Front view of the Bluebird costume. (FRC 2014.08.015A) Drawing by Teresa Adamo 2017.
Observing an historical artifact can be overwhelming at first, especially when presented with a garment that has a large amount of surface details and materials. Creating observational drawings can be an excellent method for object-based research. As stated in The Dress Detective, “sketching is a method of helping the mind to slow down and, in the process of doing so, take notice of small details” (Note 1). With this in mind, I attempted to put the technique to use when studying the men’s Bluebird costume from the National Ballet of Canada.
Before diving into the artifact itself, it is important to discuss preparation for drawing in a research setting. I found it useful to have a few goals in mind before I began drawing. The following three goals are general prompts that I used to guide my experience, but each individual researcher may have different goals in mind specific to the artifact they are studying.
- The main goal of the observation stage according to Mida and Kim is to ensure that “factual evidence related to the object is retained and recorded” (Note 2). Drawing will help you capture details that could otherwise be missed.
- You are creating a memory aid to help you remember and describe specific elements of the artifact. Since fashion is a visual medium, visual aids are important to include in any research project.
- Drawing should be an engaging experience to help you during the reflection and interpretation stages of your research. Your sensory and personal reactions will be heightened if you spend time dedicated to the careful observation of the object.
The use of different materials will affect the outcome of the drawing. Each medium has its benefits and drawbacks. Ink creates harsh outlines and it may be more difficult to show three dimensional form, but it is the most useful for capturing small details. It is the ideal medium when clarity is desirable, and it scans and photographs well. Pencil is better for shading to show form and texture, but it can be messier and may smudge on the paper. It can also be more difficult to photograph and scan since graphite becomes shiny as it is layered. For this example I used acid-free India ink pens, but I would advise using whatever you feel most comfortable drawing with. You do not necessarily need to purchase expensive equipment, especially if you are just drawing for your own notes. As Mida and Kim state, “the goal is not to create a work of art, but simply to aid the process of observation. The sketch might end up being a crude line drawing, but this is a valuable method of recording key information and embracing the Slow Approach to Seeing” (Note 3).
Case Study: Bluebird costume from the National Ballet of Canada
Left: Inside view showing hand stitching and finishing. Right: Back view focusing on placement of applique trim. (FRC 2014.08.015A) Drawings by Teresa Adamo 2017
The Sleeping Beauty has been part of the classical ballet cannon ever since it premiered at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg in 1890 (Note 4). Marius Petipa created the choreography, and commissioned Pyotr Ilyich-Tchaikovsky to compose an original score for the ballet. Sleeping Beauty has been part of the National Ballet’s repertoire since its premier in the company on November 26th, 1953 (Note 5). The performance has gone through several revisions throughout the NBC’s history, but this particular Bluebird costume was designed for the 1972 version, which first premiered September 1st with choreography by Rudolf Nureyev, after Marius Petipa (Note 6). While the previous performances featured costumes by Kay Ambrose, the designer Nicholas Georgiadis was responsible for the set and costume design of the 1972 production. This production was a resounding success and boosted the NBC to international fame. The opening performance at the new Four Seasons Center In 2006 was The Sleeping Beauty, for which the original sets and costumes by Georgiadis were restored (Note 7).
This design features a streamlined silhouette which lies close to the body. It has fitted set in sleeves and princess seams down the front and back, creating a symmetrical 8-paneled design. The shell fabric is mauve jacquard with metallic rose gold filaments that create an organic wave pattern. The shell fabric is pilling, most notably on the sleeve and side panels where the fabric was under stress and friction. The garment opens at center front with hook and bar tape, as well as 6 sew-on snaps. There is an additional row of single hook and bars, each individually sewn on the front so that the garment has a small amount of adjustability depending on which dancer is wearing it. Since the sleeves are fitted and only have a 7 ¾” wrist opening, there is a 5” slit which also features hook and bar closures.
Detail of sleeve showing slit, trim and internal construction. (FRC 2014.08.015A) Drawing by Teresa Adamo 2017.
