The Glastonbury Gowns…

It is to this Avalon of the Heart, the pilgrims still go. Some in bands, knowing what they seek. Some alone, with the staff of vision in their hands, awaiting what will come to meet them on this holy ground.

None will go away as they came…

In November 2019, my friend Kate went on pilgrimage to Glastonbury. One of the things she took with her was a set of Viking-inspired wedding clothes I was commissioned to make for her daughter and fiance some twenty years earlier. On the third day of this pilgrimage, an offering was made at the Goddess Temple, and accepted. “They were agog at the clothes,” Kate told me. “They’ll use them to officiate at weddings, and for guided winter walks on the Tor. And they will be used as loaner finery for brides without means. The silk underdress with the sleeveless coat is wonderfully elegant and easy to wear. The cloak will probably hang as a backdrop in the wedding chapel, unless the Winters turn much colder.”

The wedding clothes were designed by Pat, based on 9th century Viking designs. The central feature was his interpretation of the “Kissing Couple,” a Viking relic from the Aska burial mound in Stockholm. On her coat, Pat envisioned the Kissing Couple supported by a Tree of Life, with spirals repeating on the facings of her coat, the hem of her Viking apron, and the sleeves of her gown.

I think Laura and I had about eight months to pull everything together. Laura worked on the red apron while I embellished the bride’s white silk gown, and made her sleeveless coat. I worked an appliqué chalice into the hem of her coat to tie it in with her father’s clothing. Because the silk of her gown was very fine, I opted for paint rather than embroidery for the scrollwork on the bodice, and at the edges of the sleeves so it would be double-sided. The rest of the work was wool appliqué with perl cotton detailing; the Tree of Life was gold and silver cord, held down with couching.

For the groom, I made a rectangular coat with the Kissing Couple covering most of the back, and a border of 9th century Norse knotwork with silver interlacing at the bottom. I duplicated the knotwork on the hem of his wool tunic.

Dublin, the father of the bride, wore tunics I had made for him earlier. The blue linen had gryphons in dimensional appliqué that were detailed with hand dyed yarns, jewels and beads. The gryphons supported a chalice on the front and a triskelion on the back. The sleeves and neckline were predominantly gold paint with some embroidery for texture. His white linen under tunic was embroidered at hem, cuff and neck with designs that complimented the blue tunic. I designed the pair so they could be worn together, or as stand alone garments.

But I didn’t get anything made for Kate…

Another 20 years pass. Kate goes to Glastonbury and plans to go to Greece the following year. I offered to make her a dress for Greece. At that point, Mea and Anni devise a cunning plan. Mea is getting married in the spring, and wants Kate to officiate, and wants to gift her with the dress. Anni wants to co-conspire. We decide that instead of a dress, it should be a small wardrobe of interchangeable pieces. And so, plans hatched, I am commissioned for the work, and the Glastonbury Gown Project begins.

November 2019The Concept

Mea, Anni, and I start a series of long conversations on Facebook while Kate is in Glastonbury. We decide that Kate’s wardrobe should mirror her daughter’s wedding clothes which she has just donated there. I suggest a linen kirtle with full gussets, a keyhole neckline, and straight sleeves as Kate has requested for her gown for Greece. Perhaps with a large hood like the gowns I was seeing in Glastonbury. A sleeveless coat with similar design elements to Sarah’s. We start plotting on how to get Kate’s measurements.

I research Gaelic dyes and come up with a list of about ten colors which includes green, purple, claret, orange and yellow. Mea and Anni share notes on appropriate stones for a Pict – garnets, amethyst, glass. Dublin’s personal colors were green, black and white. so to honor him, I suggest green for Kate’s kirtle. For accent colors, we rule out orange and yellow because those are the colors of Dublin’s “Evil Twin Jagar” and inviting the spirit of Jagar would be bad : ) But I cannot source a suitable green linen, so I suggest purple instead – the color a widow wears after her year of black. I offer a redesign in purple with green facings and black embroidery.

