|Sargent portrait of Ellen Terry|
|Ellen Terry wearing the costume for her role as Lady Macbeth|
Many of us theater people have seen the 1889 John Singer Sargent portrait of Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth and admired that beautiful gown of crocheted fabric embroidered with 1,000 beetle wings that she wore for the role.
It turns out that the gown suffered much damage during its 120-year history of wear and display at the Ellen Terry Memorial Museum. Happily after fundraising efforts of 110,000 Great British pounds by the National Trust for repair and reinstallation and more than 700 hours of work by specialist Zenzie Tinker and team, the restored dress went back on display in 2011.
When Ellen Terry starred alongside Henry Irving in Macbeth in 1888, there was not a wide choice of fabrics available in England. Alice Comyns-Carr, the costume designer, could not find the colours she wanted to achieve her effects. She wanted one dress to ‘look as much like soft chain armour as I could, and yet have something that would give the appearance of the scales of a serpent. ’(Mrs. J. Comyns Carr’s 'Reminiscences'. London: Hutchinson, 1926). The famed dressmaker Mrs Nettleship found a twist of soft green silk and blue tinsel in Bohemia and this was crocheted to achieve the chain mail effect.
Here is some of the damage to the costume:
|Adding net to support the crocheted fabric.|
|Damage to the skirt|
|Stitching on the beetle wings|
|The restored dress back on display|
The copyright for the images from the conservation process is held by Zenzie Tinker with permission of Smallhythe Place and the National Trust. For more on the conservation process or Ellen Terry, here are a few links:
Archeology of a Dress
Victoria and Albert Museum