I made a hand painted dress with flamingos on it to wear to the Melbourne Cup. For those of you who have never been, the Melbourne Cup is a major day on the Australian fashion calendar.
There are horses racing somewhere at Flemington Racecourse, but the racing fashion enthusiasts are all at the Fashions on the Field! It’s a time to wear something bold, colourful and of course with a hat! What better excuse to make a hand painted dress!
Preparing to paint the dress:
I began with some watercolour and ink studies using reference photos I’d taken of flamingos in Hong Kong at Kowloon Park. This helped me become familiar with their shapes and personalities.
I then used these studies to create ‘life size’ sketches on calico as you can see in the image below. My dressmaker Svetlana Khmelevskaya (1st Lady Dressmaking) created the dress sewing pattern. I pinned my calico flamingos to the toile. This was a very important step in deciding on the placement of the birds.
I wanted the flamingos to wrap around the dress, uninterrupted by the seams at the bust darts, the waist and the back of the dress. This meant that the dress had to be (mostly) finished before I started the painting.
Begining to paint the dress:
The fabric I used was an Italian cotton backed silk which was an excellent weight for this style of dress. I began by covering the dressmakers mannequin with cling wrap just incase any paint or dye seeped through the fabric. Then I drew the outline of the flamingos with a vanishing fabric marker.
The fabric has a lovely sheen to it which when painted, gives the colours a beautiful lustre. The paints and dyes that I used are Pebeo Setasilk heat set dyes, Pebeo lightening medium, acrylic paint and acrylic fabric medium. I painted the blocks of colour first and then began the black acrylic outline.
The outlines of the flamingos took me a long time – straight lines are not my speciality! Below is the finished painting (with the lovely clean outlines). I then took the dress back to Svetlana and she completed the sewing. The blue background of the dress has been cut away at the right shoulder, following the shape of the flamingo’s head.
My original plan was to attach ruffled chiffon to the left shoulder to extend the wings of the front and back flamingo. My milliner Bonnie (of Bonnie Evelyn Millinery) suggested feathers instead to compliment the leather and feather hat she made me. I think that was an excellent idea!
The Finished Hand Painted Dress:
This dramatic outfit is ready for the races!