The Evolution of the 1850’s Tiered Ruffle Gown

Crinolines on an Omnibus by Charles Vernier, 1850s.

Crinolines on an Omnibus by Charles Vernier, 1850s.

“I’ve been inspired by some recent froofy 1850s tiered dresses … probably not [for] Costume College as hoops can be bothersome in a crowded room or classroom.” – Val L.

When I started this adventure in learning about historical fashion a few years ago I had three distinct fashion allergies: hoops, ruffles and bows. Heavens, how that has changed. Now I see dresses and fashion plates featuring one, two or sometimes all three and think “I’d like to make that one.” This is a dangerous passion.

But Val’s comment above, made in reference to a recent post on Victorian summer dresses, is valid…not every venue is suitable for a hooped skirt. Luckily, hoops didn’t become The Fashion until the mid-1850s. (The generally agreed upon date seems to be 1856, although in Paris, where all things fashion come early and with no small amount of impact, they seem to have appeared a few years sooner.)

So, can Val have her froofy 1850s tiered dress and not wipe out an entire room of Costume College attendees? Yes!

Stiffened petticoats appeared in the 1830s in response to the need to support increasing skirt circumferences. They were made of horsehair and linen. The name “crinoline” was invented by one of the fabric’s manufacturers who combined the word crinis (hair) and linum (flax).

David Hough invented the cage crinoline and he earned a U.S. patent in 1846. By 1850 “crinoline” evolved to mean the rigid supporting structure itself. The next leap forward in design came in 1858, when W.S. Thompson developed an eye fastener so that the steel hoops could be hung with vertical tape…the familiar cage crinoline shape we recognize today. At that point, manufacturers were able to incorporate petticoat layers over the crinoline under-structure and the results were wildly successful. These “adjustable bustle and skirt” models were patented by Douglas & Sherwood in 1858:

Of course, tiered ruffles weren’t new in the 1850s. The 1840s saw plenty of tiered ruffles, albeit confined to the shape created by layers of petticoats (usually three) over a corded petticoat.

The 1850s saw changes to bodice shape and style, as well as underpinnings for the skirts. Mimi Matthews, who writes primarily on topics regarding the 19th century, gives an excellent guide to the evolution of general fashion during the 1850s in her blog article here.

So, when it comes to a froofy tiered 1850’s dress, cage crinolines aren’t necessarily required as long as you stick with a bodice appropriate for the earlier years. I don’t know about Val, but that is great news for me given my previous attempt at making a cage crinoline (which, as you may recall, ended in utter frustration).

Here are a few examples of tiered styles from the early 1850s – no hoops required!

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And here are styles from 1855, just as the cage crinoline was poised to become the definitive fashion necessity:

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And here are three more examples of tiered ruffle gowns of the period, dated only “1850s” (although I’d wager the center plate is from later in the decade, given the bodice on that fabulous plaid gown and the hair styles):

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Lastly, a gorgeous example – one of my favorites: a gown dated from 1855 (photos courtesy of Kent State University) which I was going to save for a Weekend Wow but, since I missed this weekend and we’re on the subject…

Dress ca. 1855 From the Kent State University Museum (fripperiesandfobs) - front

Dress ca. 1855 From the Kent State University Museum (fripperiesandfobs) - side

Dress ca. 1855 From the Kent State University Museum (fripperiesandfobs) - side back

Dress ca. 1855 From the Kent State University Museum (fripperiesandfobs) - back

More Victorian Summer Dresses!

This one is for Deb and everyone else who loves an Early Bustle Era summer dress. I’ve been meaning to post this all week, but things got a little crazy. Better late than never!

Summer dress ca. 1869 From 'Impressionism and Fashion' at the Musee d’Orsay.

Summer dress ca. 1869 From “Impressionism and Fashion” at the Musée d’Orsay.

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Summer dress, 1872-74 From the Musée du Costume et de la Dentelle via BrusselsLife.

Summer dress, 1872-74 From the Musée du Costume et de la Dentelle via BrusselsLife.

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Summer dress, French, ca. 1872. White cotton batiste in small floral print, silk ribbon. Photo Stephan Klonk. Art Library, National Museums of Berlin, via Europeana Fashion. (Very similar to the first dress, but different.)

Summer dress, French, ca. 1872. White cotton batiste in small floral print, silk ribbon. Photo Stephan Klonk. Art Library, National Museums of Berlin, via Europeana Fashion. (Very similar to the first dress, but different.)

