A dress for when I was a bird

A dress for Mansfield's 'When I was a bird' thedreamstress.com

I climbed up the karaka tree
Into a nest all made of leaves
But soft as feathers.

A dress for Mansfield's 'When I was a bird' thedreamstress.com
I made up a song that went on singing all by itself
And hadn’t any words, but got sad at the end.

A dress for Mansfield's 'When I was a bird' thedreamstress.com
There were daisies in the grass under the tree.
I said just to try them:
“I’ll bite off your heads and give them to my little
children to eat.”

A dress for Mansfield's 'When I was a bird' thedreamstress.com

But they didn’t believe I was a bird;
They stayed quite open.
The sky was like a blue nest with white feathers
And the sun was the mother bird keeping it warm.
That’s what my song said: though it hadn’t any words.

A dress for Mansfield's 'When I was a bird' thedreamstress.com

Little Brother came up the patch, wheeling his barrow.
I made my dress into wings and kept very quiet.

A dress for Mansfield's 'When I was a bird' thedreamstress.com
Then when he was quite near I said: “Sweet, sweet!”

A dress for Mansfield's 'When I was a bird' thedreamstress.com
For a moment he looked quite startled;
Then he said: “Pooh, you’re not a bird; I can see
your legs.”
A dress for Mansfield's 'When I was a bird' thedreamstress.com
But the daisies didn’t really matter,
And Little Brother didn’t really matter;
I felt just like a bird.

A dress for Mansfield's 'When I was a bird' thedreamstress.com
With the Historical Sew Fortnightly ‘Poetry in Motion’ challenge coming up, I wasn’t sure what to make.  It was the one challenge of the year where I didn’t have a plan ahead of time.  But I was very much deep in Katherine Mansfield, and Mansfield has always been one of my favourite poets.

So I dug through Mansfield’s poems, looking for inspiration.  I was instantly attracted to ‘In the Rangitaki Valley‘, with its imagery of yellow broom flowers (of course!), but coming just after the yellow challenge, and with a bunch of yellow UFOs, none of which were appropriate to the poem, I decided it wasn’t the right moment.

Instead I read through another of my favourites: ‘When I was a bird‘, and instantly saw a dress in the poem.  Not only a dress, but one I’ve already made: the Vionnet Chiton-inspired dress.  It’s got wings, and, when making it from kimono fabric, the mon become little floral daisies.  And it’s very Mansfield-y: ca. 1920, avant garde, loose and free.

I may have already made more than one Chiton dress, but I can never have too many, and I didn’t have a black one that fit me (because the one in my closet shrunk.  Uh-huh. Yes it did.)

So I unpicked another kimono, and whipped up a dress in an afternoon.  A model wore it for the Mansfield talk (and looked fabulous!), but I wanted a photoshoot inspired by the poem.  So on Saturday Mr D and I headed out into the sunshine.

I couldn’t think of anywhere there was a climbable karaka tree (they tend to have thick trunks that shoot straight up with no branches from some time), and in any case it was Mr D’s turn to pick the location for our walk, and he chose the Massey Memorial and surrounds.

As it turned out, the Massey Memorial was an inspired choice.  The broom was in full bloom, scenting the air and covering the hillsides in yellow, so I got to have a ‘breast high in the blossoms I stand’ moment after all:

A dress for Mansfield's 'When I was a bird' thedreamstress.com

 

A dress for Mansfield's 'When I was a bird' thedreamstress.com

 

The Challenge: #18 Poetry in Motion

The Poem: Katherine Mansfield’s ‘When I was a bird’

Fabric: 1 vintage silk kimono, unpicked

Pattern: My own, inspired by a Vionnet original.

Year: ca. 1920

Notions: cotton thread.

How historically accurate is it?: Practically perfect in every way.  Except that Vionnet’s original would have been entirely handsewn, because it was couture.

Hours to complete: 3

First worn: For ‘Clothing the World of Katherine Mansfield’, Sat 4 Oct

Total cost: $5 for the kimono.

Clothing the world of Katherine Mansfield

Well, it’s been almost a week since the Katherine Mansfield talk, and I am mostly recovered, and most of the stuff is washed and put away and life is mostly back to normal!

I’ve seen some of the photographer’s images from the talk, and they look amazing.  Definitely something to look forward to!

For now, here are a few more informal glimpses from my camera, courtesy of various models backstage, and Madame O in the audience during the talk.

Zara from Off-Grid Chic (modeling my green ’20s gown) and Juliet of Crazy Gypsy Chronicles (in the 1910s longline) have a modern technology moment in the middle of historical costuming.

Clothing the World of Katherine Mansfield, thedreamstress.com

Sandra of Flossie FT doing hair:

Clothing the World of Katherine Mansfield, thedreamstress.com

All dressing rooms should have spectacular stained glass windows:

Clothing the World of Katherine Mansfield, thedreamstress.com

And then, the talk!

Clothing the World of Katherine Mansfield, thedreamstress.com

How adorable is Martha in the 1920s bathers?  

