Posts Tagged ‘Lacis’


We are studying the 19th century in Fashion History class so now is a good time to discuss the ball gown I had made some years ago.

I had been attending the Gaskell Ball, which was a formal Victorian dance held several times a year at the Scottish Rite Temple in Oakland. Quite the time travel event, the Gaskell Ball (named for the Victorian writer Elizabeth Gaskell) gathered a couple hundred people all dressed in formal attire mostly 18th and 19th centuries, a few 20th.  Men in tails or kilts and women in satin or velvet gowns with swishing hoop skirts, elegantly yet swiftly spun in pairs around the large auditorium keeping up with the pace of the band called Brassworks. There were waltzes, polkas, and my favorite Congress of Vienna .

When not dancing, people strolled the room as if part of a royal court. They nodded to one another, perhaps fluttered a fan or tipped a top hat. It was all rather dreamy.

(Most of the women made their own gowns. Probably members of the various costume guilds in the area. There was always a flurry of last minute hand sewing going on in the Ladies Room before the start of the evening, not to mention a lot of heightened emotion.)


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For my first Gaskell I wore a 1930s style cream color lace gown, which was lovely, BUT I soon decided I wanted my own 19th century ball gown. That began an adventure into patterns and fabric, seamstresses and fittings.


Women’s printed cotton dress with demi-gigot sleeves. c. 1830-1835.

I started at Lacis – a fabulous Berkeley store featuring all things antique and vintage from lace and lace making tools to patterns, books, notions, jewelry and a collection of clothing much of which is now part of their museum. At Lacis, with the help of my mother, I settled on an 1830s gown pattern by Past Patterns (technically not Victorian, but close enough). It has the distinct 1830s demi-gigot sleeves, slightly high waist, and full skirt. This time period in fashion was all about the sleeve and there was a lot of variation in puff, from extreme to “demi.”

The next step was to find a seamstress and Lacis recommended Deborah Starks, who actually specialized in Art Deco wedding gowns, but she was willing to take on this project, luckily for me because she did an excellent job and I know it was challenging.

On to the fabric. My mother guided me toward something dressy and suitable for evening. I went with a peach brocade. I liked that the fabric didn’t need any embellishment. After seeing lost ribbons and bows scattered on the Gaskells dance floor and women in tears over ripped ruffles or collapsed hoops, I knew I wanted no fuss. The brocade gave the look without the hassle.

To fill out the skirt, I thought a crinoline would work and I went to a bridal shop. I remember the saleslady had a really hard time understanding:  “No, I don’t want a wedding gown,” I explained. “Just the crinoline for an 19th century … never-mind. Just show me the crinolines, please.” This was the very beginning of themed events, when not so many of us were doing it and the idea of dressing in period costume was puzzling to most people.

Then the shoes. There was no way I could be period accurate with the shoes. Soft satin slippers were not a good idea on that fast moving dance floor. I needed protection and frankly, at least some height. Again my mother assisted in shoe shopping at Nordstrom, where I found a cream leather and lace shoe by Amalfi with a two inch Louis heel.

I chose for the evening bag, or reticule as they were called back then, a little pouch bag that had belonged to my grandmother and was embroidered with silver thread.

IMG_20200425_173143What to do with my hair? Well, that was tricky as the styles of the day were complex and not flattering (see image left). I kept it simple and pushed back my hair with a green ribbon, letting a few curls fall around my face.

It was a cold December night when I debuted the gown. My dancing friends and I took photos and proudly participated in the opening march where we all sang Rule Britannia. Full of energy and excitement the ball sped by as quickly as a Victorian waltz and left my head spinning, too.

In addition to the Gaskell Ball, I have worn my gown to a masquerade dance, a Victorian-themed Christmas party, and once to the Victorian literature class I took in the MFA program at Mills College.