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A blue and white striped gauze summer gown, circa 1870, the bodice with square neckline, flounced sleeves, peplum trimmed with blue satin, blue ribbon belt with later added bow.

A blue and white striped gauze summer gown, circa 1870, the bodice with square neckline, flounced sleeves, peplum trimmed with blue satin, blue ribbon belt with later added bow.

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Dress, 1872. Light blue cotton, broderie anglaise, grosgrain ribbon in light gray silk. (Too bad they didn't display it with a proper bustle.)

Dress, 1872. Light blue cotton, broderie anglaise, grosgrain ribbon in light gray silk. (Too bad they didn’t display it with a proper bustle.)

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 Organdy American, 1870s. (Apologies for the it blurry photo, it was the only one I found.)

Organdy American, 1870s. (Apologies for the it blurry photo, it was the only one I found.)

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Day dress ca. 1869. From the Galleria del Costume di Palazzo Pitti via Europeana Fashion.

Day dress ca. 1869. From the Galleria del Costume di Palazzo Pitti via Europeana Fashion.

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Summer tea gown. (No other information or source material available.)

Summer tea gown. (No other information or source material available.)

The Embroidered Reticule Gets Its Start

It seems like the weather has been conspiring against me. Once I decided on the fabric color and the design for the embroidered reticule, I went shopping for floss and chose some complimentary colors. Easy enough, sure. The only thing left to do was transfer the Ackermann’s design to the fabric. And that took until today.

I tried a pressure transfer paper, but everything came out thick and blurry. I could draw the design free-hand, but I want an exact replica so no go there. I don’t have a light box any more (it’s been gone for years) and the local quilt shops don’t have one I could use. Nor do I know anyone who has one. And it’s been grey, overcast and rainy for days – not enough light to trace it. Grrrr.

But, at long last, today the sun came out for a few hours and I did the old tape-it-on-the-window-and-trace-it-while-you-can-still-see-it method, which worked without a hitch. Now it’s in my favorite embroidery frame (a souvenir from my class at the Royal School of Needlework in England) and ready to start getting gorgeous.

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A Curious Thing of Beauty

I recently encountered this dress and it’s another one of things that’s made my mind pause. I love it when that happens, when something so arrests my attention that my brain logs in with question after question, because that’s when I start learning.

This is from The Museum of Fine Arts, in Boston, and dated to “about 1800.” There is scanty information, however it comes with a provenance, handed down through family. And it’s like nothing I’ve seen before.

Fairly wide cuffs on the sleeves. Cuffs?! Did some ancestor “update” the sleeves for wear at a later time? On the other hand, those sleeves look wide enough to have been meant for cuffs all along. And look at the back of the bodice – I can see the classic elements of a period armscye, but arranged slightly differently. (The sleeve inset looks quite comfortable, actually.) And is that a matching chemisette under the bodice, as opposed to a double layer? That would make sense, as having a convertible neckline would render the dress usable for both day and evening wear.

Whatever’s going on, I like it. And I’d wear it, as well. Although I think I’d stick to a traditional sleeve. See what you think.

French, about 1800. Cotton mull* with silver embroidery. Accession number 47.1280a-b.

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 *I wasn’t sure what cotton mull is/was so I went to textileglossary.com: It is a super fine quality of cotton cloth woven as plain weave. The cloth is bleached and finished to give a soft feel.

Another source (Fabrics, by Ann Landry, second edition, 1985) mentions that although it was once used as primary dress goods it “is now almost entirely confined to use as an underlining fabric, and for experimenting in draping styles, e.g., toiles.”

Your Weekend Wow – The Victorian Heritage Festival and Fashion Show Report

Who says historical costumers are dull?! (Agnes Gawes, Valarie LaBore and Mara Perry)

Think historic costumers are dull? Not! (Agnes Gawne, Valarie LaBore & Mara Perry ham it up at the Commender’s Beach House.)

I finally got around to downloading my photos from the Victorian Heritage Festival! Ever since I upgraded to Windows 10, the only way I can manage and attach images from my camera is to download them in one big chunk, then copy them individually to my desktop and go from there. It’s a pain and takes forever but it’s done. Better a bit late than never (I hope).

