Once upon a time I promised to make an extraordinary dress in return for raising a lot of money for charity. The dress isn’t done, and now it’s five years later. There have been two failed attempts, and it’s time to try a third time.
I’m not done yet. But what do you do when you have a vast, ambitious dream that intimidates you – so much so that you hardly have the courage to even begin it?
The answer is to come back to the beginning and rediscover the inspiration that started you off on this path in the first place. As a great man once said, “Throw your heart over the fence, and the rest will follow.”
Watch the video above for the latest on #ThePeacockDress!
Want more training? Join Cathy and her team of experienced makers at Your Wardrobe Unlock’d and Foundations Revealed to learn more about how to make historical clothing and corsets!
Like this episode? Please share it! Please share or subscribe to my YouTube channel too!
Related quotes to consider:
[Follow Cathy on Instagram for more magic and inspiration]
Full Video Transcript
Have you ever promised somebody that you would do something… and then discovered that maybe you’ve bitten off slightly more than you could chew? I’m guilty!
About five years ago I promised to make a dress in return for raising a vast amount of money for charity. I knew at the time that it would be a huge undertaking, everybody knew it would be a huge undertaking, that was the whole point, that was why it raised so much money, everybody said, “Yeah, I’ll pay to see you try that!” And it hasn’t come off yet, and now it’s five years later. There have been two failed attempts, and it’s time to try number three.
So the first time I tried to make the Peacock dress, I tried to do it on my own. And it turned out that wouldn’t work because it was way more work than one person could do. It would have taken me thirty years, and I would have had no wrist strength left. (Anybody who sews will know that RSI and carpal tunnel syndrome are a constant hazard.) So, I tried again.
And I thought again, and I thought, well if the dress exists already, somebody’s done it successfully, so I must be able to do it, too. So how did the people who originally made it succeed at it?
When Worth designed and commissioned this dress in 1902, he did not do all the embroidery himself. His seamstresses did not do all the embroidery. The embroidery was done in India. An embroidery house in Mumbai were willing to do it for me, they said it would take them 3 weeks, and it would cost $8,000. It’s no longer about taking a vast amount of time to do it, now it’s about raising a bunch of money. And I’m not about to crowdfund that because I’ve already spent two years fundraising. So I decided I’d have to come up with the money another way.
So I came back to Kedleston, where the dress is kept. I proposed that maybe they would like to commission me to make a reproduction of the dress. And they said yes, and there was a great plan afoot, but it fell through at the last hurdle. Unfortunately, for the last year or two I haven’t been able to say anything about it, because that project was so secret, because there was no budget in place, I couldn’t say anything about what we were planning to do, because it might not come off. In the event that turned out to be true, it didn’t come to pass, so now we’re back at square one. So now I must find another way to do it again.
I’m not done yet!
So what do you do when you have a vast ambitious project that you really want to do, but is really, really intimidating?
So intimidating that you could create the most fabulous sewing space you could ever want in order to do it in, and yet you can’t get into the sewing room to even begin it?
Or you start piecemeal and you do a bit here and a bit there, but it isn’t good enough, it isn’t how you envisioned it, so you keep stopping and starting, and it just doesn’t seem to get any momentum going?
The answer, I believe, and what I’m trying to do today, is to come back to the beginning and rediscover the inspiration that started you off on this path in the first place. And that’s why I’m back here at Kedleston.
Ah, so that was a pretty unbelievable experience! I went in to see the dress, as I’ve done many times before, and as I saw awhile ago and somebody posted on Facebook, an embroidery sample that I had left with the House Manager has been put inside the glass case with the dress! The sample is not only in the case, the description next to the dress is now largely something that I wrote, although it’s been changed a bit. There are now much more accurate details about it, my name is on that piece, and on a little note by the sample that’s in the case.
The room guides are saying that the sample of embroidery has made all the difference. People are so much more interested and able to see and ask questions, and it’s increased the interest in the dress now and they’re all terribly excited. They’re still telling people about this lady who’s recreating the dress. I met a room guide, Sarah, who was so happy to see me, she’d met me years ago when I first came to look at the dress and she said that even today, she must have told a hundred people to go to thepeacockdress.com and see my website.
So it’s not only the three hundred people who originally donated money for the Haitian orphanage to see this done; my name is now known here, because my name is on the bit of paper that’s inside the glass case with the Peacock dress. So everybody wants to know when it’s gonna be finished!
So whether or not this is possible, I’ve said in the past, “Throw your heart over the fence and the rest will follow”… I guess it’s time to follow!
You can do it! <3 So proud of your achievements so far, and I hope you are too <3 And, it's not 'two failed attempts' in my eyes – that's progress! How much have your learnt during those attempts? Just think how much more magnificent your version of the peacock gown will be, knowing what you know now.
Just like Thomas Edison, I’ve found two ways NOT to make a Peacock Dress. 🙂 Always so good to have your wonderful love and support, Lowana! Hugs to Australia!