The Gaskell Ball, sadly, is no more and there are few opportunities to sport this  gown. Over the years I have considered selling it, but then I think not. Even though Victorian dances are long gone, there is still the dress and with it many fond memories of times past.

Recently, during this pandemic, I put the gown on and wore it around the house for a few hours. What fun to revisit the soft rustle of the crinoline, the texture of the fabric, and the overall feeling of elegance wearing something so lovely.



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Gatsby Summer Afternoon 2018. Photo: Richard Aiello.

It was a record breaking year for the Art Deco Society of California Gatsby Summer Afternoon. Just over 1000 people gathered on Sunday, September 9th for an opportunity to live for a day the elegance of the 1920s/1930s.

Attendance to Gatsby Summer Afternoon has been on the increase for the past several years. I met many first timers.  One young woman heard about the event from Face Book and was happy to pull out her extensive collection of all things vintage. Quite a few attendees were from LA and a woman from the Sacramento Art Deco Society was very impressed with her first visit, commenting on how well organized the event was.

The costumes of course were fabulous. Everyone dressed to the nines in period appropriate clothing (1920s-30s). Here’s a look-see:



I like how this couple, Kim and Kenneth, coordinated their colors and gave a nod to the upcoming fall season with touches of orange.


Katie and Gregg toast the day. Katie made her dress and it turned out great!


This was Ann’s first Gatsby Summer Afternoon. Doesn’t she look lovely? Ann found her dress at Relic Vintage in SF.


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Jill (pictured right) was attending Gatsby Summer Afternoon for the first time with her old college chum, Amy. Jill told us that she remembers the very first invitation from 34 years ago. She wasn’t able to attend and for one reason or another hasn’t all these years since. But she wanted to and has been planning. Finally this was the year! She was so thrilled to win Best Petite Picnic Site her excitement and big smile made my day. Oh, and she made her dress!


And here’s yours truly. This is the third time I’ve worn this dress to Gatsby Summer Afternoon. I found it at Vintage Fashion Expo. The lace gloves came from Lacis in Berkeley. The purse was my grandmother’s and the pendant was my great grandmother’s. People often comment on my sunglasses, which are not period. They’re Liz Claiborne, circa 1990s.

It takes a lot of volunteers to put this day together. A round of applause for the committee and Event Co-Chairs Heather Ripley and Marie Riccobene. Gatsby Summer Afternoon was founded by Laurie Gordon.

We look forward to next year when the Art Deco Society of California will celebrate 35 years of Gatsby Summer Afternoon. See what all the buzz is about and join us, Sunday, September 8, 2019.

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Learn about the complex history of the Kashmir shawl at The Boteh Kashmir & Paisley exhibit on now at Lacis Museum of Lace and Textiles.

IMG_20180629_183815612Featured in this unassuming display are examples of both hand and machine woven shawls popular in Europe during the 18th and 19th centuries. The common shawl motif we know as paisley was originally referred to as boteh, a Persian word that means bush or shrub. Shawls began to appear in the eleventh century made from the fine underbelly hairs of the Himalayan goat. Using a twill weave, each shawl was handwoven and could take up to three years to complete.

In the 1700s these shawls became prized objects  when Kashmir royalty gifted them to occupying British officials. The fashion for Kashmir (cashmere) shawls among the wealthy in Britain and Europe created a demand impossible to fulfill.

Fast forward to the early 1800s when the Jacquard loom was created allowing for mass manufacturing of fabrics with intricate designs. The fashion for shawls, available only to the wealthy, could now also be enjoyed by middle-class Victorian women, although the quality must have varied.

IMG_20180629_184353649Lacis has hung the shawls on walls each with a magnifying glass to allow for an even closer look. Some of the collection is displayed on mannequins, which gives the viewer a good idea of how they were worn and why they were so popular, particularly during the fashionable hoop-skirt era. The fullness of the skirt is a perfect means for showing off one’s expensive shawl.