The Heritage Festival

The weather was cool and a bit breezy, but no rain. Unfortunately, this year seemed a bit lackluster. Not nearly as many people promenading downtown in period dress. And many of those in costume went Steampunk or in Edwardian dress which, on the one hand, bugs me a bit (since it’s not true Victorian) but, on the other hand, it’s a weekend for fun and if Victorian Steampunk or Edwardian floats their boat then OK. A lot of locals didn’t even know about the festival. I think perhaps better advertising is called for.

A number of demonstrations were ongoing, but they were held in a dark room that prevented photos without harsh flash lighting. I did get to play with an antique treadle sewing machine, which only made we want one more (and taught me I definitely want one that is capable of operating in reverse – the earliest ones didn’t and, as a result, jam quite easily as I proved…repeatedly).

One nifty feature was a gentleman who took photographs using genuine antique equipment and processed them as was done at the time. Unfortunately, the unreliability of the process meant many re-takes and the line was long. But it was fascinating to watch.

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Valarie LaBore – Watches and How Women Wore Them

Val LaBore, who many of you may know from Costume College, gave an excellent presentation on watches. It’s a detail often overlooked, but once you start paying specific attention to old photos and paintings it’s amazing to see how many women are wearing watches. And how they wore them changed with time. Val’s presentation spanned from the 1500’s to the 1920’s and included not only a great range of photos and paintings, but extant examples. You might think this a bit of an exotic topic, but the room was packed with both women and men.

For more info on how watches were worn, visit Val’s “Watches and Watch Chains” Pinterest board: https://www.pinterest.com/timetravels/watches-watch-chains/ (with info and images of both men and women).

High Tea at the Commander’s Beach House

I didn’t get my bustle dress finished and wasn’t seated at the “costumed” table, but the ladies I did have tea with were delightful and I got so carried away that I missed taking photos of the table with everyone in period dress. Rats! But I did get some nice photos with Agnes Gawne, Valarie LaBore and Mara Perry – all in period dress they personally made.

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The Victorian Fashion Show

I feel the need to apologize ahead for the quality of these photos. The fashion show is held in the local First Presbyterian church, which was built in the late 1890’s so although the interior is great, the lighting isn’t geared towards photography. The stained glass windows cast a golden glow on everything, so colors are often skewed a bit, and it’s just dark enough that sometimes the camera speed stops down and I end up with blurs. Even professional photographers run into these problems, so at least I’m not alone. I will say the pipe organ is pretty darned impressive.

Most of the participants either made their garments or wore extant garments, be they purchased or handed down through family. There was some truly magnificent work and I’m disappointed that most of it doesn’t show half as nice as it looked. I also regret not being able to get a photo of everyone who participated. But here’s an example of the costuming talent on display. It is wonderful to see to many men participating – more every year.

Included in the fashion show were examples of traditional Norwegian dress (the Bunad), as large areas nearby were settled by Norwegian immigrants.

The finale!

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Antique Finds: Photos and a Fashion Plate

A few days ago I was itching to get out of the house. The weather was gorgeous and I had a serious case of cabin fever, so I decided to check out an antique mall I’d heard about in a town close by. Just as I approached the front door a woman came from inside the mall and locked the door. They were closing early in order to attend their son’s baseball game. Bah! So I ended up wandering into the Brocante shop next door and spent an hour wandering around and pawing through things.

I found some great photographs. This one interested me because of the way she’s wearing her watch – suspended in loops from what looks like a bar pin at her neck. (More on this photo later.)

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This one had to come home with me – such a great portrait of the two couples. Love those hats!

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I bought this one because the hem on the woman’s sleeves is so long it covers her knuckles, much like in Regency fashions, and I’d not seen anything like it before.

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And this one is such a great photo I couldn’t say no. It’s dated 1912 on the back, but the style looks more like 1915-ish to me. Doesn’t matter – the 2-piece dress and big ruffle-y hat are marvelous. I love she’s wearing gloves. Too bad the feet are too blurry to really see the shoes (boots?).

1912-1915

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I also discovered a Miroir des Modes fashion plate from the 1850’s in a very old frame. The glass needs a good cleaning, but the print isn’t foxed or otherwise damaged. The colors are still bright, I liked the dresses and the price was incredibly low. So it went in the bag with the photos.

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Not bad for a little jaunt to get out of the house, huh?

HSM #11 – The Regency Reticule is Finished!

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I finished my Regency reticule last night and I’m delighted with it. It’s large enough to carry what I need and want, without being oversized. It adds a bit of sparkle without being obnoxious. And it’s completely hand-sewn, but it went much faster than I thought it would. I am tickled pinkish-apricoty-orange. If the sun ever comes out I will add a photo that shows the true colors – it’s really not this orange at all.

