Evolution of an 1879 Dress- Redux

With the coming of Spring and the COVID-19 lockdown, we’ve had a lot of extra time to go through our collections and refurbish and update as necessary. In the course of doing so, we came across this wonderful picnic dress that’s given us excellent service…

So we thought we’d take another look at the design process that guided the creation of this dress…

In keeping with the theme of fashion inspiration and design, we present a short overview of the process applied to a picnic gown, narrated by Karin.  With the coming of Spring, comes longer and warmer days and the opportunity to get outdoors and enjoy those days. 🙂 Picnics are a favorite with us because they give us an opportunity to wear our designs in a relaxed atmosphere (balls are fun too, don’t get me wrong) and we just naturally associate it with Impressionist picnics. 🙂

Claude Monet1

Claude Monet- “The Artist’s Family In the Garden” (1875)

With the arrival of spring, vegetation begins to flower in a riot of color and that is where we find our inspiration. As we noted in a previous post, greens are a special favorite with us but they’re not the only favorite…

There is a host of other colors to include shades of blue, red, magenta, pink, and lilac…

Lilac is one of those easily overlooked colors but it struck a responsive chord with us. We’ll let Karin continue the story…:-)

It’s no secret, I have a thing for sheer frothy summer picnic gowns straight from an Impressionist painting. My favorite lilac summer gown started with every intention of being “that white Met dress” that I have a crush on:


The original gown inspiration from the Metropolitan Museum of Art website. It has three of the four “food groups” that interest me with gowns: pleating, ruffles, shirring, ruching…guess which one this one doesn’t have. 🙂 Pleating…mine will have it.

However, the moment I announced that I was going to make this gown on Facebook, a friend of mine posted that she was going to use this same cotton batiste! Thus, the evolution began…so I decided to dye it.

First, the lilac rinse. The top of the sample has been left plain:


Everything came from my work studio and was carefully dyed to harmonize and not match. This is how to create depth so things don’t appear to be flat.


Vintage fabrics have stories to tell. This vintage eyelet came from a Lid family friend’s chalet in Switzerland (and some stories, I’m sure!) It took over four sheet dips of  color to get the right shade. I’ve been carefully using this gift of fabric over the years and there are only two meters left.


Second and final color later and silk ribbons to match, because…you never know, right? Color is clear and not muddy, not an easy thing to do. I’m an artist myself and as such, I usually get ideas from other painters…Tissot is one of my favorites. 🙂


Foundation skirt front, very girly with both micro pleats, shirring, and ruffles, book is showing my inspiration dress. That’s a lot of narrow hemming! Et voila…


Lilac summer gown (the first version) standing next to my W&G treadle machine that I made the hat with. The gown (like most of mine) will eventually evolve. This version had no collar, just an antique piece of lace slipped in the piped neck edge and after wearing it once, I hung it up and told Adam:

“It’s BORING and flat, it will never again be worn”.

A re-direct was required. I like the next version much better…


Final version with a shaped velvet edged lapel that is curved to fit over the bust with no ruffles…more tailored, much better! The difference is that it’s now balanced visually, nothing “floats” near the face, which is better for me. I’ve learned to say “never say never”…


Summer gowns and stagecoaches? Count me in! See how the collar curves with the bust? That has to be done with a curved neck edge (on the lapel) slipped onto a straight neckline. I like that much better. 🙂


Of course, the garden photo Rancho Los Camulos…matching the bougainvillea was a happy surprise. <3 Monet would approve.

And now, back to Adam…

So there you have it, straight from the designer herself- often the design process takes various twists and turns, sometimes in response to a change in conditions or sometimes as simple as someone else is looking to create a similar dress. Also, a chance encounter with a specific piece of fabric or variable dye results can send the design process spinning in an unanticipated direction. In short, it’s not a mechanical process as one would find with designing a car or an airplane: it’s more art than science. But also note that “design” is not the only factor at work here; it’s also essential to have an understanding of how garments are constructed and the interactions between textiles, dyes, and construction.

Fashion plates, original images, and extant examples are all useful (and essential) but unless one understands what is going on “under the hood”, so to say, the end results will not be optimal. The design process is a bit more complicated than one would initially think but at the same time, it’s not magical and mysterious (no matter what some designers will claim). The key is diligent study and constantly being open to new possibilities and have a willingness to learn new techniques.

Has our opinions on the design process changed over time? The short answer is no. The longer answer is that with the additional research that we’ve done since this post was originally written, we’ve become even more aware that there are no certainties when it comes to the design process and that one’s sense of aesthetics is in a constant state of flux and as a result, we must always be open to new possibilities. 🙂


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