Friday, February 6, 2009

The Smithson Gown: A History

Bob and I joined the James Smithson Society in 2001. Every year, the JSS hosts a black-tie gala in one of the museum facilities, and we attended our first one in 2002. I decided to make a gown for the event, and chronicled the process on my website. It was a lot of fun sharing the process with my online friends, and I got invaluable help and advice as well.
Making a "Smithson Gown" has become an annual event for me, and now it's time to start working on this year's edition. I thought it might be interesting to put together a "retrospective" showing the past seven gowns.
All of these outfits were drafted using PatternMaster Boutique.

This was actually a two-piece outfit: a long fitted top and a silk taffeta skirt with a full netting crinoline underneath. It was a very comfortable outfit, but the skirt ended up being a logistical problem. At the dinner, there were ten people to a table, so there was very little elbow room. And very little crinoline room as well. The gentlemen seated on either side of me were most gracious about the billowy skirt overflowing onto their laps. I vowed not to make any more very poufy designs in the future.


The event was held at the National Zoo this time around, so I decided a more casual look was appropriate. I made a three-piece outfit: a tank top and loose pants out of brown slinky knit, and a sheer duster with a leopard print. The real highlight of the outfit was the "purr-se" I made to go with it: a handbag shaped like a tiger paw, complete with Fimo claws.


Of all the gowns, this has been one of my favorites. For this year's gala at the Air & Space Museum's Udvar-Hazy Center, I turned to slinky knit again, creating a princess-sheath gown with a fishtail train. The fabric was actually "sparkle slinky", covered in tiny chips of something reflective. Onto that I added Swarovski crystals, laid out to form constellations.
This was also the first year I made a matching vest for Bob, using the same sparkle slinky for the lapels and adding his birth sign -- Cancer, the crab -- as a constellation on it. I was really surprised that several people noticed the constellation on his vest, but not a single person remarked on the ones on my dress. Go figure.

The less said about this one, the better. I had the best of intentions, but discovered that just because something fits, doesn't mean it looks good on you. This was another slinky knit dress. It ended up in the trash almost as soon as I got home from the event, which was held at the new Museum of the American Indian. Even looking at the pictures still mortifies me.


For this year, the gala was held at the Air & Space Museum on the Mall. This gown was fun to make, because it was actually part of a window treatment display I had done the previous month for a drapery conference. The fabric was a very sturdy crushed velvet, which was really too heavy for a dress but it worked anyway. Bob wore his 2004 vest again.


This gala was held at the newly-restored Museum of American Art. This was another fun gown to make, mostly because all the fabrics were, once gain, drapery fabrics! The base fabric was a bright red silk dupioni, toned down by layering it with an embossed sheer. Bob's vest was made with the same layers, with black drapery lining for the lapels because that's the only black fabric I had on hand and time was running short. Even the tie matched.


The gala was at the Smithsonian Castle, so I went with a more "renaissance" feel. Planning this gown was a hoot: the blue fabric was actually scavenged from a pair of drapery panels I made for another drapery conference display! Talk about channeling my inner Scarlett O'Hara! The contrast fabric is silk dupioni, and Bob's vest and tie matched again.


So what's on tap for this year's Gala? It will be held at the newly-renovated Museum of American History. I'm not planning on decking myself in red, white and blue, though! I'd love to hear your ideas!


  1. How about something Michdele Obama-ish? White ballgown with dimensional embellishments, similar to her Inaugural ball gown.

  2. The only way I know of Welmoed is the bug gown. Where is picture??????


I would love to hear your thoughts... Please share!