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The Challenge: Silver Screen: Be inspired by period fashions as shown onscreen (film or TV), and recreate your favourite historical costume as a historically accurate period piece. I based the decision to make a reticule on somewhat perverse logic: they were a foundation piece, historically speaking, of everyday dress. Yet they are rarely seen in films. Women gambol across fields and prance at balls with great regularity. But they spend a good part of their time empty-handed in terms of reticules, with rare exceptions.

It’s understandable. If our heroine is trouble-free it would be visually distracting to have a hand bag swinging about. If she is burdened by great sorrows it would seem cruel to burden her further with something to lug around. I do get it, from the artistic standpoint. But I still notice it. So my tribute to the Silver Screen is to put a reticule in hand, where it belongs.

Fabric: 100% shot cotton from the French General line (Moda) in pattern/color #13529, lined in natural, unbleached muslin.

Pattern: My own design, based on extant examples. In the end, I decided the spangles were enough and so didn’t add the planned embroidery. Finished dimensions (without tassels): 12 inches long x 9 inches wide at the widest part.

Year: around 1800

Notions: 100% cotton thread, antique spangles from the early 1880’s, tassels, ribbon, 100% cotton muslin for lining

How historically accurate is it? The design was derived from two extant reticules:

Hours to complete: Completely hand sewn, including individual application of spangles = one viewing each of Sense and Sensibility (2008), Miss Austen Regrets, Lost in Austen, and Pride and Prejudice (BBC 1995). OK, two viewings of P&P…I confess the sport of Darcy-spotting slowed me down somewhat.

First worn: Not yet worn.

Total cost: One half yard of shot cotton $5.50, heavy cotton thread $3, antique chocolate-brown spangles $2, 4 tassels $6, ribbon for drawstring $3. Muslin for lining already in stash. Therefore, total cost = $19.50 USD.

Orange in Regency Fashions: a Post Script

When putting together the gallery of Regency fashion plates that featured the use of orange, I neglected to include one of my über-busy orange favorites. What’s up with the asymmetrical details? The left bodice looks laced, while the right bodice has Van Dyke points; the left sleeve is fully slit and laced while the right sleeve is only partially slit. Perhaps a way to show options? Probably, but it sure catches the eye. And, for some reason, I keep thinking of all of those balled tassels as bells.

"Walking", October 1810

“Walking Dress” October 1810.

HSM #11 – A Regency Reticule, Part One

Antique Scissors

I am happy to report that production “chez moi” is up and running once again. We’ve had a series of severe windstorms blow through in the past three days, severe as in half a hurricane or so, so I’ve pretty much stayed away from the computer. But the skies are calm today so I want to catch you up on the action.

I decided to go with a Regency Reticule for HSM #11. As you may recall, the Challenge is Silver Screen: “Be inspired by period fashions as shown onscreen (film or TV), and recreate your favourite historical costume as a historically accurate period piece.” I based the decision to make a reticule on somewhat perverse logic: they were a foundation piece, historically speaking, of everyday dress. Yet they are rarely seen in films. Women gambol across fields and prance at balls with great regularity. But they spend a good part of their time empty-handed in terms of reticules, with rare exceptions. Here are a few “caught on screen” examples from the BBC’s 1995 production of Pride and Prejudice.

A phantom reticule dangling from Lydia's arm. BBC's Pride and Prejudice, 1995.

A phantom reticule dangles from Lydia’s arm (far left).

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Charlotte, Lizzy, Maria Lucas, and Sir William Lucas. BBC's Pride and Prejudice, 1995.

Maria Lucas carries a green reticule (center back).

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Kitty's reticule. BBC's Pride and Prejudice, 1995.

Kitty carries a patterned maroon reticule (center).

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Lady Catherine sports a reticule. BBC's Pride and Prejudice, 1995.

Lady Catherine sports a dark brown reticule. (You know which one she is.)

It’s understandable. If our heroine is trouble-free it would be visually distracting to have a hand bag swinging about. If she is burdened by great sorrows it would seem cruel to burden her further with something to lug around. I do get it, from the artistic standpoint. But I still notice it. So my tribute to the Silver Screen is to put a reticule in hand, where it belongs.

