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Historical Women Depicted in Textiles

Updated on September 29, 2014
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A Quartet of Historical Ladies depicted in textiles art

It took a long time for me to recover from my aversion to period costume, six years after finishing my Degree in Costume for the Screen and Stage.

To celebrate that fact I produced a quartet of textiles pieces based on some of my favourite fashion looks in history.

I started with a Queen Elizabeth piece with a big ruff and tiny waist. I then moved on to a Marie Antoinette style piece with huge hair and hip buckets. Next I have a Jane Austen- type piece and finally I have "bustle lady"- so called because I love the bustle but couldn't think of an appropriate historical figure at the time.

Watch the evolution of these pieces below.

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These little doodles represent the first little ideas I had for these pieces.

All I started with was an image of a Marie Antoinette-era lady with her huge wig toppling sideways and my thoughts went from there.

My next problem was how to translate these ideas into fabric and not lose any of the energy of those first doodles.

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These are the backgrounds for my four ladies.

I had a huge amount of yellow organza in my fabric stash and I wanted to experiment with it in this project to see if I could make these pieces look like old paintings.

I chose to go with yellow/sepia backgrounds to carry on the colours and give the pieces an antique feel.

The background fabric will mostly be covered up but adds a good base for the rest of the textiles piece.

Layering up Queen Bess

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1. Each of these pieces started with a paper template that I drew from images of period clothing. I then used this template as a pattern to cut out the bigger blocks of fabric I wanted to use.

I chose an image of Queen Elizabeth from a time when her costume was most interesting to me (a later time than the image above). I then over-emphasised the bits I liked- like the size of her ruff and the skinny waist.

2. I layered the ruff up with lots of bits of lace or fabric that I thought might add a bit of interest.

I chose these colours because originally I was going to make each of these women into a different season and Autumnal colours seemed to suit Queen Elizabeth best.

3. I layered a see-through fabric over the top.

4. I embroidered into this piece with a little hand embroidery. I decorated her skirts with french knots. I like using french knots as opposed to beading because they're less likely to fall off and they give another sort of "look" to the piece. I think I might go mad with beads on this one later though. I think a Queen's gown is a great excuse to go mad with the glitz.

Queen Bess in progress

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All of the ladies I've depicted for this project stayed at a rather "safe" stage for quite a while- they were just nice, not particularly interesting pieces and I felt like giving up on them. That's when I decided to bring out the hot air gun.

On some of the later pieces (further down this page) you'll see I've been more extreme with my melting.

The more sewing you've already done to a piece, the less likely it will melt so dramatically.

However you can start to see some of the original fabric colours peeking through.

I covered this piece with knots - they were sort of a mix between bullion knots and French knots.

Finished Queen Bess

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This whole project actually started with a trip to Versailles and then a little exploration into Marie Antoinette's life.

I adore the mad huge hairstyles of this time period and decided to exaggerate them. I wanted to design an image of a woman with hair so big it was falling off her head.

The image opposite evolved from the initial doodle further up this page.

Marie Antoinette in progress

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I changed the colours from the painted doodle above.

Although these pieces are not historically accurate I did want to try to stick to some sort of realistic colour scheme. I also love these pale pinks and creams and gold together.

Marie Antoinette's dress is cut out from a pair of old curtains.

Marie Antoinette in progress

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Like the Queen Bess piece, this piece also didn't melt as well as the later two pieces. I didn't want to go completely mad on this piece because I liked it more than the others but I did melt quite a bit of the yellow organza away to reveal the colours underneath.

The white fabric I used for the hair melted quite well. I was really pleased with this because now I've got some of the background showing through the white and adding dimension to the piece.

I used a cheese grater on parts of this piece. The grater does a fabulous job of ripping through silk dupion and giving us that great chunky fraying look on her fan.

I used black net to give a little definition and contrast to this piece - this net is from a fruit bag.

Finished Marie

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Jane Layered Up - Jane Austen type in progress.

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In this piece I've exaggerated the feathers coming out of her hair-do, mainly to fill up the background.

This is one of the pieces I'm less confident about. I really don't like that yellow background with the pink and green so I'm going to have to take steps to "white wash" it out a bit.

After I layered the see-through fabric on over the top she looked quite pale and you can see that she needs working into to bring her out from the background.

Melting this piece was great fun. I really went crazy melting the yellow in the background. I melted holes right through the piece which I'm going to back later with fabric- possibly white I'm not sure yet.

