My Costumes Were Featured in the P.E.O. Record

You read that right: my largest sewing project to date was recently featured in P.E.O.’s magazine, The Record ! Take a look at the published article below…

In a “behind the scenes” peek, I thought it would be interesting to share some parts of the process of how this gigantic endeavour came to life.

How It All Began

I conceived the idea when the timing was right. With the Met still closed in early 2021 and no operas for which to design costumes, I needed something to occupy my time and also wanted a new challenge of working with different body shapes and sizes. Could I accomplish this mammoth project ? I pondered. After searching for patterns and fabrics while tallying prices, I felt the goal was doable. My mind was made up, so I called my chapter’s president and treasurer to run my grand scheme by them. At the March business meeting, I pitched the idea to the entire chapter, complete with cost analysis sheets, lists of materials needed, and samples of prospective fabrics to be used. The response was a tsunami of yeses. My sisters were “game” for anything !

Pattern Selection

Researching the styles from 1869 was the first step in formulating my plan. From my experience with opera and historical costuming, I had plenty of resources for specialized pattern companies. Ultimately, I chose to use Black Snail Patterns for the bodice, Truly Victorian Patterns for the skirt, and Laughing Moon Patterns for the hoopskirts, bustle pads, and the chemisettes. Each pattern was selected based on its finished garment style and how well they could be adapted to suit the Founders’ official portraits.

The Undergarments

It was absolutely crucial to construct the supportive undergarments of the outfits first ! Without a well fitting hoopskirt and bustle pad, the skirts could not be measured correctly. In the spirit of thriftiness and the need to maintain a strict budget, I thought it would be ingenious to use polyethene plumber’s tubing for the hoops instead of real steel hooping. After all, I had seen blogs of people making hoopskirts out of hula hoops and similar items. But as you can tell, that didn’t work out.

Maybe for a topsy-turvy, whimsical costume, this curlicue tubing would have been a winner. But for my historical ensembles, I had to break with the budget and buy steel hooping… much better !

With everyone fitted to a comfortable size, we moved onto the skirts, which were much less tedious than threading steel boning through ribbon channels. In May, I gave a demonstration of the progress that had been made to my chapter sisters at one of our regular meetings.

The hoopskirts had not yet been outfitted with crinoline mesh so the tunnels of steel were visibly apparent.

The skirt even had a pocket on the right side !

The Bodices

The Black Snail bodice pattern was historically accurate. Too accurate. Designed with the corseted body in mind, I knew I would have to make alterations since I had promised my models that they would NOT have to wear a corset, but also for the sake of convenience. Who would want to fasten all those itty bitty buttons down the front when the need for speed in dressing (and undressing) was of utmost importance ? One of the first changes made was to close the bodices with Velcro at the front. But that was just the tip of the iceberg !

Lynne’s Alterations

Out of all my models, I had the most challenging time fitting Lynne, who played Ella Stewart. While the pattern fit perfectly at the waist and bust, I could not manage to close the bodice at the neck, no matter how I finagled with the seams. Anne, who portrayed Mary Allen and was my invaluable “sous sewer,” thought inserting a small gore at the center back seam would add enough length for the neckline to meet at the front.

Nope !

Together, we toyed with ideas of substitutions, but nothing seemed to work. Then I had a “lightbulb” moment: just recently, I had taken a virtual fit and sew blouse class with Katrina Walker and recalled how she demonstrated a sleeve alteration using the “slash and spread” method. Taking what I learned in class, I applied it to the upper front of Lynne’s bodice.

A preliminary fitting showed promise. I then carried over the same adjustments to the paper pattern…

…and almost cried from ecstatics when Lynne tried on the new bodice. It was a perfect fit. Thank you, Katrina !

Other embellishments were needed in order for Lynne’s outfit to look spiffy. Since Ella Stewart’s portrait showed contrasting green appliques at the clavicles, Anne and I decided to continue with the color blocking theme and added dark green bands at the skirt and sleeve hems and a decorative yoke piece at the back waist. Lynne’s costume was easily classified as “Most Unique.”

Covid Scare

There was a near catastrophe when my original Suela Pearson came down with Covid just one day before our rehearsal and three days before the actual Founders’ Day event ! With hurried hands, Anne and I went to work to completely alter the costume in order to fit the new model. Miraculously, our skills paid off and the new amended ensemble was completed in time. And the best part ? No one knew a thing !

Showtime !

In an ordeal that spanned 10 months and required over 120 yards of fabric, I was able to accomplish the magnanimous feat with the ready help of my chapter sisters. When all the hard work was achieved, our chapter performed its P.E.O. themed fashion show to the local reciprocity group, showcasing each of the seven Founders’ style based on their original portraits.
Written into the narrated script was an “underwear demo,” which was designed to allow the audience a glimpse into how a lady would have started her dressing routine during the time period. That task fell to me. Remember what I had promised my models ? NO CORSETS !!