I am following Kate’s Glastonbury journal and start collecting designs to incorporate into this project. One of the elements I see at the Chalice Well is two interlocking rings entwined with vines. In sacred geometry, this double ring is called a vesica piscis, a symbol of harmonic proportions, the visible and invisible worlds interlocked, and a source of strength and power. I sketch a preliminary design of a hooded coat that incorporates this symbol supported by a Tree of Life with its roots in a chalice, and a purple kirtle, cut short in front to expose the painted hem of a sleeveless chemise.

I use the pattern pieces from Sarah’s coat to calculate yardage for Kate’s kirtle. I send linen swatches to Anni so she can match the weight and weave, and she takes on the linen procurement. Anni is also buying pounds of jet for me to use as the predominate stone.

December 2019 – The First Redesign

I start going back and forth on adding the hood to the gown instead of the coat. Should it be a sleeveless coat? Or box sleeves? Or half sleeves to show off the kirtle? So many decisions… I revise my quote for the kirtle and a heavily embellished coat and submit it for payment. The chemise will be my gift.

Anni wins the auction for the jets and sends me photos. I start to play with their placement on a paper pattern for the vesica. I pick through the stones left over from Anni’s last hat order and add those to the project pile.

Several yards of unbleached cotton in a nubby gauze weave arrives from another friend who is thinning out her sewing stash. It’s perfect for the chemise. Yay!

January 2020 – Taking Her Measure

Kate comes to Seattle for Chinese New Year, and we talk about ‘her gown for Greece.” I take her measurements and verify her preferences for necklines and sleeves. When she pops into the shower, I grab the fleece dress that she says is her ultimate favorite, make a sketch of it and take additional measurements. My timeline is “a gown” for an event that Kate plans to go to in May, with the rest deliverable by Mea’s wedding in September. Kate will have the full ensemble for her trip to Greece in October.

February 2020 – The Next Redesign

Kate cancels her plans for May. Postponement gives me time to redesign. I’m not happy with the profile, so I start to design tippets, a 14th century feature which would echo the profile of the angel-wing sleeves from Sarah’s gown. I could load them with jet and attach them with ties to bands already sewn to the upper arm of the kirtle, so they could detach for laundering the gown. But my design is not gelling.

Anni has procured the proper weight of linen for the kirtle and is dying it purple today.

March 11, 2020 – Project Interrupted

The pandemic lockdown begins. My galleries close and my hat business comes to a screeching halt. I put the Glastonbury Gown Project aside and join the Masks4Millions Project, for which I would ultimately make 800 masks between now and next spring.

May 2020 – The Chemise

Mea’s wedding is now postponed. With every postponement I redesign the purple gown. Now it will have shorter but wider sleeves which will allow more space for embroidery and beadwork. I discard the tippets as being too fussy, and the facings as being unnecessary. The chemise will now need sleeves.

I test ivy patterns in both green and blue. Blue wins my patron’s vote for the chemise, which I paint over the Memorial Day weekend. I contemplate the neckline for the chemise, and decide to replenish my vodka before proceeding…

June 1, 2020 A Brave Day

I have a brave day and cut and paint the neckline on the chemise. And I didn’t even eff it up! I add spirals to the top of the gores because I did eff those up, to hide the mismatched points and to reinforce that stress point. The chemise is now finished.

The purple linen has arrived from Anni. I cut out the gown and embroider the first sleeve with black continuous spirals, set with amethysts and jets. I’m now thinking the hood should be a separate detachable piece. The first rendition of the hood begins but I abandon it by the end of the month. I also go back and forth on embroidering the hem, but ultimately the hem wins, sans the beads.

September-October 2020

I put the dress aside to work on hat commissions, and couture masks for a customer giveaway to celebrate the 20th anniversary of my hat business.

December 2020 – On to Phase 3

I finish the purple gown, and mail it and the chemise to Kate, as a Winter Solstice gift from Mea and Anni.

Work begins on the grey coat, whose design would morph considerably from my original sketch. I am running out of time and forgo the embroidered scrollwork on the outer facings. I choose instead, a beautiful piece of purple-green-gold silk to use as inner facings, which would flash color as she walked.

