Sequin Mail: Drafting a Cowl Neck “Chainmail” Tunic

When I began devising my plans for a complete “Wagnerian” outfit to wear to the Met concert celebrating the legendary German composer, I knew I wanted to include some sort of chainmail aspect to represent Medieval knights, which are so gallantly (and infamously) portrayed in many of Wagner’s operas. A showpiece necklace from Afghanistan was at the top of my list.

Thank you, Aunt Countess and Uncle Kim !

However, I struggled to devise the rest of the outfit due to the very specific nature of the necklace. And so, I looked beyond my closet and found a mesh fabric with matte silver sequin paillettes sewn onto its entire face for a reasonable price online.

Looking through historical fashion plates gave me the idea of imitating the drape of chainmail coifs (hooded headwear), but I didn’t want a full suit of armor. No, a simple, sleeveless cowl neck tunic was my intention…

And excerpt from “Pictorial Encyclopedia of Historic Costume” by Albert Kretschmer and Karl Rohrbach
And excerpt from “Pictorial Encyclopedia of Historic Costume” by Albert Kretschmer and Karl Rohrbach

While there were many patterns on the web for cowl neck tops, I didn’t like any of them ! Therefore, I decided to draft a pattern on my own using newspaper. There’s a wealth of knowledge out on the web for creating patterns and this article was particularly insightful in helping me create my cowl: https://www.threadsmagazine.com/2013/11/18/how-to-create-a-draped-cowl-neckline

Preliminary pattern pieces

After several knit mock-ups, I began what I thought would be a messy cutting process and prepped my work area with black garbage bags before tediously snipping around the sequins. Spoiler alert: hardly any sequins fell from the fabric !

The mesh selvedge was suitable enough for the facing so I placed the upper part of the front pattern piece on top of the mesh. What a time saver !

The sequins along the seamlines were promptly picked off to avoid getting caught under the sewing machine needle before I stitched the two sides together. Ta-da !

At this point, the tunic was too long. A bib hem seemed like the perfect solution to mimic the drape of the cowl neck…

Drafting a hem piece was easy enough, however, in hindsight, it would have been better to eliminate all the “place on fold” edges and create full sized pattern pieces; cutting was a one-side-at-a-time job and flipping the uncut sides distorted the shape of the pieces somewhat.

Helpful hint: to check how the lines/curves of a foldline piece will look when doubled, place a mirror next to the edge of the pattern piece and examine its full shape.

I paired my sequin tunic with faux leather pants using StyleArc’s Margaret pattern, a too-tight disaster that was salvaged by the longer hem of the tunic ! Whew !

StyleArc’s Margaret Pant

And what would a Wagnerian-inspired outfit be without a Ring ? Although it wasn’t fashioned from the gold of the Rhine, this antique pearl ring belonged to a relative of mine.

While modern, my outfit gave me the right representation of Wagnerian interpretation. I also learned that pattern drafting wasn’t as difficult as I had imagined. Hojotoho !

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

La Fille du Régiment

Growing up as an Army brat can be tough. Smelly socks, hardtack rations, itchy wool uniforms─ the works. There’s never a moment’s rest and danger lurks around every corner. But for Marie, nothing compares to being the adopted daughter of France’s 21st Regiment. With a voice of sparkling cut crystal, Pretty Yende charmed as Donizetti’s “Belle of Bel Canto” along with a stratospherically high Javier Camerena as her Tyrolean suitor.

Pretty Yende as Marie and Javier Camarena as Tonio in La Fille du Régiment / Metropolitan Opera

The bel canto style is characterized by dizzying vocal runs at breakneck speeds, which results in a dazzling display of featherweight finesse and outstanding ornamentation. All the singers gave it their all and won raving applause. However, the most notable ─ the most invigorating ─ moment came when Javier Camarena gave an encore of the standout aria, “Ah! Mes amis… Pour mon âme” ─ the first encore ever attempted during a Live in HD broadcast. Eighteen treacherous high C’s were hit with mastered accuracy. The target practice certainly payed off… my ears were delighted !

Javier Camarena sings the encore of “Ah! Mes amis… Pour mon âme” / Metropolitan Opera

As with nearly every opera comedy, the plot lacked any dire conflict. Whatever strife that might have arisen was quickly remedied by a scene of reunion and almost always accompanied by stint of physical comedy. A good belly laugh is standard operating procedure for one of Donizetti’s romps.

  Pretty Yende and Javier Camarena with Alessandro Corbelli in Donizetti’s La Fille du Régiment / Metropolitan Opera

When I saw this particular opera on the Live in HD schedule more than a year in advance, I knew right off the bat that my outfit would be classified as a ‘Closet’ ensemble where I borrow clothes and accessories from my mother’s closet as well as those of close friends. My intention for Laurent Pelly’s updated World War I setting of The Daughter of the Regiment (as the opera is known in English) was to mix the “daughter” with the “regiment” in my look, blending supple girlish charm with rough militaristic machismo.

For my hairstyle, I envisioned something that was utilitarian for the wartime era, like this:

Thankfully, it didn’t work out. What a dreadful look ! My mother had the idea of braiding my hair in pigtails to convey the girlish character. There’s one for the “daughter/fille” !

The pale blue dotted chambray dress (“fille”) made its second appearance at the theater after taking a turn as part of Mimì’s blue ensemble for La Bohéme in 2018. The buckle boots, perfect for marching off to war (“régiment”), were bought at a bargain at one of my favorite resale stores. As you can tell, I was already putting together my outfit with relative success. But this opera was set in the not-too-far-off World War I era… I needed something really “regimental”…

And so, I reached out to my own military “papa” in Uncle Kim. Boy, did he have a great plan…
Topping my mother’s chambray dress is the original tunic of Signaler Donald B. Smith from when he served in the Canadian Reserve Engineer Regiment in WWI. Yes, it’s over 100 years old and in tiptop shape with only a missing pocket button and a few small moth-eaten holes. The fit wasn’t too bad for my frame either… Thank you, Uncle Kim, for lending me the absolute best garment for this opera, scratchy wool and all !

Replica tunics like this one retail at around $125 online. But Signaler Smith’s is genuine. It’s also priceless.

While a soldier’s profession is as precarious as a floating soap bubble rising in the air, the bel canto brilliance of Donizetti’s charmer (and the dynamic duo of Pretty and Javier) remains a grounded favorite for audiences across the globe. As I left the theater that day, I caught myself humming, “Rataplan, rataplan, rataplan !

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Cast and Credits:

La Fille du Régiment ─ Gaetano Donizetti (1840)
Live in HD air date: March 2, 2019

Cast:
Marie ─ Pretty Yende
Tonio ─ Javier Camarena
Suplice ─ Maurizio Muraro
Marquise of Berkenfield ─ Stephanie Blythe
Duchess of Krakenthorp ─ Kathleen Turner

Credits:
Conductor ─ Enrique Mazzola
Production ─ Laurent Pelly
Set Designer ─ Chantal Thomas
Costume Designer ─ Laurent Pelly
Lighting Designer ─ Joël Adam
Choreographer ─ Laura Scozzi
Asscoiate Director and Dialogue ─ Agathe Mélinand
Live in HD Director ─ Gary Halvorson
Host ─ Nadine Sierra