Wednesday, July 1, 2020

You’ve got a friend...

When I think of Mrs. Ashley Wilkes (aka Melanie or “Ms. Mellie”), I akin her with friendship. Have you ever had THAT friend? You know the one, the friend who doesn’t judge you (even when you probably deserve it). They’re almost miraculously oblivious to your flaws and somehow think you’re the moon and the stars. I happen to be blessed enough to have one just like that and it’s an extremely special thing... my “bestie” reminds me so much of Ms. Melanie because not only does she NOT have a malicious bone in her body but she also has that special something that makes people respect and look up to her because there is such an abundance of innate goodness. She leads in a quiet, almost demure way. That’s the thing about Melanie (and my bestie too in fact), you just can’t help but like her.

The first time I watched Gone with the Wind and for a long time thereafter, I will admit that I thought of Melanie as a doormat. I would roll my eyes just waiting for the vivacious and sassy Scarlett to come back on the scene. My longtime obsession with this movie kept reinforcing this opinion... My thought process was that Melanie HAD to know what’s going on….her sister-in-law (because remember, Scarlet married Melanie’s brother) is in love with HER man, how could she NOT KNOW?! Scarlett, the woman who can have any man on the hemisphere, a woman who will steal her own sister’s longtime beau, a woman who (gasp) drives her own buggy and runs her own business, is after HER man, everyone knows it, how can’t she?? She not only puts up with Scarlett, but she’s STILL her friend, and a good one at that. . .that was my perception of Melanie... that is until I read the book, and in doing so, I discovered what I now think of as Melanie’s “silent strength”. It takes an enormously strong woman to trust not only her husband but also her best friend. Yes, she suspects what’s going on, but at the end of the day, she trusts them both. Now that’s strength. 

Think about it, who thinks on her feet when Scarlett kills that Yankee solider who breaks in? She literally gives Scarlett the nightgown off her back to wipe up the blood and helps her conceal the murder.... Who has a baby even though it is clear that health-wise it probably isn’t a good idea? Who goes against society and not only is kind to Belle Watling, but takes her contribution? Who makes the final call about that controversial auction? Who convinces Rhett to let them bury Bonnie? And who thinks on her feet again when the police are after the gentlemen for going after Scarlett’s attacker? Melanie. ALLLL Melanie!!! She’s actually quite a strong women, but in typical Melanie form, you wouldn't know it because she just never makes a fuss.

That’s the thing about Gone with the Wind, there’s many layers and ways to looks at it. Most think of it as a love story/romantic drama but I have grown to think of it more as a movie about friendship. When you really think of it, the men are in and out of the story, they’re bootlegging, in prison, at war, or they've passed away but Melanie and Scarlett, they’re the constants. The movie makes out like Ms. Scarlett is the heroine with her grand declaring of “I’ll never be hungry again,” but I’m just going to say it, once I read the book, I discovered that Melanie is the one to be revered.

I would be remiss not to talk about the amazing actress who played her in the movie, Olivia de Havilland. Olivia got an Oscar nod as Best Actress in a Supporting Role for her portrayal but not the win, she DID go on to win Best Actress in a Leading Role for both The Heiress and The Snake Pit. If you are a stitcher and have not seen The Heiress, I highly recommend seeking it out as needlework does play a part (although small) in this drama (and FYI this has been colorized so if you hate black and white movies, this may be an option). And in 2017 Ms. de Havilland was made a Dame as she was awarded Dame Commander, Order of the British Empire, by Queen Elizabeth. I mean we always knew she was a classy lady and that was evident in her portrayal of Melanie. As I post, Ms. de Havilland is the only surviving member of the cast and today just so happens to be her 104th birthday (and no, that number is NOT a type-o, 104!!!). Ms. de Havilland, I wish you the happiest of birthdays. . . and with that, HOW are we going to do this justice on our canvas?? Even though Melanie is plainer than Scarlett, Melanie’s still a leader in society and the moral compass of what’s in good taste, so we need to treat her as such. When you look at the reference photo (above), that bow is bigger than I am willing to go for scale’s sake.  . .So many details to think about! I mean no pressure, right??