Mea, Anni and I deliberate on the hood, and whether it should be detachable or not. We discuss the chalice, which I ultimately cut from a piece of moss-green suede. I plan to cover the back of the coat with silver spirals like I did on Sarah’s coat, to tie the vesica and the chalice together. But the “Tree of Life” would not be symmetrical like Sarah’s, and I would not repeat the interlaced center trunk that supported the Kissing Couple, because that’s a thing I only wanted to do once.

The winter holidays come and go, and at the turn of the year I develop one of the worst creative blocks I have ever had, which would last for weeks…

March-April 2021 – The Vesica

I force myself to work on hats for commissions and an upcoming show. I wrap up the Mask4Millions project and turn my attention to the vesica. I cut it from a piece of purple suede and place the larger jet pieces. I abandon my plan to weave the strands of tiny jet beads into knotwork, in favor of black leather leaves which will be more dynamic and less fraying on my nerves. I incorporate those strands of jets as veining for the leaves, and braid perl cotton for the stems.

May 2021 – The Chalice and the Tree of Life

The chalice is reworked a few times before I find a broken bracelet in Anni’s shipment of jets that perfectly fits along its brim. Once the vesica and the chalice are stitched in place, work on the Tree of Life begins. I freehand the scrollwork onto the wool with tailor’s chalk and, in a sudden bolt of foresight, photograph it. I would end up retracing the scrollwork every 15 minutes when the chalk wore off, using the photo as my guide. I finish the back of the coat a week later, at midnight.

The front panels have become the new stumbling block. I start to simplify the design and eliminate the swans and some other design elements. The coat goes back onto the hangar for the next few weeks.

June 2021 – The Stole

I turn to the hood, now a separate piece entirely, which now evolves into a stole. The sand-washed silk isn’t working, so I resort to linen, with a cut velvet scarf across the top, which I edge with strings of jet along the back, and braid and jets along the front. I do my best to repair the beaded fringe on the scarf, and play with ornamentation for the next day or two before settling on a simple jet tassel for the back, and jets for the front, set against metal thread appliqués that I brought home from the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul a few years back. I fold the front edge over and over until it stiffens enough to hold its shape. A pair of buttons and an elastic hair tie form the closure for the front.

July 2021 – Finishing Details

My new deadline is August 8. I figure out the scrollwork for the front panels, and tackle the lining. Five lengths of non-workable yardage later, I wonder if it’s me or the project that is actually in charge.

My hands finally land on a brocade curtain that works. I center the design on the back panel so the coat will look pretty on the hangar. I cut a facing from the flashy gold and purple silk, which self destructs under an iron. Argh! I return to my fabric stacks and locate a piece of black pique. It is highly textured and “Needs No Embellishment,” I say to myself, as I cut out more leather leaves for embellishment.

I spend the next few days applying various trims to the inside of the facings, and little details here and there, until the lily was as gilded as the calendar would allow. I finish the coat by the end of the month.

August 8, 2021

The Glastonbury Gown Project is complete and hand delivered to its new home. A chalice filled, a legacy honored, and a deserving friend, newly attired, makes ready to rule her New World…

10 Comments on “The Glastonbury Gowns…

  1. They are not just gowns. They are works of fine art and unsubtle power. Wearing them is an honor and a Gddm privilege. Profound thanks

    • It was a true honor to craft those for you. Yes, it is a power coat, and I have the bent (but not broken) needles to prove it : ) Thank you for the opportunity to close a circle that was decades in the making…

  2. An astonishing gift of love and artistry! Completely fabulous in every way! Each piece a treasure and a mix and match ensemble to delight in! May she wear it for many years!

  3. So much thought and love went into the construction of this ensemble. Each piece is lovely on its own, together it’s stunning. Perfect for Kate. Blessed Be, all.

  4. The grey coat is my favorite part of the piece. It was an honor to watch you dress her in the entire ensemble. It exudes her strength and power. Thank you for sharing the process and the final work.

    • It was an honor to make it for her, and an equal honor to dress her in it. I’m glad you enjoyed reading about its legacy.

  5. Oh My Goodness, Heather! You Never fail to amaze and astound!!

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