Sunday, 6 April 2014

The peasant skirt - "oh bugger it!"

This just goes to show that occasionally you just need to stop trying to find something perfect and just have a go and see what you can come up with using whatever you've got!!

The search for peasant skirt fabric had proven fruitless for some time. It seems to be a bizarre kind of browny-burgundy colour (in linen, naturally) and changes depending on when you look at it.

I had already bought some linen which I found on special offer online but deemed it too pale and had subsequently set it to one side as potential series 3/4 skirt fabric. It is fairly noticeable that the skirt in those seasons looks quite a bit paler than in previous ones, so I had hoped it may yet prove useful. However, blessed as I am with online friends who possess genuine articles of screen used Gabby clothing, I decided it was best to be sure. A small sample was shipped off to the States to be compared to a costume belonging to a kindly member of the Xena Online Community forum. The photographs which appeared a week later sadly showed a marked difference:

The comparison game.
The other problem, my contact tells me, is that the original skirt is a far heavier linen than mine, so even though in certain lights the colours appeared quite close, the lighter weave of my purchased linen made it far less bold when the light hit it. This presented a big problem - not only will the colour look 'off' in photographs, it also means the skirt won't hang or flow right, which poses a problem, especially as by series 3 Gabby is quite the dynamic character and I want to be able to do a spot of stage fighting. So this brown linen was put into storage.

It wasn't until I began to realise how much dyeing would be involved in this project that I realised it still had potential. A glance at the peasant skirt in this photo by Phil Aldridge shows us just how thin the material is:

The bottom of the skirt is practically see through! So I figured that this was probably the thinnest of all Gabrielle's skirts. Combined with this image, there is also the length and the fact that the entire skirt is double-layered, so it's still going to have a fair bit of weight to it and hang quite nicely even if it is a bit on the flimsy side. So I decided, "sod it!" I would make the peasant skirt out of this stuff, throw a bit of red dye on it and see how it came out, and if I didn't like it, well it wasn't like it was fabric that's likely to get used on anything else any time soon. So, while in the process of dyeing the crossover skirt linen an attractive shade of "Rosewood Red", I threw in the peasant skirt.

The next thing was trying to decide on a pattern. Now there was the skirt pattern that came with the same gypsy costume I had used for the blouse, but the skirt for that looked far too full and poofy, even if it did come ready tailored to have two layers - like Gabrielle's. Furthermore, due to it's fullness it says it needs a ridiculous amount of material per layer and I had nothing like the amount recommended.

A quick glance at some choice shots of Gabrielle in the show give a vague clue as to how big the skirt really is. Fortunately even in these early episodes there are scenes where Gab is fairly dynamic and we can see the shape and motion of the skirt as she moves around. In this shot from 'The Reckoning', for instance:

Here we see Gab is standing astride the murder scene examining footprints. Her feet are just over shoulder width apart and the skirt hangs almost perfectly smoothly, covering her feet. There are also no visible seams in this or any other shot from the front. This shows the skirt to be a simple A-line shape, flared from the waist, most likely with only seams at the side and maybe a centre back seam. There is also noticeable in other shots a drawstring hanging from the back of the skirt showing how it is fastened.

This is a simple enough design, so I simply patterned 4 panels (front and back, shorter layer and longer layer) based simply on my own hip measurement - not waist, gotta get the thing on, remember! - for the top edge, flaring to the full width of the fabric. I cut the front panels on folds and the back panels at the edge - so it looks like this skirt's gonna have a centre back seam after all!
There's a reason I don't do graphics...
I put both layers together, then joined them at the waist. I then added a waistband, folding it over on the outside so that the drawstring will trail as it does in the show. The hem of both the longer and shorter layers is left raw and allowed to fray to give that weathered, well-travelled look.

Ancient-style clothing: distressing is your friend.

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