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).