I’ve only been wanting to make this gown for a decade. No lie — my first blog post about it was in 2009, and I’ve loved the portrait for longer. So for my birthday this year, I planned a fancy dress party where I would be the queen, wearing this dress, surrounded by my ‘court’ consisting of my favourite people in their fabulous 16th-century garb.
Over the years, I’ve tried multiple times to get the right materials to make this gown. Different shades of pink silk. Many, many varieties of trim, in gold or in silver, depending on if I was going for the miniature version of the portrait held at Holyrood House (the original) or the larger version displayed at the Victoria & Albert Museum (the one I first saw). I had bought 4,000 dyed-grey real pearls somewhere along the line, which seemed to commit me to the silver V&A version, which frankly was my favorite one.
But the ideal silver trim proved elusive. I had a limited yardage of one that was close. Then I found another online that seemed perfect. It was from a small vendor who only listed 20 yards in her shop. By my estimate, I needed 65 yards to cover the entire gown. I emailed and asked this vendor if it was possible to purchase more of this trim. She happily obliged, so I ordered. This was in early October 2017, and I figured that if arrived by Christmas, I’d have enough time to trim and bead the gown for my February party. Just exactly enough time … you can guess where this is going. I was polite, but persistent in my communications every weeks or two with the vendor, but got stories about problems with her European supplier and finally the shipment being stuck in customs somewhere.
By New Year’s Eve, I had worked on everything possible on the gown assembly up until the trim, but I couldn’t wait any longer. I had to use the few days off from work efficiently, so I went ahead with the less-than-perfect, incomplete amount of silver trim I had on hand. It covered the bodice and sleeves just fine, but I had to space it out quite wide on the skirt for only a vague effect similar to the portrait. Oh well. And, of course, a week later, the perfect trim arrived, and it is oh-so-very perfect. But I’d started beading by then and needed every bit of time left for that weird yet satisfying hand-sewing task.
Supply problems aside, and some minor fitting issues that hopefully aren’t terribly apparent, I’m happy with the result. It’s pink! It’s swishy silk! The beads and trim glitter in the candlelight! Because, oh yes, my party required candlelight! And it was such a fun party — I reserved rooms at Testarossa Winery in Los Gatos for a formal dinner with period gaming and live music beforehand, modern disco dancing afterwards.
There are some tweaks I want to do to the gown (fix the collar, redo the jewelry, add more beads on the back of the sleeves), and I may make an attempt at Mary’s hair next time (I wanted to wear my own crown for my birthday). But overall, it was what I’d been wishing for all these years. Mark one off the costuming bucket list!