Sunday, July 17, 2011

Goldwork-Embroidered Petticoat: 1795 Full Dress Ensemble in Cream Silk: Part 2

The goldwork petticoat
Are you ready for the petticoat? I am so excited to have made it, even though I discovered it needs more embroidery. This is part two, by the way, in a series about the 1795 Full Dress ensemble I made for this year's Jane Austen Festival in Louisville. (See part 1.)

Please click on images to see larger versions, and warning, this post is image-heavy.

The petticoat is embroidered in goldwork, described below. As a first experiment in this type of embroidery, it went well. Now to add motifs to those already there to give the effect more ooomph. I am looking forward to that. It's the kind of work I adore. Yes Mom, I can hear you laughing: as a child seed beading and making minature furniture were favorite hobbies.

I love the cumulative effect of the goldwork: shine and sparkle, depth and dimension. Also elegant: none of this is flashy the way an all-over, pavee treatment might be.

In fact, a second experiment is in the works: I took last year's petticoat and am experimenting with a combination of silk embroidery, couching with gold passing thread, along with the techniques you will see below. The pattern comes from Luxus und der Moden (yes, Sabine, that pattern from earlier this year!) That project is a long-term one that may take a year or so to complete.
Constructing the Petticoat

The petticoat is made of a silk and cotton blend from Thai Silks. The fabric has super drape and the perfect amount of sheerness, and the weave is tight enough for good looks, but loose enough to permit ease in embroidery.

It is constructed in the manner traditional to the 18th century as a whole. Should you wish a tuturial, you cannot go wrong with "The Standard Eighteenth Century Petticoat" on A Fashionable Frolick or from Costume Close-Up.

About the waistline: this petticoat has the 1795 higher waistline. In this dress, the petticoat is held up by small loops buttoned to the stays: four loops in front (two to each side of the center stays closure) and three in back. You could also hold it up by pinning the tape waistband carefully to the stays, or with straps. There is some argument concerning the use of buttons and loops in the era, but I opted for it anyway.

About the length: The petticoat length is to the bottom of the anklebone, so that I would not trip when dancing.

Given the fabric's sheerness, I was able to finely gather the fabric to the waistband. First I folded over the raw edge to just over a half inch. Then I divided the entire circumference into quarters. Then, separately for each quarter, the fabric at the top was gathered twice, each gathering row separated by about a half inch. Then I pulled in the gathers, spaced them evenly, and whipped the valley between each gather separately to the cotton tape waistband. The whip stitches nip just a over an eighth inch of fabric at the top, and the gathering stitches are left in to help hold the gathers in place. This traditional treatment keeps each gather standing straight and unsquashed and allows it to pivot on the waistband for freer movement.

The Goldwork Embroidery

"Fortune", a Directoire-era French ensemble, featuring
a dress with goldwork embroidery.
From Napoleon and the Empire of Fashion.
The petticoat is embroidered in goldwork, using a combination of flat spangles, purl  (bullion) frieze, bullion fringe, and "pastes" made from vintage rhinestones from Bumbershoot Supplies, a supplier in Oregon who has been most kind.

Goldwork had been popular at least from the seventeenth century, and would remain so until the fashion appears to have mostly faded sometime in the nineteenth century. Goldwork allowed the wearer to sparkle and gleam and "show" to advantage. It was a feature of Afternoon Dress and Full Dress; it would have been in poor taste to display gold in Undress, so far as I can discern.

Goldwork was usually, though not always, professionally done, and ranged from expensive to staggeringly expensive. The threads and spangles and foils were of real gold or gold plus a base metal, and there was a fashion for taking apart goldwork and melting it down for the gold. It still is expensive, one reason that I have used it sparingly.

An example of a sprig motif on my petticoat.
This one has a brilliant attached. The brilliant will soon
be surrounded by a circle of purl.

