FOUNDATIONS REVEALED COMPETITION ENTRY
Dark Lady Alice
Outline the story …
Hawthorne’s "House of the Seven Gables" tells the foredoomed tale of the Pyncheon lineage and the inhabitants of the foreboding late 17th-century manor. Though brief in the novel's context, Alice Pyncheon's story has always been a source of inspiration. She was a haughty beauty raised in the courts of Europe and later brought back to the Americas. “If ever there was a lady born, and set apart from the world’s vulgar mass by a certain gentle and cold stateliness, it was this very Alice Pyncheon”. However, she was used as a pawn in her greedy father’s scheming and forced into hypnotic submission by one of his adversaries, Matthew Maule II. After suffering Maule’s imprecation, Alice wanders into the snow wearing only a silken evening gown, and ultimately catches pneumonia and dies. The ill-fate that befell her was not one of her making, nor worthy of her majesty, and so is doomed to haunt the Seven Gables for eternity. I wanted to create a gown evocative of Alice's spirit and the character of the house itself. The result is a fusion of the two periods of dress – the late 1680s when the manor was built, and the 1730s when Alice resided there. The off the shoulder bodice with large bell sleeves is reminiscent of late 17th century court-wear, while the bell shape hoops are of 1730s fashion. The heavy black dress represents the ominous house and the oppression Alice suffered, while the soft light-colored undergarments embody Alice's delicate beauty.
Outline the construction…
Each layer of Alice’s costume was hand-sewn using 18th-century techniques including historically accurate fabrications, stitches, and structures. I constructed the open back panniers using hand-shaped cane reed and metal ribs, which were covered in silk taffeta and hand-whipped to each tier. The top tier is padded with wool wadding and finished with cotton grosgrain ribbon drawstring. The silk taffeta petticoat is based on a 1760's original from the Met Museum’s collection. The dress consists of silk cotton velvet covering a fully boned bodice. The skirt is lined in silk taffeta, for structure more than accuracy. Antique Chantilly and needle lace are pinned to the bodice and chemise.
As this was my first time entirely hand-sewing a dress of this period, I faced some challenges. The center of the bodice was collapsing, so with the help of the mentors, I added bust rails and a stay strip to create structure that was not part of my original design. I did not account for the bulk of the pleated velvet in my skirt pattern, so I had to reconstruct the panels after the first attempt of the skirt. I used a historical technique to level the hem that I found in The Tudor Tailor. I also relied on Patterns of Fashion 5, Bernadette Banner’s pirate shirt tutorial, the Foundations Revealed Stays course, as well as Art and Fashion plates from the Met to help inform my construction and design.