The Regency Wardrobe collection - research & making - Symphony of Stars
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Symphony of Stars the initial sketch
Mid November 2021 I got the go ahead to begin making Symphony of Stars, a new Court dress that had been designed both to reflect and to be exhibited within the Music Room at the Royal Pavilion, Brighton, Sussex; the plan being that it would stand there at the same time as many of the other pieces from The Regency Wardrobe collection, which will be peopling the palace from March until September 2022.
I'd completed the design at the end of October and the research, to that end, had been fascinating. Whilst I will seek to document it in more detail here, I'll begin by saying that certain things were obvious to me from the start, such as the fact that:
- I needed to learn more about what had happened in the year 1822 specifically; because we were planning to show this new work in 2022.
- Much of my focus needed to be musical; because Symphony of Stars was to stand in the Music Room (which you can take a virtual tour of here); because of this I'd also known of course that aesthetically I would be aiming to complement one of the most extraordinary rooms ever designed and built. No small task!
- I would also be looking for direct links to royalty, most especially to George IV, the Prince Regent, himself; because the exhibition was to be in the Pavilion.
Beyond that, as you scroll down, you will see that I have numbered the primary areas of my research (1-11) roughly in the order in which they informed both the design and making phases. I have included images and text that detail this inspiration and work in progress photographs that I hope will help demonstrate how I sought to relate historical research via the many visual aspects of this dress: Symphony of Stars is drawn from history but designed to relate to the audience of today.
1. 2022 is the bicentennial of both:
- The founding of The Royal Academy of Music - The oldest conservatoire in the UK The Royal Academy of Music was founded in 1822 under the patronage of George IV but would not in fact receive its Royal charter until 1830. For its bicentennial in 2022 the Royal Academy has established the ‘200 new pieces’ project. Music of course was one of George’s great passions. And:
- The death of William Herschel - German-born British astronomer and composer. Herschel is a fascinating figure. He read natural philosophy; including Robert Smith’s Harmonics, or the Philosophy of Musical Sounds (1749) and constructed his first large telescope in 1774. He then spent nine years investigating double stars. From 1782 to 1802 Herschel conducted systematic surveys in search of "deep-sky" or non-stellar objects. He published catalogues of nebulae in 1802. In March 1781 he made note of a new object in the constellation of Gemini. It would eventually be confirmed as the first planet to be discovered since antiquity. He first called the new planet the "Georgian star" (Georgium sidus) after King George III, who appointed him Court Astronomer. The planet would eventually be named Uranus. Herschel went on to pioneer astronomical spectrophotometry; measuring the wavelength distribution of stellar spectra. He thereby discovered infrared radiation. He also: improved determination of the rotation period of Mars, the discovery that the Martian polar caps vary seasonally, the discovery of Titania and Oberon (the moons of Uranus) and Enceladus and Mimas (the moons of Saturn). Herschel was made a Knight of the Royal Guelphic Order in 1816. He was the first President of the Royal Astronomical Society when it was founded in 1820.
In addition he played the oboe, violin, harpsichord and organ and composed numerous musical works, including 24 symphonies, many concertos and some church music. He was appointed director of the Bath orchestra.
Throughout his career he worked with his sister Caroline. She often appeared as soprano soloist when he played but was also a fellow astronomer and discovered eight comets.
- the edge of the train of Symphony of Stars is decorated with stars placed on lines of embroidery thread. Their placement accords to the placement of notes in Herschel’s Symphony No. 8 in C Minor; this then is where the name of this dress comes from. The stars have been created by the same team of paper and thread volunteers who have worked with me throughout the design and creation of the entire Regency Wardrobe collection.
The stars are formed from quilling, a rolled paper technique that would have been practised during the Regency and which I have talked about in greater depth in other posts. I listened to many of Herschel’s pieces in order to settle on one and chose this one simply because it is my favourite. You can hear the whole symphony here. In order to work out the placement of the stars I had sought the score for this Symphony and found it on the Herschel Society's website here. I knew we would only be able to reflect the top line and I was intrigued to hear just the specific notes we would be representing being played. So as of our group progressed with star making one our number, Sara Callerman, made contact with the professional violinist, Rachel Isserlis from nearby Glyndebourne and asked if she would play the first few bars for us to hear what we were making. You can hear her play that section here:
For the tails of the musical notes we twisted DMC platinum coloured embroidery thread.
work in progress photographs
Stars can in fact be spotted quite liberally scattered around the Music Room, in its decoration, but our quilled stars are in fact formed from a combination of other shapes on the area just beneath the dome in the Music Room, which you can see in this photograph:
photo by Xin Harper-Little
There are 59 stars on the train of Symphony of Stars made by: Denise Morton, Gilly Burton, Jenny Fraser-Smith, Sara Callerman, Liz Fitzsimons, Judi Lynn and Xin Harper-Little
And the reason that our stars are platinum in colour...
