{JennylaFleur: Dress Diaries}

La Belle Jennings


Charles II Project
La Belle Jennings
Frances Jennings, Lady Hamilton:
17th century Maid of Hounor

draped by me, based on Jean Hunnisett

poly faille, cotton (lining), china silk,
vintage lace, vintage metallic lace trim

My contribution to the Great Charles II Project.

In progress.

On my blog: 17th:charlesi





August 2008
The Great Charles II Project... ah yes.

I was going to say no, I really was. Problem is that I'd already given serious consideration to making a 17th century gown as part of my 2009 to-do list. I'd even gone so far as starting to research, combing the stash for fabrics and making some jewelry. Then I decided to put the project aside for another year for, I don't know, some stupid practical reason.

Then the Charles II Project was lobbied at Costume College08. Suddenly the vision of 20+ of my favorite costumers all running around in 17th century dresses and me sitting alone in a corner was un-bearable. I was in. Practicality is way over rated when there are pretties to be had!


I decided to pick a courtier rather than a mistress to portray, since the possibility of me making the "official" events is in the 10% range. I chose Frances Jennings, Lady Hamilton, Future Countess of Tyrconnel. She was the older sister of Sarah Jennings, future Duchess of Marlborough (a figure in history I love reading about). Frances was known at court for her fair hair (perhaps some blond highlights are in order!), her beauty (her nickname was "La Belle Jennings") and virtue (rare at court), and was Maid of Honour to the Duchess of York. She had rather a sad ending in life, widowed three times and died a pauper but the dress I want to make (1665-1675) would have been from her "happy days".

So I begin...

Spent some time yesterday scanning in patterns and pics from Cut of Women's Clothes and Hunnisett. I need to enlarge them and print them out so I can get started on the toiling. After staring at my books before I went to bed every night this week I feel like I'm finally getting a grasp on how these frocks went together. That combined with all the examining of and peppering Katherine with questions about her court dress at Costume College (her dress being a fossilized version of the 17th century court gown) light is dawning on this project. Yay!



I'm thinking of going with something like these for the design. The fabric will be the rest of the bolt of orange faille I used for the Fire costume. I haven't decided if i want to spilt open the skirt front or not or what exactly is going on with my sleeves. I'm getting there though...

September 28 2008

The gold trimming for my Charles II dress. It's a bit small from the portraits I've been looking at but it's exactly the color/tone I wanted and it was in my price range. And it was from Tinsel Trading. Somehow that makes me happy, although rather like Katherine's poor cousin knowing how much she paid for her TT trim. *grins* Still she is a mistress and I am a poor Maid of Honour so actually that works. *hee* I'm going to do triple rows of it all over the bodice, should be fun if lots of hand sewing.

May 26 2009


I started work on the Charles II dress this weekend, although I didn't get very far with it, thanks in large part to the headache thing. My plan has been to drape a pattern based on the scaled patterns from Jean Hunnisett. So I scanned the page, enlarged it in MS Pubisher, printed it out (pink paper ohh!), taped the pices together and traced out the pattern on a length of old sheet.


Alas all that work and my useal method of draped pattern greatness wouldn't work. Not even close to working. Seriously, how the heck is one supposed to drape a pattern *for oneself* for an off the shoulder garment?!! *razen frazen*

Narcissa has been absolutely no help (we don't see eye-to-eye on shoulders at the best of times) so in desperation (and a stubborn determination not to spend $30 on the Reconstructing History pattern) I scoured the pattern bins for any and all off the shoulder patterns. My thought is that if I can get a little assitance with the patterning and fit of the shoulder area right I can redraft seams and make up the rest easily. I came up with a few options, the best of which is probably the Civil War ballgown.

Then I was talking to Mom and she suggested trying on her old ballgown bodice and use that as a working toile. My Mom is so smart! So I braved the storage under the stairs (not for the faint of heart!) and found the bodice. Now I just need to dig around in the historic pattern bin and make sure she still has the pattern for that bodice. Mom is very spotty about documenting her costuming so hopefully I can figure out what pattern she used and find it in the stash. If not I'll start toiling with one of the patterns I've already pulled out.