Brilliantly done! You are an inspiration to all of us who face challenges and don’t succeed on the first or second try. I will never forget seeing you in the Oak Leaf Dress. You truly create that magnificence and wear it beautifully. Remember that the welcome mat is always out at The Lace Museum in Sunnyvale for the lady with the beetle-wing dress.
Thank you so much for your wonderful continued support, Danine! I appreciate it very much, and I will endeavour to make it over to see you next time I’m in the Bay Area!
I’ve come late to having an understanding of this project Cathy so I’m not completely familiar with all of the intracacies of what you are doing and how it is being accomplished. However, one thing you said in the video stood out to me — Worth, the designer, did not do the embroidery himself — seamstresses in India did the work. I think the emphasis here is on the plural “seamstesses”. I’m wondering if you have enlisted other costumers to work on the project — would it be possible to have many hands doing the work rather than taking it on yourself? I am a theatrical costumer and unfortunately live in Canada, but if given the opportunity I would jump at the chance of participating in a project like this. I suspect there are many people, experienced in embroidery/beading who would be of a similar mind.
Hi Robin! That is a wonderful idea, and I would love to make it a project among a group of embroiderers. However, the work (on the skirt, at least) was done in one single piece on one enormous frame, so everyone would need to come to me, and for a very long time!
My current plan is still to enlist the help of embroiderers in India to make it happen. Since this dress was originally a celebration of Indian embroidery tradition and craftsmanship, it seems fitting to take the project home. Thank you for your support, I appreciate it very much!
I haven’t spoken up before, but I simply couldn’t be silent on this subject. I second Robin! I have been doing fine needlework for 60yrs, but I live in the US (MN). My hand (needle included) would be raised high for that project.
So you started, reconsidered, started again, learned both times. They do make seam rippers for a reason, however I do not think the reason is to discourage.
Third time is indeed the charm.
Thank you so much for speaking up Kitty, and thank you for lending me your enthusiasm! That is what will get this done; I think people underestimate how much it means to have support, even just a few words, from around the world.Thank you!
I do this a lot – start projects and then think – “Ulp!” but not so publicly – you are a real inspiration. The peacock dress is fabulous; I have loved your pieces on it and I am with all of those who have said they would like to be able to work on it, too… (No idea where you are: I’m in Norfolk, and training with the RSN at present.)
I have recently committed myself more publicly and am in the throes of altar-frontal making and thinking that my living room just isn’t large enough for all this brocade and what if I don’t get it finished? and what if it looks awful?…and…and… But if I get it done, I can have my living room back and no doubt I will feel a tiny bit braver for the next challenge. (Which will be one involving more embroidery and trying to get children involved. Ulp! indeed.)
I wish you all the best with this – and with funding, as that is the solution. I admire you no end!
My word, I do admire you Nik! I would love to study at the RSN. I’m in Nottinghamshire, not far! And yes, you’re absolutely right, it’s about building up your courage bit by bit 🙂
Curtis and I are cheering you on! (Literally. I think the neighbors must have believed there was a sports game going on while we were watching your video.) How amazing to have your name, writing, and sample in the case, and how well earned! I can’t wait to see where this project goes next.
I think I heard you from here! Thank you so much for being on my team on this, Chris and Curtis, you two have such fabulous, positive, happy energy, it’s a joy to be around you!
This incredible dress is an absolute temptation for everybody who loves and admires embroidery-I can imagine that many people would love to make it – they didn’t, and you dived into this great dream- and I think this dream is like a star – you followed, you began, you did a lot of beautiful work-you went into the direction of this leading light – and like it is with real stars: they are not always visible! there can be mists and clouds- but they are there, and you know it- so in the times when you can’t see them, you may go astray or lose the path, but I believe now that the light is shining again for you and you can and will follow!! There will be ways to do- I’m sure! And the idea of Robin- amazing! How I would love to join into such a project… when I’m supporting my son on the ironman-competition there is always only one word I’m calling: gogogo!!!
Thank you so much Martina, how beautifully you express it! Thank you for your support!
Good luck, Cathy. I loved the oak leaf dress, and have wondered occasionally when this would be finished.
One leaf, one feather, one at a time. Like eating and elephant!
Exactly, thank you Kate!
I I have a bellydance troupe, and we make many of our costumes. Of course it’s a smaller area to work on, but can be very intricate at times. I have been pleasantly surprised by the determination and skill that has shown itself ,with the girls in the troupe beading a lot of their own costumes, following a chart I make from my original.
Some of them had never done anything like that before.
Seeing the beautiful motif of the Peacock dress,has inspired us.
That is certainly an enormous task you have there, but I’m sure you will get it done, and it will be beautiful!
Thank you very much Jane! Glad to hear it’s been inspiring for the troupe!
just an idea, could you team up with a clothing brand to recreate the dress.