2. 2022 is the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee - The name Platinum is derived from the Spanish term platino, meaning "little silver". It is sometimes known as white gold and has been symbolised by joining together the symbols of silver (moon) and gold (sun), or the symbols of gold and iron as it has been often found by chemists mixed with iron. Platinum is one of the rarer elements in the Earth’s crust; in the 18th century, platinum's rarity made King Louis XV of France declare it the only metal fit for a king. It is also one of the least reactive metals and is therefore considered a noble metal. Platinum leaf was in fact used extensively on the walls of the Saloon at The Royal Pavilion during its restoration becase silver would have tarnished over time.
Also interesting is that Uranus, therefore William Herschel, and Platinum are linked. The astrological symbols for Uranus were created shortly after its discovery by Herschel. The first was intended to represent the metal platinum, newly discovered by Europeans. The second suggested in 1784, in a letter to Herschel, was described to him as "un globe surmonté par la première lettre de votre nom" ("a globe surmounted by the first letter of your name").
3. The train of the dress - Inside the star studded border of the train I knew I wanted to replicate one of the beautiful Asian wallpapers that the Pavilion has in storage. I'd watched the unrolling of them by the team at the Pavilion on Instagram here and fallen for the first piece they'd shown; one with a faded Gamboge background, covered in birds, bamboo and flowers, originating from the early 1800’s. It's possible that this piece once hung on the walls of the upper floor of the Pavilion, certainly it's known to have been seen by George IV.
As you might imagine, before I can begin any new piece, I need to source and order the right materials. Primarily this period is about the paper and thread I'll be using but this time, as I began, I was able to talk to professional paper conservators, so I took the chance to ask some questions that had been playing on my mind. I do use glue, as well as paint, lacquer etc to decorate and apply decoration to the surfaces of pieces. To-date, particularly whilst quilling as a decorative technique, PVA has been my go to. But I'd begun to learn over time that that might not be the best choice in terms of the longevity (re. mould and other degeneration) of the surfaces so I wanted to look at what else was available and recommended by those in the know. I had read that egg white was once used, for example by Mary Delaney in the late 1700's, but as a literal food source even for human beings I had to wonder why that wouldn’t be a food source also for microbes, then again what we settled on was micro cellulose which is in fact a food additive but which, when mixed correctly with water, I now know makes an effective, translucent glue. Anyway that's what I went with. So I had my glue what then of the paper? I’d begun by focusing on the paper tablecloth I return to as my default, looking to source it in different colours, but that proved frustrating and besides I do love the light filled translucency of tissue paper so I ordered a stock of acid free tissue in all the colours I knew I’d need and went from there.
The scale of the train of this dress meant that I often ended up working on it on the floor...
...and certainly in order to sew this piece I had to work on it in sections. In fact it's true to say that the first time I would be seeing it all together would be when it was installed. I simply don't have the floor space at home to have set it up.
work in progress photograph
4. The lace - the lace on the train of Symphony of Stars reflects the developments of lace making from the early 1800's, which crucially would begin to include machinery. In 1809, the English inventor John Heathcoat patented a machine that could make the necessary mesh ground, needed for the making of large areas of lace, it was the most expensive and complex piece of textile machinery then in existence. By 1822 he was employing 1500 people. By the latter part of the 19th century virtually every type of hand-made lace would have its machine made copy.
Though every other feature on this dress is hand made, in order to reflect the start of this trend toward the mechanisation of lace, I turned to machine made lace paper from Shepherds of London. I am often asked what types of paper I use. The answer is whatever will give me (or can be manipulated to give me) the effect I am looking for (and is acid free).
If you watch the instagram video (above) of the team at the Pavilion unrolling the gamboge coloured original wallpaper you'll see them discussing how joins in hung papers might have been disguised in part by the application of loose leaves cut out and applied after the larger sheets were on the wall. I have tried to reflect this. The train of Symphony of Stars is made in sections with the joins often cut around shapes within the design and there are also a number of individual leaves, designed to be applied loose after its installation.
5. The Bells - there is a row of bells around the hem of the skirt of this dress, above them are some almost heart shaped forms with bulbous shapes bulging in between. These are reflections of the shapes carved in plaster that decorate the base of the pillars of the fireplace in the Music Room. I went on to apply lines of twisted gold thread up the length of the skirt, interspersed with white stripes to reflect the look of the body of the pillars which you can see here below.
To make paper bells I again used quilling paper, but wider strips. the paper beads designed to sit on top of the bells were similarly formed by rolling paper, but a long V shape this time rather than a straight strip.
