You have no idea how much it thrills me to continue blogging the Stitch in Time Series with Amber Butchart. This is an excellent series for a sewing classroom. Today’s episode is about the Arnolfini gown featured in a portrait by Jan van Eyck.
The Arnolfini portrait had a complicated interpretation for decades after it was painting. However, Amber Butchart shows the portrait in a new light: a middle-class couple showing off their wealth. It was considered one of the most complex paintings in Western Art. Capitalism was emerging during this period. Trade was having an impact on what was worn. A merchant class was growing showing social mobility. Amber focuses on the green dress in the portrait. It is a bonus that she loves the color green.
So how will Ninya recreate the dress? As they examine a digital image of the portrait, she points out that there was a high volume of fabric involved. She will use a doeskin fabric to recreate the dress. Wool was a luxury fabric and was one of England’s best exports. Additionally, there was firm trim and on the possibility, it could have been an Arctic fox. The fur would have been another expensive luxury. The portrait was an opulent display of wealth.
Amber then talks with Jenny an art historian. The portrait contains members of the Arnolfini family and it was a display of these members' wealth. It has been interpreted in many different ways. The overriding theory was that the woman was pregnant, but the portrait shows her holding up her dress. The portrait screams status. Strict laws were dictating what people wore. So what the Arnolfini family wore challenged the status quo. The way the merchants dressed was blamed for the start of a civil war.
Ninya starts working on the interpretation of the gown. The sleeves are proving to be a challenge. They will have to cut into the wool to see how the sleeves behave. Wool was the primary fabric used. Quality varied according to who wore them. It could be even more expensive than silk. Amber explores a factory that made the fabric. This was a good section to see how the fabric was created and gives a hint as to why doeskin was expensive. Amber then learns about the dying process. Dark shades were still a challenge to achieve and dying was just another way the growing middle classes showed off their wealth.
Ninya and her team start working on the dress and Amber examines the dress on the form. They had to be careful with how to cut the pattern and the fabric. The complex features of the gown and the pleating were the most complicated features of the gown. They worked in piquing the sleeves. It is one giant experiment. Amber tries piquing the sleeves. The nature of the cloth allows for piquing because the wool does not fray. Ninya and her team are continually learning about the techniques of tailors of the past. Harriett, one of the team, is working on stitching linen to the front of the dress to put the pleating in. The fur will prove to be heavy for the wearer. The sleeves will be lined with fur including a great deal of the gown.
So will Ninya and her team finish the Arnolfini gown? What will Amber learn about the gown after she puts it on? Stay tuned to this episode to find out!
This would be a good episode to show for an art history class as well as a home economics class. Remember teachers, you are limited by your imagination as to how to use these documentaries for a classroom.
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