One of the most striking features of this artifact is its three distinct decorative elements: applique, silver trim, and ribbon loops. Applique arabesques cover the front and back of the shirt. They are made of yellow fabric with gold metallic thread, and are covered with black hexagonal net, the layers being held together by a dense black zig-zag stitch around the edge. Some of the black net has ripped from the wear and tear of the costume over time, exposing the yellow fabric. There is also silver trim in two styles, one with a foliage pattern and another with a fleur de lis pattern. The thin trim is ¾” wide. The large trim is 1 ⅝” at its widest point. The ribbons are applied as loops to the shoulders, wrists, and bottom hem in a pattern alternating the three colours.
Detail of small “fleur de lis” and large “foliage” silver trim. (FRC 2014.08.015A) Drawing by Teresa Adamo 2017.
Switching focus to the inside of the garment, I observed that the visible seams have been finished with a three-thread serger, and the widths of the seam allowances range from 1” at center front to ¼” at the top of the center back. The center front seam allowance on either side has a ¾” slash at the approximate waist, possible to allow the dancer more movement. The front panels were also advantageously cut so that the center front is along the fabric selvedge so that it does not have to be finished and saves yardage. The body has been sewn to a layer of fairly thick basket weave beige canvas, while the sleeves are lined with a lighter plain weave cotton in a similar color. The lower panel has metallic blue lining which clean finishes the hem, and would look more aesthetically pleasing than the canvas if it were to show during a performance.
Detail of center front seam allowance showing slash and blanket stitch. (FRC 2014.08.015A) Drawing by Teresa Adamo 2017.
After I finished recording all of my observations in writing and drawing, I looked back at the goals of the exercise to judge whether or not they were accomplished. I do feel that I captured more of the small details that I would not have seen from simply writing my observations. For example, at first I did not know how to represent the silver trim, so in order to make detail drawings I had to closely look to see that they were made of metallic filaments very tightly wrapped together. From there, I could find a way to draw them accurately. I did find that while describing the garment, it was useful to have the memory aid with me to prompt descriptions, especially of the interior of the garment which could easily be overlooked because of the amount of surface detail on this costume. Although this post will not cover the reflection and interpretation stages of researching an object-based design, it definitely aided in my understanding of the garment’s construction.
Creating observational drawings can be a great start to object-based research. Drawing gives you a comprehensive and in depth understanding of the physical properties of the artifact. It also makes research more memorable and engaging. Fashion is a visual and tactile industry, so fashion research benefits from an observational method which takes advantage of the same characteristics.
Note 1: For more information on object-based research and the Slow Approach to Seeing, refer to Ingrid Mida and Alexandra Kim, The Dress Detective: A Practical Guide to Object-Based Research in Fashion. (New York: Bloomsbury, 2015), 36.
Note 2: Ibid, 28.
Note 3: Ibid, 35.
Note 4: For more information about The Sleeping Beauty, please visit the National Ballet’s Virtual Museum,“The Sleeping Beauty,” The National Ballet of Canada, accessed February 28, 2017, https://national.ballet.ca/Tickets/Virtual-Museum/The-Sleeping-Beauty
Note 5: Ibid.
Note 6: For more information about Nicholas Georgiadis, please visit the National Ballet’s Virtual Museum, “Nicolas Georgiadis,” The National Ballet of Canada, accessed February 28, 2017, https://national.ballet.ca/Tickets/Virtual-Museum/Designers/Georgiadis
Note 7: Ibid.
Mida, Ingrid and Alexandra Kim. (2015) The Dress Detective: A Practical Guide to Object-Based Research in Fashion. New York: Bloomsbury.
“Nicolas Georgiadis,” The National Ballet of Canada, accessed February 28, 2017, https://national.ballet.ca/Tickets/Virtual-Museum/Designers/Georgiadis
“The Sleeping Beauty,” The National Ballet of Canada, accessed February 28, https://national.ballet.ca/Tickets/Virtual-Museum/The-Sleeping-Beauty