Monthly Archives: January 2022

The struggle dress

The gold underdress proved to be a struggle. I did a range of mock-ups with a light cotton, trying to get the fit I wanted: ‘A frame’ as it were, with the hands visible and the right amount of extension around the ankles. Multiple tries with modified rectangles and semi-circles didn’t work at all.

This single-sheet wrap sewn up the front ended up having a weird pointy skirt instead of the A shape I was looking for.
Finally I tried math: marking a measurement every half inch along the height of the statue, using the measuring tape to make a circle in the air around the statue where I imagined I’d like the dress to be (thus touching the body at the top, but extending out a few inches at the bottom hem).
The math. However, after cutting this from a single piece I realized I really needed a ‘sandwich’ – a front triangle and back triangle sewn up the sides, not unlike some of the dresses I myself wear.
The two pieces…
Loosely pinned on to check the fit.

Doing the sewing in the gold satin was a bit hampered by the lack of an iron in the airbnb where I am staying. I discover (duh) that fabric that doesn’t wrinkle easily also doesn’t iron easily. Some fabrics will ‘cold press’ if left under a heavy book overnight. Not this one. So, this will have to be a “please don’t look at the back!” dress for now. Another time I’ll make a tidier one. Nonetheless I think it’s going to work well with the red overdress.

The final basic gold dress (ornament to come).
With the red overdress – now I can start adding lace and other details.

The red dress

So the rough idea for the red overdress is like this. Off we go to see how it works out!

I folded red silk over the cotton model to give it more body (this red ‘silk’ (polyester) is quite mobile and soft.

I stitched the finished overdress shut just below the hands to try it on.

So it’s going in the general direction I would like. I folded the corners of the red dress back to reveal more of the gold skirt. I’d like the gold skirt to be a little less buoyant. And the red dress is about an inch too long. I will probably shorten the red overdress first, and see again how it hangs, before possibly re-doing the gold underskirt. Once the length is correct, I also want to narrow the red dress at the top (and possibly belt it) to make it less like a cape.

When I lie awake at night I enjoy brainstorming what I will do to resolve this or that problem. I did try folding and pleating the gold underskirt in various ways but I don’t like the result at all. I think it might be better if it were simply narrower altogether. I will probably cut a new one entirely, as the existing one is quite cool and might have a good use in a different context.

Here’s the red overdress without the skirt:

I put two pins in to mark the new length I’m going to try (I might just fold it up and tack it first, to see if I like it shorter. Fold more, pin more, cut less is a good strategy in the beginning, to try out different shapes.

First layer: the underskirt

So I began sewing the first layer of clothing for Our Lady of Aparecida. Here’s how it went.

First I cut a square of handkerchief cotton, then trimmed it into a circle, cut the center opening, and tried it on the statue. I trimmed away excess until it was a good fit, then lightly tacked a simple lace to the perimeter, with the idea that it would serve as a kind of underskirt for the satin skirt. Anything that doesn’t work can be redone!
Next I pinned the cotton to the back side of the gold satin and trimmed the satin to be just a little larger than the cotton. Now I was figuring that the cotton would serve as a kind of lining and support for the satin (as it may yet be decorated with trim or embroidery, and the cotton helps keep everything smooth).
After some pondering I turned the satin under so that just the bit of lace showed around the edge, pinned it, and did my best small tidy stitches to hem it. I left the top undone for the moment, as I still wasn’t sure exactly what I would do up there.
Here you can see the half-hemmed satin, right side up, in front of the statue.
I decided to sew a ribbon to the waist opening to let the skirt be tied on securely. I hemmed the inner edges, folding the satin over the cotton, and did a whip stitch around the waist opening before going back and sewing on the ribbon. Since the ribbon needs to run on a curve I had to hold the waist-opening edge vertically as I sewed.
The ribbon gets tied like this for now.
I put a little shawl of lace around her shoulders, sewed it shut below her hands so it would stay in place, and then tied the skirt over it. I may do some rather drastic modification of this underskirt after I finish the red overdress, because it’s not yet clear how they will interact. The stiff width of this gold skirt may be problematic – in which case I can reduce the size of it, add gathers or pleats, or take out the cotton lining. On the other hand it might turn out to be most excellent, since both the overdress and mantle are likely to be rather stiff, too. The red dress fabric is the most drapey, but I will probably build it on a cotton lining as I did this skirt, and may additionally line it with another satin. I also intend to decorate this underskirt, which will add weight and change the way it hangs, but I’m waiting to get the red dress done before doing any decorating, so that I can coordinate the trims I use.

