Pretty Dresses Multiplying & Full Red Velvet Size Guide

MelizzaR Red Velvet Muse

I spent yesterday fine-tuning the Red Velvet Sizing & Measurement pages and sending out the Cake Vine email and didn’t post.  Today I have several lovely Red Velvet Muse makes to show you, starting with MelizzaR!  Melizza is an experienced sewist and new mother, I’m so glad she could fit in a photoshoot for her slinky polka dotted Red Velvet Dress during naptime.

Picture 68After Melizza’s Muse Post was published, I went and read her write up of the pattern on her blog Pincushion Treats.  Surprise!  This was version #1, “accidentally” made without the midriff section.  I think this works really well, now I want to try it too!  Thank you, Melizza, I’m so pleased we got to know each other during this project!

Sewhopeful Strikes Again


You saw Sewhopeful’s lovely navy blue Red Velvet dress with a collar earlier this week.  She quickly followed this up with a happy red and white polka dotted version, I knew I had to share both when I saw them!  Without a collar or pocket, this is a very quick make.  I love this version, it must be SO much fun to wear and may be the first completed Red Velvet Dress that’s actually red.  Check out Sewhopeful’s polka dot dress write-up for insight into the way fabric and stretch influences fit, J is so methodical and thoughtful!

Red Velvet Sizing, Measurement & Alteration Page

Red Velvet Size Guide

click to view page

I had several emails about bust alterations, already!  I’m so impressed by how quickly you’re getting into this pattern, and I care if you sew and that your clothes fit.  I made this Red Velvet Sizing reference to help make this possible.

Red Velvet Size Guide

I’m also just really proud of this page, each measurement and bodice alteration is tidily tucked under a tab, with the relevant instructions section to the left.  This is where I’ve been wanting to take for a while but I had to skill up first.  I have some super cool hub pages in the works for each new pattern, check out the Hummingbird Hub for a preview for what’s coming up!  I’m really, really excited!

Red Velvet Deep Bust Alteration

The page also shows two ways to approach the Red Velvet bodice fitting, I hope you find them useful.  Several emails I received expressed concern about having “low boobs,” so I prioritized the publication of these references.  It is pretty simple and intuitive to adjust the length on the bodice, whether for a Deep Bust Alteration (DBA) or Torso Length Adjustment.

0369 Front

I have some exciting news about the Red Velvet Dress, Espresso Leggings and Red Velvet Clutch paper patterns- they are starting the journey from printer to your sewing room tomorrow, which means we’ll be shipping paper Red Velvet Collection patterns from next week!  Once we start sending them out (in brightly colored envelopes for the sewalong!), the price of the Red Velvet Dress pattern will rise to $20, full price.

I want to say a big thank you to everyone who has purchased from the Red Velvet Collection!  Let’s make some awesome dresses!  Tomorrow… I have such giveaways… And some words on merino.  Did I mention I went fabric shopping for merino for giveaways earlier this week?  I totally did.

Fashionable Stitching & Structured Hems

Red-Velvet-1 Sunni

SunniS is our Red Velvet Muse today!  Many of you know Sunni from her beautiful and informative blog.  She also runs A Fashionable Stitch, a US-based online notions / haberdashery shop that stocks many of the interfacings and stabilizers that work so well with knit fabric and Cake sewing.


Sunni used a floral jersey fabric and inserted pockets into the side seams, you can read about it on her blog.  If you have Tiramisu, it’s easy to use the pocket from Tira for this!   Sunni opted to use a self-binding at the neckline edge instead of the neck facing in the pattern.  I’d been planning to stitch this option later to show how it works and she got there first!  It’s a great alternative neckline finish, though it can be more challenging than smaller or straighter bound edges.

I’m so pleased Sunni and I had the opportunity to work together on this!  Her personal style and mine aren’t the same at all, but we both enjoy a good dress pattern.  I would always notice and admire her makes during Me Made Months and on her blog before she had a shop and I started making Cake Patterns.

Do you do that?  Do you follow the makes of another sewist even if your styles aren’t at all the same?  Is that just me?

At any rate, I love what Sunni sews and what she does for the online sewing community.

