Levels of Bureaucracy, Levels of Research

I have reached my first challenge already: navigating the murky depths of museum bureaucracy! Trying to find the right person to talk to about what either the Smithsonian or the FIT has in its archives is impressively difficult. Two days in, I’ve made progress (I’m three-levels in, waiting for email/call backs), but still don’t have the information I need to schedule my trips to do primary research.

How does a portrait turn into a dress? I do not actually have the wand Cinderella’s fairy godmother used on mice and pumpkins. That wouldn’t be nearly as interesting as what I’m doing, anyway.

The first step is doing what is called “secondary research.” This is looking at source materials like books, patterns, and articles written by experts who have done their own research. The “primary research” I mentioned above, in a project such as mine, is looking at actual garments of the period and location. I can find a lot of information through books, but since my goal is a difficult one, I have a lot of gaps to fill in.

For one thing, I am trying to make a dress from a picture of only a torso. How long were the sleeves? What was the silhouette of the entire dress? What under-structure is hidden beneath the airy folds of white fabric? And what fabric can reproduce the texture the painter captured so delicately?

Books can give me information on what the fashionable silhouette was for the type of dress Polly was wearing. My fore-runners in period costume research can tell me the layers of garments underneath her dress. But I need to examine  the stitching techniques (all by hand of course) used for the cuff, the skirt, the bodice. I need to see how the fabric works with comparable dresses. And I need a visual and tactile frame of reference for when it comes time for me to drape Polly’s dress.


Go to next post: ‘Pride and Prejudice and Round Gowns.’

Published in: on May 11, 2011 at 3:09 am  Comments (3)  

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. i admire that you are so detailed as to the type of stitches. i am impressed since i sew and enjoy hand sewing.

  2. many designers for movies have done similar research, have they not? would they be of any help to your project? i am curious about your obtaining the fabric and thread. also about the embroidery on your costume. i am enthralled with your project and am looking forward to how you research it. please let people know the details of your steps. wonderful! i feel a part of it.

    • The problem with using movies as reference material is that is tertiary research, which means I don’t know where the designer got their information or how accurate it is. It’s the historians that publish books and articles (and include their sources) that are of most use to me.
      I have a few ideas of where I will be getting my notions – there are great websites such as: http://www.thistlehillweavers.com/ ; http://www.burnleyandtrowbridge.com/
      The face fabric is a little more troublesome. I want it to be accurate for the time, but as of yet I haven’t found any fabric vendors that even have the type of fabric I am looking for, let alone an 18th century reproduction. Do you know of somewhere I could look? I’ll keep you updated!

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