In my deep perusing of YouTube Costumers and historical stitchers (I love you beautiful humans so much btw), I came across a video by Bernadette Banner talking with Cathy Hay about the Peacock Dress. Which is an absolutely spectacular video to watch and learn from them. Beyond my awe of their incredible talent and lovely ramblings about the dress and skills to build it (check it out here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jMGyfkvY06g&ab_channel=BernadetteBanner), I dug deeper into Cathy’s channel and Foundations Revealed.
Foundations Revealed is a lovely website/blog/training hub for historical costumers and corsetiers alike. I have dabbled in corsets before, but nothing major and certainly nothing at this level of detail and exquisite taste. I dove into the website, reading any article I could about flossing, proper approach to fitting and a toile (fancy word for mock-up), and sourcing of supplies. This was the first I had heard of coutile in corset building and so much more. They host a contest every year for costumers to show off their work and this year’s theme is “Once Upon a Time,” focused on literature. I was immediately hooked by the theme since that is what I love to dream about. I then perused the previous year’s photos and winners.
My first thought? Holy hell, these are amazing!
My second thought? There is no way I could do any of that.
My third thought? Yes, yes I can do that.
So here we are folks, at the beginning of a blog and the beginning of a journey.
I decided that in starting down this path of publishing my journey in sewing, that this would be a phenomenal challenge to present myself with. As a born and raised fairy tale lover, there was no way I could pass up on the opportunity to design and build a structured garment all around a fairy tale character. Though the world was my oyster in term of literature subjects to chose from, I knew a fairy tale character was in my future.
In choosing my subject, I knew I wanted to do something close to heart, a childhood favorite perhaps, but also something that I could put my own spin on. I certainly knew I wanted to do something out of the ordinary or “off-brand” some might say. I initially pondered the classics:
Sleeping Beauty?Favorite Disney movie of all childhood, but no, too common-place and overdone.
The Last Unicorn?A bit too off-center, and not quite enough source material to work from.
Swan Princess?Eh, again, overdone, and I simply wasn’t motivated by it.
Then, it hit me.
Though I was never a big fan of the original Brothers Grimm tale, the fantasy retelling of the tale by Shannon Hale is a book I will forever credit with making me the reader I am. I absolutely devoured the book, and every other book she has written. I still to this day pull out my tattered copy or replay the Full Cast Audio version to listen to while driving. Its a captivating story of princesses, magic, love, and overcoming self doubt. I knew that this would be my inspiration, that I needed to pay homage to the character, story, and author I so adored in my reading foundations.
The story of the Goose Girl, for those of you who skipped this overlooked fairy tale, tells of a Princess who has her identity stolen by her chamber maid while on the road to wed a prince she had never met. In the original tale, the Princess swears not to tell of the treachery or the chamber maid will kill her. In her silence, she is given the task of being a goose girl. Here, the magic begins with a talking horse head and whistling winds. Then, all ends well when she is discovered by the king, her identity revealed, and the imposter thrown into a barrel of nails….ew
A quiet, somewhat odd tale, but lovely all the same.
In Shannon Hale’s rendition, the colors and characters are much more vivid. She paints a believable backdrop behind the classic tale all the while injecting it with treachery, passion, and character growth that has you invested as much in the individual characters as the overall story. She also provides a plausible magic system that answers so many questions left by the Grimm tale.
A blend of these two sources of literature were the foundation of my inspiration for the contest. I would build the outfit that Princess Anidori-Kiladra Talianna Isilee would wear while hiding as the Goose Girl named Isi.
I knew I wanted to do something structured, since this was for Foundations Revealed, but also flowing since Shannon Hale describes the clothing within the book as “gowns” and “tunics”. I first brainstormed the time period the story felt right in for my imagination of the tale. I settled on the silhouette of the 17th century stay rather than the traditional Victorian corset. This was a time I felt I could root the story I had envisioned in my mind while reading the novel and the classic tale. Here is where I diverged from Shannon Hale’s inspiration. Since the novel mentions tunics often, one can interpret the time period as more set in medieval or somewhere between 13-15th centuries. This did not give the silhouette I instantly associated and knew I wanted to challenge myself to build.
So, I will take this moment to apologize to Shannon in diverting from the time period, but I just had to do it.
After a quick sketch of the design silhouette, I began to think about colors and materials. Here, I felt I could give more justice to the novel as a source material.
In the novel, Isi is a goose girl in the kingdom of Bayern which Shannon describes as much larger, louder, and overall more vivid than her home of Kildenree. She is described, while as a goose girl, as wearing a borrowed bright yellow tunic and blue skirt from a woman who helps her on her flight from the forest when she is pursued by the traitors. This was in sharp contrast to the soft green dress and other pastels she had been wearing while in Kildenree and later in the book when she returns to her princess attire. This was my initial color story when I drafted the design.
I had my silhouette. I had my colors. But it still felt flat.
I decided to back track and think deeper about the world of Bayern in which Shannon sets the tale. I wanted to tie the world in my mind to something tangible. The answer came when I stubbled upon a picture of the most quintessential Bavarian town, Rothenburg ob der Tauber. It had the vivid colors of blue, green, yellow, rust, and brown that just screamed Bayern. I could instantly envision Isi here passing under the arches with her flock of geese. I wanted to embody this world into my design. Moreover, I wanted to be in this world.
I initially stumbled upon the town while reminiscing over the gorgeous landscapes of southern Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and Luxemburg: Bavaria. A bucket list place I have always wanted to visit. The gorgeous views, the castles, the colors, the culture, the history. I have family ancestry in this region, but moreover simply wanted to visit this world of fantasy.
Last fall, my mother and I decided we would go on a European tour together after I graduated to celebrate being done with college (finally) as well as entering adult life. We chose an amazing trip through the heart of Bavaria where we would experience it all, including an exclusive tour of Neuschwanstein Castle (*drool*).
We booked the trip, got our passports reissued, I learned basic German, and we were all set to go.
Then, the world stopped.
Our trip was set for the last weeks of March 2020. We cancelled the trip as everything came to a screeching halt amidst the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic.
I know that I shouldn’t complain because there are people who have gone through it all during these insane times. But I would be lying to say that it hurt more than I can explain to have the trip ripped away weeks before we were set to take off. The daydreams of hiking in the Black Forest, exploring castles, and traveling the Romantic Road do not leave me.
Being in quarantine in the summer of 2020 when I stumbled upon the contest, it struck me as the perfect way to distract myself. This project would be the perfect way to grow and be inspired by all that had happened.
Now, I had the inspiration, a time period, a fantasy location, a silhouette, a color story, and a clear vision. Next, it was time to gather materials and pattern draft.
Check out the next parts to see the design come together!