In order to decide what type of reticule to make I did some visual research at my favorite “what it really looked like” site – Pinterest. On the plus side, reticules came in a plethora of shapes and sizes. On the down side, that meant the field was pretty much wide open for interpretation. I already knew I tended to like the more angular shapes and all of those with tassels, so I focused primarily on those.

In the end I decided to merge shapes and decorations into a manageable size that would hold the essentials and be just slightly better-than-average with embellishments. I want to emulate the shape of the reticule on the left and incorporate the swirling spangles of the one on the right.

Design

I fooled around with the shape and the swirl pattern. I knew I wanted the pattern to be symmetrical. I also know I wanted a little area for some embroidery – an initial or a little flower. The pointed reticule above is nearly 24 inches long. That may be OK for someone six feet tall, but a bit much for me. I ended up with this:

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I used a fine point Sharpie (indelible ink) on cheap printer paper. The cheap part is important because of what happened later.

Fabric

The vast majority of surviving reticules are made of silk. That’s all well and good, but I am allergic to silk so I rarely use the stuff and certainly don’t keep it in my stash. I found a fairly local fabric store that carries a large selection of reproduction fabrics and they had a line of shot cotton solids. I’d heard of shot silk, but shot cotton was new to me and I immediately loved the look of it.

What does “shot” mean? When looking at extant garments, one sees a lot of shot silk. Wikipedia gives a nice definition:

Shot silk (also called changeant, changeable silk and changeable taffeta) is a fabric which is made up of silk woven from warp and weft yarns of two or more colours producing an iridescent appearance.

This shot cotton is the same. The warp and weft threads are two different colors: one is orangey, the other is beige. They read as a solid, but the color changes depending on the light and the fabric’s position in relation to it. In the fabric store it looked a medium apricot-rose. In outdoor light it looked more salmon. At one extreme it looks almost pumpkin orange, at the other it appears a medium-light apricot pink or looks like an electric carrot. The camera picks it up through its full range. (You’ll notice it looks as if I’m changing fabric, but it’s all the same single piece.)

This is an unlikely color choice for me. I look deathly ill in orange and any of the yellow-based colors. But this one is a bit of a chameleon – I spent a very long time walking around the store holding the bolt up next to a wide variety of other colors and prints and, much to my surprise, it looked good with almost all of them…a very unlikely neutral indeed. So not only would it work with all of the fabrics in my stash destined to become Regency wear, it would perk the wardrobe up a bit without getting the dreaded orange too close to my face.

A winner all around and still in keeping with a historically accurate color palette. I promise – it’s not nearly as harsh a color as it appears in the photos. It is more tempered; richer and softer by far. And one can find all manner of oranges in Regency fashion plates.

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Embellishment: Paillettes versus Spangles versus Sequins

I spent some time studying what we call sequins and how they were used on reticules.

My first query was terminology – what were they called? Paillette is defined a number of ways:

  • a small shiny object (as a spangle) applied in clusters as a decorative trimming (as on women’s clothing) [Merriam-Webster]

  • a spangle for ornamenting a costume [Free Dictionary]

  • sequin, spangle [Oxford Dictionaries]

Paillette is French for spangle or sequin. Spangle appears to be a British term: a small thin piece of glittering material, typically used in quantity to ornament a dress; a sequin. (It was also a type of British sweet, first made in the 1940’s; eaten, not applied to clothing.)

So sequins, spangles and paillettes are all the same thing. I thought that was the case, but now I know for sure.

Today one can buy sequins that are curved, faceted, laser etched, iridescent, glow in the dark…you name it, it’s out there. Historically, spangles (my favorite term) were shiny, flat discs of a single color – originally metal, later made of processed vegetable matter, colored resins or synthetic material.

In the Late Georgian and Regency periods, I found examples of spangles sewn on with two different methods: either sewn with thread through the central opening on opposing sides or with a bead sewn over the center opening. It looks like they were generally placed edge-to-edge to form patterns, not densely overlapping to create a sparkling mass.

I feared that metal spangles on cotton would look out of place, so I hunted for other options. To my delight, I found a local bead supplier who frequents the Paris flea markets and buys antique spangles in different colors. She told me they are becoming harder and harder to find, so she buys whatever she can find. She happened to have two containers of chocolate-brown spangles from the early 1880’s – flat, shiny discs. Not exactly Regency, but as close as I was going to get without having to sell off a kidney so I snapped them up at a bargain price of $2 each for hundreds, if not thousands, of the little buggers. They feel like some kind of vegetable material, but they may well be synthetic. There’s not much bend to them, but they don’t snap easily. And, having been poured into their containers, they harbor a fierce static cling so it’s a real challenge to separate them.