After strolling around the room in my “underwear,” it was now time for the models to make their appearance… Without further explanation, here are our seven Founders !

Hattie Briggs

Alice Coffin

Ella Stewart

Suela Pearson

Franc Roads

Alice Bird

Mary Allen

Each costume was as unique as the model wearing it and we were all so proud to honor our Founders in such a special way.

Thank Yous

“Style From the Stile: A Tribute to 1869 Fashion and the Founding of the P.E.O. Sisterhood” was a monster success, both with the local chapters and beyond. Through social media postings and publications, the show found its way to international acclaim. But the project would never have been possible without the enthusiastic and steadfast support of my chapter sisters. Nearly every member had a part ─ from covering and hand sewing buttons, to help with backstage dressing and stage directing. And a special thanks goes to Anne, who cut out every single piece of fabric !

As sisters, we bonded through the trials and triumphs of the project and left an indelible mark on Founders’ Day history.

The P.E.O. Founders were remarkable women. The ladies of Chapter CD are quite the same.

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Indian Ribbon Dresses for the Powwow

During my “off season” of opera sewing (summer), I work on paid commissions, which range from basic necessities to uncharacteristic requests. In the summer of 2021, I was approached by my dear friend, Faith, and her mother to make three Indian ribbon dresses for Faith’s daughters, Hope and Ruby, and their cousin, Grace. The Native American heritage is an important aspect of Faith’s family and I was happy to do it ─ starting next summer. My schedule was booked for the season and my soonest available start time would be June 2022. Keeping that promise, I set my course for uncharted territory once Lucia wrapped in late May.

Indian Ribbon Dresses

When trying to envision how the dresses would look, I didn’t have a clue and I certainly didn’t want to go against the norms of cultural standards. I quizzed Faith extensively. Throughout the process, she was cooperative and sent me many pictures of what the dresses were supposed to look like. Since the design details were the choice of the family, Faith asked for the bodices to be stretchy (shirred) so that the girls could grow into them.

The shirred dress Faith sent me as an example

Looking for shirred bodice patterns online led me to Sew Jahit’s free tutorial with shirred straps.

Sew Jahit’s Shirred Bodice

Confession: I had never shirred a piece of fabric in my life !! With gulps of trepidation, I determined it would be best to send mock-ups so proper sizing could be assessed and to also give shirring a trial run. Haplessly, I ran out of muslin during the cutting process so scrap fabrics had to be substituted. Here’s Hope’s mock-up with sleeve variations…

And here’s Hope wearing it…

Grace and Ruby’s mock-ups followed the same procedure…

The pictures of the girls in their mock-ups sent me into risible fits: they looked like ragamuffins begging for alms in the street with their motley ensembles ! Despite the shabby appearance of the stand-in dresses, the mock-ups accomplished their purpose as I was able to fine tune the pattern measurements for the girls. Onto the real dresses !

I chose to use cotton batik fabric as the base for the dresses. With slight color variations and subtle patterns, it allowed for a more “textured” look and promised an added dimension to the largely plain areas of the dresses. Faith and her sister, Angel, had made a list of the colors of ribbons they preferred and together we worked to come up with the best and most culturally relevant schemes.

Working on the color schemes for the dresses

Sewing for a long distance client has a way of setting me on tenterhooks since I have no way of fitting and measuring in person. After much back-and-forth of sending pictures on Facebook Messenger, the dresses were completed and now it was time to ship them off to Idaho… Would they fit ?

I think that’s a “yes !”

The dresses were a perfect fit and the girls were able to go to the powwow in style.

Designing dresses for these girls was such a joy as they are tûtawi’u’ (that’s Pawnee for “full of life”). And they’re just adorable. Don’t you agree ?

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Remembering Mina

Genealogy is a pastime that many people pursue with a gambler’s passion. Addictive, the sport can lead posterity into an endless funnel of personal discoveries and historical finds. But I’ve never been one those people… until recently. When my grandmother died in 2020, the castoffs of old family photos found their way inadvertently into my hands and an insatiable curiosity soon followed. “Who were these people ?” I wondered. Several ancestors sparked interest for an immediate research project, but at the top of the list was my great-grandmother, Erma.
In celebrating her birthday month, I thought it would be fun to share the accomplishments and anecdotes of a woman who loved life and everything in it.

Erma Reynolds

Born in Newark, NJ, Erma Eleanor Schoop shared her August 15th birthday with a very famous emperor. Perhaps you’ve heard of him ?

Napoleon Bonaparte

She was the daughter of a Methodist minister and moved frequently as a child, wherever her father was assigned a parsonage. Spending family vacations at Chautauqua Lake, NY, was a favorite memory of Erma’s. So much so, that she often traveled back to the resort community throughout her life, usually bringing her friends in tow.

Chautauqua Lake, NY

Having settled in Columbus, OH, during her senior year of high school, Erma went on to enroll at Ohio State University at a time when most women did not go to college.