Structured Hem

Picture 48

I like wider hems on narrower skirts, it gives a little more shape to the garment.  Besides, skinny hems on narrow skirts can feel skimpy and they often ripple easily.  (Fusible webbing can prevent this.)

RV Striped

My first Red Velvet dress has a wider hem with no interfacing (shown above), and it crumples in the wash.  I wanted to prevent this, so I fused some 1.5″ strips of fusible interfacing behind the hem on my next Red Velvet Dresses.  It worked well, so I used it on every other version since!  I’ve been washing and wearing them heavily for two months and the hem is eternally crisp, even fresh from the bottom of the laundry basket.

Structured Hem Visual Reference

You can see the steps to make your own structured knit hem for Red Velvet on  I show you how to cut strips from interfacing (it’s a great use of scraps) and also linked to the wide stay tape in Sunni’s shop because it is *excellent* for these hems.  I get a lot of questions about where to source tapes and stabilizers, and I’m glad to recommend A Fashionable Stitch to help you get exactly what you need.

That’s all for today, I’m pulling together more content to fill out Red Velvet on sewingcake and I hear a rumor that the patterns are being sorted and packed to be sent to me, Leila and Evie to send to you!

For tomorrow, I plan to publish the bust and bodice sizing guide as well as two vis refs for adjusting the Red Velvet bodice. Judging by the state of my inbox, we have some questions about adjusting bust length and full bust alterations!

If you have other questions or curiosities about the patterns, leave me a comment below.  It helps me prioritize publication and gives me a better idea of the kind of info and tutorials you’d most like to see.

Red Velvet Dress and Intuitive Fitting

Sewhopeful Red Velvet Muse

Today our Red Velvet Muse is Sewhopeful, she and I actually live in the same time zone!  I love Sewhopeful’s style, the way she combines good fit and excellent stitching in a way that makes the fabric sing.  Sewhopeful writes excellent sewing and fitting advice on her blog, including this in-depth exploration of petite adjustments for Cake Patterns.

I am not kidding around with my use of the word “Muse” for this project, by the way.   I thought about my Muses while I worked away on the Red Velvet drafts.  I stalked their blogs.  This kept me motivated to seek out ways to make a better sewing pattern, and I definitely read J’s post several times.

blue-side-grass - Copy

In her Red Velvet Dress blog review, Sewhopeful wrote:

“The proportional sizing guide that Stephanie has developed has been really refined and improved since I made the Tiramisu dress.  I previously had to fiddle quite a bit to adjust for my A-cup bust but this dress fitted perfectly without any adjustments straight up.  The small busted among us can rejoice! I just chose my bodice size based on my high bust measurement (35″) and then my cup size based on my full bust measurement.  For me these measurements are the same so I naturally chose the A cup sizing and it is a perfect fit.”

Keep an eye out later this week for Sewhopeful’s 2nd Red Velvet dress. It’s so cute and different we decided to include #2, too!

Mid-Construction Fit Check

REd Velvet Dress Mid Construction Fit Check

Today the Fit Check page for the Red Velvet dress went live!  I used my blue gardenia dress to illustrate what I’d consider two ends of the “fit” spectrum.   In fact, I unintentionally went up a size!  That’s ok, it’s better to have a bit too much fabric and take it out than to have a garment that’s un-wearably too small. Besides, I think it illustrates the point really well.

That point is I don’t believe good fit and fitting has to be scary or inaccessible or difficult.  I’ve taught sewing for a while now, and always hated the steep learning curve that beginners face.  When you’re a beginner, it seems like there’s a universe of new skills to learn, equipment to buy, terms to figure out.  Fit and fitting are another skill set, let alone pattern alteration.

Blue Gardenia pre-alteration

When I start work on a new design, I pinpoint the potential trouble areas (bust apexes and high hips, amirite?) and decide how to approach alteration.  As much as possible, I like to make the fitting fairly straight forward.  It’s not exactly difficult to grab a side seam and sew out the extra fabric as desired.

I catch a bit of flak around the internets (and my inbox) from people who think I should design patterns that fit “closer.”  I’m not going to do that, ever, not for dresses or tops.  You can do that easily, in your sewing room, with the fabric in your hands.  It’s simple to make a dress that clings and skims your shape alone, just the way you want.