So there you go – experimenting in progress!

Planning a dress

I know that some people like to work spontaneously, but I am gifted with the love of planning. So this is how I’m strategizing the new dress and mantle for Our Lady of Aparecida.

Igreja do Santíssimo Sacramento de Sant'Ana Salvador Nossa Senhora de Aparecida 2018-1791
The image is customarily dressed something like this. The carved wooden image (or a replica in resin) is dressed in a dark blue velvet mantle decorated with gold trim and varied embroidered ornaments, usually with a pair of flags on the front and a decorative pin holding the mantle closed. The mantle is secured by the pin of the crown, which goes down through a hole in the hood of the mantle and into the appropriate hole in the top of the head.
The unvested image already has a draping robe, loose hair, folded hands, and a garland of flowers around the neckline of the robe. The hands are a key feature when designing clothing: I like to have them remain visible. The image is also very egg-shaped, so securing clothing needs to be done around the shoulders or around the hands, but would be harder to do around the waist.

My main goals are as follows:
1) to make a red dress for her to wear under the blue mantle; I’d like the dress to be quite complex and include a gold under-gown (see below)
2) to make a white wimple of some sort
3) to make a new blue mantle
4) to make a dramatic Spanish-style floor-length lace mantilla

The dress: One image that struck me as I was researching the dresses of Our Lady and the dresses of historic queens was this one of Queen Anne of Bretagne. The red silk overdress and gold brocade underdress are a stunning combination. The square neckline is not as interesting, nor are the bell-sleeves. But the skirt part is very interesting.
This dress (of Queen Henrietta Maria of England) has some interesting lace layering at the top and on the sleeve cuffs which is interesting. The puffy sleeves are not so interesting. The idea of making a gold skirt with white lace tunic-top, belted, and then a red satin overdress over that, is one possibility.
This skirt is interesting for the layering. I am thinking that the skirt could be built on a cotton support, with strips of satin alternating with overlapping layers of organza and/or lace to make this kind of effect. The red satin outer dress could be fairly smooth, held shut above and below the hands (with some small stitches)and trimmed with gold. This way it would hang open over the layered skirt, but be fairly closed at the top.

Another thing that is striking in this image is the ermine-lined cloak. I have some fake fur, quite light and fine, which could be used to trim the mantle. I’m thinking perhaps an inner trim (using inner and outer trims is interesting! The mantle will be initially lined with cotton (the weight used for bedsheets) to provide stability for the beading and embroidery. Once that decoration is done (which I will probably do on a hoop before even cutting the fabric), I will line the mantle with gold satin to cover the inner stitching. I couldn’t find blue velvet but got a lovely heavy textured ‘silk’ (polyester) which has some body.

Once the dress is done, I plan to make a wimple and veil like a religious sister might use, just of white satin, falling above the hands in front and almost to the waist in back. I plan to cover this with a layer of decorative lace so it isn’t too plain. That and the mantle (which normally has a hood, though I could do it just with a high collar in back, like a priest’s cope) will have a fixed hole for the crown pin, trimmed with stitching so it’s stronger and in a fixed place (as opposed to stabbing the pin in a different spot each time).

And finally, I am a huge fan of the Spanish style mantillas, and have a stash of Spanish lace, so I intend to make a lovely light cloud-like mantilla that will go from the head to the floor. Bridal, as it were.

This image of mine is only about 10 inches high, so we will be exercising our clumsy fingers and bad eyes to do this! But it should be very fun. I’ll post as I go… including surely many re-stitchings when I do it wrong the first time!

