This is rather a long post as I have wandered around a lot trying things out over a few weeks and did not want to write it up until I had a clear design to put forward. I hope the timeline makes sense – I realised I couldn’t always remember the order I had done things in when I just had a pile of loose bits on the table and a few photos in the camera. I have tidied up now!
The initial idea was to look back to the work on braids and celtic knotwork done for module 2 and use them both as a design and method of working. Talking to Sian last summer, we also floated the idea of printing fabric with some scanned stitching to provide a change of scale, and of having a bodice decorated with braids that undo to form the skirt. I could see how this would work with a soft skirt made in panels and a very low dropped waist. However, my daughter really likes her current dress (below – photos 1 and 2) and wants to stick to the classic stiff skirt style, fashionable or not. She also wants black velvet as the main fabric.
Photo 1 Front and photo 2 back.
I spent some time during January scribbling different ideas, but I kept feeling defeated by what seemed to be acres of plain black fabric and how to take a design down into the pleated skirt. Essentially, the pleats break up the surface of the skirt leaving 3 flat triangular sections on the front (narrow at the waist and very wide at the hem). At the back, the middle triangle is split in two by the zip and back seam, which may be partially covered by the shawl or kite. The usual solution is to fill the centre front panel with a triangular design and have smaller designs on the other panels, but I want this dress to look more contemporary, for example by using asymmetry.
Photo 3 sketchbook pages
Photo 4 sketchbook pages – notes on construction.
Photo 5 sketchbook pages – I have added for inspiration a photo of a dress by Gavin Docherty that uses a plain black background and a colourful asymmetric design, in particular the treatment of the sleeves.
I had by this stage drawn up a pattern and made a calico toile to get the basic dress shape fitted, and you can see in photo 6 that I started to play with printing out some knotwork and pinning pieces onto the dummy.
Photo 7 sketchbook pages – we both like emerald green, yellow and orange/red as contrast colours so I pulled out some threads to use for braid samples. The right hand page is another design idea which I thought would work but my daughter didn’t like. By now, I was starting to draw dresses in my sleep.
Photo 8 – samples of braids made on soluble backing using variegated perle threads and built-in machine patterns.
Photo 9 - this scrappy piece of paper was the only thing to hand when I was eating breakfast and doodling, so I apologise for the quality– I did try redrawing it neatly but it isn’t the same. We both like this shape, taking the idea of dividing the bodice in two with knotwork but using a curved line and having sail shapes on the skirt panels that echo the shape of a draped shawl. It isn’t something we have seen before, so we are using this as the starting point to work from.
Photo 10 – First attempt at filling the space, this is a full size pattern piece for the front panel of the skirt with a 2p coin for scale. Rejected this as too similar to many existing applique designs.
Photo 11 Second attempt – sorry the pencil lines are a bit faint – I have gone over one section with pen. This was drawn on a tapering grid to draw the eye to the corner (A4 sheet) and I also envisaged grading the colour from light to dark as it narrows.
Photo 12 – Using part of the last drawing to try machine couching threads using various stitches and changing the colours. This sample is on white satin as I thought white panels could be a possibility (but my daughter is determined on just black).
My concern with this design was that the knots were going to become very distorted over a larger area on the bodice which would mean either bigger gaps and spindly lines or making the braids thicker as they spread out. I wasn’t happy with either of these options so I decided to start over, this time beginning with the bodice.
Photo 13 Full size pattern for bodice front, I drew on tracing paper over a grid (I use the method developed by Andy Sloss in How to Draw Celtic Knotwork which makes it very easy to do rough sketches knowing it will fit together and the crossovers will work out correctly). I used a regular grid to keep the braids the same width but broke the symmetry and let them wander around freely.
Photo 14 – some samples of braids arranged in fragments of the pattern. Top left is threads couched down with the machine; top right and bottom left are variations made on soluble backing and hand stitched in place. Bottom right is an earlier sample for the wide knotwork as in photo 8.
Photo 15 – samples and design pinned in place on the completed bodice lining. Also shown is a larger knot outline – I was thinking of possibly using it as a contrast scale on the skirt pleats (only seen when the dancer is moving).
At this point I was looking at the samples and thinking that they aren’t quite what I’m after, Normally, I am very happy with irregular edges and soft lines but for this dress. as the knotwork pattern is complicated and irregular, I would like the lines to be sharp, and they also need to be clearly visible from a distance. With this in mind I used the free programme Inkscape and a font that consists of parts of knots to translate my design into a scaleable drawing, opened the file in Embird and digitised it for my embroidery machine. As it is so large, I split the finished design into pieces small enough to fit my hoop. The next batch of samples are trials with different filling stitches.
Photo 16– Part of the design that would sit on the right shoulder using a horizontal fill, the machine was stopped to change colour manually to create a gradient. This is too flat and not giving a contrast to the matt surface of the velvet. It is also slightly too small as I miscalculated the measurements and thirdly, the velvet shows through the stitches.
Photo 17 – With the size corrected and using a different part of the pattern, this sample tries several variations – the same fill with lines on top for texture; the horizontal fill worked in two layers; two layers plus the lines in another colour.
Photo 18 – On the left another version for the bodice (this part belongs to the bottom left side). I have changed to satin stitch, increased the stitch density and made the lines narrower which gives a rounded effect. This is the same rayon thread as in photo 16, but the stitching reflects more light so it stands out more strongly from the black. I had initially avoided satin stitch as this is what everyone uses on dresses, but working these samples does confirm how effective it is for this style. I used 5 colours to change from red to yellow, again, I haven’t programmed the changes so I can stop the machine wherever I like (the hiccup in the middle is where the reel ran out unexpectedly). The plan is to start with red at the shoulders and fade down to yellow.
I would like to try Sian’s suggestion of scanning in some stitching and having it enlarged and printed for a contrast fabric which I could use for the pleats, skirt lining and shawl – I would change the colours to bring in the emerald green. If this doesn’t work then on the right is plan B – satin embroidered with a larger version but a very open fill - again trying out a few different shades of green.
Photo 19 (and the last I promise) shows a template for the complete bodice design pinned to the lining with the sample in place.
So my proposal is to continue with this dress design, using similar knotwork sweeping across the skirt panels as suggested in the rough sketch in photo 9 and going over to the back of the shoulders. I need to think about the sleeves but I would put more decoration on the left one. I think the shawl should be the same curved sail shape and will experiment with creating a contrast fabric for the shawl. pleats and skirt lining