A Necessary Skill

Posted by muhammad nasrudin

So I've arranged to come in on Monday to the Chapman and start taking patterns!  I'm so excited - this project has been in the works in my mind for a long time and it was starting to feel a bit like a pipe dream.  I'd prefer to work in chronological order, starting with the eighteenth century, but the Chapman doesn't have anything that early, so my first pattern will be of a ca. 1845 mourning dress (very like the one in the first photo on my last post).  The second will be of a pink evening dress that's been confusing me - in an effort to figure out its date, I tried sketching it as though it were being worn.  What I got was kind of a hot mess that got me nowhere, and I realized I had a problem.

These days, photographing a dress on a mannequin (à la Costume Close-Up) would seem to be the best option to accompany a pattern.  Unfortunately, I don't know where there are any mannequins that will fit Victorian clothing - you may remember the issues with Great, Strange, and Rarely Seen?  So drawing is the only option.  But I haven't taken an art class since eighth grade!  Practice is necessary.

I started out just trying to draw garments I'd taken pictures of as though they were on a body.  This was ... not encouraging.  Anatomy is difficult, and there's such a jump between a garment lying flat on the table and on a body that you basically need to be able to draw straight from your imagination to manage it (which I can't).  So I went looking for croquis.

:/ and the one in the upper left is a copy of a Waugh sketch
A croquis is a figure, usually in outline, that fashion designers use to provide a basic shape to draw clothes over.  With one of these, I figured, I would have all the anatomy issues taken care of and I'd just have to concentrate on rendering the clothing accurately.  I looked around the internet and finally found one that seemed curvy enough to draw nineteenth century clothing on ... but after using it for a bit, I realized that it was too curvy (seriously buxom) and the stance was way too modern - bust out, hips to one side.  I could shave bits off of it to make it look like someone in a corset, but I wasn't quite happy with what I got when I traced it.  I could try to fix the croquis, but I moved in a different direction instead.

Left: the mourning gown; Center: another I plan to pattern

More from the Chapman
Through my Pinterest boards, I started looking for pictures of dressed mannequins, and then just drew them.  No imagination or alterations.  I tried to keep in mind the essential point of Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain: don't try to draw a dress, look at the negative space and the angles and lines and draw what I see.

Left: Les Arts Decoratifs 49-32-48.ABC; Right: MMA 2009.300.3009a-d

MMA 1985.138.2a, b
MMA 1995.461

MMA CI.63.23.3a, b

MMA C.I.55.1.12a-c

MMA 1993.427
 Hopefully, this will help me get drawing the silhouettes down, and maybe I will be able to do a little bit of cobbling - draw the sleeves from this one, the basic bodice shape from that one, apply the trim on top, etc.  Things are looking a lot better, although I still have a problem where I always make the legs/skirt too short.