If you are interested in the subject, you'd do well to start with Gail Marsh's 18th Century Embroidery Techniques, which explains the workshops, the materials, the methods, and shows actual examples, in enough detail that someone with a little embroidery experience can latch on to it and go forth -- with care. Online, Mary Corbett's Needle 'N Thread has really useful posts on goldwork projects, as well as reviews of relevant books.

I spaced the sprigs using one of several Gallery of Fashion plates that specify embroidery in gold, but more sparingly than most pictured, too sparingly, as it turned out. I have not found gold-sprigged extant petticoats to date, and only one dress in the Napoleon and the Empire of Fashion, a Directoire dress of similar date, is sprigged, also sparingly, but it also has a heavily embroidered motif at the bottom.

Working the Embroidery
The embroidery process is pleasant. It is slow, yes, but the planning of the motifs is fun, and executing them, while exacting, has scope for creativity, for one never knows exactly how the purl will lie, and if it moves on its own to a different position, sometimes that position is more artistic than the planned version, allowing creativity and inspiration some room. This is dynamic work.

Another example of a sprig motif. The flower stamens
are composed of a central spangle, upon which have been
sewn bits of purl. Each stamen is started by pulling the
thread up through the spangle's center hole, threading
the purl bead on, and then pulling the thread to the
back of the work again near an outer spangle.

The sprigs include three basic motifs, all based on motifs that appear in pages 39-54 of 18th Century Embroidery Techniques.

They are made with gold frieze and spangles rescued from a cutter Indian garment. That garment was also terrifically hard to find, for there are few out there that I would feel okay cutting into.

Another sprig sample. My thumbnail gives you
an idea of the sprig's size.

The frieze, a gold-coated wire, wound very tightly in a squared pattern to enhance sparkle, is of the Indian Sadi variety and is a little looser than European frieze. To apply it, one cuts the wire to the length desired, and then threads it like a bead. I used gold-dyed Ver a Soie silk "Paris" thread from Hedgehog Handworks, an utter joy to work with. I would recommend only silk for a project like this; it is very strong.

Anyhow, to start a motif, one pulls the needle from the reverse of the work, threads on the frieze, than plunges the needle back through the fabric. Very short lengths will lay flat, but longer lengths need to be couched down at intervals to hold them in position.

Yet another sprig motif.

The spangles are then backstitched in place. Because I used so many spangles and this was my first project, I opted for the vintage non-metal spangles from the Indian cutter garment. Real spangles are expensive, but they do have a far superior shine and weight, and for an important garment, I'd save up and use them instead. Dream on, Natalie. Berlin Embroidery carries them, as does Hedgehog Handworks. (I used my small batch on the reticule).

For the pastes, I threaded a spangle on a long piece of silk thread, holding it with a half knot, applied a 4 mm chaton rose foil-backed glass rhinestone to an individual spangle with glue, set it in place, then threaded one end in a needle, plunged that thread to the back, pulled the thread loose, threaded the other end of thread, and plunged that through. Finally I tied the spangle on with a surgeon's knot to hold it fast. Each paste should be surrounded by a ring of purl to help hold it and hide threads: I have yet to do this. (Edited August 1: the surgeon's knot is not enough to hold the pastes in place. Several have come off. I am experimenting with gluing the threads closed. Not gluing the pastes to the fabric, mind, but the thread tie ends.)

Back in the day, pastes would have been of foil-backed glass too, and glued to a spangle or pasteboard base, but the base would have holes around the edge to sew the paste down, and of course the glue used would have been different. In future I may use cardboard, as it will hold the pastes flatter.
A sample of an individual spangle-purl combination.
Exciting, eh?

Individual spangles were sprinkled over the surface. To attach them, I used the traditional method of stringing first a spangle and then a tiny piece of frieze on the thread, and then sewing both on by running the thread back through the hole. Each is attached separately, for connecting threads would show through the thin fabric.

The Fringe

My petticoat is sprigged, as described above, in a band to above the knees, and then set with a fringe to flutter intoxicately at the feet, which it did, in fact, do very well.

