(Above: Anonymous Ancestors Sculptural Garments I [finished on the right] and II [just being started on the left]. Click on any image in this blog post for an enlargement.)
Last Monday my living room looked like the photo above. I had just happily finished Anonymous Ancestors Sculptural Garment I, photographed it, and set up two ladders in order to start the second piece. Luckily, my entire stash of anonymous vintage photographs were already fused to fabric. I could start right away ... and did later that same night. Since then, every weeknight found me stitching old images onto the pleated layers of the beautiful, vintage debutante gown.
My photos were divided into groups of the same size and orientation. As I worked up from the bottom, I used smaller and smaller photos. At first, I sat on the floor.
Each photo was attached with a button ... vintage, of course! I got a large box of these white buttons from Bill Mishoe's auction.
Early in the week, my view up the garment looked like the photo above ... lots and lots of pleats onto which photos would be stitched. Around and around I sewed. It required more photos than I anticipated but I had more than enough. Finally, the garment was covered. Yet while working, I realized that the dress needed "something" to fill out the shape. In my mind, it needed crinoline. I asked Steve what he thought. He responded, "What's crinoline?" I explained in terms with which I was familiar ... a steel-hooped "cage" worn under mid-19th century skirts. I described it using words like "wire, hula hoops, and a human-sized bird cage". Steve looked puzzled and then suggested that I make something similar using foam-centered board and rope. He added that such a structure would have the benefit of collapsing during shipping and transport. Occasionally, Steve is absolutely beyond brilliant! This was one of those occasions. He couldn't envision exactly how it would be constructed or how it would attach to the garment, but without his suggestion I still be totally stuck. Instantly, I knew what to do! Thanks, Steve!
It's been since tenth grade since I used a protractor. Yet, I have one. It came in handy after cutting five foam-centered board circles. Holes were poked on each line ... about an inch inside each circle's perimeter. I glued large washers to each hole ... so that my rope wouldn't tear up the foam-core. Five lengths of rope were cut, threaded up through the holes with knots on each side of each hole.
Once made, I discover my next challenge. The skirt's lining was much narrower than the outer garment. The lining with stitched to the back zipper. As a result, I cut the lining away from the zipper. I then stitched six rows of long running stitches down the lining ... from the waistline to the hemline. I gathered up all the material ... which nicely fills out the bodice but still leaves a "hole" in the middle.
Finally, I tied the ends of my five rope lengths into a giant knot. To the knot, I attached a short wire with a light-weight, metal key clasp on the end. I strung another wire through the clear plastic coat hanger ... adding another light-weight metal key clasp to its end. Thus, the crinoline can be removed and replaced ... and is collapsible too!
I'm really pleased with this second garment. I've even located a new place in which to snap final images ... a place with a big white walls and a solid floor ... a rental photography studio! Hopefully, this will be a perfect place to take finished photographs. Such a place was the only thing I truly gave up when moving out of my studio at Gallery 80808/Vista Studios. Now ... I might not miss that advantage either!
In the process of creating the crinoline, gathering the lining, and finishing this piece, I learned something special. I was told that the dress was once a debutante's gown. It was donated to me by a lady who retold a tale. She explained that the dress sat in storage for years ... long after the woman who wore it had passed on. Her husband couldn't give it up. The dress had been lovingly made by a talented family member. I can't quite remember exactly how the dress came into this woman's possession but she insisted that I notice the craftsmanship. Handmade. I loved it a first sight. I knew immediately what I would do. It is now exactly how I envisioned it ... but the gown's true origin revealed itself. Inside the zipper is a Union Label. A little research proves the garment was made post-1955. In fact, the label looks exactly like those used between 1963-74. Handmade or not, it doesn't change a thing. It is still the dress that speaks of a beautiful young woman making her entrance into society, a husband's love, and a cherished gift for me to alter into art.
My family has their share of fabled fantasies too. When I was in upper elementary school studying the civil war, I asked about my ancestors. This meant "my mother's side of the family". Why? Well, Dad came to the USA as a seventeen-year-old in 1952. I was told to ask my Grandpa Baker in a letter. (Most of my mother's family didn't immigrate to the USA until long after the Civil War ... just one branch was living in America during the mid-19th century.) I got an answer. For years I believed that I was related to Lafayette Curry Baker, a government intelligent agent who was in charge of the posse who apprehended and killed President Lincoln's assassin, John Wilkes Booth. None of it is true. In fact, my mother's side of the family was from West Virginia ... and fought for the South! Grandpa just wanted me to have a great story from the "winning" side. LOL!
Frankly, I love the stories, the exaggerations, and the myths that are bigger than life. They speak with love of family. The embellishments make the ordinary as special as the memories really are.