If I can shake these headaches that is. *sigh*

May 30 2009
I've come to the conclusion that this Charles dress is either going to kill me off or it's going to be one of the most amazing things I've ever made. I'm going for the later but this frock is fighting my every inch of the way.

Why is that? Why is it, as myladyswardrobe so eloquently put it, that some gowns practically make themselves, whereas others simply don't want to be made? I haven't figured out a rhyme or reason to it but it is some small consolation that I'm not the only sufferer and that makes me feel a tiny bit better.

So after pondering why this particular frock doesn't want to be friendly (no conclusion), I made a momentous decision... *drum roll* ... to just enjoy the process. Novel thought - that! I'm not in a race, I'm not going to Costume College, I don't have a deadline so why all this scrambling?

Somehow I've gotten into the horrible rut of costuming in a rush. I've been so focused on events, "using up" the stash, holding off CADD, feeling guilty work on my stuff when I have commission work to do or just plain finishing projects that I've lost the joy of doing. Which is silly because honestly my favorite part isn't the dressing up (the fun of that is all about the friends who dress up with me!), it's the creating. So why am I raising such a fuss about this bodice not wanting to play nice and trying to figure out the shortest possible route to the end? Costuming In A Rush (TM) Sometimes I wonder at my absurd ability to complicate the simple and to create my own drama. *sigh*

All that to say I've been working on my Charles dress in little spurts of time, as work and headaches/brain wattage will allow this week. And that is okay! The frock is still playing dirty but my change in perspective has me enjoying the challenge a bit more.

June 30 2009

Before I post proper diary progress for my Charles II dress, I thought I would post pics of my vision for it. This is one of those interesting projects where the designing and creating process has been a very organic. I've a solid ideas for what I'm going to do with certain parts and no clue for other parts and all of it is changing as I go along. It's a fun way to costume but it wreaks havoc on the old dress diary format. Oh well.


So the fabrics. For the dress. I'm using an orange poly faille. You may recognize it from my Fire dress. I have a limited amount of fabric left but it should work. I just won't have a decadently full skirt. The lace came from an Edwardian skirt that was otherwise disintegrating and the metallic lace from Tinsel Trading in NYC. I'll use one of the gold tone silk ribbons, not sure which yet, for hair and jewelry. Not pictured is the cream china silk for the faux shift sleeves.

My silly little sketch, freshly made last night. I'm not 100% sure what I'm doing with the sleeves (I won't know until I start toiling I think) but it gives a rough idea of what I'm going for. For the bodice I'm relying heavy on the pics of the 1660s bodice in Bath plus the patterns in Hunnisett, Waugh and Arnold. My pattern is turning out to be quite the mis-mosh of sources, pattern shapes and ideas but it's mine and I like it. :>

I'm still debating the separate stays or boned bodice question. Either one is going to be a pain I think. Either way I'm going to bone it with Silly Sister reed (seems like a good project for experimenting!). The 17th century shift will be faux, but I am going to make up an off the shoulder mid-victorian – I need it for my Poe dress anyway.

June 3 2009

So like I said before, I've been working on this frock in little pieces of time. So I'm here, there and everywhere with my journaling. Sorry about that. But since I think having a detailed diary will come in handy someday, I'm just going to write it as it happened.


First thing I did was to unpack Mom's ballgown bodice and sort out all the pattern pieces in the file (that took a while as she used two different patterns!). That is when I discovered that it really wasn't going to be of much help. Mom made a lot of changes to the original pattern and all the changes were marked on the fitting toile, which was thrown away 15 years ago. This ladies and gentlemen is why we trace of "master patterns" when we make changes to a toile. Oh well! It was nice to try on the bodice and at least get an idea of what that would look like on me and where it should hit my shoulder and all that.


So I went back to the Hunnisett pattern. This time around I decided to use it as an actual pattern, enlarge it to the "original" size, sew it up as is and fit from there (as opposed to using it as a base to drape from).


To prep Narcissa for the fitting I padded her up to better match my natural bum roll *ahem*, then laced on my 18th century stays (similar cone shape - kudos to Kendra for the idea!) and added rolls of batting to simulate arms (my thanks to Bess for that idea!). I sewed up the front and back of the toile, leaving the side seams unstitched, and began pinning it on Narcissa. I decided to ignore the neckline for the time being and focus on the fit and seaming of the bodice.