During her years at college, Erma visited her brother and his wife in Florida and attended a dance at a hotel. It was there that she met a citrus grower named Bob Reynolds. Romance ensued and they knew they wanted to be married. So Bob travelled to Ohio to talk things over with Erma’s father. Although agreeing to the union, her father had one caveat: “She has to graduate from Ohio State first !”

She indeed graduated and the couple married on July 18, 1928. Miraculously, her wedding gown remains in the family. Although it has yellowed from decades bygone, the flapper style dress is still in fairly good shape despite a few tears in the lace overlay. My cousin, Allison, modeled the dress recently during a photoshoot at Bok Tower Gardens.

My cousin, Allison, modeling Erma’s wedding dress.

Of all the questions that darted around in my mind, the most pressing query I had as I began my research on Erma surrounded her involvement in the P.E.O. Sisterhood.

Ever since I was a child, I would hear stories about how Erma served as the Florida state president from 1958-59 and was very active in her home chapter, U. My search produced fruitful results. In reading through one of Erma’s many diaries, I discovered that she was initiated into Chapter U on May 3, 1938 ─ just a few years after the chapter had been formed. Almost all of her life she was an active member, even attending the International Convention in Philadelphia in 1952.

Erma (far right) with her fellow friends and P.E.O. sisters at the train station, traveling to the International Convention in 1952
From left to right: Mary Hamilton, Eunice Hurst, and Esther Wise

It was strongly because of Erma’s involvement in P.E.O. that I, myself, wished to join the Sisterhood and serve as my chapter’s president. Knowing that I have nearly fulfilled the second portion of that dream would surely make her proud.

Faith was a cornerstone of Erma’s life. She was a longtime member of Beymer Methodist Church, which served as the site of her daughter, Eleanor’s, wedding in 1956. Just look at those clothes !

Eleanor, Bob, and Erma

Erma was a world traveler. And more extraordinarily, she was a world traveler when jetting off to far-flung destinations was not nearly as accessible as it is today. Sojourning with close friends and family, she made several trips across the United States and also visited exotic locales including Norway and Scandinavia, most of the European Continent and Britain, Australia and New Zealand, Brazil and South America, the Caribbean, and Canada. Her thoughtfulness was personified by the many presents she brought back to her loved ones.

Writing was also one of Erma’s passions, and in 1976 she saw her book “The Fabulous Orange” published. As a history of citrus cultivation, processing, and marketing, it is truly… “fabulous !”

While she was known as a beloved mother and a good friend to her friends, there was something else that Erma loved in addition to her friends and family that cannot be overlooked. She loved jewelry; all kinds, the real and the costume. Anything that sparkled tickled Erma’s fancy.

She may have adored jewels, but she never dressed in excess. Her style was quiet and tastefully done with just the right amount of accessories. Recently, I made a visit to the cemetery where Mina (the name all of the grandchildren called Erma) was laid to rest, modeling a dress from my mother’s closet that closely resembles the style my great-grandmother would have worn.

Despite all her remarkable accomplishments, Erma is probably best remembered by her kind and easy-natured spirit. She had an infectious laugh, loved a good joke, and was hospitable to a fault. Sadly, she passed away from an extended battle with Alzheimer’s before I ever knew her. However, through the stories and artifacts shared from various relatives, her memory remains alive. My hope is to perpetuate her legacy by the same tenets that guided her life. And just like Mina, having fun along the way is equally as important !

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Fringed Friends in Pamela’s Patterns

Scrolling through my daily e-mail from Fabric Mart Fabrics, I spotted something that grabbed my attention in addition to the day’s latest sales. A new class offering had been posted for Fringy Bias Skirts with Pamela Leggett using her favorite bias skirt pattern. So chic, so bohemian, so… unique ! I knew I had to sign up for the virtual class.

As per Pamela’s suggestion, the skirt was best suited for a softer linen fabric so that the strips of linen bias would “bloom” when washed. However, I had a resolution to use up some of my unfathomable fabric stash and unearthed a fawn colored linen, which I bought from a “Julie’s Picks” swatch mailer some years prior. It was crisp ─ not ideal ─ but it would have to work. And since my yardage was inadequate for the full length skirt, I was rendered one solution: to make the knee length version.

Soon before the first class session, my friend, Chris, had sent me an e-mail with an outrageously priced Nieman Marcus skirt that was fashionable, but beyond the point of reason to even consider making a purchase. “Who would pay that for a skirt ?!” she wailed. At that moment, I showed her the class example that I was going to make and she was hooked. Intuitively, Chris selected a soft linen/rayon blend in a bright navy for her midi length skirt. Her choice of fabric was perfect; after two washes, the blended material far “outfringed” mine that had been washed and dried close to 10 times. Mawhh-velous !

Custom fitted in our fringy bias skirts, we had fun during a photo shoot at Chris’s elegant home.

