Jane Austen´s World, part 3

Greetings to all new and old followers! Or perhaps you are perusing, collecting ideas for your own Regency costume? This blog has a little bit of this and that, but main focus is on Regency fashions, and I try to share my sporadic costume projects. This year I have been involved professionally in staging Jane Austen´s World, a costume exhibition in Skokloster Castle, where I work as curator. Since I happen to have this blog I simply must blog about these familiar – some of them even iconic – film costumes in a series of posts.

We already met the Bennets, the Dashwoods and Emma Woodhouse in the daytime parlour. Read about them here and here. In the second room we step in to the bedchamber. It is a lovely guest room, but we added some furniture and other objects from the collections. The four-poster beds are ca 1800, with printed cotton hangings, British, ca 1830. A dressing table, mirror, wash basins, towels and a bidet were added. This is the intimate sphere, where the young ladies – could be the Dashwood sisters or Jane and Lizzie Bennet – are being dressed. We talk about personal hygiene and how cotton fabric became more accessible around 1800.

A pair of nightgowns flanking a pair of stays and a chemise. These are not specific to a certain production or certain characters, but came from stock. Everything else is from the museum collections. Photo by Jens Mohr, LSH.


British Regency fabric on the beds: the printed cotton is lovely, and in excellent condition.

This intimate sphere includes other important features in the world of Jane Austen. Writing letters, for example:

Many of these letters are crucial to the plot, and Jane Austen often includes them in her novels. We also wanted to mention one of Austen´s contemporaries, a female author who wasn´t afraid to be published and who had to fight for her beliefs: Mary Wollstonecraft.

This is where we introduce one of the most famous literary characters ever created, Mr. Darcy. He is sitting at his desk writing the long letter to Lizzie Bennet where he reveals Mr. Wickham´s true nature:

Mr. Darcy. The coat, breeches and boots are from ‘Pride & Prejudice’, 2005. (The film version starring Keira Knightley as Lizzie and Matthew MacFadyen as Darcy.) For some reason this particular costume does not resonate with me, so I didn´t bother to take that many pictures of it.

Looks better on Matthew MacFadyen, but still not my favourite coat. (Pride & Prejudice, 2005)

But then there is that certain costume that most people associate with Darcy (and Jane Austen adaptations, for that matter): The Shirt.

This ordinary linen shirt caused quite a buzz back in 1995. It was Colin Firth´s ticket to eternal stardom and started Darcymania in its many varieties.

Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy in the BBC Pride and Prejudice, 1995.

This phenomenon has been analysed so many times since then, so what else can I add? It is fun to observe our visitors when they see the shirt and decide (if not sooner) that now is the time to take pictures.

Marianne Dashwood is there too, with her letters to that scoundrel Willoughby. Marianne Dashwood´s day gown is exhibited. It was designed by Jenny Beavan and worn by Kate Winslet in several scenes in Sense and Sensibility, 1995. It is a sleeveless silk robe with v-neck collar over a cotton dress. It is easy to miss it on screen, but it is a beautiful gown, with many details. Of course Marianne is the romantic, passionate sister, something that nearly kills her. Her relationship with Willoughby does not end well. It is interesting that both of them ignore propriety in several ways. On one of their outings they visit Willoughby´s estate, unshaperoned. That is enough to ruin a girl´s reputation in Regency society. Marianne seeks up Willoughby at the ball in London, again very unladylike behaviour. Society would frown upon a young lady writing (passionate!) letters to a gentleman to whom she isn´t related. We learn that there never was an engagement.

Marianne´s dress from Sense and Sensibility, 1995. Scattered on the desk is her desperate letters to Willoughby, and finally his polite but cold reply. Photo by Jens Mohr, LSH.


A drawstring closes the neckline. The silk dress has hooks and eyes on right hand side, concealed by the belt.


The silk appears to be either hand painted or hand printed. Or stencilled? Notice the amount of fabric that is pleated at the back? This create the elegant Empire style silhouette, so make sure to use enough material in your gowns, ladies!

