|The goldwork petticoat|
Please click on images to see larger versions, and warning, this post is image-heavy.
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.
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.
The Goldwork Embroidery
|"Fortune", a Directoire-era French ensemble, featuring|
a dress with goldwork embroidery.
From Napoleon and the Empire of Fashion.
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.
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 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.
|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).
|A sample of an individual spangle-purl combination.|
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.
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.
|Image courtesy Kyoto Costume Insitute.|
|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...