As you enter the exhibit there is an Introduction Label (museum speak), offering some history and general background. Along the way there are Object Labels with descriptions and dates of each shawl and illustrations of how women sported their shawls.

I recommend this exhibit to historians, textiles enthusiasts, weavers, costumers, anyone interested in fashion! The Boteh of Kashmir and Paisley is on now through February 2, 2019. Lacis Museum of Lace and Textiles, 2982 Adeline Street, Berkeley.

On a side note – the fashion history podcast Dressed: The History of Fashion recently posted an episode all about the shawl. For a detailed explanation of the history check out Cashmere With a ‘K’: The Controversial History of a Shawl.  (Not the most professional presentation, but still very informative.)


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That's me! At The Gaskell Ball, c.1995.

That’s me! At The Gaskell Ball.

Speaking of the Scottish Rite Center, once upon a time I used to be a regular at the Gaskell Ball held there in first floor Grand Ballroom. The Gaskells were formal Victorian balls and I learned about them back in the mid-90s at the Starry Plough Pub where I showed up every Monday night for Irish dancing. Yes, I was quite the dance-enthusiast.

Gaskells were great fun for the quick-paced waltzes, mazurkas, and my favorite, polkas, but I was also enchanted by the gowns. Many of the women dancers were members of various local costume guilds so they donned their own creations, often putting on the finishing touches in the Ladies Lounge mere seconds before the Royal Britannia Grand March, which was the start of the evening. And I have to share that the ball really wasn’t a success until one of us (never me) lost her hoop skirt on the dance floor. I was always impressed with how unimpressed the gentlemen were whenever this happened – Oh, another lady lost her hoop – one might casually say maneuvering around the embarrassed dancer.

Looking at the full-length gowns in satin or velvet swishing around the dance floor teased my desire for the elegance of times past. I also reveled in the decorum and near perfect manners on behalf of the men, dressed in tails, top hats, and white gloves, which were worn to protect the ladies’ gowns from soiling. Some gentlemen wore military uniforms others kilts! They’d bow and ask for a dance, escort a lady on and off the dance floor, treating us with distant respect as if we were made of fine porcelain. At that time, it all made my heart race. Independent spirit be damned, at least for a few hours every other month.


Although most attendees sported Victorian, anything formal was allowed and I went Art Deco the first few times but it wasn’t long before I wanted to fully partake in the era with my own Victorian gown. So, a project was launched. I started at Lacis in Berkeley, a shop known for lace and antiquity. I discovered the reproduction pattern company, Past Patterns and chose an 1831 gown, just before Victoria’s reign but close enough, and the name of a local seamstress that I was told was up to the challenge, Debra Starks.


Looks pink but it was a true peach.

Next I found fabric at a fabric store right down the street from where I was living (those were the days) – a cotton brocade in peach. Now, let me say I was not rolling in money and this was not an inexpensive endeavor but I did have a second job as an actress in mystery dinner theater. Every penny I made working on the weekends went for my Victorian Dress Project and that made it all even more special.

I had several fittings with Debra and she made the dress to perfection, as original to the 1830s as she could get with no zippers but only snaps and hooks. I opted for a crinoline, which came from a bridal shop and I recall the saleslady did not understand why I wanted a crinoline if I didn’t also want a wedding dress. Undergarments included bloomers and a chemise. Even though 1830s style footwear would have been more of a slipper I wanted (ah, needed) a bit of a heel. I went for Peter Fox shoes in cream with lace detailing. I had my hair curled and used ribbon to tie it up.

Those first few Gaskell Balls in my lovely dress were a dream as I too finally got to swish around the dance floor. Over the years I have also worn the dress to a masquerade ball, a costume Christmas party, and I really enjoyed showing it off in a Victorian literature class I was taking in graduate school.

My Victorian dancing days are a thing of the past and sadly, the Gaskell Ball is no more but I still have the dress and once in a while I consider passing it along. But really, how can I do that? It’s a part of my personal fashion history.

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