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Rate the Dress: the littlest bodice and the biggest garden of embroidery

This week’s Rate the Dress goes from big 1890s sleeves, to little tiny 1790s bodices

Last week: an 1890s reception gown in pumpkin orange 

Many of you loved the Anne reference, but not everyone is a puffed sleeve fan. It lost some points just for the sleeves. And gained some just for the sleeves. And lost some points just for the colour. And gained some just for the colour. The one thing everyone seemed to agree on was a not-sure-ness about the scale of the beading and the chiffon overlay.

The Total: 7.9 out of 10

Well, and improvement on the week before, and almost good enough to count as a proper success.

This week: a 1790s dress and matching fichu

This dress represents a very brief and specific moment of fashion, where the last remnants of 18th century styles, in the form of fichu and an open overskirt, meet the extremely brief bodice of the early Regency/Empire silhouette.

Ensemble, ca. 1798, probably, European, cotton, silk, Metropolitan Museum of Art 1992.119.1a–c
Ensemble, ca. 1798, probably, European, cotton, silk, Metropolitan Museum of Art 1992.119.1a–c

When I say extremely brief, I mean it. The bodice appears to be no more than four inches deep.

Ensemble, ca. 1798, probably, European, cotton, silk, Metropolitan Museum of Art 1992.119.1a–c

It’s a style that appeared for only a few years at the very end of the 18th century.

Ensemble, ca. 1798, probably, European, cotton, silk, Metropolitan Museum of Art 1992.119.1a–c

I imagine that the dress would look quite different depending on the style of stays it was worn over.

Ensemble, ca. 1798, probably, European, cotton, silk, Metropolitan Museum of Art 1992.119.1a–c

The inclusion of a matching fichu suggests that the bodice was usually covered, which changes the silhouette significantly.

Ensemble, ca. 1798, probably, European, cotton, silk, Metropolitan Museum of Art 1992.119.1a–c

Silhouette aside, the clear and obvious star of the dress is the embroidery, worked in twisted silk thread, each mirrored floral motif a unique design.

Ensemble, ca. 1798, probably, European, cotton, silk, Metropolitan Museum of Art 1992.119.1a–c

Even the scrolling designs that frame each floral spray are unique, a masterwork of inventiveness.

Ensemble, ca. 1798, probably, European, cotton, silk, Metropolitan Museum of Art 1992.119.1a–c

Some of the motifs are clearly identifiable, other are more obscure.

Ensemble, ca. 1798, probably, European, cotton, silk, Metropolitan Museum of Art 1992.119.1a–c

The embroidery continues on the under-petticoat, although it is obscured by the overskirt at all but the centre front.

Ensemble, ca. 1798, probably, European, cotton, silk, Metropolitan Museum of Art 1992.119.1a–c

The embroidery must have been done by a very dedicated embroider, or for a very discerning client.

Ensemble, ca. 1798, probably, European, cotton, silk, Metropolitan Museum of Art 1992.119.1a–c

It’s amazing, given the scale and elaborate attention to detail in the embroidery, and the amount of available fabric to work with in the drsess, that it was not adjusted and re-made to later styles. Instead it remains a perfect example of an extremely brief fashion for extremely brief bodices.

Ensemble, ca. 1798, probably, European, cotton, silk, Metropolitan Museum of Art 1992.119.1a–c
Ensemble, ca. 1798, probably, European, cotton, silk, Metropolitan Museum of Art 1992.119.1a–c
Ensemble, ca. 1798, probably, European, cotton, silk, Metropolitan Museum of Art 1992.119.1a–c

What do you think? As an example of its time and type, is this dress a masterpiece, or a mistake?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10

A reminder about rating – feel free to be critical if you don’t like a thing, but make sure that your comments aren’t actually insulting to those who do like a garment.  Our different tastes are what make Rate the Dress so interesting.  It’s no fun when a comment implies that anyone who doesn’t agree with it, or who would wear a garment, is totally lacking in taste.

(as usual, nothing more complicated than a .5.  I also hugely appreciate it if you only do one rating, and set it on a line at the very end of your comment, so I can find it!  And 0 is not on a scale of 1 to 10.  Thanks in advance!)

