The Bloomsbury Dress - Part 1 The Pre-Raphaelites

The Bloomsbury Dress - Part 1 The Pre-Raphaelites

The dress I'm currently working on - that I've named the Bloomsbury Dress - is based on a range of fabric I've bought for the spring. It feels a bit early to be designing for spring, but we've had a few warm days and a few snowdrops and daffodils are already try to pop their heads out of the soil.

daffodils in straw bag

I came across the fabric and quickly scooped it up, as it's very hard to find good fabric and when I do, I usually buy first and ask questions later. Meaning, I usually design around the fabric that I'm able to lay my hands on. 

In this case, it is a range of lightweight, silky fabrics. They are slightly different in their composition but come in black, navy, dark green and one floral print. I just love how silky and soft they are. Here is a video of the navy fabric - it's not silk, but it sure looks like it:

I think my favorite is the dark green - the color is called "Deep Forest" - the fabric is called faille, which describes a light, silken fabric with a lustrous shine. You can see the slight shimmer when it moves:

So I had the fabric, now I needed to figure out what I was going to do with it. I knew I wanted to make a spring dress, but the way I went about designing it turns out to be a pretty long story, so bear with me. 

Right away, the fabric made me think of the dresses of the early twentieth century, that were made to be very drapey, loose and "modern" for the time, when women started breaking away from their corsets and a rigid silhouette. So I knew I wanted to do something loose and flowing, modern but with a reference to early 1900s dresses like this:


Callot Soeurs Hand-Embroidered Silk Charmeuse Gown 1905

At the same time, just by chance, I happened to watch the movie Effie Gray on Netflix. I can’t believe I missed this because I am a period drama fanatic and this movie came out in 2014 - how did I not see it? Anyway, I had fairly low expectations as a lot of the period dramas coming out lately have been just ok, nothing like the days of Merchant and Ivory.

Effie Gray

Dakota Fanning as Effie Gray

However I was pleasantly surprised - it had a great true story about Effie Gray, trapped in an abusive marriage to influential art critic John Ruskin in the 1860s. Eventually she left him and married Pre-Raphaelite painter John Everett Millais. If you would like more details on her life, there is an excellent post on the Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood here.

Effie Gray

Photo credit David Levinthal

I found the screenplay by Emma Thompson poignant and engaging, and the scenes in the moody Highlands of Scotland especially delicious.

Effie Gray

Wish I could do my hair like that ☝️ 

Having never heard of Effie Gray, the movie piqued my interest and as I did some research on her life, I was amazed to find that the world of Ruskin and the Pre-Raphaelites was closely tied to the Arts and Crafts Movement, which provides a lot of inspiration for the philosophy behind my handmade clothing.

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was formed by John Everett Millais, William Holman Hunt and James Collinson in 1848, and exhibited their paintings at the Royal Academy Exhibition of 1849. At the time, the approved subjects of art were restricted to conventional ideas of beauty based on Renaissance and Classical art. The Pre-Raphaelites drew inspiration from the period before the Renaissance, especially the Medieval period, when they believed art portrayed its subjects more naturally and realistically. They were later joined by Dante Gabriel Rosetti and other artists.

Ophelia by John Everett MillaisOphelia (1850-51) by John Everett Millais - one of the most famous paintings of the Pre-Raphaelite period.

Their new approach was attacked by the establishment initially, until championed by John Ruskin who eventually managed to turn the tide of public opinion in their favor.

Spring (Apple Blossoms) by Millais

Spring (Apple Blossoms) (1856-59) John Everett Millais - Effie's sister Sophie is laying on the ground on the far right

My favorite Pre-Raphaelite painting is The Soul of the Rose (1903) by John William Waterhouse. He came along much later but is still considered to have painted in this style.

The Soul of the Rose John William Waterhouse

Reacting to the increased industrialization and modernization of the Victorian age, the movement held Nature in high regard, and was also inspired by the medieval model of craft guilds, which they believed promoted a greater integration of life and art. They saw the traditional methods that had been used for hundreds of years being dismantled by the industrial process, and broken into separate, meaningless tasks in factories. Their attempt to restore meaning to art and production was the inspiration for the later Arts and Crafts Movement.

I think this is the best description of the philosophy of the Arts and Crafts Movement I have ever read, and completely sums up the idea behind Sweet Violet, from The Art Story:

"The practitioners of the movement strongly believed that the connection forged between the artist and their work through handcraft was the key to producing both human fulfillment and beautiful items that would be useful on an everyday basis."

There are many books written on these artists and I am only scratching the surface. The Arts and Crafts Movement deserves an entire post or series on its own. It did get me thinking however about what women wore during this period, and I had an image in my mind of avant-garde writers and artists sort of flowing around their house in loose dresses that broke them out of their restrictive corsets.

Dante Rosetti's Jane Morris (Blue Silk Gown)

Dante Gabriel Rossetti - Jane Morris (Blue Silk Gown) 1868 - Jane Morris was the wife of William Morris, one of the founders of the Arts and Crafts Movement.

So long story short, I watched this random movie, about this random woman, who was married to two random guys, who turned out to be intricately linked to the fundamental philosophy behind my entire clothing line - I think the Universe is trying to tell me something!

In my next post, I'm going to talk about the influence of the Arts and Crafts Movement on the fashion of that period and how it also influenced the designing of the Bloomsbury dress.


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