Silk Sprigged Floral English Robe


Gown and Petticoat c. 1750 - 1770.
(Images courtesy of the Fashion Museum Bath and North East Somerset Council.)



Notes:
- Open robe gown with CF closing: No stomacher.
- CF opening shows no forms of fastening except a thin cotton cord running round the neck line that must've been for drawing the neck in a little. No fastenings suggests that this gown, like most of the ones I've looked at was either never worn (unlikely) or was sewn shut once on the wearer.
- CF not cut on grain.

This is the 3rd gown I have ever looked at from the eighteenth century and yet again it surprises me how quickly it appears to be made. It is a reminder of
A) how far sewing and dressmaking has come in these 200 odd years,
B) My ability to forget that these weren't special occasion dresses but everyday wear.
And C) the astounding C!: that it seems to have been an accepted practise that you could go into your local dressmakers shop, choose the fabric and expect the dress delivered by the next day. We know this happened because there was a bill passed to try and defend the seamstresses. My mind used to cave in at the idea, and all this before sewing machines! I couldn't conceive how it was done. 

But going over this gown you begin to see how this might have been possible. 
- Only the body is lined, and I have seen some that don't even have that.
- The raw edges from the pleats are just left as they are, not straightened or pinked or turned over.
- The hems are just a simple 1/4" turn up and tacked with about 1/4" long running stitches. The thread looks so much thicker than our modern day ones that are designed for the sewing machine, and these thicker threads have certainly lasted but it is still undeniably a tack and a large one at that.
- The seams joining the skirt panels are the same, large-ish running stitches.
- Some of the elegant looking swirls that adorn the opening of other gowns (not seen on this dress) are also just tacked on and I'm not exaggerating when I say that some of the tacks are 1 1/4" long. And these stitches are visible on the front of the decoration they've just sewn down.
- The stitching that was used on the inside of the garment, for example to sew down the lining or hold the pleats in place, can be seen clearly on the right side of the garment, a running stitch happily sitting there for all to see.
- I always assumed that the skirts would be lined but of all the gowns I have now seen, only one has been fully lined and that was with a beautiful silk that complimented the outer silk.


I'm not critisizing their skills, you only have to look at a corset to see that there was skill afoot, it's simply that it was not what I had expected. 
Infact it makes the whole period feel realer. They did cut corners! For all their solidly wooden furniture and beautiful looking dresses, all imported silks and linens and wonderfully woven wools. It makes them more human, The young lady so excited by her new fabric but knowing that she didn't really wish anyone to look too closely at the dresses make-up. Or those last few moments at the dressmakers, the quick, nervous finishing of the stitching, needles going frantically as sleeves were whipped in and the lining tacked down, the courier waiting impatiently to deliver it. 
And I even love it when you see the mad crazy-paving kind of approach to their pattern cutting in order to save fabric. You can really picture it. The dressmaker measuring out the piece of fabric his client has bought in, putting the yard stick down and saying 'there's not enough'. And the out-pouring of gabbled defense, saying: 'that was all that was left, you got the last dress out of less.' You can hear the jokes as he makes his way into the workroom and dumps the fabric down on the table and exclaims how much fabric she's expecting him to be able to get a dress out of this time.
I've worked at a tailors and I can assure you that this happens and it makes me smile to think it happened then aswell.



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