Interestingly, Pamela revealed during the first session of class that she got the idea for the fringed skirt from an old Soft Surroundings catalog and wanted to make a knock-off version for herself. I laughed as I had done the same procedure when I attempted to recreate a Soft Surroundings gown for one of the Met concerts.

The Fringy Bias Skirts episode was a win-win-win: Chris didn’t have to cancel her Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra subscription to pay for the skirt, I gained a new client, and we both ended up with two stylish and flattering skirts ! Thank you, Pamela !

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Lucia di Lammermoor: A “Mad” Bridal Tradition

Manners, manipulation, mysticism, and morbidity permeate Sir Walter Scott’s gothic novel of thwarted romance like a damp fog over the rugged Scottish Highlands. After an article recently published for suggested opera reading, I dove into a delightful immersive study of reading opera’s literary forerunners. “The Bride of Lammermoor” was near the top of my list since its theatric counterpart was due up for the Met’s 2021-2022 Live in HD season.

I loved the novel. Even with its gloomy pallor, I found myself pleasurably enveloped in the formality and class distinctions of the early 18th century Scottish setting. But how would the opera, slightly amended in its story and characters, fare against the benchmark book ─ especially with a radical, modern day-set production ?

Nadine Sierra in a promotional photo for Lucia di Lammermoor / Metropolitan Opera

Uncharacteristically for me, I was rather indifferent towards Simon Stone’s half opera/half movie production. Many parts of the story felt plausible in the present day Rust Belt setting while other stunts left me nonplussed. While both the action of the opera on stage and the cinematic video screen projection above were cleverly produced, I felt they would have been more effective as separate entities rather than interpolated within the same space (sensory overload !). Unquestionably, the singing was explosive ─ bel canto has a penchant for fireworks !

A scene from Lucia di Lammermoor / Metropolitan Opera

The outfit for Lucia was obvious: the famed “bloody” wedding gown from the Act III mad scene is so ubiquitously tied to the opera (regardless of the decade or production) that it’s almost clichéd.

Splattering scarlet paint over a delicate display of satin and lace wouldn’t allow me many opportunities for wearing the designated dress again, although the thought was tempting… especially since the gown worn in the new Met production looked uncannily similar to my mother’s actual wedding gown from 1987.

Fear not; I wouldn’t do that to my mother’s dress (or anyone else’s, for that matter). With a modern production and no prior hint to its styling, I decided I would take a more interpretative approach to the blood-stained garment while still keeping an oft-chanted bridal tradition.

Something Old

Gloves were originally not going to be part of my outfit, but yet as I studied the John Everett Millais painting, I realized it was fitting.

“The Bride of Lammermoor” by John Everett Millais (1878)

These gloves were given to me by a friend and neighbor, who used to wear them out and about in Wisconsin, as was the proper thing to do at the time. Thank you, Miss Johanna !

Something New

Because there was no possibility of saturating a real wedding gown in blood (or the likes thereof), I wanted to have something that was evocative of blood without actually looking like it. I’ve had my eye on a Vogue pattern for sophisticated bolero jackets for several years and knew I would use it to my bloody advantage. Initially aiming to sew the ¾ sleeve version with the pleated ruffles, I altered my plans when I came across an irresistible fabric deal: corded nylon lace with sequins ─ $2.99/yard. I bought five yards.
Changing styles was seamless since the bell flounce sleeves of View D reminded me of the 18th century, which directly mirrored the time in which the original story was set. (Note: I had my mother style my hair based off the images on the pattern envelope… so haute, so mad !!)

The way that the pattern was drafted, I needed to alter the length of the sleeves in order to have the flounce sit higher on my arm and not look so much like a 1970’s disco queen. Eight inches were subsequently removed from the sleeves, which gave me that 1700’s feel.

Something Borrowed

The dress I wore is very special because it played a starring role in someone else’s life. Charmingly, the white satin A-line gown employed to represent Lucia’s wedding gown was not intended for a bartered bride, but rather… a debutante !

My friend, Borden, wore this same gown in the early 2000’s when she made her debut. And after many years, it still looks great. Thank you, Borden !

Something Blue

And what would the bridal tradition be without Something Blue ?! Well, there was no question as to what that would be…

Bought for $16.99 at a resale store (thank you, Miss Michelle !), my royal blue and rhinestone studded stilettos steal the show wherever they make an appearance ─ from the “Pavarotti” documentary to Anna Netrebko’s Viennese concert. ‘Fabulous’ doesn’t even begin to describe their glamor.

My last opera of the 2021-2022 Live in HD season hit all the right notes. Indeed, it was a bloody mad time !

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Cast and Credits:

Lucia di Lammermoor ─ Gaetano Donizetti (1835)
Live in HD air date: May 21, 2022

Cast:
Lucia ─ Nadine Sierra
Edgardo ─ Javier Camarena
Enrico ─ Artur Ruciński
Raimondo ─ Christian Van Horn

Credits:
Conductor ─ Ricardo Frizza
Production ─ Simon Stone
Set Designer ─ Lizzie Clachan
Costume Designers ─ Alice Babidge and Blanca Añón
Lighting Designer ─ James Farncombe
Projection Designer ─ Luke Halls
Choreographer ─ Sara Erde
Live in HD Director ─ Gary Halvorson
Host ─ Anthony Roth Costanzo

Turandot ─ My Favorite Opera

How much do I love Puccini’s final opera, Turandot ?

