Sunday, April 3, 2016

Dressing Downton, it's all in the details!

The Dressing Downton, Changing Fashion for Changing Times Exhibit is in Chicago from February 9th through May 8th 2016 at the Driehaus Museum. This museum is located in the Near North side and is just a couple of blocks from the Magnificent Mile. It is a wonderful place to visit and if you need a break from the craziness of shopping it is a wonderful place to take a tour and step back in time.

I had the pleasure of seeing the exhibit twice. Once during the members only preview and again with my ASG neighborhood group, Sew Chicago. Both times did not disappoint! But I must say my favorite was the members only preview night. Something about walking through the Dreihaus Museum with a glass of fine wine, or in my case ginger-ale, and wonderful friends in an almost private setting was just a treasure.
Sarah Veblen, Myself (Steph King) and Wendy Grossman enjoyed a wonderful members only preview evening at the Driehaus.

This carefully curated exhibit of costumes used in the filming of Downton Abbey is just breathtaking and quite inspiring. As a sewist my imagination was just filled with such a lovely amount of swirling ideas and with questions! so many questions!! How did they do this, why did they use that technique, what kind of fabric, and so on and so on. Most of the staff on hand during the preview evening had been educated on the collections that they were monitoring and were able to answer many of the questions that we posed to them.


ASG Chicago Chapter, Sew Chicago Neighborhood group members.
(L-R) Linda, Nancy, Wendy, Liz, Maria, Steph (myself)

The audio tour that comes along with the ticket price was also quite helpful in some cases. However, i find those audio things to become tedious at times. There is something about being able to look at art, and these costumes were works of art, and to let them speak to you! to let your senses take in the information and see what it has to offer up before being told by a recording what it is you are supposed to be looking at.

For me the most amazing thing about this exhibit is the details. Some of these details are obvious and in your face and some of them are more exquisitely hidden and take some time to be seen. As I viewed these wonderful pieces I really thought about how i could use some of these details in my own work. How they could be used to elevate my sewing into my own personal works of art, even if those details are known just to me. That would be enough to bring more joy into my passion of sewing and designing!

Now onto some of my favorite pieces and the details that have inspired me.

Velvet dress on right. Lady Sybil maternity dress Season 3, 1920. Bohemian Style

I love this detail on the sleeve and bottom of the dress of a wide contrasting band of intricate embroidery while the rest of the dress is rather a plain velvet.

Earl of Grantham on left. Season 1 and 2 1912- 1920. Belted Gentleman's Suit.

The details of these belt loops are quite spectacular. It looks as if the strip of material has been overlayed and edge-stitched down the entire front and back of the jacket all the while maintaing a perfect match of the plaid! 

additional view showing the detail along the chest.

Cora Crawley, Countess of Grantham. Season 4, The London Season 1923. Velvet, drop waist, formal dress. This particular dress has the original lace and beadwork from the 1920's on the bodice and sleeves. 

I love the detail of the sleeves! How there is no underarm seam and the sleeves are 'weighted' and held in place by the tassels.

the dress on the left is stunning! this was also from season 4, the London season, 1923 and worm by Freda Dudley Ward. The georgette layer with the beading is original work from the 1920's! the underlay is all new and reinforced to strengthen the beadwork.

There are so many details on this dress that captivated me! The overlapped side seams, the inserted V of plain fabric at the underarm, the overlap of the front strap to look more like a tab. the center insert. I could go on and on! The challenge with thisone is to take these amazing details and translate them into modern day clothing and not just specialty clothing.


A trio of coats. The red coat in the center worn by Lady Mary Crawley, Season 2 1916-1918. This day time wool coat with velvet trim at collar and cuffs.
The detail at the hem of this coat of the multiple lines of top stitching that do not go to Center front. It looks as if the top stitching rows stop before they get to the front facing area. very interesting!

Cora Crawley, Season 2 1916-1917. Beaded dress with velvet jacket. the center pane; of this dress has been re-used and is original. Due to the weight of the glass diamonds, pearls and seed beads, the fabric became very fragile and was restored by adding netting to the back to reinforce the silk.

The other very interseting part of this dress was that the long velvet jacket is actually in 2 pieces. The top is a bolero type of jacket as seen in the 2 close up pictures. the bottom portion of the olive velvet looks to be permanently attached to the dress. Therefore allowing them to just re-use the center portion of the beaded panel in a new fashion. 

an additional view of the bolero type jacket and the details of the pearl trim sewn at the edges and the sleeves for embellishment.

Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham. Season 1 1913- 1914. 2 piece day dress reproduced from an Edwardian pattern. Original lace used at the collar and cuffs.

The detailing in the shape of this bell type sleeve is exquisite. In too many cases in modern patterns they are just these giant over sized sleeves with no shaping to them. The shape here is so beautiful! Also not the beautiful use of the extra lace hand stitched to the edge of the sleeve and the center front of the jacket. A great way to use op those lace scraps you don't want to throw away.

Note the tucks at the cap of this sleeve. delicious!

Lady Edith Crawley, Season 3 1920, The Boyish Look. Two layers of silk with the top being of sheer shot Chiffon. I have a love-hate relationship with this dress!! The hem drives me insane. I just want to sit on the floor, let it out and fix it! However, the simplicity of the silhouette coupled with the beautiful lace and details make it quite wonderful.

I LOVE these details! the underarm panel, the beads pic-stitched on along the armhole and the neckline and that wonderful beaded lace. Just the things to take a garment form plain to extraordinary.
Lady Edith Crawley, Season 2 1917-1918 War time fashion. Linen jacket with contrasting velvet cuffs, lapels and waist belt

The back detail of the jacket that i find most lovely is how the fullness is reigned in with the attached back waist belt in conjunction with release tucks. So feminine and soft yet provides ample room for movement.
This side front pocket is quite interesting as well with its lovely slanted contrasting welt. The first thing I thought of when seeing it was that my iPhone would fit in there perfectly while riding my bicycle!

Lady Mary Crawley, Season 1 1913-1914. This dress was re-creted after a turn of the century Spanish evening dress. There are so many delightful details! The lace overlay on the deep red satin is stunning.

The pleated silk chiffon that makes up the cap sleeves and the front bands is wonderful. I may have to go in with some friends and have some silk chiffon pleated to recreate this look on a top! You could also do something similar by gathering a soft silk chiffon. Would not be the exact look but definitely a cool detail.

Lady Mary Crawley, Season 1 1913-1914. Informal riding habit out of a dense twill wool.. One of the best parts of this outfit is that it is a split skirt!

I love the velvet collar detail. A small but elegant touch!

All in all there were 34 or 35 costumes from the show on display from seasons 1-3. An impressive collection to be sure! This collection will continue it's US tour through September 2017. If you are a fan of Downton Abbey, of early 20th century dress or just of beautiful clothing in general you should make time to see this exhibit, it does not disappoint.

Happy Sewing!


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