Takahē at Zealandia thedreamstress.com

The bird life of Zealandia (with bonus dino-lizards)

This Christmas my in-laws gave us membership to Zealandia Ecosanctuary as a present, and it has turned out to be the best gift possible. Mr D and I head off to Zealandia nearly every weekend, to enjoy the scenery, and revel in the birdlife.

(I revel. Mr D looks at it suspiciously and hopes it doesn’t poop on us or attack us).

What’s Zealandia?

Zealandia is an ecosanctuary/park/wildlife sanctuary just 5 minutes drive from the Wellington central business district (and Parliament), and completely surrounded by a predator proof fence.

The fence is designed to keep out ferrets, stoats, rats, cats, possums, weasels, and other invasive pests that destroy plants and kill birds.

All these pests have been cleared out from inside the sanctuary, and many species of native birds, some critically endangered, and some of which went extinct in the Wellington region over a century ago, have been reintroduced.

Zealandia is 225ha (just under a square mile) and just a little smaller than Central Park, but is much wilder and hillier than Central Park.

It features some areas of relatively undisturbed native forest, and other areas where the forest is being restored, as well as two spectacular reservoirs and dams which were built in the 19th century, and served as the water supply for Wellington into the early 1990s.

Most of all, it features birds! (and dino-lizards. I’ll get to those in a bit).

The Birds of Zealandia

Kiwi Pukupuku (Apteryx owenii) Little Spotted Kiwi

There are over 200 Little Spotted Kiwi in Zealandia, but you’ll never see them unless you go on a night tour, because kiwi are nocturnal.

We did the night tour on Valentines Day and saw two kiwi. One came within four inches of my toes (and I just about died of happiness, as did the extremely macho, bloke-y chap with the Eastenders accent who was over from England and on the tour).

I have no photographs though, because I’m not a good enough photographer to take night photos – and sometimes I just want to watch birds, sometimes I want to be behind a camera.

Kākā (Nestor meridionalis)

Kākā at Zealandia thedreamstress.com

Kākā are a native parrot, and possibly Zealandia’s greatest success story. They were extinct in the Wellington region until the sanctuary brought in a handful of breeding pairs in 2003, and now, 15 years later, there are hundreds of them. They have spread beyond the sanctuary, and you can see flocks of them in many Wellington suburbs (though they are far more at risk outside of it, as rodents will raid their nests). I often hear kākā calls at work at Toi Whakaari

Kākā at Zealandia thedreamstress.com

To encourage the kākā to breed and hang out in the sanctuary, where they are safest (and, let’s face it, to make it easy for visitors to see and enjoy them) there are a number of feeding stations where kākā can use their brains to access food – one is shown above.

Tūi (Prosthemadera novaeseelandiae)

Tūi at Zealandia thedreamstress.com

It’s hard to imagine how rare tūi once were in Wellington: conservationists estimate that at one point in the 1990s there were less than 20 breeding pairs. Today they are ubiquitous in every garden, their characteristic liquid song (and fascinating gift for mimicry, quite annoying when they use it to replicate car alarms and mobile phone rings) heard all around the city.

Tūi at Zealandia thedreamstress.com

Tūi are so common in Wellington that we barely bother to stop and watch them in Zealandia, but they are gorgeous, cunning birds, and this juvenile feeding on NZ flax in the spring was to beautiful not to photograph. Note the splash of yellow pollen on his head in the first photograph, and the white tuft under his chin, that gave tūi their English nickname of ‘parsonbird’

Tīeke (Philesturnus rufusater) North Island Saddleback

Tīeke at Zealandia thedreamstress.com

Tīeke were once widespread across the North Island, but the arrival of predators and deforestation decimated the population, and by the late 19th century the only surviving birds were ones clinging on on a little offshore island. In 2002 39 tīeke bred from that population were released in Zealand, and there must be hundreds in the sanctuary today – we see half a dozen at every visit.

Tīeke at Zealandia thedreamstress.com

Tīeke are insect feeders, and they are easy to spot climbing around on branches probing for yummies, or picking insect eggs off the undersides of leaves. They don’t hesitate to make their presence known, shouting claims to their territory and attempting to scare off intruders with a loud call that sounds a bit like a car engine trying to start.