Well…

I own two complete recordings, which I listen to very often…

…have a poster in my room…

…and it has been rumored to be true that I’ve flown out of my bedroom like a bat when the sound of someone singing “Nessun dorma” on a television in an adjacent room wafted its way to my ear during the early part of slumber.

Yes, I love Turandot ─ the music, the armrest-gripping drama, the fiery passion all wrapped up in a splendid love story for the ages. It never gets old… neither do the chills and goosebumps I inevitably feel whenever listening to the opera. While these factors are not conducive to healing from adrenal fatigue, the liability never stops me from attending a performance, regardless of the cast.

Liudmyla Monastyrska (center) and Yonghoon Lee (left) in a scene from Turandot / Metropolitan Opera

Oddly, Turandot is one of the few operas that is not entirely dependent on the merits of the four principal leads (at least to me, anyway !). Rather, having an exceptionally vibrant chorus and a taut and affecting conductor on the stand makes the real difference. With that in mind, the orchestra and chorus shone as the brightest stars during this run of Franco Zeffirelli’s magnificent production. But a mention should be made of the principal singers… instruction in Acting 101 would have been advisable for most of them. The icy princess was truly frozen and the blind man was discovered to be only intermittently blind as he readily anticipated his steps and conversations before they had begun. Oops !
Despite some hiccups, they were mostly rendered moot: the opera is always a winner !

An excerpt from the finale from Turandot (2009) / Metropolitan Opera

Zeffirelli’s Turandot production is a landmark. It’s so powerful in its impact on audiences that it’s been in existence at the Met for over 30 years. Why mess with perfection ?! This was the attitude I adopted as I contemplated what I would wear for Turandot 2022.
When I created my costume for Turandot 2019, I didn’t think I could top it. It’s glitzy, dramatic, and oh so Chinese. I didn’t see a reason why it shouldn’t be worn again. So that’s just what I did.

One element I tweaked for this particular Turandot was opting to wear my long black wig, which I donned for Madama Butterfly in 2019. With it, I felt even more like ‘la Principessa altera.’

Of course, my cardboard and wooden skewer headpiece had to make another appearance. It has taken a lot of wear and tear from the time since I first created the accessory in late 2015/early 2016, but there’s nothing a dab of Krazy Glue won’t fix !

This may have been my third trip to the theater to see Puccini’s posthumous piece, but I highly doubt I will ever become jaded by the opera. Festive excitement builds as the 100th anniversary of its premiere approaches in 2026. And I already have plans for a poster-inspired outfit to celebrate !

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Cast and Credits

Turandot ─ Giacomo Puccini (1926)
Live in HD air date: May 7, 2022

Cast:
Turandot ─ Liudmyla Monastyrska
Calàf ─ Yonghoon Lee
Liù ─ Ermonela Jaho
Timur ─ Ferruccio Furlanetto

Credits:
Conductor ─ Marco Armiliato
Production ─ Franco Zeffirelli
Set Designer ─ Franco Zeffirelli
Costume Designers ─ Anna Anni and Dada Saligeri
Lighting Designer ─ Gil Wechsler
Choreographer ─ Chiang Ching
Live in HD Director ─ Gary Halvorson
Host ─ Nadine Sierra

“The Sound of Music” Easter Dress

From the time I was a little girl, I have always loved “The Sound of Music.” Remembering my original encounter with the classic film in the first grade classroom conjures up the rapt attention I experienced as a wide-eyed seven-year-old. Understandably, there was a lot to adore─ the infectious sing-a-long tunes, the thrilling ending, those clever nuns…
Every year, I would catch the movie on TV during Easter. Once, while watching the movie on the aforementioned holiday, I had decided that I would eat my entire chocolate and jelly bean-filled Easter basket since I was aiming to start a healthy diet the next day and didn’t want the temptation of sugary confections. (Never again !!)
While the overdose of Almond Joys may have given me a stupendous stomachache, I can’t recall a single time where “The Sound of Music” didn’t sit well with my appetite.

“The Sound of Music” movie poster (1965)

Maria’s ability to make clothes out of curtains impressed and inspired me, long before I could sew myself. And so it should come as no surprise that the costumes in the movie were a highlight for me. From Liesl’s floaty chiffon frock to Baroness Schraeder’s luxe gold evening gown, the clothes only added to the film’s accolades.

Apparently, I’m not the only one who harbors an affinity for the movie’s costumes. For years, I have been an admirer of Katrina Holte’s Edelweiss Patterns. And yet, I had never sewn one of her “Sound of Music” replica patterns… until now ! While I was greatly torn between several options, I choose Maria’s Gazebo Dress as my first attempt at classic cinema fashion.