You can see the bell making process here:
The bells were placed in a curved row and there was a bit of tricky cutting involved regarding the placement of the paper of the skirt, in order that it would sit in between them:
work in progress photographs
Below the bells I designed floral shapes on curved stems in order to reflect the brilliant orange flowers my eyes were ever being drawn to on the stunning Music Room chandeliers during my research visits and later in images. I also looked to the trim of this dress from a fashion plate by John Bell - England, London, June 1821.
For help producing these flowers I turned to my amazing volunteer Gilly Burton, to whom I owe a debt in terms of the initialization of the whole of The Regency Wardrobe project. She used an embossing technique and cut work to beautiful effect to achieve the look we wanted.
6. Fashion from the period - In comparison to the bulbous shapes that would sit in between them the heart shapes were relatively easy. I formed them from thin card and was grateful that Gilly agreed to roll some more paper in the way she had for the Rouleaux technique we had used on other pieces in the Regency Wardrobe collection (please see the walking dress Loops, Buttons and Trim being which is being shown at Worthing Museum from April 16th - August 7th 2022 and is also visible here), for their outside edge.
Then I hit a mental block. I tried casting the inverse of the bulbous shape I wanted in plaster, to create a mould so that I could then use papier mache to form it. I tried using a press technique, over a cast form, which I then tried to solidify with lacquer or varnish. Nothing quite worked. Then I remembered some detailing I'd seen in a fashion plate from the Regency era, one that I'd come across during the bulk of my research for the collection. Now things began finally to fall into place. The sort of shapes I needed had in fact been fashionable and worn at the time. This was perfect. I gathered the paper as I imagined they might have gathered the fabric to make the swollen decorative shapes you can see on these Regency dresses, and I was away:
All of the pieces I make are one off designs formed from ideas I've gathered having looked at many, many real garments from whichever period in history is relevent at the time. That is, never do I make a garment that is a direct copy of any real garment from History. Mine incorporate facts from history, social history, memory, relevent interior and exterior decoration and other cultural references but of course the foundation must always be the fashion of the time. It was because Symphony of Stars was being made for a Royal Palace that I had settled on designing and making a court dress. And the history is interesting in this regard. During the official Regency period of 1811-1820 the style of dress at Court was still being dictated by the choices of Queen Charlotte. Thus women found themselves in dresses with the raised hooped under structures of previous decades hitched up to just beneath their décolletage, reflective of the raised waist lines of the then more modern Empire line dress. This created a very unflattering silhouette. By 1822 George had been crowned King and finally the costumes of the Court had been allowed to fully adopt the form of the fashions of the day, though with longer trains and larger headdresses than for most normal evening wear.
You can then compare those strange creations with these images of dresses from 1820, 1821 and 1822
This Ackerman fashion plate showing a court dress specifically from 1822 also helped inspire the sleeves:
I planned to make puffed sleeves in a similar way as I had done for Fading glory but I liked the spikey effect of the sleeves in this drawing so it was back to quilling. The same members of the paper and thread team who were making the stars from platinum quilling strips were working simultaneously with gold metallic edged white quilling papers, making the same basic shapes as were being used to form the stars but leaving them unstuck from one another so that I could apply them to the inserts I planned to incorporate.
Here you can see some that have just been stuck, held in place with pins while the glue drys.
And here is a work in progress photo showing the effect of the inserts placed between the puffy, fluffy paper effect I was otherwise looking to combine them with (this is not the final belt!). As you can see I used the same shapes also on the bodice:
work in progress photographs
7. The dome - the glorious dome of The Music Room is decorated with layers of scallop-shaped scales which are covered in gold leaf. By contemporaries of the time they were sometimes described as silver, even green, suggesting that different shades of gold leaf were used. I have reflected this scallop shape in the white forms that cover the bodice of this dress, edging them with the gold and white quilling.
photo by Xin Harper-Little
work in progress photographs
8. 2022 is the 2nd bicentennial of the Dorset button - this fact I found very interesting. I'd begun to look at buttons (including Dorset buttons) in this post during the bulk of my research for The Regency Wardrobe collection but at that stage I hadn't tried making one. In fact I have to confess that though there are 16 Dorset buttons on Symphony of Stars I still haven't made one myself. Due to time constraints I gratefully handed this lovely piece of crafting over to Jane Quail, Kerry Crofton and Jodi Doherty, three of the paper and thread volunteer team and they ran with it; but I have asked if I might have a lesson from them later in the spring and we will be looking at what other types we might learn, for use on future pieces, the Yorkshire button for example.