I also managed to melt away some of the "feathery" stuff coming out of the back of her hair- which is perfect as it makes it less of a solid shape.

Distressing Jane with a cheese grater

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This was so much fun. I really didn't like this piece so I just went to town with the cheese grater.

This process left me with an amazingly fluffy frayed look. I think I'm going to use this again and again on fabrics.

I love how her dress now looks like a rose garden.

I thought about introducing some paler colours into the dress and started work on decorating the feathers in her headdress and covering her in knots and beads.

Finished Jane

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Bustle lady in progress

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I love the fabric in the background of this piece - it has a real "Cave" quality to it- luckily I have some more to mess around with on another piece.

As you can tell, I didn't have an iconic lady in mind when I made this piece!

I didn't add a lot to this- just used a few scraps of fabric (this is a back view of a lady, by the way).

I had a good go at melting this lady. I love how the spotty fabric melted and some of the bits in the background. She still needs more though, I think!

I love the way the fabric went really fluffy on this piece after it was grated.

My next step is to give this piece some more definition and detail.

Distressing and Decorating Bustle lady with hot air, fabrics, embroidery and beads.

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First I decided to use other bits of fabric to define ares of this place. All I did was loosely stitch on some pieces of net and other bits of fabric and then I lightly melted them all into place.

I hand-embroidered a few details and then I coated the lady in beads.

Finished Bustle lady

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Comments - Reader Feedback.

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    • Lady Lorelei profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 6 years ago from Canada

      I had never noticed these designs before. It is almost like piccaso in cloth. Beautiful.

    • Rachel Field profile image
      Author

      Rachel Field 6 years ago

      @Titia: Thank you for visiting :D

    • Titia profile image

      Titia Geertman 6 years ago from Waterlandkerkje - The Netherlands

      Love your way of working with fabric. I studied textile too, long time ago, but it was very embroidery technique related and lots of history of Art, lace and tapestries.

    • Rachel Field profile image
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      Rachel Field 6 years ago

      @kimbesa2: Thank you so much :D

    • kimbesa2 profile image

      kimbesa 6 years ago from USA

      Love your work, and thanks for include Jane Austen among these luminary ladies! **angel blessed**

    • Rachel Field profile image
      Author

      Rachel Field 6 years ago

      @indigoj: Thanks so much :D

    • indigoj profile image

      Indigo Janson 6 years ago from UK

      Gorgeous work once again! I love the historical ladies theme with their beautiful fashions. And many congratulations to you on your marriage. Wishing you every happiness.

    • Rachel Field profile image
      Author

      Rachel Field 6 years ago

      @anonymous: Thanks so much :D

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      I love these! You have an amazing talent.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      I love these! You have an amazing talent.

    • purplelady profile image

      purplelady 7 years ago

      Thank you for commenting on my Monkey Brains debate about pro vs. anti aging. Appreciated your comments but I especially meeting a new lensmaster and her passion - melted fabrics art. It is a true artist who can take a bunch of scraps of something/s and come up with a creative idea on how they can turn that pile into a beautiful work of art. You designs are delicious. You are a true artist. Thanks for visiting me and letting me meet you and an art medium that I knew nothing about.

      5 melted fabrics, 1 delicious fave and lots of socializing.

    • Laddoo LM profile image

      Lloyd Pinto 7 years ago from Mumbai

      Rach - this is simply awesome - I haven't seen art like this before!! Wonderful!

    • Rachel Field profile image
      Author

      Rachel Field 8 years ago

      [in reply to Laniann] Thank you :D

    • Laniann profile image

      Laniann 8 years ago

      Another great lens with beautiful fabric. 5*s

    • Rachel Field profile image
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      Rachel Field 8 years ago

      [in reply to JanTUB] Thanks so much Jan :D

    • JanTUB profile image

      Jan T Urquhart Baillie 8 years ago from Australia

      Love your work, Rachel. 5* and a fave!

    • Rachel Field profile image
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      Rachel Field 8 years ago

      [in reply to prosperity66] Thank you! She was my least favourite- so it's good to know it's just me and not everyone else too!!

    • justholidays profile image

      justholidays 8 years ago

      Thanks for sharing the different stages of your creations! I particularly love the bustel lady! It's a splendid piece of work! Keep up the great job!

    • Rachel Field profile image
      Author

      Rachel Field 8 years ago

      [in reply to JenOfChicago] Thanks for stopping by :D

    • JenOfChicago LM profile image

      JenOfChicago LM 8 years ago

      Wow, what an involved process - fascinating to read how you do it!