Julie Andrews in “The Sound of Music”

With its delicate chiffon overlay and pastel color, I imagined it as an ideal Easter dress. But out of which color to make it…? I always viewed the film dress as an aqua baby blue, but discovered upon research that it’s not blue; it’s green ! According to the auction site that sold the frock in 2012, the listing is described in part as a “Green dress with floral pattern, with butterfly sleeves and full skirt. Smocked at neck and waist, lined in light green silk, hook and eye and snap closure at back.” Who would have thought ?! Green it is !

I ignored the tone-on-tone floral pattern on the dress since I was not equipped (neither with time nor mental stamina) to begin another fabric painting project so soon after Zerbinetta’s harlequin. The monochromatic seafoam was enough for a pretty pastel Easter dress.

Details matter on solid dresses. The pattern called for honeycomb smocking, a stitch which I had never heard of nor attempted, but found it to be a fun and easy design addition. So much so, that my mind is now whirring over the decorative possibilities for using the stitch in the future.

Honeycomb smocking at the neckline

“The Sound of Music,” sewing, and Easter… “These are a few of my favorite things.”

Happy Easter !

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

This post is dedicated to Ian, whose role model for being a doting uncle to his nieces and nephews is Uncle Max from “The Sound of Music.”

Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend: Zerbinetta’s Harlequin Costume

It was a summer afternoon ─ the summer before I would attend the Live in HD performance of Ariadne auf Naxos in the theater ─ and I was watching the same opera and production from 2003 with Deborah Voigt and Natalie Dessay. Fulling intending to dress as Ariadne for the theater showing, I closely espied her costume, looking for small details that could aid in my creation. But as the opera progressed, I realized… Ariadne is boring ! It was Natalie Dessay’s high-flying Zerbinetta that had me completely smitten, with both her character and costume, and I decided then that I would dress, not as Ariadne, but as Zerbinetta for the theater broadcast.

Natalie Dessay as Zerbinetta

With the close-up camera shots of the costume, I could make out slubs in the costume fabric and knew that I would use a polyester dupioni as my base material. The sleeves on the bodice were a sort of gathered puff and unintentionally, while browsing for something else, I came across a sewing pattern with just the right sleeves and pointed bodice (E).

McCall’s 8043, circa 1996

How to apply the wild checkered colors was still up for decision… Hand cut pieces of fabric ? Paint ? Realizing that both methods would be extremely time consuming, but that painting the fabric would be much more precise and less of a guessing game, I bought a set of jacquard fabric paint to begin work on the harlequin design.

I used the above photos of Diana Damrau and Kathleen Kim as a guide in marking and painting the diamonds on the bodice and skirt. Thinking that painting fabric was just like painting walls, I marked off sections of the sewn princess seam bodice, which I altered and boned, with 3/8″ electrical tape, assuming that the sticky tape would hold back any and all imperfections when I peeled away the pinned on strips…

Wrong !!!! The black and red paint bled beneath the tape, into the white lines. Twill tape saved the day, turning a watery canvas into a striking harlequin.

Trimmed with (painted !) red lace around the sleeve hems, black shank buttons down the front, and bias binding around the neckline finished the zippered bodice. A hook and eye was fastened at the top of the back.

The Skirt

Itching to utilize a new patternmaking book in my collection, I experimented with transforming a full circle skirt into one of equal area with 12 gores, still maintaining the same proportions as the regularly cut bias circle. The purpose behind this maneuver was to better my chances of accurately marking out the diamond design and to prevent uneven and sagging edges from the circular bias cut.

A page from “Basic Pattern Skills For Fashion Design” by Bernard Zamkoff

This was accomplished. However, something went amiss in my calculations and I ended up having to remove two gores from the skirt to fit the waistband. Therefore, it became a 300° instead of a 360° skirt. All’s well that ends well, right ?

The new center gore pattern piece (with the discarded side sections), seam allowances added

Marking the diamonds on the skirt was torture ! Staring at the pictures of the model skirt only led to frustration when, after spending hours elongating sticky tape into impossibly curved lines, I stepped back to eye my design and beheld kites and shields ─ not harlequin diamonds !

I probably spent close to a week taping and re-taping the same design over and over again. I don’t know (and may never know) how the diamonds on Zerbinetta’s skirt stayed so regular. Even as they became larger at the hem, they still looked like perfect diamonds !

Brenda Rae as Zerbinetta and Isabel Leonard as the Composer

Time was running out and I needed to move on from the insanity, so… kites and shields it had to be !
Painting the skirt fabric was much more time consuming than the bodice and sleeves, but I finished it just a few days before the opera.

When I pulled off the electrical tape, it made a tremendous difference in the look of the design, but not as much as when the twill tape was sewn over the jagged white lines. Then, the outfit popped.