This reticule came with the dress, so Marianne had to carry one of her letters to Willoughby in it.


Kate Winslet as Marianne in Sense and Sensibility, 1995. Here with Emma Thompson, Imogen Stubbs and director Ang Lee.


This costume is seen earlier in the film when the girls gather reeds and Colonel Brandon offers Marianne a knife. They are still in mourning so Marianne is wearing a black lace cape or shawl with it.


Or does she? Here she is wearing only the cotton dress with a sleeveless green velvet spencer. Now I´m confused. And I have an excuse to go and watch the film.

 

Jane Austen´s World, part 2

This spring has been hectic but so much fun! Last time I introduced the exhibition we have been working on. Today we are taking a look at the Bennets! First, a group from the 1995 BBC ‘Pride and Prejudice’ – perhaps the best known costumes by now. They were designed by Dinah Collin and we have to say her team did a wonderful job. This was the beginning of the modern Austen-era, so they had to make nearly every costume from scratch. It was a challenge to find the right fabrics, so they screen printed patterns on muslins, and used a lot of Indian sari-fabrics.

Jane Bennet´s cotton dress and linen spencer. Soft pastels suit Jane´s sweet disposition.

Elizabeth Bennet often wears robust, earthy tones. This is her silk dress and brown embroidered spencer.

These two ensembles are seen in the very beginning of the story when the Bennets are walking home from church, and Mrs Bennet is going on about a certain new neighbour. Susannah Harker played Jane and Jennifer Ehle WAS Elizabeth. Pride and Prejudice, 1995.


Lizzie wears the silk dress frequently. Perhaps you rememember it from the disastruous first proposal… The girls´gowns all seem to have buttons in the back, which was coming in fashion in the 1810´s.


It was nice to create the daily mess in the Bennets´ drawing room. The girls have different interests. Mary is reading or playing the pianoforte, Kitty and Lydia are trimming a bonnet, and Jane is embroidering. The portrait is the real-life countess Brahe who lived in Skokloster castle during the first half of the 19th century.


And then there is of course Mrs Bennet. Her light wool dress with printed floral pattern.

Mrs B wears a frilled cap, a matching lace shawl and a coral necklace.

The dress is front-closing. A narrow silk ribbon ties the neckline. Hooks and snaps (!) fasten the skirt. The gauzy chemisette is tied around the waist.


The mannequin lacks mrs B´s persona, portrayed so annoyingly and spot-on by Allison Steadman. It is easier to see the cap and frills here. Benjamin Withrow played mr Bennet. At first glance she is the demanding wife and he is the long suffering husband, but I have greater sympathy with her today. She is only trying to secure the girls´future, since her husband seems to have given up, spending his days in the library, or talking to her in a patronising tone…

This dress has been used in several other productions. Read more about it over on Recycled movie costumes.

This concludes the first of several rooms. The following two rooms are very different. Through a bedroom is  the tower room packed with information for those who wish to learn more about the world of Jane Austen. There are interviews with Dinah Collin and Jenny Beavan, and a handful of Swedish experts on fashion history, English literature and of course Jane Austen.

This exquisite piece of furniture, ca 1750, doubles as ‘Jane Austen´s desk’. Piles of Miss Austen´s letters and manuscripts are scattered on the desk and chair.

Come back soon for more!

Jane Austen´s World

Dear all, the exhibition opened one month ago, and since then my intention has been to share the marvellous costumes with you. That moment has come, finally! I am afraid I have tons of pictures by now, so it took me the better part of the day to sort them out. Therefore I decided to do it in several installments.

Many of the costumes have been on tour for years by now, so you might think this is nothing to be excited about.  But what a ‘nerd-fest’ it is!  A handful of these costumes were in Sweden only last summer. Little did I know then I would be working with them myself one year later! The costumes, about 30 in total, were selected by us and rented from Cosprop, the renowned costumier in London.

The team is very happy with how the exhibition turned out, and we have had a lot of attention from media. And we love when visitors turn up in Regency fashions.