Side Seam Alteration Blue Gardenia2

I see my role here as a designer/sewing engineer/facilitator of your sewing goals.  I make deceptively simple patterns that fit pretty well but aren’t a size.  My knit dresses and tops are created with 0 ease at the bust to accommodate the preferences of those who prefer a relaxed fit.  0 ease also unlocks a larger range of fabrics that are suitable for use with the pattern, because you can adjust the dress easily for a wider variety of fabric types and weights.

Blue Gardenia Red Velvet

Besides, like I said, it’s not terribly difficult.  Fitting this way is riskless if you use a basting stitch.  Then either rip the stitches easily or simply sew over the basting and forget about it.   I like to use a wide-ish, medium length zig-zag to baste my knits together.  That way, the basting will flex (so I can put it on) but not break (as I find straight-stitch basting does).

And don’t forget, we like Sewcial groups around here so if you run into fitting trouble don’t be shy!  Upload a photo to the Red Velvet Dress Sewcial Flickr Group (later we’ll use this space for the sewalong!!) and we’ll sort you out.  Your upload may make Future Cake even better and more intuitive.

0369 Red Velvet Dress Cake Patterns Envelope Front

Sewalong schedule, merino shenanigans, structured hems, haberdashery and measurement visual references coming up this week, and more!  :)

The Red Velvet Dress paper patterns (and Espresso and RV Clutch) are just about ready to be shipped to our distributors, this week.  Then we’ll ship our three graceful covergirls Esme, Penelope and Pearl straight to your sewing room!  Once I have the paper patterns ready to send you, the price for the paper Red Velvet pattern will go up to its full price of $AUD 20, from $16.50.

Then we’ll have a sewalong, come November.  This time we have lovely pink, red and cream oversized envelopes for your Red Velvet Sewalong sorting!

Boxy Pleat & Leggings Chic

SusanK 0369 Red Velvet Muse

SusanK is our Red Velvet Muse today, be sure to check out her post on for all the usual Muses specs!  Susan has been working hard on the Red Velvet Collection behind the scenes as Cake’s editor.  She challenged me at many stages of the development process, turns around edits quickly and I really enjoyed the work we did together.

One of Susan’s first challenges to me was over the “boxy” pleat.  Pleats have the reputation of adding extra visual weight, but in the case of the Red Velvet Dress I wanted to create a smooth, sleek design feature.  And it is!  You can see above that the pleat lies flat and smooth, and the folding creates a really cool effect on Susan’s ombre stripe jersey.  (Looks like the striped dress on the pattern envelope, it’s built into the pattern!)  See more about Susan and the pleat in her writeup Nobel Pleat Prize.

Leggings Chic

5555 Front pdf

click for instant download from Etsy

The last clothing I bought retail (as far as I can recall) was a pair of black rayon leggings from Target a couple of years ago.  I remember thinking I was holding more than $6 worth of fabric in my hands, which was the purchase price.   I thought of the person who stitched them and wondered how much of that $6 went towards their wages.  I don’t guess it was much, and I remember thinking I *should* make things like that myself because they’re so simple.

click to zoom, see more!

click to zoom, see more!

Years later, I finally got around to it.  The Espressos were born a few weeks ago while I was fiddling with the Red Velvet Dress pleat and getting nowhere.  I needed a palate cleanser, and my legs were cold.  I googled leggings drafting for ease guidance and found this excellent tutorial on Etsy.  My first pair of self-drafted leggings were made from this tutorial.

Then I realized I could plot the measurements and tweak the process to create a template as a shortcut for those seeking a simpler path to great fitting leggings.   In testing, we refined some details but magically Espresso seemed to work on everyone I sent them to!

It’s very important to take good measurements for the Espresso Leggings, so I put together a measuring visual reference for you. Today I uploaded a mini visual reference about tagging, too. (more nitty-gritty fabric and technique posts from next week!)  I like the tagging, it helps me put my leggings on the right way, and it’s pretty cute.  The Espressos are quick to sew, even the first time when you make the template.  They’re extraordinarily comfortable because they’re made for your own shape (no sizes)!

