I almost passed over this simple-looking piece until I realized what it was. What it is, as you probably recognize, is a stomacher. This one is from the Met Museum. It’s British and made of cotton ca. 1700. Accession number: 1974.194.1.
But what I at first thought was a lovely, faint fabric design turns out to be very fine quilting done in a mirror-image design. To give you an idea of how small these stitches are, the entire piece is only 16 inches (40.6 cm) tall.
I wish the Met had photographed it with side lighting so the stitch definition would stand out better. It must have been both subtle and eye-catching.
Here is another example of a quilted stomacher, this one from a later time – 1730-1750. It also is from England, made of linen, linen thread, silk thread, hand-sewn and hand embroidered. Museum number: T.209-1929
The V&A Collections
The V&A website offers an excellent description of stomachers:
A stomacher is a decorative panel of fabric, usually triangular in shape, worn to fill the space between the front edges of a woman’s open gown. The stomacher formed part of the ensemble of fashionable women’s dress from the 1680s to the 1780s. This example incorporates whitework embroidery, quilting and cording. In the latter technique, parallel lines of stitching have been filled with short lengths of linen cord, inserted from the back of the fabric. The bold design includes flowers, leaves, pomegranates and shells. As quilting and cording were popular techniques for petticoats and informal jackets, this stomacher may well have been part of a matching ensemble.
I can’t imagine how stunning a matching ensemble of a quilted and corded petticoat, stomacher and jacket would have looked.
The quilting on the earlier stomacher really appeals to me. I’m working with fine linen at the moment and now I’m tempted to try quilting a small bit just to see how it behaves. Maybe a small quilted pocketbook or coin purse? I do have a few scraps lying around…