The skirt before the twill tape was sewn over the lines

There was a near catastrophe when I soaked the skirt in an attempt to remove the remains of newspaper that were stuck to the backside of the fabric and some of the black paint smeared onto the bright yellow segments. Egad, what horror ! Against instructions not to scrub with soapy water, I did just that, scouring the yellow diamonds in hopes of removing the black tinge. Thankfully, it dried with hardly any trace of black on yellow and my painted diamonds remained in good condition. Whew !

A lining of light satin was used to finish the underside, a zipper was installed, a waistband added, and the skirt was complete. During Zerbinetta’s hair-raising aria in the “Opera” portion of Ariadne auf Naxos, a red petticoat beneath her skirt is revealed as she flings herself aback on a chair, utterly exhausted from oxygen-depleting coloratura. With the need for a crinoline, I searched online and found a steal of a deal ─ a vintage red nylon petticoat that I snagged for $1.25 off eBay.

Best $1.25 I ever spent !

The Hat

One of the best parts of Zerbinetta’s costume is her 18th century tricorn hat with plumes of brightly colored feathers…

Lise Davidsen as Ariadne and Brenda Rae as Zerbinetta

Looking for patterns online led me to Angel’s terrific mini pirate hat tutorial from Fleece Fun.

Anyone can make this cute little hat and it’s great that the pattern pieces become a part of the construction. With the hot glue gun running, a bejeweled cockade of feathers and tulle was attached.

Now I was ready for the opera !

Zerbinetta’s harlequin costume was a labor of love, but an absolute joy to wear ! Diamonds really are a girl’s best friend.

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

For my review of the Ariadne auf Naxos, see here: https://costumeclosetcouture.com/2022/03/13/ariadne-auf-naxos/

Don Carlos

Verdi’s Don Carlos offers audiences a gripping spectacle of grand opera. With the backdrop of the 16th century Spanish court during the Inquisition, the pallor of death reigns over the piece with dark drama eking out from every crevice. Furthermore, the interpersonal relationships and the conflict between duty, love, and country offer opportunities for theatrical greatness. Uniquely, this occasion marked the first time in the Met’s history that the original five act French version of the opera was performed. It was nearly five hours long.

A scene from Don Carlos / Metropolitan Opera

Despite the long chair time, the opera carried enough interest to render it worthwhile. Each of the six principal characters was involved in a dynamic plot twist that was heightened by the thunderous orchestra and clever camera angles. The new production by David McVicar, whose work is admired by both traditionalists and innovators, was both edgy and elegant. Picking a favorite moment was tough. However, the end scene where Carlos perishes and the departed Rodrigue steps out of heavenly white light to lay his beloved friend to rest took my breath away. Well done !

Matthew Polenzani As Don Carlos, Jamie Barton as Princess Eboli, and Etienne Dupuis as Rodrigue / Metropolitan Opera

Don Carlos may have been a marathon, but the creation of my costume was not. In fact, it carried a moniker relating to its rapidity: “Two Week Tudor.” Immediately following the last opera, I began sewing my outfit for the next performance in two weeks.
Choosing a pattern that was simple and effective was vital for the time crunch ─ since I was familiar with Andrea Schewe’s Simplicity Tudor pattern (it had been at the forefront of my preparations for Maria Stuarda that was to take place in May 2020), I turned to the out-of-print pattern for a quick fix. With little time to sew fussy, intricate pieces, I opted for View B on the pattern envelope.

Simplicity 3782

Historical accuracy was not important as Brigitte Reiffenstuel’s Met costumes blended the semblance of the period with modern features, such as puff sleeves, shawl collars, and wrist cuffs…

During the cutting process of the main fabric, it became painfully obvious that there was not enough material to cut the entire dress. With the same material out of stock for the foreseeable future, I needed an alternate plan. Think, think, think ! And then, a lightbulb─ several years ago, I was given a bolt of upholstery fabric from my friends at the quilt shop, which I willingly accepted. My mother balked; taking others’ “stuff” to store at home is not one of my better habits. But something inside me knew that there would come a time of need for this autumnal printed bolt of fabric. Sure enough, there was.

Thank you, Miss Pat and Mr. Al !

Fortunately, I had a farthingale (hoopskirt) already made from my anticipation of Maria Stuarda. However, in my inexperience with sewing hoopskirts at the time, I foolishly used ½” wide steel hooping instead of a lighter weight ¼” hoop. Add into consideration the 12+ yards of material for the dress and then imagine sitting in a boxy movie theater seat for five hours while wearing it all. Shockingly, the entire dress, underskirt, and heavy hoopskirt only weighed around 8lbs.

With lots of gold jewelry and rings, I was suited up for the spectacle of the opera…

As serendipitous as the bolt of upholstery fabric was to the project, I was even more surprised by my mother’s reaction. The shape of the silhouette overlaid with the copious folds of woodsy fabric made her proclaim that it was the most beautiful dress I’ve ever made. Who would have guessed that something created out of necessity could have turned out so well ? As for the material that was set aside due to insufficient yardage, I have plans to revive it for the Italian version of Don Carlos in November. Hopefully, that performance won’t be quite as lengthy.