I’m really proud of the Espresso Leggings Template and I look forward to seeing your makes in the Espresso Flickr Sewcial Group.  Like a shot of espresso with a slice of cake, the Espresso Leggings a great companion to all Cake Patterns– not only the Red Velvet Collection.  Espressos in a printed jersey send a jolt of energy through your wardrobe, livening up plain dresses and skirts.

Sewing leggings I know will fit is so addictive, now every jersey I see with a hint of spandex in it is a potential pair of leggings!

Trendy, crazily printed leggings can retail for $80 (Black Milk is a thing here, have you heard of them?) and are often produced under questionable ethical circumstances.

I say we take back fast fashion, sewists, and make our OWN custom-crazy legs because we can. 

Take That, Fast Fashion Espresso Leggings

Hear that, Fast Fashion?  We can sew.  We can do whatever we want.  And it’s fun.

click for instant download from Etsy

click for instant download from Etsy

Some of the links in the Red Velvet Collection instructions are not yet live, I just wanted to say that they’re going live over the next week!  It’s all in the schedule… As soon as I post new content on sewingcake, I tweet and link on Cake’s Facebook page, too.

Red Velvet Collection

Thank you so much for your support of the Red Velvet Collection, 51% of sales in the past 48 hours have been for the full collection of patterns!  I wasn’t expecting that, but I’m terribly pleased you like the little dress-universe we made for you!

Two Red Velvet Little Black Dresses & Indie Retail

0369 SusannaS2

For today’s Red Velvet Muse post including fabric and fit details, check out SusannaT on!  Susanna also shows off her Espresso Leggings sewn during the testing phase.  Thank you, Susanna!

She and I have become friends this year.  Susanna loves my patterns and I adore the fabric she stocks in her shop in Stockholm, Sweden.  I used that same orange and pink stripe for a “top-secret” project due later this year:

Yes, we have some girl's patterns coming!

Yes, we have some girl’s patterns coming!

Retailers are an important link between my sewing room and yours.  I have an Etsy shop that I run with my distributors LeilaB (USA) and EvieJ(UK).  It’s great, and a portion of the shipping prices we charge in the Etsy shop go to pay them for the hard work they do.  With the release of the Red Velvet Collection, we completely updated Cake’s shipping prices to reflect current shipping fees and to pay Leila, Evie and me for the work we do to ship Cake patterns.

Etsy Shop Shipping Prices

Working with retailers helps spread the wonderful world of Cake sewing to more people, and it takes some of the pressure off our Etsy shop.  You may also save a bit on shipping!  I’ve forged some great friendships with retailers I work with- in Susanna’s case she was involved in the pattern testing process for the Red Velvet Collection.

I buy fabric from her, too.  The striped jersey on her legs is the same as the fabric on my daughter’s back.  Whether you shop for Cake on Etsy or from one of our stockists, you’re contributing to the indie sewing economy and supporting hard-working designers and retailers like us.

Cake Stockists interactive map

Check out my new cool interactive maps on to locate your nearest Cake Patterns retailer!  If you’re a retailer and you’d like to carry Cake Patterns, click here.

StephC’s LBD

RV LBD Pocket No Gape Neck

This is my LBD made from the Red Velvet Dress pattern.  It’s a lightweight merino jersey, and very well suited to this pattern (heavier fabrics work fine, too, as long as they recover ok).  You can see here that the Red Velvet Dress features another Cake no-gape neckline.

For the first photoshoot with this dress, I wanted to just show off the dress.  No styling, no hair, no shoes.  This is the first black thing I’ve made for a very long time.

I like the invisible pocket, it’s like a 21st century ladies’ ticket pocket!  It fits my iPhone and keeps it snug up against my waistline seam.  I made this one from scraps of red dancewear velvet, it’s a nice little surprise.  It’s also a fun and nifty bit of sewing, very carefully explained in the Red Velvet Dress instructions.  At the same time, it’s simple to omit for a very quickly sewn Red Velvet Dress.

Tomorrow I have a Muse post from SusanK and a couple of new Red Velvet references for sewingcake!  Keep an eye on the Cake Patterns Facebook page for new sewingcake pages and preview pics!