Once I got the side seams pinned in I turned my attention to the front seams. I decided I wanted the seaming to match my trimming so I spent a few hours pinning, layering and otherwise playing around with my metallic lace. Thanks to a slim budget my trim is rather narrow so I'm taking inspiration from this painting of Vermeer and using multiple rows of it.


After my experimenting I decided on the slightly higher and more dramatic placement. Mom thought it would be more flattering on me and I thought it was more visually interesting - important since my fabric and trim are simple. I think it knocks my dress back into the 1660s rather than my initial concept of the mid 1670s but it's okay. No biggie!

I then decided to follow the patterning of the 1660s bodice in Bath and create a seam right where the trim is (Waugh shows this) and one that ends where the skirt goes from under the front of the bodice to over the tabs. I then lengthened the toile, using my stays as a guide, so I can add the tabs (which the Hunnisett pattern lacks).

So after marking the heck out of it I took the toile apart and used a combination of the marked toile and my Diderot stays pattern to create new pattern pieces. I then cut and stitched a new toile and this was the result. Wrinkles and bunching in the very front and the side doesn't fit. *sigh*

I decided to tackle one problem at a time and work on the front section first. I decided to try a simple solution and to simply take out the center front seam and cut it on the fold instead. I also cleaned up the curve a bit, with the help of a French curve, and then sewed up the new piece into my toile. You can't see it well in the pic because of the black fabric but it is perfect, not a wrinkle or bunch to be seen. Yay! I hope this works when I go to fir the neckline becasue it looks so pretty here! :P

June 5 2009

This Charles Dress is turning out to be a very laborious process. I seem to spend more of my sewing time in front of the computer going through my costume files and trolling the internet for answers to my design/fitting questions. It seems counter-productive but it's not; I am figuring it out slowly but surely.

I realized the other day that this project is so hard in part because this is a totally new era/style for me. It's been so long since I ventured into completely uncharted territory like this, having been happily playing in the 18th century/Regency sandbox for a while now, that I've forgotten what it's like to start from stratch! So I've been going back to some of my "milestone" dress diaries, like my first 18th century gown, my Rohan dress and yep it was the same then. Lots of research, lots of toiles. Very long diary entries.

*sigh* I'm sure it will make me a better costumer in the long run but dude - I miss my already beautifully fitted and tweaked master patterns! *pouts*

June 18 2009

*waves* Just checking in to say, yes I am still alive. I'm just not doing much costuming. I worked a bit more on the Charles dress last week then got frustrated and so moved on to the Pimpernel, then got frustrated and moved on to some modern skirts then got bored... My self diagnosis is that I am suffering from rampant CADD.

While a part of me is relieved that I don't have CosCol deadlines to contend with, the rest of me is wallowing in the sea of possibilities and half finished projects in the aftermath of CosCon. For some reason it's overwhelming and I'm finding inspiration hard to find.

Dear costuming fu - where are you?

June 30 2009

Thanks to my slumber party in Williamsburg with Katherine, for the first time since Costume Con I'm feeling excited and invigorated about costuming again. I got to see her in-progress Charles bodice (being a visual learner that was super helpful!) and she helped me brain storm about the issues I'm having with my own Charles toiles. So I'm now eager to get back to the project. Katherine - you are such a good tonic for CADD! Your enthusiasm and passion for your craft is contagious and your encouragement means heaps. I needed all that, thank you. *hugs*

Like sarahbellem I'm not feeling burnt out, especially after a weekend of WWKD, but I'm still feeling a little crispy around the edges so this is going to be a summer of no deadlines, lazy projects and few dress-up outings if any. My batteries are still feeling a bit low after the spring. I need costuming to be fun right now so if I'm not feeling it, I'm not going to do it.

This summer I'm on a journey of creative rediscovery. I feel like I need to go back to basics, back to square one of why I do what I do. I want to get back to having the joy in the doing. I feel like I've lost that in the last few years and looking at the costumes I've produced it shows. I've made some nice things but most of the things I've made the past two years have been a disappointment to me. It's not about my skill level or ability to meet deadlines or even the dressing up and going to cool events, like I used to think, it's about my attitude and my passion about this craft I truely love. My visit with Katherine reminded me what that looks like and how much I want it back.



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