The costumes are of course lovely, but the other star of the show is the setting. This part of the castle is usually closed to the public, which is a shame because the rooms are stunning. They are a mix of Baroque ceilings, fireplaces and wainscoting, and late 18th to early 19th century neoclassical furnishings and paintings. It was rather easy to recreate the atmosphere you see in the different adaptations. We moved some furniture and re-arranged the paintings.

The weeks leading up to the opening were hectic, as always, but it was a fairly smooth process.

The opening ceremony was on 1 June. Friends and associates (the usual suspects) were invited to enjoy afternoon tea in the ground floor gallery. The British ambassador mr David Hearn graciously accepted to give the opening speech. When my co-workers aren´t busy posing as the Dashwood sisters, their business titles are conservator and administrator, respectively. Several of the frocks I made this spring premiered on this day. Some of the guests wore Regency attire, too.

These silhouettes lead the way up to the third floor.

A bit too dark, but this is the introduction in the third floor gallery, before entering the suite of rooms where the costumes are.


The first costume is from the Kate Beckinsale ‘Emma’, the ITV television production from 1996.Screen writer Andrew Davies was joined by the production team from Pride and Prejudice the year before. Jenny Beavan designed the costumes.

Emma´s nice 3/4 length velvet coat is worn over a printed muslin dress, accessorised with a frilled collar. The velvet is plum coloured, but it was obviously difficult for me to photograph… There are several adaptations of the novel. They all have their pros and cons. I would say that Kate Beckinsale does a good job here and it stays fairly close to the book. I don´t care much for mr Elton in this one though. The story is set in 1816, when the novel was published, which is reflected by the costumes. Waists were as high as they could go and skirts were shorter, starting to show some ancle.

Emma 1996. ITV Archive

As seen on Kate Beckinsale as Emma Woodhouse.

Emma´s printed dress was featured in the promotion pictures. Here with Mark Strong as Knightley.

This vignette illustrates Regency etiquette. As the highest ranking lady in Highbury Emma Woodhouse has obligations, such as helping the poor and visiting the tiresome chatterbox miss Bates.


The following set of costumes is from ‘Sense and Sensibility’, 1995. This is the big screen adaptation directed by Ang Lee. Emma Thompson wrote the script and was awarded with both a Bafta and an Oscar. She also played Elinor and a young Kate Winslet was Marianne. The cast is very impressive with formidable actors such as Elizabeth Spriggs, Harriet Walter and Hugh Laurie, only to name a few. I always liked the costumes in this version. They were designed by award-winning Jenny Beavan and John Bright.

This is where we can discuss the precarious situation women could find themselves in when the family estate was entailed away on the male line.

Kate Winslet played Marianne and Hugh Grant was Edward Ferrars.

Marianne´s red printed dress and grey redingote. This looks untidy, I took the photo when the mannequin was dressed. You can see how the dress fastens with small hooks and eyes under the bust.

This is when mrs Dashwood and her daughters move to Barton Cottage in Devonshire.

Edward Ferrar´s double-breasted waistcoat and cutaway tailcoat. He wore this outfit many times, including the proposal scene. I arranged the collars and tied the cravats, and was truly impressed by the high quality both in material and execution.

Standing to the left is Elinor Dashwood´s riding habit. I like how the jacket is constructed in the 18th century manner. The front is folded to shape, and continues to the shoulder seam, see below. I also like how the waist is raised, but not directly under the bust, indicating the transitional silhoutte 1795-1800.

The coat and striped waistcoat are actually sewn together. I don´t know how accurate it is. The striped fabric is very similar to Edward´s waistcoat. Perhaps they came from the same manufacturer? Photo by Jens Mohr.

And here they both are, in the beginning of the story, before the Dashwoods move to the cottage and Edward is sent off to mama.

Next we have the Bennets, so over to Longbourn!

Fabulous costumes!

