Brussels in the next blog post!

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Spring in Amsterdam...

It's been a while now since my last update here... I guess everyday life here has not been so exciting and I've also been rather caught up in university work. So here's a little update of random things that happened during the past weeks.

Already in mid-january, the dutch celebrated National Tulip Day and brought thousands and thousands of tulips to Dam Square outside the royal palace, free for everyone to pluck - naturally, the lines for going inside the plucking area were long, so I only took some pictures from outside:

In the meantime, spring has also arrived here in Amsterdam, and while the canals during misty winter mornings have had a certain romantic touch, especially with a thin layer of ice and maybe a snowflake or two on the bridges (part of me had hoped that we would see the canals frozen solid, but you'd need around a week of temperatures far below 0 for that to happen), I definitely prefer the longer days, stronger sun rays and budding flowers everywhere.

And we've opened the barbecue season!

At home I've started a small attempt of proving to myself that my black thumb might not be as black as I think it is and have started a little herb garden, courtesy of Ikea, with coriander, thyme, parsley, oregano, basil and lemon balm.

So far, I seem to be rather successful - only the lemon balm doesn't want to grow, but I wouldn't know what to do with it anyway. Also, I'm still not entirely sure what I should do with our little piece of garden, where so far only ferns grow since some corners of it barely get any sun.

And I finally made it to the Rijksmuseum! I've had my Museumkaart, which gives me access to most museums in the Netherlands, for a while now and never used it. And since I bike past (or rather: through) the Rijksmuseum on a daily basis, this one was first on my list. Apart from the famous Night Watch and some other Rembrandt and Van Gogh paintings, I especially liked their antique dolls' houses: collected by rich women as a hobby, some of them were so exquisite, that they would cost about as much as a real house.