A Necessary Skill

So I've arranged to come in on Monday to the Chapman and start taking patterns!  I'm so excited - this project has been in the works in my mind for a long time and it was starting to feel a bit like a pipe dream.  I'd prefer to work in chronological order, starting with the eighteenth century, but the Chapman doesn't have anything that early, so my first pattern will be of a ca. 1845 mourning dress (very like the one in the first photo on my last post).  The second will be of a pink evening dress that's been confusing me - in an effort to figure out its date, I tried sketching it as though it were being worn.  What I got was kind of a hot mess that got me nowhere, and I realized I had a problem.

These days, photographing a dress on a mannequin (à la Costume Close-Up) would seem to be the best option to accompany a pattern.  Unfortunately, I don't know where there are any mannequins that will fit Victorian clothing - you may remember the issues with Great, Strange, and Rarely Seen?  So drawing is the only option.  But I haven't taken an art class since eighth grade!  Practice is necessary.

I started out just trying to draw garments I'd taken pictures of as though they were on a body.  This was ... not encouraging.  Anatomy is difficult, and there's such a jump between a garment lying flat on the table and on a body that you basically need to be able to draw straight from your imagination to manage it (which I can't).  So I went looking for croquis.

:/ and the one in the upper left is a copy of a Waugh sketch
A croquis is a figure, usually in outline, that fashion designers use to provide a basic shape to draw clothes over.  With one of these, I figured, I would have all the anatomy issues taken care of and I'd just have to concentrate on rendering the clothing accurately.  I looked around the internet and finally found one that seemed curvy enough to draw nineteenth century clothing on ... but after using it for a bit, I realized that it was too curvy (seriously buxom) and the stance was way too modern - bust out, hips to one side.  I could shave bits off of it to make it look like someone in a corset, but I wasn't quite happy with what I got when I traced it.  I could try to fix the croquis, but I moved in a different direction instead.

Left: the mourning gown; Center: another I plan to pattern

More from the Chapman
Through my Pinterest boards, I started looking for pictures of dressed mannequins, and then just drew them.  No imagination or alterations.  I tried to keep in mind the essential point of Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain: don't try to draw a dress, look at the negative space and the angles and lines and draw what I see.

Left: Les Arts Decoratifs 49-32-48.ABC; Right: MMA 2009.300.3009a-d

MMA 1985.138.2a, b
MMA 1995.461

MMA CI.63.23.3a, b

MMA C.I.55.1.12a-c

MMA 1993.427
 Hopefully, this will help me get drawing the silhouettes down, and maybe I will be able to do a little bit of cobbling - draw the sleeves from this one, the basic bodice shape from that one, apply the trim on top, etc.  Things are looking a lot better, although I still have a problem where I always make the legs/skirt too short.


  1. Dear Cassidy,
    What a great idea -- how you are managing to prepare yourself to draw the Chapman's dresses. Clever.

    Very excited for you, and for us, of course...with every patterned garment, we can add to our stock of knowledge.

    Very best,


    1. Thanks! I'm actually trying to analyze Arnold and Waugh to see what variations would most bolster that stock of knowledge and which areas need more patterns of extant clothes.

  2. There are existing croquis which don't have the "fashion-stance", like these:
    Or you might consider developing your own croquis by tracing the basic forms from carefully selected images of fashion plates or full length portraits of each period.
    Good luck!

    1. Thank you for the link, those definitely are more realistically proportioned! It's too bad that they're not 3/4 view, though, I find that shows the silhouette better and makes the garment overall look better. I should try the tracing method, though, that sounds like a really good way to get the properly shaped torso!

  3. How about using some period fashion prints as another guide ?
    Anyway, I love ywhat you've drawn, especially the 1830s one (I'm a sucker for the giganormosu sleeves, and your sketch is really really pretty !).

    1. I really should look into tracing some bodies from fashion plates. That's probably the best solution.

      Thank you for the compliment! The more I do, the more I'm pleased with it.


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