Design Transfer

First step was to transfer the design onto the fabric. I used to have a nice light box which I used a lot during my quilting days for my appliqué work. (I was into appliqué Big Time.) But it’s long gone, so I tried using Mother Nature’s light box. As it turned out, there was a big storm blowing in and I was losing light almost as fast as I could get everything taped on the window.

The fabric is made of mercerized cotton, so the warp and weft threads are strong. But they are not tightly woven. This made transferring the design by tracing over it with pencil not only difficult, but tiny separations in the threads started to appear. You can just barely see it in the photo. Not good.

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Time to consider the options.

Thinking back to my quilting days, I recalled a technique for appliqué where the design area is outlined with thread using a simple running stitch. This way, there is no direct marking on the face of the fabric. The thread can either be covered with the appliqué or removed as you go. Looking at my swirls, it looked reasonable. So I pinned the paper design to the fabric, being careful to keep it flat and straight, and started stitching. It worked a charm.

If you ever use this method, an important thing to remember is once you’re done you only have your thread to guide you. Big stitches are fine for straight lines like parallel runs or boxed grids. But curves require smaller stitches: the tighter the curve, the smaller the stitches or you lose definition. Here’s what I mean.

This is one of the larger curves, marked with long stitches:

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Here is the same curve, marked with short stitches:

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See the difference? The long stitches don’t give you enough guidance to keep the curve smooth. If everything was marked with long stitches it would end up an indecipherable hodge-podge. (Ask me how I know.)

It took a while to get the entire design transferred. I kept my pace deliberate to make sure the paper stayed flat against the fabric and that nothing slipped or twisted. But soon enough it was done.

Back side view, all stitched up.

Back side view, all stitched up.

From there, I traced the final cutting lines and trimmed away some of the excess fabric to make it easier to work with.

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The next step is to remove the paper. There are products which allow you to transfer your design as I did, then all you do is wet the product and it dissolves completely. I couldn’t get my hands on one, so I’d gone old school with the printer paper. I dampened a sponge with warm water and pressed it to the paper. I’d used indelible ink, so I wasn’t worried about transfer or bleeding. This is where using the cheap stuff became a bonus, because it turned mushy in no time at all.

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I lifted it away carefully, getting as many of the little stray bits as I could. Once they dry, they are like teeny, rock-hard spit balls and a needle won’t go through them easily. It takes a little time, but not much and the extra effort is well worth it. And because I didn’t have to soak the paper, the fabric air-dried fairly quickly.

At this point, given the loose-ish weave of the main fabric, I decided to back it with muslin to provide extra support for all those spangles and basted the two layers together. I went around the inner and outer edges of the design and used a different color thread (because I know myself all too well). I also basted a center line through the bottom of the design for extra stability. Then I mounted it on an embroidery frame I bought from the Royal School of Needlework in England when I took a course there a few years ago. Of all the frames I’ve ever used, it is my favorite. (If the house ever catches fire, Sophie will be in one arm and this frame and my handbag will be in the other.) Here are two photo color variations of the fully marked design: electric carrot and mellow pumpkin.

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Finally – time to start playing with spangles. Whew!

I decided to start at the center bottom and work my way out and up. This way, if there are areas of overlap, the outer spangles will cover the inner spangles and the spangles toward the top will cover the spangles toward the bottom. I think this will make them less likely to snag on things, so I’m curious to see if I thought it through correctly.

I went with a straight up and down stab stitch: up through the center of the spangle and down at one edge, then up at an opposite edge in a line that follows the design and back down through the center again, then repeat for each one.

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Once in a while I snag a knot from the back side and pull it through to the front. No problem. I just carefully snip it in half and keep stitching. The design stays in place.

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Here’s a shot of the first spiral, front and back.

My original plan was to snip out the marking thread from underneath as I went, but I outsmarted myself. (If you’re surprised, I refer you to previous blog entries…you’ll notice the trend.) The spangles completely cover the marking thread on top – no surprise there. But by deciding to add a support layer underneath, I cut off all access to the marking thread. So I’ve ended up stitching just to the side of the marking thread so it doesn’t show through. For the most part, that is.

