Like other momentous events that mark a moment in time, the death of Queen Elizabeth II, while not unexpected, certainly captured the imagination of the world with all its accompanying pageantry and reflection on a long reign.
I was working on my Queen Elizabeth I fabric doll when I heard the news and decided that now was the time to add Elizabeth II to my collection. She was a vibrant, pretty young woman when she became Queen. Unlike Victoria, whose later life with that black dress, endless mourning and corpulent features are what most people remember of her, it was Elizabeth’s coronation and early years that, I think, most will recall, probably with fondness. I decided that this was the period I wanted to record for it defined so much of her life.
That decision made, the research began. The gown that she wore is these days owned by the Royal Collection Trust who describe it thus:
The Queen’s Coronation Dress is regarded as one of the most important examples of twentieth-century design, created by a British couturier. Hartnell was entrusted with the task of designing the dress in October 1952, given his talent for combining rich fabrics with exquisitely designed embroideries. He submitted nine different designs and The Queen accepted the eighth, but suggested the addition of embroideries in various colours rather than all in silver. The Queen also requested that in addition to the four national emblems, those of the Dominions of which she was now Queen should also be added….
The embroideries are arranged in three scalloped, graduated tiers bordered with alternating lines of gold bugle beads, diamantés and pearls. https://www.rct.uk/collection/
So far so good. But there is a world of difference between creating a full-size gown and making a replica at 1/3 scale. The challenge would be to faithfully capture the embroidery without the luxury of a large canvas on which to weave the intricate features. But I’ve done it before and I knew, given the availability of photos to guide me, I could do it again.
Hartnell wrote about the design and manufacturing process and described the construction of the national emblems:
“It was then my duty to present to the Queen the final sketch together with the coloured emblems. Each of them had been mounted in a circular gilded wooden frame and I laid out the following emblems:
England. The Tudor Rose, embroidered in palest pink silk, pearls, gold and silver bullion and rose diamonds.
Scotland. The Thistle, embroidered in pale mauve silk and amethysts. The calyx was embroidered in reseda green silk, silver thread and diamond dewdrops.
Ireland. The Shamrock, embroidered in soft green silk, silver thread bullion and diamonds.
Wales. The Leek, embroidered in white silk and diamonds with the leaves in palest green silk.
Canada. The Maple Leaf, in green silk embroideries, bordered with gold bullion thread and veined in crystal.
Australia. The Wattle flower, in mimosa yellow blossom with the foliage in green and gold thread.
New Zealand. The Fern, in soft green silk veined with silver and crystal.
South Africa. The Protea, in shaded pink silk, each petal bordered with silver thread. The leaves of shaded green silk and embellished with rose diamonds.
India. The Lotus flower, in mother-of-pearl embroidered petals, seed pearls and diamonds.
Pakistan. Wheat, cotton and jute. The wheat was in oat-shaped diamonds and fronds of golden crystal, the jute in a spray of leaves of green silk and golden thread, and the cotton blossom with stalks of silver and leaves of green silk.
Ceylon. The Lotus flower, in opals, mother-of-pearl, diamonds and soft green silk.”
From ‘Silver and Gold’ by Norman Hartnell
I spent days and days collecting photographs showing the detail and front, side and rear views. Then, with magnifying glass in hand, many more hours to create a drawing of the design that was accurately to scale, with several mis-steps along the way. After much trial and error I was happy. It was also interesting to find out that Hartnell had inserted a four-leaf clover for luck on the gown near the point where Elizabeth’s right hand would be at rest. Something I had to replicate of course.
This part of the process took two or three weeks and then I had to make scaled templates of each element of the design and fit them together on the background pattern. Finally, with a box of templates, embroidery cotton in precisely the right colour, tiny diamontes and pearls I made a sample to test the finished product.
More changes until it worked.
At last I had the design complete but still had to step back and take measurements to ensure that the scale worked.
A month after I had started the project, I felt that I had enough to begin.
I now had to order the supplies that I would need. Most of the materials came from overseas – the USA being the usual ‘go to’ place. And while waiting for all the materials to arrive, I cut the fabric to create the base skirt – a large circular base. This was harder than it looked as any mistake could compromise the freehand design that I now had to draw onto the satin fabric.
This photograph of one of the creators working on the dress made me smile because, apart from the scale, this was very much a picture of me poring over the detail.
While it looks simple, in fact creating a balanced design with different scallop elements was far from easy and there were a few choice words at the obstinacy of the base. It just wouldn’t behave! But, as always, with perseverance I was finally satisfied with the skeleton and began the time-consuming process of hand embroidery.
I am well on the way to finishing this part of the work and have added a couple of photos of the work in process here. As you can see it is a very intricate design.
Beside the emblems and flowers, there is an enormous amount of beadwork. My inventory was quickly exhausted and for a while I was stymied because I couldn’t find a scaled down replica from any of my normal suppliers.
But, again, after unsatisfying searching around the internet I was finally successful and managed to source what was required from half the world away.
A close up of the embroidery
and the countless beads.
I have also created the doll base and the head with painstaking hours spent drawing the facial features but I’ll leave that to another newsletter as it would not be seemly to display a naked Queen Elizabeth !! And, of course, the Regal Circlet for her head which was fun to make (I always enjoy making crowns and suchlike). It helped that this was first worn by Queen Victoria, so I already had the pattern and notes.
It’s going to take another month to complete I suspect but from what I can see already, I think she is going to be a magnificent addition to the collection.
I obviously compare my current project with Elizabeth I in the Hardwick dress that is already on my website.
While a completely different era and a totally different ‘engineering’ problem, the hand-embroidery detail is a common theme.
I think that Elizabeth II will, in her own way, be a worthy companion to her predecessor.
OK. Time to get back to work – dolls don’t make themselves! As always, if there are any ideas you have or comments, please send them along.
Stay safe, keep well.