Friday, June 17, 2011

"C" is for Cloak and "F" Is for Frill and Both Are...

"Still Life with Sewing Box", this vignette might be called, that is,
if it didn't include the snaky, too realistic view
of the electrical cord behind the table.
..."D", for Delightful.

The swirling frill spilling out of my sewing box will belong before too long to what was known in the mid-1790s as a cloak and perhaps also as a mantle. (I swannee I saw that name recently and now cannot locate the original occurrence.)

This is not your standard red Regency-era cloak, worn as a practical garment, whether lavishly trimmed or plain red wool.

No, this handsome accessory or outergarment set off women's morning dress for a few years, until it was eclipsed by the more practical, exotic, and more expensive (at least if imported from the Middle East) shawl.

December 1794 Gallery of Fashion

Cloaks were worn winter and summer, and were often layered with other items. In the December, 1794 GOF plate shown here, the lady on the left is wearing a "[d]ouble handkerchief crossed and tied behind. White muslin cloak, trimmed with the same. Blue fox fur tippet." I believe the handkerchief is within the dress, then the cloak with the frill -- muslin can't have been warm -- and the tippet, hardly big enough to warm one's neck, much less neck and chest. That red tail she's holding? That's a tail from her exceptionally wide sash. The lady on the right is similarly layered: "[l]arge white double handkerchief, and a yellow silk handkerchief over it. Black silk cloak, trimmed with lace."

Cloaks were often white, though Gallery of Fashion shows them sometimes in black, as above, and of muslin or silk or satin, in which fabric a frill is often sewn. Sometimes the frill was replaced by lace or even fur. Frills along all edges appear to be very popular in the magazine, and are usually narrow, although you can occasionally spot deep lace-hemmed ones, and sometimes lace, being expensive because entirely handmade at this period, trims just the ends and the long edges are bare, or just a portion plus the ends are trimmed. I have not seen any illustrations of cloaks edged with ribbon or ruching, although that doesn't mean that didn't happen. Cloaks could also be of other construction. The image above from September shows a lady walking in "[b]lack silk netted cloak, trimmed with a full plaiting of lace".

Cloaks appear normally as accompaniments to Undress. They appear at breakfast and on walks. I do not see them paired with more formal wear. This makes sense, for cloaks were frilly, and would not have matched in tone the flowing robes or fringed petticoats and long swansdown tippets of that style of dress.

September 1794 Gallery of Fashion: netted silk cloak.
Oh, for a walk like that one! I miss water.

They were usually worn as described in the September issue: "drawn and tied in the front, the two ends hanging down very low". They could also be tied together with a bit of ribbon, flutter upon flutter.

Cruikshank draws the ladies: is that a cloak on the right?
See the Lewis Walpole Library collection, Call Number:800.03.18.01
So far, I have only found one extant item that even remotely can be described as a cloak. It's from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, is dated as late as 1790, and is written down as a muslin "fichu". The dimensions, however, are more of a longish mantle: 75"x10", and it is frilled at the edge. Perhaps it's the precursor to the mid-1790s mantles, for I can see it wrapped round the shoulders, crossed in front, and tied behind. It's just an imaginative hop until you have the same thing, longer like the extra-long sashes of the mid-1790s, now wrapped around the shoulders, but tied in front and left to hang.

Beyond scanning for these items in GOF and Luxus und der Moden, and a brief look into the fantastic Lewis Walpole Library's digital collection, I haven't done much research on these looking into texts, for instance, or really trying hard to try to track extants down. After all it's summertime and the brain is easily overheated. It's the season for greenery and romance, not Mrs. Ernestine and her books.

Yes, that's the right word, romance: I find these silly cloaks nearly the ultimate in romance, and quite contemporary, really, in this year of ruches and frills and flirts. Their chief purpose seems to add another element of flow and flutter and length to an ensemble. They emphasize the vertical, and thus impart, one hopes, a willowy, sylph-like effect to the wearer.


The LACMA example's frill appears to be rolled to a selvage edge. If the mantle is 10"wide, it could easily have been woven on a narrow loom, like a very wide sash or ribbon might be. Thus, finishing would be far easier.

I haven't access to such a narrow-woven item, although a lucky duck might conceivably find a 75" scarf to add a frill too, especially of Indian cotton. Although 75" doesn't win you that delicious length. One indeed might check Dharma Trading and looking at their long scarves. Hmmm, should have thought of that. A really lucky person might have access to a white stole from India
However, this one is my own work It's of two 50"-ish lengths of 10" wide silk-cotton voile from the stash (and originally bought from Thai Silks, over a year ago), sewn together, for I didn't have 100" handy in one length. The frill is self fabric. Each evening before bedtime I roll-hem some of the frill and whip it to my base mantle. Just a bit of quiet busywork to slow the pulse before sleep.

As you can tell, then, this version is a hybrid of machine work and handwork. The Willcox and Gibbs narrow hemmer was used to hem the mantle itself, as well as the frill. However, a machine-gathered frill simply won't work, for there is always a header produced, unless someone has invented a roll-gathering attachment. A header will mean an extra layer must be sewn to the mantle hem, stiffening it and interfering with the flutter effect. If one folds the header down to hide it, the hem area becomes even stiffer.

What to do? The only way I can see thus far to make this garment do what it is designed to do is to roll-gather the frill and whip it to the hem, just as was done for caps and other fine muslin or lace garments. That means the entire garment is but one layer of fabric deep, and the result can flutter and flap delicately at will.

I am not being overnice in either the roll-gathering or the whipping, and so the handwork is not be as good as either the LACMA piece or my recently finished dress with the whipped frill. These scarf-like items get such rough use: tossed over the shoulders, they end up draped on chair backs, they fall off, they are stepped upon, are handled over and over, are even forgotten and left. I'd rather a bit of roughness for this item and no worries, than a perfect accessory that I fear to take out and use in modern living.

For once it's done, I hope to wear it for a long time to come, not only as a period item, but as a fun accessory for summer evenings.


MrsC said...

I got a bit lost trying to work out how you are making this as the terms are not familiar to me used in this way (although I'd probably get it straight away if I saw it, silly really!) but I do love the sound of it :) I also had to quote back to you part of your post as it is SO fabulously poetic but you may not realise it:
"The swirling frill spilling out of my sewing box will belong before too long"
Delicious! the swirling, spilling frill. Makes me want to go frill and swirl too!

Kleidung um 1800 said...

Can't wait to see how it matches your sheer 1795 morning dress!

ZipZip said...

Good morning, both of you, or I suppose it is afternoon or evening at this juncture!

Yes, this bit of fluff is indeed to go with the wrap-front dress, and so far, it looks neat.

I totally missed the alliteration in that sentence, Mrs. C., but was in a romantic mood, so it just leaked out. :}

In a bit it would be a good idea to reprise the methods used, for the roll-gathering and whipping were used on the dress, and I can show the little sewing machine doing its hemming. In fact, I'll do it now!

Very best,