With less than a week before the opening of the Jane Austen exhibition everything is more or less installed, with only some minor adjustments left to be done. (Although enough to keep us busy!)

I am very impressed by the quality of the costumes. A lot of hand sewn seams and delicate materials on the gowns and the coats are properly tailored. Jenny Beavan and Dinah Collins obviously know their business.

Here are only a few samples for all you Jane Austen-fans out there:

Photo by Regencygentleman

Miss Bingley’s evening frock is suitably grand.

Photo by Regencygentleman

One of Miss Marianne Dashwood’s lovely gowns. (Kate Winslet is petite.)

Photo by Regencygentleman

Another beatifully made gown. This one is hardly seen on screen. Can you guess which one it is?

Drop-front Dress and Spencer

Last time I presented a number of GOWNS I have been making at work for our staff. I have written about it before, but it is a gift to be able to mix work and pleasure. Costuming is something I normally do for my own amusement, but now I have again moved out from my comfort zone over to the proffessional arena.

While exploring the shift-dress I also started on a couple of other garments. First, a drop-front gown, also known as bib-front, stomacher-front or apron-front, with a short spencer:

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I used every scrap of the same teal and gold sari that became an open robe.

The formidable Janet Arnold provided me with the pattern, the “Salisbury Museum” day dress, ca. 18oo.

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I omitted the double sleeve, but otherwise I used the pattern more or less without alterations. The original dress was constructed in a manner that was was quite common at the time: the lining was assembled first and then the outer fabric was sewn on top of it, neatly sealing all seams between the layers. I decided to use this technique. I machine stitched the lining, but hand-stitched the outer fabric. It was fun and it came together rather quickly.

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The bodice. The green cotton is pinned closed, and covered by the bib. (I am aware of the mis-matching greens, but I found a perfect lenght of the pea-green cotton in our stash. Of course they are never seen together.) The neck is finished with strip of the cotton, cut on the bias.

Pinning sari fabric to the lining . Then it was trimmed, edges folded in and whip-stitched along the edges.

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Inside view of the folded down bib. Nearly finished. The shoulders need to be covered with the sari-fabric and the skirt seams are only pinned. The tucker or fichu is of course optional. A chemisette could be nice too.

The skirt front fastens around the waist with ribbons, then the bib is turned up and pinned in place.

I pleated the fabric on the bib, something I regret, it took ages to keep the vertical stripes aligned…

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The woven pattern works well with the design, giving a rich effect, don´t you think? Caroline Bingley could wear this…

When I got bored with all this gauzy sari-fabric I turned my attention to some tailoring using a rich, dark green broadcloth. There was just enough for a spencer, like the one seen on Elizabeth Bennet:

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Jennifer Ehle as Lizzie Bennet, Pride and Prejudice, 1995.

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Again I used the same bodice pattern, but altered the front and drafted a collar.

Working on the standing collar. Pad-stitching interlining to broadcloth.

Then I folded the seam allowance to the inside, securing it with small but loose stitches. The green linen lining went on top of this.

But first I steamed the collar and allowed it cool on the ironing board.

A peek of the inside: green linen lining. I used yellow glazed cotton to line the sleeves.

On the dress form. I think the spencer was designed for a smaller bust…

I added some fullness to the sleeves. It does not show, but there are a couple of tucks below the bust, and some sturdy interlining along the front edges.

The standing collar.

A view of the back. Now I was reminded of the pins that still keep the skirt in place…

Photo by Regencygentleman

And finally a full shot of the dress and spencer.

 

Busy days

I thought I´d remedy my irregular posting by sharing a handful (!) of garments I´ve made lately. No, they are not for me. (If you came to this blog hoping for breeches and tailcoats do not bother to read the following.) I detoured from my usual gentlemen´s tailoring and have spent many hours (mainly at work, but I confess, one or two weekends at home while watching The Crown) on something quite different: various ladies garments. These ladies, who are yet to be recruited, are female members of our educational staff, and they need to be dressed in Regency fashions for the Jane Austen film costume exhibition this summer. The storage is bursting with 17th century garments, but nothing later, so I had to start from scratch.

