Sunday, August 9, 2015

Napoleanic Batman + chemisette ruffles that defy gravity.

Kenny's work has an annual, themed Christmas party each year, and this year he is on the party planning committee. One of the themes they are tossing around is Masquerade... really hoping they decide to go with this one! 

Our favourite masked icon, by a mile, is Batman. Kenny came home with the idea to translate Batman into my favourite era - late 18th/early 19th century! 

I started here...

And then had to translate into a female Batman (because a girl can be Batman too, right?) 

This may or may not become a reality, depending on whether the masquerade happens this upcoming January. Either way, I want to figure out how to execute that chemisette ruffle - I have seen standing ruffles/collars like this in paintings of the era, but have not been able to catch a glimpse of how they stayed up! 

Instinctively I assume an supportasse or underpropper of some kind would have to be used, just to support the tall ruffles at the back. This look reminds me of the wisks and rebatos of the Elizabethan era (the Very Merry Seamstress explains more about those HERE.) Below is a beautiful example of an Elizabethan style supportasse (if you know the origin of this one, do advise and I will credit! I found this image secondhand via the linked blog, but that is not the original source.) 

Suportasse, developed by ??, found via The Sewing Corner

The easiest way to make this shape stay up would be to not ruffle it - a flat shape can be formed to stand on its own, more or less (if the fabric is stiffened enough). This is illustrated in the painting below (there is a shadow around the edge, just inside the outer frill, that indicates to me that it may also be wired). 

Portret van Nieskia Reiniera Wentholt (1789-1862), c. 1812,
by Willem Bartel van der Kooi

I am almost certain that the below example is wired along the edge (that corner on the left side is rippling exactly the way a wired corner would). This is most feasible in a flat collar - however, the delicacy of mushroom-pleated ruffles might be ruined by a wire along the very edge. 

Marcia Burnes Van Ness, c. 1809-1814, by Gilbert Stuart.
The below example seems to completely defy gravity - there is no evidence of wire or support that I can see, and yet the delicate (and thin) frill floats airily about the wearers chin. This has me baffled. A case of artistic license? 

"Portrait of Mrs. Spencer Perceval"
by Elisabeth-Louise Vigee Lebrun, 1804
Rosalba Peale's ruff (below) also seems incredibly upstanding for the delicacy of the fabric represented - although hers at least has the bulk of a few layers to assist it. 

Rembrandt Peale - Portrait of Rosalba Peale [c.1820]
Clearly this concept requires a bit more investigation. I plan to check out more of these in the next few posts, as I try to figure out the engineering behind these feats of delicate architecture! 


  1. What a great costume concept! abut the standing collars - could they be starched.

    1. Just learned that the masquerade plan may be cancelled, so this may take a while to become a reality - but I am definitely going to try starching a few chemisettes! The structure really is interesting - maybe starch will do the trick!

  2. Have you seen Leimomi's Elizabethan ruff? I think starching has got to be the trick in some way, because as far as I know, it's also the trick still being used in European folk costumes...

    1. I haven't! I'll look it up. The only thing that gets me about starching is, how is it cleaned and then re-starched? Once the ruff/chemisette is made up, it seems like it would be impossible to crisply iron into shape again...

  3. Starching,sure. I had for my first communion a whole gauze long dress, petticoats, lace bag... all of them starched. When I was little, it was sold in small packets. Years ago, for fun I starched a ceremony dress for a baby, and because no one sold those packets, I got the starch from rice. You cook the rice, wash the rice and keep this water. then put the item in the water. Let dry and when is near dry iron carefully. To remove the starch, rinse. This is the traditional way. Every single time, it had to be starched, and then rinsed. The good part, no alergies, no quimical products, and is quite nice, not rought to the skin. A lot of work to get done, though...
    If you want to watch a fairly accurate fiction abut this, watch "Cranford", the BBC film.

    1. Oh, wow. That is a lot of work, but you are right that it is all-natural! Thanks for explaining the process. Maybe I will try it with something small first!