I love history and I love all types of needlework.
Princess Grace Kelly on her wedding day 1956
So, when the opportunity arises in my modern life, to combine a historical moment with the possibility of a fabulously embroidered, jewel-encrusted, sequin-laden, hand-sewn silk gown trimmed with the world's finest laces and the most exquisite attention to detail...
Close-up of Princess Grace's headdress
I anticipate something spectacular. I can't help it. I'm convinced that we're in for a stunning, modern marvel of handwork tomorrow in the form of Kate Middleton's wedding dress.
And it's not just the dress itself...but it's the stories behind the creation of the gown...about the people who have labored for months and the hands that have crafted every little component...that I am eager to hear.
Many of the royal gowns that have preceded Kate's have been marvelous historical showpieces of embroidery, bobbin lace, tambour beading, silk weaving, etc.
One of my absolute faves was the gown of Princess Charlotte in 1816...
It was made by Mrs. Triaud of Bolton Street from 'cloth-of-silver', silk bobbinet embroidered with heavy silver lame embellished with Brussels lace, and with embroidered flowers and shells festooning the hem. ~telegraph.co.ukAnd lucky for us, here is a beautiful video showing much of its gorgeous detail:
It's a complete stunner, isn't it?
Next was Queen Victoria, the first reigning British Queen to be married and who married for love to Albert in 1840 -- and her dress was designed to make a political statement.
One of the main concerns in late 1830s England was the effect the Industrial Revolution was having on traditional textile industries. In particular, the invention of machine laces was decimating handmade lace industries across England, and causing widespread poverty and unemployment among the skilled artisans.
In order to stimulate and support the lace industry, Victoria chose for her wedding dress a large piece of handmade Honiton lace. The rest of the dress then became a vehicle to showcase the lace, and white was chosen as the most suitable colour to do this. In the case of Victoria’s dress, white symbolised practicality and patriotism, rather than purity. (Source: The Dreamstress Blog)
The lace production was overseen over a six week period by "Miss Bidny" and took nearly 200 lacemakers in the towns of Beer and Honiton to make it.
In 1923, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon married Prince Albert and her dress was a simpler, straight-lined gown whose style you'll recognize as representative of the 20s...
I couldn't find much about the story of her gown though I can see that veil was lace and the bodice and skirt were heavily beaded. This gown has just been approved by the Queen for display in honor of Kate and Will's big day so maybe I'll learn more of its history then.
Then comes the gown of Queen Elizabeth II...
The embroiderers were out in full force for this baby!
The veil and the 15-foot train were a tour de force of dressmaking. Designed by Norman Hartnell (he also designed Elizabeth's coronation gown which I talked about here), the silk, duchesse satin dress was embroidered with 10,000 seed pearls imported from the United States and crystal beads in garlands of star-shaped lily heads, white York roses with orange blossoms and the heads of wheat (a symbol of fertility) -- and all of that embroidery was duplicated on the silk tulle train...
I love the idea that the veil was embroidered tulle. The transparency of the tulle really showed off the embroidery on the train.
I'm afraid if I had been there, I'd have been watching the beautiful embroidery on the train as it went by rather than the bride!!
And then there was Princess Diana...
I was 16 when she was married in 1981 and I'll never forget that day or her dress. It really affected me much in the same way that Princess Grace of Monaco's wedding in 1956 affected my mother.
And thanks to this amazing book...
Which tells the entire story of the making of Diana's dress -- all the design ideas, the sourcing of supplies, the people that wove the silk, made the lace, sewed the sequins -- I get to vicariously work alongside the dressmakers and couturiers who made this amazing dress.
It's a great read and I was able to find it at my library.
Designed and created by the small design house of David and Elizabeth Emanuel, the dress was made from ivory silk taffeta woven at Sudbury Silk Mills in Suffolk.
The lace for the bodice was actually a piece of historic Carrick lace originally given to the Royal School of Needlework by Queen Mary to use for a lace fund set up during World War I. Donated laces were used to make up articles such as cushions, scent sachets, nightdress cases, etc. These items were sold and the proceeds used for a fund for the Soldiers, Sailors and Airmens Association.
And onto the lace bodice and the hundreds of metres of other laces, were embroidered pearls and mother-of-pearl sequins -- thousands of them!!
All done by hand, it was taking longer than anticipated so the design house decided to outsource the embroidery of the veil. Here's one of my favorite excerpts from the book...We decided we would have to send the veil out to be embroidered. Who better to call upon than our trusted friend and embroiderer, "Miss Peggy" Umpelby at S. Lock Ltd. We asked her to hand-embroider a staggering 10,000 3mm sequins onto the veil. She decided that because of the secrecy of the whole project, she would do all this at home. She spent the best part of two weeks with a huge tambour frame in her living room - large enough to take the veil, which measured 11.5 foot by 40 foot. The only thing that annoyed Miss Peggy was her friends at work asking why, after two weeks holiday (as she had told them), she did not have a better sun tan. (Source: A Dress for Diana by David Emanuel and Elizabeth Emanuel)
And that, my friends, is a beautiful part of Diana's royal wedding story that is now history.
Who has made the stitches and sewn the sequins for Kate's dress?
Who is the "Miss Peggy" Umpelby of 2011?
I hope we get to "meet" her...and I hope somebody tells her story...
And so on the eve of the big day, I pray that Kate hasn't opted to be so modern of a bride that she doesn't honor the rich royal wedding history of the hand-wrought couture gown.
I pray for beads that blind us and embroidery that moves us to tears. I pray for exquisite handmade lace and for silk fabrics that carry the day.
Oh...And for the good fortune of the happy couple...