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Rate the Dress: A vision in lace and gold, ca. 1850

Reactions to last week’s 1930s gold lamé Jessie Franklin Turner number were actually surprisingly similar to the smocked Liberty frock from the week before – a mix of strong love, a tiny bit of strong dislike, a fair smattering of blah, and sleeve-dislike.

What do you get with surprising similarity?  An identical 8.3 out of 10 rating!

I really struggled to pick a dress for Rate the Dress this week.  As a juxtaposition to the last few weeks, I really wanted something bright, and sweet, and girlish.  Alas, nothing I found seemed to be the right contrast.  I finally settled on this 1850s evening dress, because the gold, and the lace bertha, seem to resonate with last week’s gold frock, and its flutter sleeves.  Next week I’ll definitely have to find something with colour though!

(of course, knowing me, that could be a warning rather than a promise 😉 )

Evening dress, ca. 1850, Silk satin with silk and metallic-thread supplementary patterning and silk net with metallic-thread embroidery, M.2007.211.872a-b

Evening dress, ca. 1850, Silk satin with silk and metallic-thread supplementary patterning and silk net with metallic-thread embroidery, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, M.2007.211.872a-b

This ca. 1850 evening dress in white damask silk satin, with gold brocading of rather exotic, parasol shaped flower heads, is trimmed with silk net lace, embroidered with gold patterning.

Evening dress, ca. 1850, Silk satin with silk and metallic-thread supplementary patterning and silk net with metallic-thread embroidery, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, M.2007.211.872a-b

Evening dress, ca. 1850, Silk satin with silk and metallic-thread supplementary patterning and silk net with metallic-thread embroidery, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, M.2007.211.872a-b

Evening dress, ca. 1850, Silk satin with silk and metallic-thread supplementary patterning and silk net with metallic-thread embroidery, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, M.2007.211.872a-b

The lace is used to form a deep bertha that almost completely obscures the fitted bodice and just-above-the-elbow puffed sleeves, and an asymmetrical frill that provides interest and movement on the otherwise restrained bell shape of the skirt.

LACMA has chosen to pair the dress with pearl jewellery which echoes the colour and lustre of the silk, and an elaborate gold brooch which draws attention to the narrow waist and point of the bodice front, which is finished with three rows of very fine piping.

This dress could have been part of a wedding ensemble, but could equally have just been an evening dress, as pale shades and metallic accents were popular colours under candles and (later) gaslights.

What do you think?  Are you swooning in delight, or yawning in boredom?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10

Mum & Dad, thedreamstress.com

Here’s to my Mum & Dad

Today, in honour of Mother’s Day, I thought I’d write a post about how amazing my parents are.

And they are pretty darn amazing!

My parents are organic permaculture (permaculture is, very briefly, an agricultural and social practice that aims to be more than sustainable, and to work completely with nature) farmers in Hawaii.  I was born and raised on their farm (yes, literally born!), and no matter what, it will always be my home.

Growing lettuce, Molokai, Hawaii, thedreamstress.com

Planting radishes alongside a bed of lettuce,

We realised on my last trip home, a year ago, that their farm is probably the longest-running working permaculture farm that is fully supporting/earning a living for the farmers as a farm, not as a teaching facility or tourist attraction, in the world.  My parents are never going to get rich off the farm, and while it has made them minor legends in permaculture circles, they will never be famous in the wider sense.

What they have achieved is something much bigger and more amazing (yep, I’m going to keep using that word).

They have given more to the environment than they have taken out of it.

Even as their daughter, I can hardly fathom how phenomenal that is, and how few of us will be able to say that.  They have replaced invasive trees that were damaging the environment with useful ones that are feeding people, and replenishing the soil, and holding it in place, so it doesn’t erode away.  The soil on their farm gets richer, with more nutrients, every year, rather than poorer.  Their water usage is minimal, and the entire farm runs on solar.  They have survived disease outbreaks in plants that devastated other farms, without having to resort to chemicals, and have futureproofed against other outbreaks by planting a huge selection of different fruits & vegetables.

Mum and I in matching blouses

They also made me, me, and while I can blame some of the things I don’t like about myself on them (what child can’t!), I also look at all the things in myself I like most, and am most proud of, and can see exactly how and where they taught me those things.

Both my parents, but my father in particular, taught me to look out at the world with wonder: to see the shapes in clouds, and the beauty in tree bark, and the patterns that buildings make, and what a compelling face a random person has.  To learn by paying attention.  To see the joy in even mundane thing.  To be interested in everything, because everything is interesting.  You see it in my blog posts about walks I take, and graffiti I see, and frozen eggs, and random interesting ideas.  The world is just too fascinating not to share!  To this day I’ll see something around Wellington and wish my dad could be there to see it right then, because (to use a phrase very typical of him!) he would ‘get off on it’.  I tell him over the phone, but it’s not the same.