Red Velvet Collection

It’s really exciting to have these patterns “out there” for you all now, and I’ve been really pleasantly surprised how many of you are purchasing the entire collection!  I hope you love sewing all these pieces as much as we loved creating them.

What do you think of our two very different black merino Red Velvet Dresses?

Finished Object: Cake’s Red Velvet Dress Pattern #0369

We’ve been working and working for months to bring you Cake that’s better than ever!  I’m so excited to finally be posting this I don’t know where to start!  Find the first wave of the Red Velvet Collection patterns on Etsy.  Paper patterns ship in 2-3 weeks, and the .pdfs are available for instant download!

I have so many fun details to share, not to mention all the visual references I’ve been photographing and filing while I work on the collection!  For tonight, I wanted to keep it simple with an introduction to the patterns and the Muses.

LeilaB in 0369 the Red Velvet Collection

The Muses are sewing bloggers who agreed to test sew Red Velvet with me and be a part of the Red Velvet Muse project.  Our first Muse is LeilaB, who adeptly handles Cake Patterns shipping for the United States.  She does quick work and we love her for it!    Each day for the next ten days, we’ll show you how the Red Velvet Dress works with a variety of body shapes and style choices.  Check out LeilaB’s Muse Gallery page on and her pattern write-up at

Red Velvet Collection

click to view on Etsy! Dress, Leggings and Clutch on sale now!

I’ll also be showing you my own Red Velvet makes, and introducing another element of the pattern each day while I show off the Muses.  We’ll have some giveaways, some social sewing elements, I’ll reveal the Sewalong schedule, and more!  I’m really, really happy to be able to start rolling out new and shiny (and more easily navigable!) elements of, too!

Red Velvet Dress Cake Patterns Gardenia Print

This one of my Red Velvet Dresses.  It’s a medium weight cotton/lycra that’s very easy going and handled like a dream.  I opted to make the boxy pleat on this version of the dress, though the pattern gives directions for two pleat options.  I say “boxy” because it’s not a box pleat.  Box pleats are folded, like, well, boxes and stand away from the body.  This boxy pleat is sleek, with minimal fabric folded behind it.  (Tomorrow I’ll show you some scissor pleating!)

The skirt is slim cut, but not restrictive.  Like other Cake Patterns, I have a great series of posts lined up to help you do your very best sewing and fitting for the Red Velvet Dress.  This dress is designed for fit and ease tweaks at the side seams during construction.  I built on and refined the bust proportionate sizing system we used in Tiramisu, and I think it’s MUCH better explained in the instructions.

We have been spending a little time in the country during the early spring, and I’ve taken full advantage for photos!  We took these photos today at the duck pen, aren’t they adorable?  I love wearing heels in the poultry yard.

I had thought that when we released the Red Velvet, I’d do something fun like wear one of my dresses endlessly for a few weeks, as a personal style challenge.  I want to wait to do that until Cocoa and Carmine come out, then we can explore the concepts of “the LBD,” “the wallpaper dress,” and “the striped dress.”  Let’s do some wardrobing!!

Red Velvet Collection small

What do you think?  Are you excited???!  All paper patterns will ship in 2-3 weeks (already printing and assembling them!) and the .pdfs are ready to go!  We’ll have Cocoa and Carmine, the layering pieces, available from October but you can also pre-order them now as a part of the Red Velvet Collection.

It’s so good to be back here at 3 Hours Past and at, I can’t wait to start releasing the new references and it’s going to be so much fun seeing all our Muses!

The mini-clutch giveaway winners were chosen at random: sullivan1970, francescapia, and Chuleenan!  Email me your address and I’ll drop your prize in the post.  The first person I hear from gets first pick!  :)

I’m Back and I Have Presents for You (Giveaway + Free Pattern)

It’s been a while since I wrote an actual blog post!  I write a lot these days.  I write sewing instructions.  Good instructions are hard work, I go through five or six rounds of re-writing-as-I-sew before we print.  It’s the only way to write well about the details- just write, write and re-write.  I write online content for upcoming pages, I write emails to suppliers and testers and Cake’s production team and our distributors.   I write and write and write to bring you delightful and useful patterns I hope you love and wear.

