The Bacchus Dress

This project is on hold for now, but if you're interested, read on...

I have named this gown in honour of the Roman god Bacchus, god of wine, because of the embroidery design of grapes, grapevines and leaves on the bodice (and sleeves when I have time). It is red, the colour of wine, and when finished should fit my courtesan persona very nicely!

"Bacchus: The Roman god of wine and intoxication, equated with the Greek Dionysus. His festival was celebrated on March 16 and 17. The Bacchanalia, orgies in honor of Dionysus, were introduced in Rome around 200 BCE. These infamous celebrations, notorious for their sexual and criminal character, got so out of hand that they were forbidden by the Roman Senate in 186 BCE. Bacchus is also identified with the old-Italian god Liber."


Last Updated: July 10, 2003

April 2003: I'm writing in here, even though this diary is not "live" yet - I guess I want to give you something to read when it finally goes "live". I've been planning a new dress, although I have been pretty busy updating/moving the website. I was offered my choice of fabric in exchange for helping a couple in my Barony with designing and sewing Italian garb - gotta love the barter system. I decided on 7 metres of red/plum jacquard. The right side is deep red satin background with a botanical (leafy) pattern in matte plum pink. Being a damask (one warp, one weft) the wrong side is of course a plum pink background with red satin pattern. I'm having a hard time choosing which side to use - the purist in me is resisting the urge to use the wrong side!

May 2003: Still updating/moving website even though I was hoping to be finished by now. Decided on the style for my new dress - a 1510s-20s dress with huge sleeves, in the style of Lorenzo Lotto, 1521 - Portrait of Elisabetta Rota (detail from Christ Taking Leave of His Mother) I can't see the bodice all that well, so I'm going with the bodice seen in Titian's "La Schiavona".

Friday May 9 2003: Decided to jump on the bandwagon and create a dress diary page for the new website. Scanned pic of red fabric.

Monday May 12 2003: Decided that last image of fabric wasn't good enough. Re-scanned showing both right and wrong side of fabric. Click on pic for larger image.

Tuesday May 13 2003: Well, I couldn't make up my mind on whether to go with the right or wrong side of the fabric, so I turned to the members of a couple of my e-mail groups for opinions. Sometimes it takes an objective view to notice something I hadn't - the right side has far more impact. Guess it goes to show that fabric designers know what they're doing. Right side it is then!

May 13-31 2003: Didn't do much in the way of costuming besides work out how to construct the sleeves as they would have done - from the least amount of fabric and with the least wastage. If I were making this in period from silk, the widest my fabric would have been is 22 inches. Given that I think I've worked out how the sleeves could have been made - by sewing together two or three lengths of fabric to make large squares, then shaping the top and bottom sections of sleeve. For my project, to use less fabric, I'll use a seamed section on the inside/lower part of the sleeve, but will cut the outer from the modern loom width. (Pic at left, click to enlarge). Update: Here is another image showing a similar style of sleeve. This one shows the ties with tassels, although this style of sleeve has a large cuff, which mine will not have.

June 2 2003: I've been flat out with preparing for Collegium, but I have managed to decide on, and find documentation for, the embellishment of this gown. I want to practice my couching technique, and was inspired by the couching on the extant Eleonora de Toledo gown in Patterns of Fashion to create a similar style, but simpler, embroidery design. Rather than place this design over the whole bodice front and back and skirt guards, I will only use one motif on the centre front bodice neckline. The design will be gold couched cord in the design of stylised grapevine and leaves, with the bunches of grapes in various sizes of pearls. Wish me luck - I think I'll need it! :)

June 20 2003: Collegium went well - despite becoming sick on the Saturday night and not being able to attend on Sunday to present my Rapier Garb class! I did manage to present the Italian Garb Show'n'Tell and the Garb Research classes on the Saturday though. But you're not here to read about that are you? Well, garb wise, not much action to report. All I have done so far is scanned in the design sketch, and another pic showing a similar style of sleeve, both of which have been uploaded above. On the right is the design for the dress. I will probably be making a new camicia to wear with this, as well as undersleeves and a caul. I'm hoping to do some embroidery on the caul in a design to match that on the dress, but the "Authenticity and Accuracy Angel" (TM) who sits on my right shoulder is causing a crisis of conscience - I haven't been able to find one single image showing an embroidered caul in this period. However, there is one showing a caul made from figured fabric, edged with pearls - I just need to decide if that's enough to warrant the use of embroidery all over. I would like to have this dress (if not the whole outfit) completed by July 20 so that I can wear it to our Barony's Guild of Defence prize playing day to see my sweetheart palying his rapier prize, so wish me luck - again! :)

July 5 2003: I'm going to get a digital camera - hopefully for my birthday in August - but I am determined to get one! These dress diaries are no fun without one, no? Below is the pic of my embroidery design.

I could have cut out the bodice and then embroidered it, but last time I did that I found it awkward. So this time I simply cut out a square of fabric large enough to accommodate my bodice front, and then backed it with hanky weight linen by basting it to the dress fabric. Using the bodice pattern I determined where the design should go. I traced the design onto the fabric using tailor's carbon paper, and put the design into a embroidery hoop. Since there is a fair bit of fabric hanging loose from the hoop, I've loosely rolled the excess up and pinned it to the very edges of the fabric in the hoop to keep it out of the way while I'm embroidering.

I've begun the embroidery by filling in the leaves by couching two strands of gold embroidery floss inside them. This is very fine so there is a fair bit of work. Once the leaves are filled in with gold I will then use a thicker gold cord to outline the leaves and create the vines, then I will be able to add the pearl grapes. I'm having second thoughts about the single small bunches of grapes at the left and right of the design - perhaps I should add small leaves to them pointing towards the centre and slightly down? I will wait and see how this turns out before I decide though - I am always my own worst critic! Once I've worked some more of the embroidery I will scan and post a pic of it here.

July 6 2003: Ok, I've done a bit more of the embroidery, and as promised I've scanned it and uploaded it for you to look at:

As you see I've completed the couching of the four leaves. One leaf and part of the vines has been outlined by the gold cord. This cord has a cotton thread core and metallic strips woven around it - very similar to descriptions of period cording. You should just be able to make out the design made out using tailor's carbon paper. Once the vine is completed and all the leaves outlined I'll be in a better position to decide if those small bunches of grapes at the top left and right are ok as they are, or need the additon of small leaves to balance out the design.

July 10 2003: Here is the almost completed bodice embroidery - only the grapevine "curlies" and pearls are left to do. I like the resulting effect - it's very sculptural and 3-D in its feel, and will be even more so with the pearls sewn on.

(Click for a larger image)

Ciao 'till next time,


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(Copyright Information: As author I, Anabella Wake, known in the SCA as Bella Lucia da Verona, hold copyright on all information on these pages. In addition I hold copyright on all images of clothing/costume that I have made. You are allowed to make one facsimile copy for your own use provided that this notice is included on each page. Please ask permission to copy, disseminate and/or distribute my work - I would like to know when and how you are finding this information of use.)