Your Weekend Wow!

This is turning out to be a lovely spring. We’ve had a good balance between rain and sunshine. As a result, the flowers are magnificent. Seeing waves and walls of flowers got me thinking of floral embroidery, and I don’t think anyone can top the embroiderers of the mid 18th century. Here are a cap and two court dresses from the mid-1700’s. Court fashion was beyond over-the-top. But the embroidery…Wow!

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England, Great Britain (probably), 1740-1745, Silk, embroidered with coloured silk and silver thread. ‘Court dress’ was an exclusive and very ornate style of clothing worn by the aristocracy, the only people usually invited to attend at Court. The style of the robe is quite old-fashioned, and based on the 17th-century mantua. This ensemble recalls a garment worn by the Duchess of Queensbury in 1740.

Here it gets a little confusing, because the gown below is much wider than the one shown above. After reading through the notes from the V&A, it appears that the dress above may be a copy of the original which was worn by the Duchess of Queensbury. If that is true, the embroiderer who made the copy did an astounding job of it. The gown below had plain fabric where a stomacher would have been (I doubt an undecorated stomacher would have been worn by the Duchess). The gown above shows a stomacher that is more in keeping with the overall look. So it’s a bit of a tangle, but it’s here for the embroidery and there’s no argument there. The curator’s notes are below.

front

back, different bodice with tails

Victoria and Albert Museum curator’s notes:

Object Type: ‘Court dress’ was an exclusive and very ornate style of clothing worn by the aristocracy, the only people usually invited to attend at Court. The style of the robe is quite old-fashioned, and based on the 17th-century mantua.

Object History Note: This mantua is associated with the wedding of Isabella Courtenay to Dr. John Andrew in Exeter Cathedral on 14 May 1744. While it was acquired from the May Costume Sale at Christies in 1969 with no provenance, a later sale at Christies turned up a number of Victorian photographs of ladies in fancy dress costumes including an image showing this dress being worn by Caroline Mary Walwyn. The photograph was inscribed “Caroline Mary Walwyn, in the dress of Isabella Courtenay who was married 14th May 1744 in the Cathedral of Exeter”. It was probably not the actual wedding dress, but could have been specially made for the bride’s first Court appearance as a married woman.

Designs & Designing: The shell, the quintessential Rococo motif, constitutes the basis of the embroidery pattern. Leafy scrolls, latticed arcades and tassels are also featured, as well a profusion of realistically rendered flowers, including jasmine, morning glory and honeysuckle, peonies, roses, poppies, anemones, auriculas, hyacinths, carnations, cornflowers, tulips and daffodils. The pattern of the silver shells and scrolls has been arranged symmetrically at the hem, but the layout of the flowers, while balanced, does not match exactly on either side. This ensemble recalls a garment worn by the Duchess of Queensbury in 1740: ‘her cloathes were embroidered upon white satin; Vine leaves, Convulvus and Rosebuds shaded after Nature …’.

Materials & Making: Seven panels of ivory-ribbed silk make up the petticoat. The robings, sleeve cuffs and skirt of the mantua are embroidered in the same design, but were modified to fit their exact proportions.

The flowers are worked in a variety of coloured silks in satin stitch and french knots. Silver thread delineates the leaves and the non-floral components of the pattern. Some of the scrolls and border elements have a backing of parchment, for solidity and regularity of line. The tassels and bases of the shells have been thickly padded underneath. Varying the height of the padding under the embroidery of the silver leaves gives the surface of the stitching a rippled effect.

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This one makes me smile every time I see it – makes me think of a trellised garden against a blue sky. Unfortunately, the only photo I can find of the back is pretty small.

Wedding gown of pale blue rep silk embroidered with a floral motif in multicolored silk , consisting of a body with ‘tail’ , skirt, ca 1759 the Netherlands, Rijksmuseum.

Opnamedatum: 2014-05-22

Wedding dress (manteau), ca 1759 the Netherlands, Rijksmuseum

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Of course, one must pay attention to one’s head as well.

Woman’s cap French, 18th century France. Accession number 43.317 mfa.org

Woman's cap French, 18th century France . Accession number 43.317 mfa.org

And that, my dear friends, ends our embroidery lesson for the day.

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3 thoughts on “Your Weekend Wow!

    • I’m good for reasonably-sized projects: a reticule, gloves, etc. The yoke of a blouse is about as big as I can manage, patience-wise. On one of my visits to England a few years ago, I picked up a small book about Medieval embroiderers. Not a job I’d have wanted…although 1) I’d have had no say in the matter and 2) the embroiderers who worked on things like these were male members of formal Embroidery Guilds. Which would have “freed me up” for childbirth, child rearing and all manner of domestic labor. Wait a minute…embroidery is looking better! 😉

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