1909 Evening Gown
This design was shown in the 2019 ITAA juried exhibition.
One of the best-selling authors of the early 20th Century, Gene Stratton-Porter (1863-1924) was known for entwining nature studies into popular fiction. In creating this design, I analyzed Stratton-Porter’s novels using ecocriticism as a theoretical framework. Ecocriticism is a literary criticism theory that focuses on “place, nature, and the physical world, attesting to the interconnectedness of humans (their culture) and nature” (Bressler, 2011, p. 231). In many of her works, Stratton-Porter advocated a sustainability-focused approach to interacting with nature, using natural resources while maintaining natural habitats, flora, and fauna. Even when not directly advocating sustainability and conservation, Stratton-Porter sought to engage public interest in and appreciation for nature through her writing (Pyle, 2005).
Perhaps the most striking of the designs mentioned in Stratton-Porter’s books was a dress from A Girl of the Limberlost inspired by the Eacles Imperalis moth (Stratton-Porter, 1909, pp. 337-338). For this project, I chose to create my own interpretation of the Eacles Imperalis dress as described in the book. The dress is designed to suit the publication year of the book, 1909. As Stratton-Porter educated the public about natural history through her novels, this dress is intended to increase interest in moths and provide inspiration for the viewer to learn more about them.
In creating this garment, I adhered as closely as possible to Edwardian dressmaking techniques. The fabrics and trims for the project were chosen based on materials that would have been available and suitable for an evening dress in 1909. I examined numerous period fashion illustrations, photographs of museum garments, and two extant evening gowns of the period. Period construction techniques were informed by a 1911 dressmaking book as well as photos taken of the garments I had examined. Silk chiffon and charmeuse, used for the body of this gown, were commonly used in this period. The gown was underlined in white cotton sateen, the closest available equivalent to the white polished cotton used in a similar extant gown that was examined. The gown fastens with hooks and eyes, using metal eyes and hand-stitched thread loops as appropriate for the locations on the garment. I embroidered a hand-beaded moth for the front of the gown using glass seed beads and rocaille beads, as glass beads were frequently used in gowns of this period.
To link the dress design to the inspiration, I departed from historic accuracy in using digital printing on silk chiffon for the wings and the train of the dress. A photograph of an Imperalis moth was printed onto silk chiffon to form the wings of the dress, and the image was also used to design an engineered print for skirt’s train. Both the wings and the train are attached with hooks and hand-stitched loops, so that they can be removed for any instance in which strict historical accuracy may be required.
The color scheme was determined by the coloration of the Eacles Imperalis moth: Yellow, orchid purple, dark purple, and lavender, with gold accents. The colors of the body of the dress are repeated in the digital print, and the visual texture of the digitally-printed textile design was created from the photograph of the moth. Period norms, as well as references to the shapes and patterns of the moth’s body, were used to design the silhouette and structure of the dress. The dark purple accent at the bottom of the moth’s wings was repeated in the girdle, the tassels, and the beadwork of the dress. The colors from lighter purple and yellow fabrics are repeated in the lace that forms the sleeves and the decorative accents on the front of the dress.
Beadwork sample with one of Stratton-Porter's paintings of the moth
Working with configurations of the moth design in Adobe Photoshop for the train
Back of beadwork
Draping the ruched bodice
Chiffon pinned in place
Finishing back edge of chiffon
Catch stitching the edges of the bodice overlay
Bodice interior features cotton lace with a ribbon to adjust over the bust, as in the period garment that I examined.
Bodice interior with seams clipped and finished using period techniques
Waistline stay with antique hook
Beading the tassels
Hemming the skirt overlay
Skirt overlay detail
Draping the digitally-printed train
Hand-rolled hem on wing