Carnivale of Couture: Kathleen

Almost reluctantly, I write my couture carnival entry. I couldn’t have delayed it any longer. I had a hard time deciding which garment to feature and being the collector I am, I have a lot to pick from. My first choice would have been the slip but I already wrote about it. I guess it’s only fitting then, that my second choice be similar in some regard to the first. Actually, I bought the slip and this dress (below) on the same day and from the same person. For the same price.

It’s a full length silk sequined gown, underlined of course. Pattern wise, it couldn’t be any simpler. With that piped waist and darted, scoop-necked bodice, it’s your basic fitting shell. Does it surprise you that I picked something so simple? Yesterday I said that I liked technically complex patterns but today, I was in the mood to pay homage to someone who had other kinds of skills and abilities. So, technically speaking, pattern-wise it’s no biggie. It’s special because it was handmade by an individual. It took a lot of patience, dedication and follow through. That’s more than I can say about a lot of my projects. I feel guilty about owning it; I’ve never worn it. Only tried it on once. I don’t have any place to wear something like this. It should belong to someone who will wear it sometime. Below is a close up of the bodice.


Below is a close up of the embroidery detail. What hasn’t been embroidered in silk ribbon is sequined. The shell is silk, the lining is silk, the ribbons are silk. Can you guess what the sequins are?

I always thought the sequins looked a little off. A little different. I couldn’t figure out why I was noticing them. Long story short, the sequins aren’t plastic -they’re mother of pearl. They’re REAL sequins. I guess it only makes sense if you think about it. Sequins existed before plastic did but it didn’t occur to me. I wish I could find a good home for this. Something like this should be worn. It’s too beautiful to live out the rest of my life in the back of my closet. It’s not my color either.

Below is a photo of the inside of the dress.

The dress has been underlined. It has the extra wide seam allowances so it can be altered. All the seams are finished, facings are separate. The piped waist seam is bound.

I wanted to mention something about underlining. The description of underlining is that two pieces are worked together as one layer. Underlining is done for either warm or strength. With embroidery, you need strength; the shell can only handle so much weight, particularly when it’s also having lots of little holes poked all over it. The second reason for underlining is warmth. You’d add an underlining to a coat if needed. These days, underlining has come to mean the fusible layer that is bonded to the shell fabric -in other words, a product. Using fusible underlining has become so prevalent that when you use the word ‘underlining’, most people are thinking about a product, not a process.

And speaking of vintage, Jinjer passes a link to view the Lacis Museum. I can’t date these dresses correctly (I only took fashion history because I had to) but I doubt any of them were made in the 20th century. 1700’s-1800’s would be my guess. Naturally, I was most interested in the structural engineering of the bustles.

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11 comments

  1. Ileen says:

    Wow, that is stunningly beautiful. Does it still fit you? I would love to see a picture of it actually being worn. You shouldn’t feel guilty about owning it — who better to own something like this than someone who can appreciate everything about it as you do! You can wear it to your son’s wedding someday….

  2. Jill says:

    That is one of the most beautiful dresses I have ever seen! I would love to own a dress like this! That must have taken the woman who created this a very long time and she must have had a lot of patience!

  3. jinjer says:

    Gorgeous dress!
    There’s a really awesome bead store in S.F. that sells vintage sequins. Most of them are made of gelatin (pre-dates plastic); I’ve never seen mother of pearl ones, but now I’ll have to look for them! Vintage sequins are so gorgeous–I have copper ones (yes, they are actually made of copper), which have been stamped into a beautiful and unusual 3-D shape. They’re sitting in a box waiting for me to have time to make a new bellydancing costume. Sigh.

    Please don’t feel guilty for owning something you can’t wear. It brings you just as mush happiness on the hanger, right?

  4. Rebecca says:

    I agree, that is an amazing dress. And your readers are showing remarkable restraint in not begging for it.

    Signed,

    Seriously Resisting Listing All The Places I Could Wear That (a fiction, of course!)

  5. laurra says:

    Hi Kathlen,
    Dont you dare give it away, frame it. Framing gives authority.I was at a yard sale a couple of days ago and found some lovely silk scraves and dollies.This women knew how to sew.I will frame all these pieces in honor of her craft.
    I do collect fiber art when women had no rights as I collect tranny art today.Oh by the way New Mexico does have a gender law on the books. laurra

  6. Carol Kimball says:

    Historical trivia: the very first sequins were tiny gold coins – the suspicious sister-in-law who loaned Ali Baba a pot to measure but first smeared some fat in it to see what he was up to, captured a sequin.

    Imagine a cloth-of-gold robe covered with those puppies! You’d need seventeen pages to help bear the weight.

    Beautiful dress, Kathleen.

  7. Gloria says:

    Wow, Kathleen. That looks so gorgeous! I agree with Laura- don’t you even think about giving that away! Or rather, that’s the selfish nature in me: if I had a dress like that, I’d let it go over my dead body. :P

  8. Sue says:

    Mother-of-pear sequins!!! Oh, wow! I didn’t know there were such things. Since I love MOP in any form, if the dress were mine, you couldn’t pay me to take it off :-) Enjoy it, Kathleen. Much better for you to own, and savour, it’s beauty and workmanship, than for it to end up in the hands of philistines.

  9. Becky says:

    I have a dress that is similar but slightly less embellished. I wore it to my prom senior year of high school in 1987.

    I tried it on at a vintage store. I snooty older woman was also there and she said to me, “oh that does not fit you at all.” She then tried it on and the dress pooled at her feet (she was about 3 inches shorter than me.)

    Luckily my mom bought me the dressas a birthday present (it was $80!!!!). I relished wearing this dress that some snooty lady wanted for herself! We did have to let out the sides a bit to fit me properly. (although my bust looks quite tiny in the photo!)

    oh, and the dress: The label says “Malcom Starr.” It’s a simple sheath dress, silk (underlined in cotton I think), the fabric has a yellow background with pink and green paisley designs. And the dress is beaded all over following the pattern of the fabric. The inside of the big paisleys have rhinestones and sequins.

    It is a fabulous dress which is why it still sits (but not hangs!) in my closet. I’ve most likely damaged it by not cleaning it after the prom but I had no idea back then who could clean such a thing! Maybe in 11-12 years my daughter will wear it to her prom?

    (click my name for a picture of the dress.)

  10. La BellaDonna says:

    Pish! You have every right to keep something you love and treasure! What better reason is there? And now you’ve gone and shared it with a whole bunch of people who would never otherwise have seen it! It’s now been appreciated by many more than the one person who “deserves” to wear it. If you and your sweetie ever get a chance to stay by the sea, that would be a lovely dress for walking-by-the-sea-taking-pictures, preferably with you barefoot at the time. Your mother-of-pearl zecchinos would feel right at home.

    (and, what the heck? You “deserve” nice things, Kathleen. You’ve paid your dues, in a lot of different ways. What could be better for a garment than love? If you feel the need, perhaps you’ll share more pictures some time. You might, if you are so moved, want to find someplace that will treasure it when you’ve moved to the next sphere; I want to find some place where my treasures will be seen by the people who love that sort of thing, not hidden away forever in the bowels of an indifferent museum. I want a museum that encourages looking and learning!)

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