Sunday, 28 November 2021

Holly dress update

It's still all about the leaf-making at Tulip Mansions, but there is some progress to show.

I'll start with how I'm making the second type of leaf design, the ones with the brown and light green highlights. For these, I wanted more control over colour placement than I could get from the variegated green felting wool I used on the first design. So I bought eight individual wools from the many shades available from Molten Designs.

The wools I bought (the conifer shade is less blue in reality)

The centre vein is marked with a thin twist of Lawn, and then the outer side of the curve is covered with a very thin layer of the variegated wool. Over this, I lay strands of Rust, Gooseberry, and Sage, and felt them all in place. (This is based on the original embroidery; in my pictures of the Balmain dress, I couldn't find any leaves with a single curve where the brown embroidery/spangles combination is on the inside of that curve.) The inner side of the curve is covered with Moss, Conifer or Willow wool, or combinations of two or sometimes all three colours, and felted in a more random arrangement. Finally, the centre vein is felted again with a twist of Raven - without the sparkly nylon threads which appear in the first leaves. Once the leaves have been steamed and pressed with the clapper, tiny silver sequins are attached with ordinary sewing thread.

Some of the completed leaves

Once I'd made a reasonable quantity of leaves, I wanted to see what they would look like in situ. So I put the dress on Nancy, and started pinning leaves on more or less at random. One thing which I hadn't considered is that the embroidered leaves frequently overlap one another.

Lots of the embroidered leaves overlap

I think that this would look rather clumsy with the felt leaves. As it is, they look far more solid than the embroidered versions.

Leaves pinned onto the bodice, with gaps for the berries

I sent this picture to my friend F, as a progress report. The dress needs to be complete for 14 December, and having done such sterling work as one half of the Dissertation Police, F has now been reinvented as the Procrastination Police - tasked with ensuring that it is finished rather earlier than 23:59 on 13 December!

F, like me, felt that this degree of leaf coverage over half the skirt, as per the original, would be too much. There is also the small matter of weight to consider. (A big thank you to reader and regular commenter Dos Galgos for pointing this out, I hadn't even thought about weight issues.)

The Balmain original, with its dense foliage

Both F and I came to the conclusion, independently, that some sort of serpentine drift of leaves down the front of the dress and into a pool at the bottom would be a better look. (Also, from a purely practical point of view, it's fewer leaves to make, and less chance of sitting down on a knobbly berry by mistake!)

First attempt at a plan for the skirt

Next to see the progress pictures was Mum, who made another observation that I hadn't considered; namely that the leaves are all much the same size. Again, the overlap of leaves on the original makes the uniformity of leaf size less obvious. Mum suggested that some smaller leaves would add interest.

This was easier said than done, however. The leaves I had made so far are all around 2½" to 3" in a straight line from one vein end to the other. Initially, I tried drawing leaves sized 1½" to 2". These looked fine when drawn on paper, but when I cut them out it was obvious that they would be far too fiddly to make. So I stuck to 2" leaves only. Even then, some of them looked rather scrawny, and had to be fattened out a bit to make useable shapes.

Ideally, the smaller leaves should have thinner central veins to retain the proportions. Making the veins in a layer of green with a layer of black on top didn't really work for that. So instead, I have marked the chalk line with small stitches in soft black basting thread, and only make the veins in black wool.

Thread-marked leaf veins

The black stitching is a bit tricky to find under the felted layers, but it does work. As with the larger leaves, I'm doing the easier blue/green ones first. I haven't added the silver stitching down the centre, yet.

An original leaf flanked by two smaller ones

This dress is, undoubtedly, a long job. But it is being helped, immensely, by all this input from other people. Apart from Mum, I don't know anyone remotely locally who sews. Mr Tulip didn't sew either, but he had picked up enough knowledge over the years to be able to make (mostly!) helpful suggestions, and had a good eye as well, so was often my first port of call. But since he died, I have mainly worked in isolation. I'm really enjoying being a bit more 'out there' with this project.


  1. I'm liking the spiral placement of the holly leaves muchly! Perhaps before you do anymore leaves, do a bit of test spots with the berries - might fill in your blank spots visually as you group the leaves around them; I'm kind of thinking there's plenty of greenery going on...but that's me. You have tons of patience for sure!

    1. Thank you. I experimented with some 'berries' by adding red circles to the bodice photo in Paint (truly the white heat of technology here!) and the pop of colour really made a difference