Our Lady’s Mantles

Last year I began some simple sewing projects, which eventually led to an all out festival of sewing clothing for images of the saints. Friends came over and we sat sewing mantles for Our Lady, little chasubles for the Baby Jesus or Crucified Christ, robes for Saint Joseph, and so on. Since none of us had any experience (and all of us had grand ideas) much time was spent trying things, seeing the mistakes, and re-doing them. For myself, this is the very beginning of a long experiment (perhaps) in understanding fabric and dressing. It was also a bit amusing, because when some friends first became enthusiastic about making clothing for saints images I do believe I said, “Even as a child I never was interested in dressing my dolls, and I’m not really interested in making a wardrobe of seasonal clothing for Our Blessed Mother either.” A month later I was totally immersed in a white satin robe for the Baby Jesus and a gorgeous blue velvet mantel with rose-colored lining for His Mother and Ours.

I soon began to realize how much material was needed. We had already pillaged the trim I had brought from New York, carefully measured to be suitable for making two semi-gothic chasubles. Now reduced in quantity to be suitable for…well, trimming some chalice veils or maniples? I also had no lace and not enough variety of gold and silver trim. Brazilian trim is notoriously carnivalesque. I spent a couple of days in Barcelona stocking up on more suitable notions, though no liturgical trim was evident to compare with that available at LaLame, in New York. That said, the lace trim was a dream.

I took the standard blue mantle off of my Lady of Aparecida, and stripped it of all its trimmings, which I planned to replace with finer things. However once it was de-trimmed I realized the fabric was not very lovely, so that got set aside until I can get back to a fabric store to buy some nice blue satin and velvet. Meanwhile I dressed her in a simple red robe (pinned on for now) and a huge lace mantilla that makes a cloud-like form around her. I love that. I am currently fascinated with lace.

In exploring dressing the saints, however, I began to wonder where the various traditions arose and where and when and why they can be flexible (or not). Too much creativity, or the wrong direction in ideas, becomes blasphemous. Yet there are many Madonnas who are regularly re-dressed in new gowns either for seasonal feasts or for their own annual feasts. Enormous care and workmanship goes into making these gowns. I wondered where, for instance, Our Lady of Aparecida’s standard blue mantle comes from, as there are older images (paintings) of her that show different designs, though always blue. Our Lady of Good Success is dressed in a variety of gowns, in a variety of colors, and this is true both of the original image in Quito as well as the images kept for private devotion in homes and chapels.

So one idea I had this morning was to browse through images of what queens wore in paintings from the 14th to 19th centuries. And then look at photos of images of Our Lady, to see how she is dressed in various times and places. Paintings of Our Lady I have in quantity (bookmarked from wikimedia commons). So it will perhaps be interesting to browse that imagery and see if anything interesting emerges.

Just for example, here is Our Lady of Monserrat, showing the image as it appears day to day, and as it appears dressed for a festival (in the late 19th century).


Poking around in craft and notions shops in Barcelona I discovered troves of lace. I bought a diverse stock of remnants. I was fascinated by the transparency, the delicacy, the cloud-like quality of the laces, especially those which involve embroidered edging on a sheer net support. I arranged some of them around my little travel-sized image of Our Lady of Aparecida, so that she appears surrounded by a cloud. I began to imagine how lace could be added to my own clothing, and was inspired to see lace cuffs and collars even on common sweaters and blouses around town. Perhaps one goes Elizabethan, making detachable lace collars so that they don’t get damaged by washing.

One evening I passed a craft shop I hadn’t seen before, and went in to poke around. Two ladies at a work table were making bobbin lace: twining thread in and around patterns of pins set into foam supports. The threads were wound around wooden bobbins which hung down the front of the work, keeping light tension on the threads. I watched, fascinated, that this skill has not been lost. In fact, Barcelona is chock full of sewing shops with work tables around which regular classes and work sessions are held. Embroidery, knitting, quilting, cross-stitch, lace-making, sewing, Japanese embroidery and other crafts seem very popular. Lots of small shops sell handmade clothes, too.

I was astonished later when my mother said she’d made all her own clothing from the age of 14 onward. I brought drawing supplies on this trip instead of sewing supplies (mostly because sewing stuff has to go in checked luggage, lest you put someone’s eye out with it). But I was fretful without my sewing and went and bought a small set of embroidery needles, thread, trim, fabric and so on, and began dismantling the mantle of Our Lady of Aparecida in order to remake it fancier.

Here’s a lovely short film about lace making in France.