Red Velvet Collection small

All of this writing has gone into making the Red Velvet Collection.  This is what I briefly abandoned blogging for!  I couldn’t even manage to keep writing about the Three Graces, I’m very sorry about that.  (I have a few more, I think I’ll mix them in over the next month.)  The Red Velvet Collection is a self contained dress-wardrobe, it’s like a balanced little universe of its own.

The fabrics are dependable, washable staple fabrics, and I have some fancies we can play with later.   The Red Velvet Dress builds on and refines the bodice cup proportionate sizing found in Tiramisu.  I think the Espresso Leggings are the most exciting- custom fit leggings!  I can’t wait to show you how that works, the testing has been pretty spectacular.  Check out Cake’s Facebook page to see envelope backs for the entire collection.

The Red Velvet Dress, the Red Velvet Clutch, and the Espresso Leggings are printing right now!  Next week marks the 1-year anniversary since Tiramisu’s pre-sale.  I thought it would be nice to introduce our new dress wardrobe patterns to mark the date.  We’ll have .pdfs and paper presales, with shipping expected within two weeks.   We’ll focus on these three first, and then Cocoa and Carmine will follow in October.  (And yes, we’ll have a sorting/houses/sewalong! )

In the meantime, I have a free pattern for you!  I sampled the cute pleat detail and the interfaced inner structure from the full size Red Velvet Clutch and shrank her to make a mini Clutch.   The mini Clutch offers a preview of the slick new RiFF formatting, and the Clutch page itself is a little sneak-peek at the renovations going on behind the scenes.  All the pages will be in the same place, just easier to find and navigate.

I made these from fabric scraps I had lying around, they’re so quick and fun to stitch!  At 7X4″ (17.8X10cm), the mini is a handy iphone-friendly size, perfect for holding tools, makeup, money or devices.  This pattern went live on earlier this week and we already have some lovely new mini Clutches in the Sewcial Flickr group!

I’m giving away these three mini clutches, one each to three randomly chosen commenters below.  If you’d like to play, just leave me a comment telling me which Red Velvet Collection pattern has you most excited.   Extra point for pinning, facebooking, or tweeting this post.  Just leave me a comment below so I know and you’ll be entered!

It’ll be really fun to send these little lovelies out into the world!  Giveaway ends this Tuesday, September 24 at five minutes to midnight in Anchorage.  (Whew!)

In the meantime, I’ll be working hard in the lead up to the Red Velvet Collection launch!

Cranach and Pear Shaped Sensuality

Lately I’ve been blogging paintings in the Three Graces artistic tradition which show idealized versions of the female form that are quite different from modern standards of beauty.  It’s easier for me to blog about art and women and bodies than the sewing right now, as I’m bringing a new set of patterns to completion and that takes up all my sewing-writing expertise…!

click to zoom

click to zoom

This version of the Three Graces was painted by Lucas Cranach the Elder in 1531, and remained in private collections until the Louvre purchased it in 2010.  Cranach was a German painter, and this small oil on wood painting was completed during a time when Cranach enjoyed great artistic and financial prosperity.  He was the mayor of Wittenburg three times, and found success as a property developer.

In this version of the graces, Cranach paints the figures of the women in realistic detail against a sharp black backdrop, with a plain stone floor.  This is not an allegory of love or an artistic exercise in harmony but a much more earthly painting  showing off physical bodies and material wealth in stark black and white and red.

Beauty's Face

The eye is drawn first to the angelic, prim face in the middle.  In fact, considering her setting the face is almost too angelic.  I’m not an expert in 15th century German Women’s dress (jump in if you are!), but her netted hair and the hat suggest she’s both married and well-off.  And what aplomb, standing there naked and serene, in nothing but a hat and necklaces!  I nicknamed this one “Beauty,” following the convention found in earlier Renaissance paintings.