Tīeke get their English name, ‘saddleback’ from the distinctive rusty saddle of feathers on their back and wings.

Hīhī (Notiomystis cincta) Stitchbird

Hihi at Zealandia thedreamstress.com

Hīhī, in my opinion, have the best name of any bird – both in English and te reo. Their te reo name rhymes with teehee, and their English name references sewing!

Here is a male hīhī feeding in one of the feeders which allows hīhī and bellbirds to enter, but prevents tūi, because they are bully-birds who would chase off the littler nectar feeders. You can hear the distinctive cheep of the hīhī and the call of the tīeke in the background.

Korimako (Anthornis melanura) Bellbird

Korimako (bellbird) at Zealandia thedreamstress.com

Korimako are hīhī’s primary competitor, being similar in size, and nectar feeders. We’ve seen epic battles involving 2 bellbirds and 5 hīhī, all trying to claim a nectar feeder as their territory, swooping and diving at anyone involved in the fight, irregardless of whether they were the same type of bird or not.

Korimako (bellbird) at Zealandia thedreamstress.com

As the name implies, bellbirds have a beautiful, bell-like song. You’re far more likely to hear and notice a bellbird for its gorgeous notes than for its elegant but subdued olive (male) or khaki (femal) feathers.

Unlike the hīhī and tīeke, the bellbird is still found, although in much reduced numbers, across most of New Zealand

Takahē (Porphyrio hochstetteri)

Takahē at Zealandia thedreamstress.com

Takahē are Zealandia’s rarest, most exciting, and (often) easiest birds to see. I’ve blogged about them, and their extremely exciting ‘extinct for 50 years’ story at length, so I won’t do too much more here.

But…this November Orbell and Nio (the takahē pair) had a baby! They closed off the takahē area while baby taks was young, for his safety, but I managed to get a few glimpses when s/he was only a tiny ball of black fluff. S/he’s now almost as big as mum and dad, and just beginning to get blue feathers.

Takahē at Zealandia thedreamstress.com

But still SO cute.

Toutouwai (Petroica longipes) North Island Robin

North Island Robin at Zealandia thedreamstress.com

The New Zealand Robins (I showed you the South Island Robin a few years ago) are no relation to the Northern Hemisphere Robin, but they share a friendly, inquisitive personality, hence the name.

Lots of my photographs of toutouwai are on the ground, because the birds are hopping right up to me and checking out my shoes.

North Island Robin at Zealandia thedreamstress.com

Kākāriki (Cyanoramphus novaezelandiae) red-fronted parakeet

Kākāriki may be my favourite bird after the takahē at Zealandia. I haven’t managed to get a good photograph of one, but every time I see them it’s a huge treat. Their chatter is just the sweetest sound in the world.

Kākāriki means ‘little parrot’ and also ‘green’. They were once very widespread, but were hunted in the 19th century as pests, because flocks of them descended on farmers grain.

Kererū (Hemiphaga novaeseelandiae) New Zealand pigeon

Kererū made headlines this year because they were voted New Zealand bird of the year, and are also incredibly fat pigeons that crash through the trees like awkward toddlers learning to walk, and literally get drunk on fermented fruits. In open flight, they are actually incredibly graceful.

Here is a mother kererū feeding her baby.

Various non-native birds

The thing about a bird (and the occasional lizard, not-lizard not-dinosaur, and frog) sanctuary, is that you can’t keep out other birds, so various non natives have decided it’s a lovely place to hang out and raise their young.

Like starlings:

Starling babies at Zealandia thedreamstress.com
Starling babies at Zealandia thedreamstress.com

And California Quail:

California Quail at Zealandia thedreamstress.com
Thicc boi

A guide at Zealanida told me the sanctuary doesn’t mind the California Quail too much, because it fills an ecological gap. There was a native New Zealand quail, but it was the first bird to go extinct following European settlement in New Zealand.

California Quail at Zealandia thedreamstress.com

I appreciate knowing this, because now I don’t feel quite so bad about thinking that quail babies are incredibly adorable.