Just to clarify the Dorset Buton is a style of craft-made button originating in the English county of Dorset. Their manufacture was at a peak between 1622 and 1850, after which they were overtaken by machine-made buttons from factories in ever growing cities. For more about the 400th anniversary celebrations of this beautiful button style please see this site
Here you can see the beautiful gold Madeira and DMC threads that Jane, Kerry and Jodi used to stunning effect:
Jane's buttons became part of the belt of the dress and Kerry and Jodi's are sewn down the back of the train. Remember every piece made by The House of Embroidered Paper is entirely made of paper and thread (with applied decoration) therefore, though Dorset buttons today are usually constructed around a metal ring we had to find another way. Kerry's husband crafted the larger rings by sawing rings off a carboard tube which he then strengthened with glue and Jane made the smaller rings from rolled paper, similarly strengthened.
There are two gold tassels on the ends of this bow, tying the belt together. Likewise there are two emerald green paper and thread tassels hanging from the waist of the dress down the back. The design of these four tassels was inspired by these, on a Regency era Spencer (dated 1818), held in Worthing Museum's fashion collection, shown here displayed at The Royal Pavilion:
9. The Theatre - At the centre of the skirt of Symphony of Stars is a paper theatre. The scene is a reproduction of an image from the 1826 book by John Nash titled Views of the Royal Pavilion at Brighton, which depicts the Music Room in the early 1820s’.
© Royal Pavilion & Museums Trust, Brighton & Hove
In 1822, due to excessive costs, Nash was succeeded at the Pavilion by the architect Joseph Good.
As soon as I saw this image I knew I wanted to encoporate it and my mind returned immediately to the model I produced of Danny House that was placed at the centre of the skirt of The Theatre of History dress as part of Maison de Papier - the collection. Paper theatres were a popular childs toy in Georgian and Victorian England so this seemed a perfect fit.
Brian Clark, member of the paper and thread team, created the theatre's card under structure, the perspective of the ceiling proving an interesting challenge to interpret, I then drew the scenery.
10. 2022 is the Bicentennial of the death of Percy Bysshe Shelley (English Romantic poet) - looking still to the theme of music, I have written in pencil the first two lines of Shelley's poem titled Music when Soft Voices Die (To --) across the front of the skirt of the dress above the scene of the Music Room itself.
The poem is about the endurance of the memories of events and of sensations. It goes:
Music, when soft voices die,
Vibrates in the memory—
Odours, when sweet violets sicken,
Live within the sense they quicken.
Rose leaves, when the rose is dead,
Are heaped for the belovèd's bed;
And so thy thoughts, when thou art gone,
Love itself shall slumber on.
11. 2022 is the 55th (emerald) anniversary of Rockinghorse, Brighton - When I learnt from one of our team that this charity (the official fundraising arm of the Royal Alexandra Children’s Hospital, Brighton) would be celebrating its emerald anniversary this year it got me thinking about the need for an accompanying necklace. Two of the silhouette dresses in The Regency Wardrobe collection have necklaces made of quilling and to accompany Bejewelled - the only piece of furniture in the collection, a jewellery box - I had made an emerald and pearl necklace and earring set reflecting that worn by Empress Josephine. This time I wanted to look at the jewellery of the British Royal family and most specifically at that worn by Queen Victoria. given her connection with the Royal Pavilion. Probably it is this site that shows the necklace I finally chose as my inspiration to best effect. It is part of a tiara and parure set gifted to Victoria by Albert in 1845, which was in fact the last year she visited the Royal Pavilion. Made entirely of emeralds and diamonds the parure included a necklace with 9 clusters of emeralds surrounded by cushion-shaped diamonds, a pair of pendant earrings, and a brooch featuring a 20-carat emerald.
But I was interested only in the necklace. So, working with those from our team who had made the stars and gold quilled trim (now including member Marie De Veer) we used green metallic edged green coloured quilling paper strips, surrounded by gold metallic edged gold quilling papers to make our 9 large (+ 9 small) emeralds set in gold. How to make diamonds that twinkle as surely as diamonds must, when you are working in paper, took me a while to figure out. There are 153 diamonds on this paper and thread necklace, they are made from several packets of silver metallic edged silver quilling paper and 4 packs of real silver leaf coated in lacquer.
In the end I was pleased with the result, the learning from which, as regards diamond making, gives me the scope to go on and make much more jewellery, including perhaps (if I ever decide to work with mannequins that have heads) a tiara!
Symphony of Stars is the centre piece of The Regency Wardrobe at The Royal Pavilion.
With thanks to all those named above and to Alexandra Loske, Amy Junker Heslip, Hannah Marshall Quinn, and Helen Grundy for research and support in the making of this piece as well as to all of the team at The Royal Pavilion.
.Symphony of Stars in the Music Room at The Royal Pavilion