Voluptuas face

I decided this must be the “Voluptua” Grace.  Her hair is down and flowing around her body (also a possible sign of maidenhood), she has a worldly-wise look on her face as she stares us down and stretches her leg like a runner prepares for a race:

Leg Stretch

I think I’m actually a little terrified of this Grace.

chatity's face

Our third grace has her back turned to us and a blank, dreamy look in her eyes.  She has only one necklace and at least pretends to cover up in the saran-wrap veil Cranach provided, so I think she must be Chastity.


It’s important to remember that Cranach was a prolific artist, often delegating tasks in his workshop to apprentices and assistants.  This work, however, bears no marks of this treatment, which means Cranach (uncharacteristically) did all of the work on this painting himself.  It was for a private collection and probably cost a fair penny.  To the artist and to the welathy patron, the lines and shapes of these bodies were worth immortalizing in oil on wood.

This backside with biggish thighs is a part of a masterpiece.   The bodies themselves are objects of beauty and status, the same way that modern advertising sells us women’s bodies as objects of beauty and status.  I suppose the difference is that in Cranach’s case, he wasn’t selling anything except the painting itself.  (Maybe hats?  It could be a hat advertisement…)

Sexy Little Pots

From a modern point of view, I know these ladies are definitely what might be considered “pear” shaped.  They have tiny breasts, pouchy little tummies and thighs of varying widths.  Chastity’s thighs would never be confused withhotdogs, and I doubt these Graces would be chosen for the cover of Vogue.   Nonetheless, these girls/models/Graces were roughly the German Renaissance equivalent of high-fashion models.

I find Cranach’s Graces confronting and interesting, but my favorite description of this painting comes from Grit in the Gears.  Maybe he’s onto something…

My two words for these Graces is “affluence” and “youth.”  What are yours?

What do you see in these Graces?  Ancestors of high-fashion models?  Mere objects?  Sharks?  Or something else?

Raphael’s Endless Inspiration

click to zoom, large file with rich detail.

click to zoom, large file with rich detail.

Today’s Three Graces come to us from Raphael, a masterful Italian Renaissance painter.  This tiny (6.5″x6.5″ or 17x17cm) oil painting resides in the Musée Condé of Chantilly, France.  He painted this around 1503, in his late teens.  This is only a couple of decades after Botticelli’s immense Primavera was painted in Florence.

While Primavera is a dense, multi-layered allegory about divine and mortal love, Raphael chose to focus solely on the physical forms of the Graces.  He was undoubtedly inspired by classical motifs of the Graces, which were common in Italy at the time.  This is a similar Pomeian example, typical of the classic representation:


To me, Raphael’s vision of the Graces looks like an experiment, or maybe an artistic task.  Raphael’s Graces is more or less the size of a mousepad, with a strict color palette, featuring a well known theme from antiquity.  It wouldn’t surprise me if he used these parameters to hone other skills, like composition and brushwork.  The focus of the painting is on Raphael’s obsession with harmony and beauty and realism, expressed through the composition.

I think it’s also likely his Graces also represent Chastity (no necklace, kinda wearing clothes), Voluptuas, and Beauty.

Legs as Strong Stems

The three figures spring from the ground like flowers, their legs the stems, each with one foot solidly rooted on the earth and the other gently lifting.  Their bodies curve harmoniously like dancers though they stand still.  They wait, absorbed in their mysterious orbs while exhibiting a gentle awareness of one other.

Strikingly, the central figure faces away from us, arms outstretched.  Some see this as a deliberate mixing of classical (the nude Graces) and Christian iconography (the outstretched arms of the central figure, suggestive of a crucifix).  The far left and right figures flank the central figure with an almost perfect symmetry of torsos, arms, and heads.

colors sampled from Raphael's  work.

colors sampled from Raphael’s work.

In the same way, the colors used suggest a certain earthiness mixed with the divine.  These women represent the Italian Renaissance standard of beauty with auburn hair, fair skin, and soft bodies.  Every other color used in this painting complements the coloring of these Graces- the deliberate shades of red used for the necklaces and spheres, the blue sky, hidden green background and tawny foreground.

Beads Detail

It’s as if Raphael deliberately chose the colors that would complement the fair, firey complexions of the Graces.  This furthers the illusion that these women sprang from the earth itself or perhaps it’s the opposite.   They inhabit a world created for them.