Now, how do you sew Regency costumes for people you’ve not met? The magic words are the Shift Dress or Round Gown. It is the perfect type of dress that can easily be adjusted with drawstrings, as long as the back and shoulders have a fairly good fit.

Emerging in the years leading up to La Revolution Française the informal muslin dress offered a relief from the very formal court gowns of the era. This type of gown was all the rage in the 1790s and actually became the quintessential Regency dress. They were often in white or pale muslins, but it was not unusual with printed cottons and colourful silks. The silhoutte became slimmer after 1805 or so, but variations of the round gown were in use well into the 1810s, thus covering most of the Regency era. Read more about the shift dress and its different terminology here.

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Inspiration: a 1790s chemise dress. The waistline is slightly raised. Notice how her son is wearing a similar style? Madame Seriziat, by Jacques-Louis David, 1795, Musée du Louvre.

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Inspiration: Silk (?) chemise gowns now with the high empire waist. Portrait des demoiselles Flamand, by François Dumont, l’Aîné, Musée du Louvre.

I had very little time to search for a variety of fabrics, but I think I managed to find some decent striped and printed cottons, suitable for day dresses. The castle interiors are quite grand, though, so they can´t be too plain. I constructed the pattern from scratch with great help from Janet Arnold and Cassidy Percoco, and endless research online.

What about male staff? Of course there are men among them, but that is another post.

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One of the striped gowns, dolled up with some bows. I was still trying out the design and have changed it since, the cotton tape gathers at the side and is tucked in the side opening.

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White chemise gown in striped linen. Our photographer took this picture as reference. I snatched it from him, because his camera is better. (Obviously.) Photo by Jens Mohr.

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Very sheer linen. (Closeup of one of the unlined sleeves.)

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It will probably need a fichu…

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The fitted back. I hope it will look better when ironed.

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Blue striped cotton. I decided it was better looking with a softer contrast so I turned the fabric inside out.

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Playing with the sleeves and adding a longer sash. The round gown/chemise dress tend to have rather few embellishments, and if there is something it is often found on the sleeves.

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We had a historically themed christmas party, and my co-worker E., right, used the blue striped dress, with a fichu and a turban. L., the elegant lady to the left, is one of those talented people who can throw together an outfit in no time and look just perfect. (The party was in the Royal Armoury, at the Royal Palace. Yay!)

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The dress above got a twin, this time in pink. To avoid unnecessary bulk I made the front of this one narrower, about 40″ or 100 cm. (The mannequin is a smaller size so there is still a lot of fabric.)

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Wheat-coloured stripes.

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I am afraid I stuffed the mannequin too generously.

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After these gowns I got bored. Now I know how to make them properly. They were often worn with an open robe, so I decided to try my luck. First, a rather grand one, made from a semi-old sari that has been in our stash for ages. It is a sheer mystery-material with gold thread woven to create a grid pattern. The golden border is perfect along the front edges. The front consists of two lengths, pleated and sewn to the back piece at the shoulders. The pleats are also stitched to a waistband. The back skirt is pleated and sewn to a separate smooth back piece.

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Green open robe. (I am aware that the grid pattern isn´t aligned, but historically they didn´t seem to bother with that particular detail.)

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Green open robe. My fingers were freezing so it was difficult to take sharp photographs.

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The front is gathered to the small back. The edges are not finished.

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Different mannequin with better fit.

Then I made a pink one, in a modified version. It has three quarter length sleeves and the front is gathered with drawstrings, so that the size can be adjusted to the potential person(s) wearing it. The lovely printed cotton is manufactured by Duran textiles.

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Seen here over the white linen chemise.

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I am rahter pleased with how the back turned out.

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Terrific print!

Conclusion: sewing for imaginary people is difficult (What if nothing fits?!) but sewing this type of ladies garments is so much quicker than endless tailoring and pad stitching. I am now being creative with one or two new gowns, and they will be completely different!