Apr 152011

The story of an old, abandoned sofa
that stood dripping wet in the rain
and asked to become Mary Tudor

Sometimes something weird happens. Something you never expected. Something like, well, a sofa that would become a gown, you know. It’s something you would least expect.

That’s how I started on this gown, and it makes this gown really, really special.

It will – hopefully – also change some people’s opinion about me who think that I’m a spoiled brat with too many expensive fabrics at hand. If you’ve read this page to the end then you’ll know that I would do almost everything to save even just bits of fabric from the trash if I just find them beautiful enough.

When I was walking down the street one evening to pick up my son from the Kindergarten, there was an abandoned old sofa standing by the street, waiting to be picked up by the trash car next morning.

Usually, I wouldn’t have given that sofa a second look – it was old, obviously from a home in which some nasty cats lived (scratches all over the sides), plus, it rained, so it was dripping wet.

There *was* one thing, however, that caught my eye; and that were the cushions – large seat- and back cushions – on the sofa. I think no one else except of me would have given them a second look – and not only because they were dripping wet.

They were made of an incredibly patterned, brown / beige / orange cut velvet – colors so out of fashion today that not even my grandmother would buy them any more.

I continued my walk to the Kindergarten, thinking about the sofa. I came back from Kindergarten with my son, the sofa was still there, I gave it a second look and touched the velvet.

Then I went home.

At home, I made dinner and still couldn’t stop thinking about the sofa. I had the illusion, or perhaps I was hallucinating, that the sofa was still ‚talking‘ to me in one way or another. No, it was not talking, it was screaming.
„SAVE ME!“ It screamed. „They’ll come for me in the morning, please, don’t let me die! I still want to be of use! I’m not old! I’m not useless! I’m not trash! Help me!“

You might think I’m crazy, well, probably you’re right. But I swear that all evening long, I heard the voice of the sofa in my head.

Later, I and my son sat down in front of the TV to watch Stargate (German readers might now suspect correctly that this was a Wednesday evening – yes, it was; the 19th of October 2005, to be exact), and in the middle of the episode, when I finally realized that I would never forgive myself if I wouldn’t do it, I asked my son if he would mind to take a little walk after the episode was finished.

I indeed went back to the sofa together with my son, in my jacket’s pocket a large blue plastic bag and a carpet cutter. I cut all cushions open, stuffed the dripping wet velvet into the bag and went back home with my son.
I ignored the stares from people passing by when I cut the cushions open as well as when I was walking home like Santa Claus with a large heavy blue plastic bag over my shoulder and a small, not even six years old child by my side, both of us dripping wet from the still pouring rain, my son jumping from puddle to puddle, singing „Happy Birthday“, which is his favorite song, and me smiling like a madwoman about the precious finding in my plastic bag.
I think I’ll never forget that walk.

There the cut-open cushions went right into the washing machine, and I and my son went right into a hot bath tub and then to bed.

I couldn’t sleep at all. I still couldn’t stop thinking about the sofa – respectively its cushions, which were now safe in my washing machine. It was still talking to me in some way; but this time, it was not screaming „SAVE ME! SAVE ME!“ but soothingly whispered „Thank you… thank you… I’m clean… I have a purpose… I will become something beautiful“ (though that could also have been the sound of the washing machine).
I just thought „Dammit, that stuff is so beautiful and I have so little of it,“ because, let’s face it, four cushions are not much, especially if they are decorated with a LARGE woven pattern and therefore piecing the fabric would be difficult.

As soon as my son was safe asleep, I went back to my computer and browsed my images in the hope to find something.

And I did. This here:

Mary Tudor

Mary Tudor. That fabric was *SO* her, especially in this image – though it much more resembles the fabric of her *gown* in this case. For something like this, however, I didn’t even *remotely* have enough fabric…

Then I remembered my plan to make Mary Tudor’s brown gown and the „Siena sieve“ gown of Queen Elizabeth. Back then, I wrote in the planning:

Elizabeth’s „Sieve“ gown
Mary Tudor’s brown gown

There is one thing that these two pictures have in common (apart from two English Queens): The brooch!
See my study for that pendant/brooch here.
I like the jewel much, the two gowns are not too demanding – so – I want them both, together with this one jewel 😉
For Mary’s sleeves and underskirt – which to my utter amazement has a seam painted, so it’s really a skirt and not a forepart (see lower right corner of the skirt in the picture) – I could dye a bit of this fabric:

a tad darker – this fabric is, by the way, used for my Elizabeth coronation gown, but I have enough of it to make at least another forepart / sleeves from.

