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).