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Cast and Credits

Don Carlos ─ Giuseppe Verdi (1867)
Live in HD air date: March 26, 2022

Cast:
Don Carlos ─ Matthew Polenzani
Élisabeth de Valois ─ Sonya Yoncheva
Princess Eboli ─ Jamie Barton
Rodrigue ─ Etienne Dupuis
Philippe II ─ Eric Owens
Grand Inquisitor ─ John Relyea
Monk ─ Matthew Rose

Credits:
Conductor ─ Patrick Furrer
Production ─ David McVicar
Set Designer ─ Charles Edwards
Costume Designer ─ Brigitte Reiffenstuel
Lighting Designer ─ Adam Silverman
Movement Director ─ Leah Hausman
Live in HD Director ─ Gary Halvorson
Host ─ Ailyn Pérez

Ariadne auf Naxos

If there is an opera that causes more bouts of stifled exasperation or muddled confusion than Ariadne auf Naxos, its title remains a mystery. The music─ sublime, the plot─ a headscratcher; Strauss’s “opera within an opera” elicits both “ahhs !” as well as “huhs ?!” At least, that’s how I felt when I viewed the opera as part of the Met’s free streaming that was offered when the house was dark.
Armed with the illuminating advantage of past experience, I had my reasons for attending this current Ariadne, but none greater than to see and hear Lise Davidsen as the prima donna/exiled goddess.

Lise Davidsen in Ariadne auf Naxos / Metropolitan Opera

With the voice of a titan and the face of a schoolgirl, there is little doubt that Lise is a star. Unleashing her full power during “Es gibt ein Reich” was like having a blast of thunder rattle your bones. An answer of satisfaction was given to the promulgated hype, but what took me by surprise was the caliber of the performances given by the other singers. Isabel Leonard’s frustrated idealism as the Composer won my fervent applause.

Isabel Leonard in Ariadne auf Naxos / Metropolitan Opera

Opera seria interpolated with an Italian farce sounds strange, but the plot of Ariadne auf Naxos was much clearer to me the second time around and really deserves a further listen. With the cast that performed and the resplendent orchestra of the Met, that task was highly agreeable.

A scene from Ariadne auf Naxos

Despite being the titular character of the opera, Ariadne is not that interesting of a leading lady. She’s weepy, melancholy, and a touch morbid over her present fate of lonesome exile. She may have a great aria, but for the most part, her character is just “blah” until Bacchus sails in and whisks her away to the heavens. However, there is a complete comic foil to Ariadne’s gloominess: the coquettish clown, Zerbinetta.

Brenda Rae as Zerbinetta and Lise Davidsen as Ariadne

When I watched the 2003 Ariadne auf Naxos with Deborah Voigt and Natalie Dessay, I was captivated by the spitfire vocalism and personality of the coloratura soprano, Zerbinetta. She steals the show, every time. In addition to her dynamic role, she also has the best costume in the whimsical Elijah Moshinsky production ─ harlequin from top to toe with 18th century embellishments. Who would want to play Ariadne when Zerbinetta’s character and outfit are so much fun ?! My costume choice was easy: harlequin, please !

I made everything about my outfit, excluding the tights and shoes. While it was one of the most labor-intensive projects I’ve completed to date, all the components played together into a kaleidoscopic array of FUN ! All that was needed was a little bit of sass…

As a creator, I love all my “children,” but this outfit, which started out as entirely white, was an especial favorite. And that hat ! Would you believe that it was made out of felt and cardstock ?! The cockade of feathers and tulle tufts solidified my look as uniquely “Zerbinetta.”

It was impossible not to be happy while wearing this outfit, at the same time seeing its double on the big screen. And it was impossible not to be enchanted by Strauss’s dreamy (and quirky) Ariadne auf Naxos.

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

For the ‘step-by-step’ on how I created Zerbinetta’s kaleidoscopic harlequin costume, check out the post below:
https://costumeclosetcouture.com/2022/04/04/diamonds-are-a-girls-best-friend-zerbinettas-harlequin-costume/

Cast and Credits:

Ariadne auf Naxos ─ Richard Strauss (1912)
Live in HD air date: March 12, 2022

Cast:
Ariadne ─ Lise Davidsen
Zerbinetta ─ Brenda Rae
Composer ─ Isabel Leonard
Bacchus ─ Brandon Jovanovich
Harlequin ─ Sean Michael Plumb
Music Master ─ Johannes Martin Kränzle
Major-Domo ─ Wolfgang Brendel

Credits:
Conductor ─ Marek Janowski
Production ─ Elijah Moshinsky
Set and Costume Designer ─ Michael Yeargan
Lighting Designer ─ Gil Wechsler
Live in HD Director ─ Gary Halvorson
Host ─ Matthew Polenzani