And suddenly it dawned me that I wouldn’t have to use the fabric from the „Coronation“ gown for Mary’s forepart and sleeves – I would just use the fabric from the just found cushions!
I would change my original plan of the brown gown to – well, the brown gown with the sleeves and forepart made of the fabric from the, uhm, other brown gown. Basically because I like the paned, buttoned sleeves of the ‚other‘ brown gown much better, and, of course, because *I* think (and that needn’t necessarily be your opinion!) that the cushion fabric matches the ‚other‘, first shown brown gown perfectly.

The next day the cushions were washed, dry and even more beautiful than dripping wet in the rain. I started by pushing my big kitchen table aside, cut all sides of the pillows open and laid them out on the kitchen floor, in order to be able to see how I could piece the fabric pattern.

It was not easy, and I had to cut away much of the fabric, leaving me with just enough fabric that I could barely work with. But I managed to piece the original pattern of the fabric together, to have enough fabric for a forepart and wide, curved, paned sleeves. I had many larger scraps, a pity; and barely enough for the forepart and sleeves – but it *was* enough (even if I had to make the forepart a little more narrow than usual).

Frantically searching through my fabrics I finally found something to line the sleeves with: A *very* pale pink satin – so pale pink that one could think it was originally white and washed together with a pink sock; a barely visible pink touch in the satin. I thought that this would fit perfectly, and lined the sleeves and forepart with this satin.

When I had finished this, it dawned to me that I should have taken pictures of the whole process – the sofa in the rain, perhaps; the fabric of the cushions before and after washing, after piecing and after cutting.
I’m awfully sorry (I really am!), but I didn’t take any pictures of this really rather interesting process, because I was first so busy with the voice of the sofa in my head and afterwards so excited about the fabric that I didn’t think about this for a single minute.

So – here’s the first picture of the sewn sleeves and forepart (sleeves still without buttons):

Sleeves; inner- and outer side.
The lining looks *very* white, but, as I have written – it’s very pale pink. This is, so far, the only picture in which the orange part of the velvet shows its incredible shimmer.
Forepart (complete)
The reinforcing lining is still missing so the pattern is pulling a bit, letting it look as if it wasn’t straight, but in fact, it is.
Forepart piecing – velvet side – close-up Forepart piecing – backing – close-up
Just to see if the coloring fits… yes, it most definitely does!

Yes, I, too, wished that I had enough fabric to let the orange stripe run over the middle of the forepart; but I barely had enough fabric to piece this forepart together – it consists of six half cushions, meaning three of my precious cushions were already needed to piece the forepart.
The upper, cut away edges of the ‚triangle‘ became the inner sides of the wide, curved sleeves; and the last two cushion halves became the outer curved sleeves. I just have some remnants left, which I can perhaps piece into a small bag, or use as covering for a headdress; but that was it.

That was it for the moment & for this gown. I currently have no idea when I will complete the rest of the gown, as I don’t have any brown velvet (or ideas how to substitute it) so don’t hold your breath for updates… However, I’m utterly in love with what I have achieved so far and am happy that I’ve saved that beautiful fabric from the trash.

And of course I’m all so curious what the ex-owners of the sofa would say if they knew what I did with their cushions… ;-).

  3 Responses to “Mary Tudor”

Comments (3)
  1. Thank you for pointing out that in the Sienna Sieve portrait Elizabeth is wearing the brooch, with the pearl called ‚La Peregrina‘ dangling from it, that Philip II gave to Mary Tudor. I’ve looked at that portrait many times, and I honestly never noticed before.

  2. Thanks for this great post on Large Marie Antoinette Portrait, I was searching for something along the lines of this and in the top 20 results at google, yours was the most informed and well presented. I was wondering, do you think Marie Antoinette would make a great topic for a future post here? Or did you do that already?

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