California Quail at Zealandia thedreamstress.com

Okay, but what about those dino lizards?

Alright, they aren’t actually lizards, or dinosaurs. They are non-lizards that look just like lizards. They are the sole relic of a branch that has been around since the time of dinosaurs. They are…

Tuatara (Sphenodon punctatus)

Tuatara at Zealandia thedreamstress.com

Tuatara can easily live to be 100 – this one is quite mature based on his neck spikes, and is probably older than I am.

Tuatara at Zealandia thedreamstress.com

We keep a sort of informal tick-list of things to see at Zealandia – the first kākāriki, the first baby in a nest, we went on a night walk and saw our first kiwi (one came to within FOUR INCHES of my foot), etc. This is our first tuatara not in the extra-protected tuatara area that is set up to make it relatively easy to see them.

Tuatara are absolutely amazing, and totally unique to New Zealand.

So if I’m visiting Wellington, I should go to Zealandia?

Yes, yes you should!

I’ve heard that the guided tours are great if you’re a new visitor, because they really help you to spot birds, and give you lots of information.

Even without the kiwi we saw on the night tour I would have thought it was money well spent. Quite special and beautiful, especially once the glowworms came out. Like walking through a fairy forest at night.

If you had the time, I’d do the guided tour one afternoon, and then come back the next day (admission is for 2 days) and do one of the longer walks – Round the Lakes or Tui Glen are gorgeous.

Tīeke at Zealandia thedreamstress.com
The Fantail Skirt by Scroop Patterns scrooppatterns.com

Introducing the new and improved Fantail Skirt pattern!

I’m delighted to announce that the Fantail Skirt is once again available for sale! 

And it now fit up to a waist 50″/127cm and hips 60″/152cm!  

The Fantail Skirt by Scroop Patterns scrooppatterns.com

In addition to a size range upgrade, the instructions have had a refresh – nothing too big, just small changes to make them easier and more comprehensive. The pattern layouts are clearer, and there is a bit more information in the Notes on Historical Accuracy in the Historical pattern.

And there is more!  The Fantail will also be available as a paper pattern through Wearing History in a couple of weeks.  Stay tuned for an announcement on that front.  

The Scroop Patterns Fantail Skirt, scrooppatterns.com

Why the size upgrade?

It has always been my goal to make Scroop Patterns as inclusive as possible.  

Scroop Patterns grew out of my work as a sewing teacher, and the most common reason students give for wanting to learn to sew because Ready-to-Wear clothes don’t come in their size, or simply don’t fit right.

As a sewing teacher, I want to be able to tell every student that takes a class with me that yes, of course, the pattern comes in their size.   

When I started Scroop Patterns I made a commitment to developing two full blocks, so I could offer patterns in a 30″-50″ bust size: a range that extends 2 sizes below and 3 sizes above the most commonly available sizing in New Zealand high street shops.  It too more time and money, but was a fundamental part of the ideals behind Scroop.

While this was a good beginning for size inclusivity, it’s always been my goal to add more sizes. 

Since then I’ve been developing further blocks and testing fit, in order to extend the size range further.  In mid 2017 I added size 52, a change that is reflected from the 1703 Rilla Corset patternonwards (the 1702 Ngaio blouse patterndoes fit up to a 52″ bust with the F+ cup size).  

I’ve continued to work on my plus size blocks and fit, and I’m extremely excited to offer the Fantail Skirt up to a size 56 (60″ hips).  

Whenever possible this will now be the new size range for Scroop Patterns, and, if there is enough demand, the other early Scroop Patterns will also be extended to include the new sizing.  

If you’d like to read a bit more about sizing and Scroop Patterns, I wrote a blog post about why Scroop Patterns are the range they are, and what that means as a small independent pattern designer in response to the discussion about sizing in the indie pattern world that happened in late January.

The Fantail Skirt by Scroop Patterns scrooppatterns.com

What if I’ve already bought the Fantail Skirt?

If you purchased the Fantail and would like the new size range, email Scroop Patterns with your original order # to receive a discount code for 70% off the new pattern.

The discount will not apply to paper patterns.