The fringe is stritched with large stitches of doubled, waxed thread such that the fringe stops a bit above the hem so that the wearer will not damage it.

This way of positioning the fringe is found in an extant Italian 1795 round gown in the Kyoto Costume Institute Archives; see the detail below:

Image courtesy Kyoto Costume Insitute.

Bullion fringes are very hard to find and it was several months before some bits surfaced locally. They are indeed of gold bullion and are heavy. The fringe is attached to a "lace" threaded with flat gold wire known as plate. The entire fringe was very tarnished and the tarnish proved unremoveable (on a test piece), so it lacks the gorgeous gold color of a fresh piece. I decided that the effect was so important that a mix of tarnished and untarnished elements in the skirt would still work.

Following an extant example, I will be threading a spangled row above the lace header in the future.

The reverse of the fringe, showing the stitches that attach it
to the fabric.

A Delicate Product, Slow to Make

Two giant caveats about goldwork, aside from the expense:
  • It is very delicate. The purl frieze is superfine metal wire. The ends, which are barely visible to the eye, have a tendency to catch on fabrics and can pull them. Worse, once caught, if the wire is pulled, it will uncoil and can never be coiled up again. A few good pulls and you are well on your way to a garment which must be redone.
  • It tarnishes. Gold threads and spangles, these days anyway, have base metal in them. They must be kept out of sunlight, and you should avoid touching them while working with them as much as possible, and always afterwards. With good care, the garment being kept well wrapped in muslin and kept in the dark, tarnish can be kept away for some years, but eventually the gold will lose its gleam. This is ephemeral art...
Despite the small size of each motif, each one took about 25 minutes to complete; there are four rows of about eight motifs each, plus the individual spangles are individually attached, and the fringe laid. Therefore, this experiment showed me that goldwork is not fast work, by any means. I noted that my speed increased only a certain amount with experience. In contrast to plain sewing, in which there are usually expanses of repetition, this sort of embroidery requires close attention and much picking up and putting down of scissors, spangles, and pieces of purl, much shaping and laying with tweezers and pins and the like. It's fiddly, and speed can only increase so much. Also, mistakes cannot be hidden; you either live with them or redo your work.

(Edited August 1) Despite all this, I am doing more goldwork over time. First, am already adding several more rows of  motifs in between the current sets on this petticoat; these rows feature two new motifs. Someday, maybe Napoleon dress referenced above? Again, dream on, but in the middle of wintertime, one motif at a time, what a nice, bright yellow sunny interlude.


Summer said...

What a beautiful petticoat! Goldwork would be the perfect thing for winter. I love blogs for the ability to see amazing projects and experience them vicariously--thanks for sharing :)

ZipZip said...

Dear Summer,

Very happy to share, and like you, I love seeing what other folks are doing. It's like taking a tour :}
Very best,

The Dreamstress said...

This is so amazing! And how fortunate you were to be able to get the spangles and other materials needed!

Your work is just amazing!

Are you worried about the embroidery catching on the over dress?

ZipZip said...

Dear Leimomi,
Funny you should ask about the wire threads catching on the skirt. Yes, that happens and is one of the things that makes these garments so delicate and ephemeral. I tried on a vintage silver-embroidered shawl recently, and it had suffered so many pulls, and so easily caught, because shawls by nature are folded and draped such that one part touches another.

So I wear this with great care :}
And have been adding more motifs!

Very best,


Zho Zho said...

Love this post and the work that you are doing is amazing. Thanks so much for taking the time to record it so thoroughly. Thought you might be interested to see sewing detail on the ostrich feather in this post on my blog.

ZipZip said...

Dear Zho Zho,
So glad to share :} Yes, I will love looking at the ostrich feather detail!!! Every bit of evidence is so valuable. I am completing a translation from 18th century German of an article on preparing feathers for millinery, so will be excited to see this, too.
Very best,