Mum & Dad, thedreamstress.com

My parents taught me to love things for their own sake, and because I love them, and not to worry too much about whether anyone else does.  It wasn’t the easiest lesson as a child, and happened a bit by default (as one of the only haole/white children at school, and one of the only Baha’is, I was always going to stand out, and my interests were always a bit niche), but learning it early has made adult life a lot easier.  I’m always delighted to find ‘kindred spirits’ who share my hobbies and loves, but I never feel the need to like something because its popular – or, equally, to dislike it because it’s popular!  It’s a very peaceful place to be.

My parents taught me to trust in abundance, and to give wherever there was extra.  We were really poor when I was growing up, and they still don’t have much money, but on a farm there are always extras.  Every week they give boxes of fruit and vegetables to the women’s refuge, or the food bank, or friends who pass them on to people in need.  The farm has sheltered many a random traveller over the years, and they pass their knowledge and enthusiasm on with open generosity.

They also taught me not to be wasteful: to use what you had, and be resourceful.  It was a necessity on a tiny island, with stores an hour away, and not many at that.  Save, and re-use, and make-do.  It’s a great skill as a historical costumer!

A proper Halloween picture: the naiad as a Victorian lady (with a naiad on her cheek), Mum as a 20s lady, Goldie as a jester and me in ’18th century’.

My parents taught me to take a person for the content of what they say, and how they act: not for  how polished their words are, the titles they have, or how they look.

One of the best things they taught me is to not be limited by not knowing how to do something now: to be limited only by what it was possible for me to figure out how to do.  I might not know how to reupholster a couch, or write a website in html, or move a literal US ton of fertilizer 1/2 a mile in a day, by wheelbarrow (long story), but if I thought about it, and researched, and practiced, and worked on it (or, in the case of the fertiliser, gritted my teeth and moved 150lbs at a time in a wheelbarrow, while walking 6.7 miles), I probably could (although sometimes, as in the notorious case of the fertiliser, it wasn’t the best idea…).

And they are still shaping who I am, for the better.  I’m not there yet, but my mother is one of the best and truest examples I know of the Baha’i principal of approaching every person in the world with ‘utmost loving kindness’.  The worst thing I have ever, in my adult life, heard her say of a person is that their behaviour makes her sad.  She’ll condemn situations, like the crisis in Syria, as awful, but her focus is always on what we can do to help, not on blaming people.   I have to work really hard to think positively, and with love, of people sometimes, but I can always think ‘how would Mum approach this?’.  With forgiveness, and love, and understanding that we all have hard days, and we have to love others through theirs, and trust they will do the same for us.

Mum and I in Haleakala Crater, Maui, Hawaii

So here’s to my parents and all the ways they are wonderful and amazing!  I am so proud of you, and so, so proud to be your daughter.

Mahalo Nui.  (greatest thanks)

Rate the Dress: 1930s Lamé Glamour

Last week I showed a smocked 1890s Liberty of London dress in black china silk.  Half of you loved, loved, loved it, the other half of you thought it incredibly blah.

However, even those who loved it had small reservations.  The display wasn’t ideal (granted, not the dresses fault), and you couldn’t decide if the back asymmetry was real or an illusion created by the display.  Some of you thought that while good, it wasn’t as good as most other Liberty dresses made from the same basic pattern.  And quite a few of you didn’t like the sleeves (which, ironically, were my favourite part, as I felt they made the dress more interesting than other similar Liberty gowns, and kept it from twee-ness).

Despite potential blah-ness and not-quite-perfection ratings, it managed an overall rating of 8.3 out of 10.  Pretty good!

(Though it ought to win bonus points for inspiring only two #.5 ratings, making my tallying up much easier 😉 )

This week, I’m celebrating the launch of the Ngaio Blouse with a 1930s pick for Rate the Dress.

I’ve gone for a slinky, body conscious evening gown along the lines of something one of Ngaio Marshes’ glamorous actress femme maybe-fatales might have worn:

This Jessie Franklin Turner number in gold lamé uses bias cutting which flows and clings about the body.  The unusual arm treatment blurs the line between sleeves and gauntlet-gloves, drawing attention to the glimpses of skin seen at the upper arms.  The gold lamé has faded and tarnished slightly with time, but you can still clearly see how the gown would have shimmered and glowed and caught the light as it moved.

What do you think?  Is the overall effect dramatic and alluring (as per the Met’s object description), or just a bit gimmicky?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10.

(next week I think I need to pick something with pattern!)