I knew this wouldn’t be a slap-dash project, but I’ve discovered just how tedious the going is. This is going to take some time. I could use a tiny dot of fabric glue to pre-place each spangle and then just stitch them on. It would be a whole lot faster. But for now I’m doing them one at a time. That feels like a more historically authentic procedure, although I don’t know it for a fact and I’m not sure how important a detail it is. We’ll see how I feel about it a thousand or so spangles from now and whether or not I can still feel my fingers.

In the mean time, if anyone out there knows for sure that Regency reticule makers used glue to secure their spangles/sequins/paillettes before sewing them in place (after all, glue was well-known and used in other applications) don’t be shy – please share! My fingers will thank you.

Lady Middleton’s Pattern: Home Embroidery, 1780’s Style

"Lady Middleton's Pattern" - Victoria and Albert Museum

Design for embroidery for an apron, Anonymous. Museum number E.228-1973. Victoria and Albert Museum

Last night, while cruising Pinterest on the look for a Regency embroidery pattern I thought I could actually accomplish without too much pain, I stumbled upon an article from the Victoria and Albert Museum titled Designs for Embroidered Fashion: Lady Middleton’s Pattern and it is so interesting I have to share it with you.

Here is the text of the article. Click on the link above to reach the original article on the museum’s website. There you’ll find many other pattern examples. Click on each of them to see the full size patterns.

Most of these designs were bequeathed to the Museum as a group in 1973. Nothing is known of their origin and provenance, but they appear to have come from the archive of an 18th-century retailer based in London. They were intended for use on the light muslin gowns, petticoats and aprons that were so fashionable at the period.

The designs are clearly the work of a professional pattern drawer. Many such designers worked in London, retailing their work through linen drapers and lacemakers. The patterns would have been used by professional embroiderers, but also by amateurs, buying or borrowing them from the retailer.

Hand-written inscriptions suggest how the designs might have been used, and by whom. Many relate to a network of wealthy friends and relations, including Lady Middleton, who lived in the country but came up to London for the season.

‘Lady Middleton’s pattern’ is a key to revealing a whole web of relationships within a group of neighbours and relatives in East Sussex.

Lady Middleton was born Frances Pelham, the daughter of the 1st Earl of Chichester, of Stanmer Park near Brighton. She married in 1778 and died in childbirth in 1783. Her sister Emily is also mentioned in the inscriptions. Another sister, Lucy, married the 1st Earl of Sheffield, of nearby Sheffield Place, in 1794. Lucy’s stepdaughter, Maria Josepha Holroyd, is also named on the patterns and was a friend of Miss Thrale. It is clear from the inscriptions that these women were willing to share an embroidery design with a friend or relative.

Techniques

The designs are pierced with pinholes indicating that they were pinned or tacked to fabric stretched on a tambour or embroidery frame. The patterns are in pen and ink so that they could be seen through muslin or gauze.

According to Saint-Aubin who described whitework embroidery in his ‘L’Art du Brodeur’, published in 1770, the design was never drawn directly onto the material but ‘with small stitches one bastes the muslin over the design which has been drawn on paper or parchment.’ The embroiderer could then work directly from the design beneath.

These designs are not pricked and pounced wherein the lines of the design are pricked and then the surface rubbed with powder transferring the pattern through the pinholes to the textile beneath (pouncing). The lack of pricking and pouncing shows that these designs are for embroidery on muslin.

Professional design and embroidery

Both amateurs and professionals used the technique of tacking designs to muslin or gauze on a tambour or embroidery frame. Most, if not all, of the clients whose names are inscribed on the designs could have used them to embroider from themselves because elite women were accomplished at needlework.

In some cases, these designs could have been embroidered professionally for the clients as a ready-made dress. The patterns have a client’s name instead of a number for cross-reference with a client book. This numberless system suggests a business with an easily identifiable clientele and a personal service.

An example of the patterns:

Two designs for embroidered borders to petticoats and open gowns, 1780s. Museum no. E.246-1973

Two designs for embroidered borders to petticoats and open gowns, 1780s. Museum no. E.246-1973

Two designs for embroidered borders to petticoats and open gowns
England
1780s
Pen and ink on laid paper; with fold marks
Inscribed in pen and ink on the back,‘I have not worked these but I thought mayhaps you might like them – Return all when you Have done with them’
Bequeathed by Raymond Johnes
Museum no. E.246-1973

Here, the inscription and fold marks indicate that the design was sent out. The design at the bottom has a pointed edge known at the period as ‘Vandyke scollop’, after costume in portraits by the 17th-century painter Anthony van Dyck.