Long Gaze at the Orb

The commonest interpretation of this painting explains that these are the Hespirades, nymphs who guard the Golden Apples in a garden at the edge of the world, but no one knows for sure.  Hercules and other heros quested to find the Golden Apples, which appear in any number of myths and generally impart wisdom or immortality, or are simply objects of desire.

This is perhaps another blending of Classical and Christian themes.  In the book of Genesis, Eve (the first woman) eats the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, gives it to her husband.  As a result, they are cast out of Paradise and the presence of God to toil in the world of sin we know today.  The fruit Eve ate is often represented in art by a bright, shining red apple.

But are they holding apples?  One orb shows the suggestion a stem, but otherwise Raphael left it ambiguous.  Why do they gaze so calmy, so intently into the spheres?  Do the orbs represent a reward?  Are they pretty placeholders?  Raphael lays bare his Graces, but draws a veil over the mystery of their gaze.  (Maybe they can see Mercury in their little red spheres? )

Raphael’s Graces were based on other versions of Graces.  His stands out for harmony of color and composition which inspires others through history (small sample!):

I particularly like that Vargas photo, though his Graces don’t have the same “earth and sky” quality.

Let’s play “two words” again, that was fun.   My two words for Raphael’s work is “iconic” and “pensive.”  Which two words would you use?  What do you see in Raphael’s Graces?

Botticelli’s Three Graces in Primavera: Golden Bellies

The three graces are symbolic figures from classical mythology represented in verses, sculptures, mosaics and vases in ancient Greece and Rome.  Their names and shapes shift through history, and I thought it might be interesting to take a look at how artists portray these three over the past few centuries.


This is Boticelli’s Primavera, painted in Florence c.1482 to commemorate a wedding in the ruling Medici family.  The painting itself is enormous, larger than life at about 6.5 feet tall and over 10 feet wide (202 cm × 314 cm)! (I used a large image file, click to zoom for details.)

We’re most interested in The Graces, but first let me set the stage for those graceful dancers:


At the far right, we see the god of the west wind as he abducts Chloris.  He makes her his bride Flora, goddess of springtime and flowers.  In Ovid she describes her married life this way:

Flora’s transformation bothers me (those ancient gods were so aggressive…!), but if she’s happy, I’m happy for her.  Besides, goddess of flowers is a pretty sweet gig.  She looks rather like a hippie, doesn’t she?


Venus, the goddess of love, quietly dominates the painting from the background.  She’s framed with trees, Cupid, and flowing robes, suggestive of Madonna.  Venus represents the Italian Renaissance ideal: red-haired, pale-skinned, curvaceous.

Three Graces

Beyond Venus, her handmaidens dance, entwined.  Botticelli’s three are active, their bodies veiled but not fully concealed by their diaphanous gowns.  At first glance, their dresses look more like mist than clothes, but they’re actually cleverly seamed, with puffy sleeves and careful lines of gathering and rich embellishment.

I found a brief but rich interpretation of this painting as the average 15th century viewer would see this work, quoted above.  Voluptas faces in opposition to Beauty and Chastity, looking on as the god of the west wind kidnaps Chloris.  This lust is viewed as the “lower” form of love.  Beauty and Chastity outnumber Voluptas, and face away from the lust of the wind god.


Instead, Beauty and Chastity gaze on the figure of Mercury, who is busy arranging the clouds with a wand.  Between the wand, mastery of the elements, the rad toe-less boots and that sword, who can blame Chastity and Beauty for staring longingly at Mercury?


Cupid’s bow aims at Chastity, who gazes on a young god who in turn gazes up to heaven.  From right to left, it’s a 15th century allegory for the nature of love and its transformative effects.

Three Graces Clothes

What do you see in this painting?  Isn’t it interesting that Chastity has no necklace, but bares her shoulder?  What does that mean?  I suppose Beauty and Voluptas “earned” their necklaces, but in the end Charity will get Mercury.

If you could use two words to sum the physical appearances of the women figures in Primavera, what would they be?

I’d say “bellies” and “golden.”

Edited to add: I like to watch/listen to documentaries when I sew, I just found this one from the BBC about Primavera.  Should be interesting…!