Clothing the World of Katherine Mansfield, thedreamstress.com

Clothing the World of Katherine Mansfield, thedreamstress.com

Clothing the World of Katherine Mansfield, thedreamstress.com

Clothing the World of Katherine Mansfield, thedreamstress.com

Yellow stockings!

Clothing the World of Katherine Mansfield, thedreamstress.com

And a dress with wings!

Clothing the World of Katherine Mansfield, thedreamstress.com

Clothing the World of Katherine Mansfield, thedreamstress.com

The HSF ’14: Challenge #22: Gentlemen

Do you know how long it has been since I’ve done a HSF inspiration post?

Long enough that I’m now two challenges behind!  Anyway, catching up to do!

Per popular vote, the theme of the HSF ’14 Challenge #22, due Monday 1 December, is ‘Gentlemen’: Make a historical item for a gentlemen, or a ladies item inspired by/borrowed from menswear.

I am just overwhelmed with ideas!  There are so many fantastic things I could make, either for Mr D (I live in hope…) or as menswear or menswear inspired things for me!

Here are a few bits of manly fashions that amuse and attract me:

Shepherds, 1430s

Shepherds, 1430s

Medieval stirrup stockings?  Of course!

Saint Lucia in Court, 1532, Lorenzo Lotto

Saint Lucia in Court, 1532, Lorenzo Lotto

Obviously, the actual menswear depicted in Lotto’s painting is pretty fantastic (those stockings!  Those slashed shoes!), but Saint Lucia’s gown, with its slashed sleeves and bodice, is also menswear inspired (probably), as slashing was said to have become a fad after the slashed effect of mens clothing after a battle.

Portrait of a Young Man, by Federico Barocci (Il Baroccio), perhaps c. 1580-90 but possibly slightly later, ca. 1600

Portrait of a Young Man, by Federico Barocci (Il Baroccio), perhaps c. 1580-90 but possibly slightly later, ca. 1600

Is there anything not to love about Barocci’s young man’s outfit?  That fabric!  Those buttons!  The utterly gorgeous ruff!  (and, of course, some ruff styles were unisex).

Outfit worn by Charles X Gustav of Sweden (1622-1660), 1647 Collection of the Royal Armoury.

Outfit worn by Charles X Gustav of Sweden (1622-1660), 1647 Collection of the Royal Armoury.

Mid 17th century men’s clothes are so funny, but also quite gorgeous.  That silver trim!  And the cape!

 

Archduchess Maria Antonia of Austria, the later Queen Marie Antoinette of France, at the age of 16 years, 1771

Archduchess Maria Antonia of Austria, the later Queen Marie Antoinette of France, at the age of 16 years, 1771

And, of course, there is always 18th century woman’s riding outfits, with multiple elements borrowed directly from menswear.

Court suit worn by Johann Hummel, Uncut voided silk velvet, silk faille, silk embroidery floss, gold & silver embroidery purl & frieze, rhinestone & metal sequins c. 1810-14 Paris, France, FIDM Museum, 2008.947.2A-C

Court suit worn by Johann Hummel, Uncut voided silk velvet, silk faille, silk embroidery floss, gold & silver embroidery purl & frieze, rhinestone & metal sequins c. 1810-14 Paris, France, FIDM Museum, 2008.947.2A-C

One day I’m going to make a fully embroidered men’s court suit…or two, so I can have one for me!

Riding habit of green wool, circa 1825. From the Rijks Museum.

Riding habit of green wool, circa 1825. From the Rijks Museum.

Following on from their 18th century predecessors, most 19th century women’s riding habits have designs and decorations that are heavily based on menswear and mens tailoring.

Banyan, French, 1830s, silk, Les Arts Decoratif

Banyan, French, 1830s, silk, Les Arts Decoratif

And this particular banyan is so glorious that if I had one I would wear it every day – as a coat!

Gazette of Fashion and Cutting-Room Companion 1872

Gazette of Fashion and Cutting-Room Companion 1872

I love the more relaxed mens sporting and outdoors fashions of the mid-late 19th century, and the way they inspired 20th century ‘Safari’ gear.

1887, Godey's Ladies Book

1887, Godey’s Ladies Book

Boater hats?  Borrowed from menswear!  And, of course, both of these yacht club costumes were heavily influenced by menswear (and are fabulous).

George Arliss was a stage actor in the early ’20th century, and oh boy, did he know how to look fabulous!  Check out the striped buttons, and the little piggy on his watch chain!

Journal des Dames et des Modes 1912

Journal des Dames et des Modes 1912

This would be the ladies costume take on the men’s sporting wear, and I think it’s just sublime!

Madge Bellamy, 1920s

Madge Bellamy, 1920s

As is, of course, Madge in jodhpurs! And jodhpurs, like any trousers for women, are clearly menswear influenced!

So, get your linen shirting, your serge and tweed and your tailoring books out, and happy sewing!

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Leimomi Oakes is the Dreamstress, a textile historian, seamstress, designer, speaker and museum professional. Leimomi is available for educational and entertaining presentations, textile and fashion advice, special commissions and events. Click to learn more

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