This pink gown just screams for silk and because the shades match so well, I’m using three of my favorite brands. Splendor S824, Planet Earth 6 ply silk in Romance 1017, and Soie Cristale color 2031 and as I usually do, I’m using three strands of each. Now I know a lot of you really like to completely cover the canvas, but as I’ve stated before, there’s a time and place for that and then there’s a time to let the wonderful painting peak through and do the work -- this is one of those times.

Since I already had a few ideas for the bodice, I decided to start with the skirt, but as I often do, there were a few false starts as far as stitches were concerned. I tried a few different darning patterns all of which didn’t work out for one reason or another. They looked too stripy, looked too much like what we did for Scarlett's or it was too difficult to follow the shading. In the end, Parisian stitch ended up giving just enough coverage, seemed to follow the drape of the skirt and worked for the areas that needed shading. For the corset area of the bodice, I used a stitch called Damask. All of these stitches are from “Stitches to Go.” Funny thing about the name of this stitch—the book has TWO Damask stitches and I just so happened to use both. For the area of as the bodice, I used the Damask stitch at the top of the page which reminds me of arrows. I am in the habit of taking a close-up photo of areas before I begin an area to use as reference, you will see why this comes in handy. I stitched right over the lines depicting the darting/corseting and will need my reference photo to gauge where to put the lines back in. As I’ve mentioned before, Fidelis creates the most incredible tassels so she has an extensive collection of gimp for covering tassel heads and she just so happened to have the perfect color -- I just love when that happens! Gimp is so striking when couched down, especially with clear thread, so that’s how I featured the darts/corseting. If you don’t have easy access to gimp like I do, Painter’s thread has some pretty hand dyed versions but gimp is around, you just have to look for it, you might have luck on Etsy if all else fails. I have come to like it so much, I’ve started hoarding—I mean collecting—it when I see it in my travels.

For the bib area of the neckline, I used the other Damask stitch and on the right-hand side, I flipped the stitch by turning the diagram one turn clockwise – this is a great tip, to flip a stitch, play with turning the book in either direction until the angle is what you want. Once again, I stitched right over the curls of the painted lace—you’ll see why in a moment. The puff sleeves were stitched in alternating continental.

 Now what to do with that lace?? So you remember Bonnie’s doll buttons? Well, I decided I needed a fine, small scale lace so again, I looked for doll materials and this beautiful doll lace is the correct scale. This one happened to have the right amount of space to feed through a coordinating 4mm silk ribbon. Plant Earth Fiber had the perfect shade in Lollipop 011. I wove the ribbon through every other channel of the lace and although a 2 or 3mm probably would have fit better, 4mm worked fine with some finessing. After I fed the ribbon through the lace, I attached it using my trusty clear beading thread using my reference photo and used a thick laying tool to open up the hole in the canvas and used the plunge method to bring both ends to the back (you can then use your needle to close the big hole back up and restore the canvas to it’s usual weave). If you don’t remember the plunge method, you can find details HERE. For now I am ignoring the lace at the top as I want to stitch Melanie’s skin first and it could be in my way. Using the same silk ribbon brand and color only in size 10mm this time, I made a bow using the technique using a fork and attached it by tacking it on. You may want to attach the bow as we get closer to the end. I also highly recommend using just a touch of Fray Check on the ends so the silk ribbon won’t unravel. Make sure you have a Fray Check that says it doesn’t show and dries soft – I would test it on a scrap before putting it on my finished bow. And just to manage expectations, I probably wasted a good foot of ribbon and a half hour trying to make the perfect looking bow. It took several tries and is quite fiddly work but I didn’t want any strange folds as the devil really is in the details. If you aren’t familiar with the fork technique, HERE's the video I referenced. It’s a handy little trick to have in your back pocket.

And let's look at our progress of Melanie thus far:

In our next episode we’ll continue working on Melanie. . .possibly doing something fun with the hair. .  .and not to be coy, but just wait until you see what we have planned for that fan! In the meantime, I hope we all channel the spirit of Ms. Mellie by being sweet and kind to each other.