Saturday, September 17, 2011

From the Collection: An Utterly Fabulous Edwardian Formal Skirt

Skirt front.
Do a train and a trumpet silhouette, sheer silk, peekaboo construction of laters of white and colored sheer silks and lace insets, and a shimmery satin fluff at the feet, encrustions  of beaded motifs, and four -- count them! -- four underlaying flounces, make your heart flutter-flutter?

Then I have the formal skirt of your dreams, an Edwardian confection, a tour de force bought some time ago in totally unwearable, and without major reconstruction, unmountable condition, from a dealer liquidating another dealer's estate. The bodice is missing. Most collectors would call this skirt a cutter; I call it a researcher's and pattern maker's dream.

Over the next several posts I am going to review the materials, the construction details as I understand them, and finally, the measurements. This will all take some time, so be patient, for this skirt is a monument to the Edwardian love of luxury, of layers and of the seen, the suggested, and the hidden, of plays of light and shimmer and soft color. It is also an interesting admixture of the classically curved with the linear and almost medieval, some of the patterns on the skirt seeming to herald the beginning of the very modern era.

As always, click on the images for a larger version, but now it may take two steps to get there. If Google is implementing the slideshow feature for images, on the black slideshow screen that will appear, and towards the bottom left, the phrase "Image from" appears, followed by a Blogger web address. Click that Web address. A new window opens, containing the original image, sized for the window. If you to see the original as big as originally designed, click the image itself and voila.

Actually, in this case, I beg you to do the work and click, for you cannot see the plays of light and detail if you do not.

Skirt Design

Skirt back.
The back of the skirt tells you much about the skirt design. This skirt is shaped like an enormous trumpet. There is so much on the floor that I think the lady who wore it was quite tall, somewhere over 5 feet, five inches, my height. The skirt would have puddled around her feet in any case in the fashionable manner, but not so much as is shown here.

The waistline is shirred all the way around, but most heavily at the back, and as we will learn, would bunch more at the back than is shown, for there are three tiers of interior ties that gather the back together rather like a Natural Form dress of the end of the 1870s.

Further puddle control is a series of long tacks connecting the various layers, holding them together with an inch or so of give, but sewn such that the top layer falls into folds. The entire experience is controlled to maintain the silhouette, but in a flowey manner. Amazingly complex.

The top of the skirt, except the belt, is sheer silk. It shows the a second skirt beneath, of a very pale green silk gauze. Underneath both? Another layer opaque white silk. The skirt from knee down is a light satin, embroidered with cut steel faceted fat bugle beads and glued-on, (yes, glued!) cut steel faceted nailhead beads sans holes, and cut through at sections with lace appliques made of a combination of tape lace with brides and tape lace on net.

Final control over the flow and swish and puddle? Four layers of flounces that help hold the skirt's trumpet shape, that thicken the folding and puddling, that offer swish and a peep of froth. But I hurry myself.

Here is the front waistline, below. The skirt band suggests a belt, and the hanging applied applique, which functions as a Medievalesque extension to the belt. Note the quatrefoil designs. All the beads and nailheads are cut steel, but in two tones; they vary in the light, too.

The front hem is a happy, or uneasy, depending on your taste, mix of the Medieval, the modern, and the Classical Beaux Arts. The lace joining the upper, sheer part of the skirt to the satin part? Classical. The appliques set at intervals all the way around the skirt? Ditto. The cut-steel patterning, and mix of Medieval quatrfoils and Classical acanthus-esque motifs (the pointed ones), and the very nineteen teens lines and the mirroring curve shapes, like wings or...I don't know what they are called...they have a name: you can seen one hanging from a quatrefoil at the lower right of the image below.

A view of the skirt towards the back shows more motifs, in the central motif -- peer closely now, please -- there is what appears to be an "M". Whether this is symbolic of the owner, the maker, something else, or nothing all, remains a mystery to me.

Back bottom of the skirt.

Furbelows Below

I had to say it., had to. Furbelows are frills, and heavens, there are frills aplenty under this skirt! In order, top to base:
  • Pale green gauze gathered frill, with applied narrow self ruche.
  • White gathered gauze frill, with applied narrow ruche of a gauze ribbon.
  • Satin knife-pleated frill.
  • Deep flounce of light crinoline or some sort of stiffened cotton or linen, tucked.

So what do you think? I know I'll have a great bit of fun over the next while, uncovering with you how this lovely thing was put together. I hesistate to say it, but each individual element is in itself not difficult, as you will see, and while good care was taken in the construction, nothing is entirely spot-perfect. It's the sum total that renders it not only an amazing thing to look at, but a dressmaker's tour de force. If only we could see it in movement!

By the way, this is the only time I plan ever to mount the dress, and I had it up less than half an hour, unless I give it to an organization that can conserve it. The top layers are sound, but the underneath is a mess, and the skirt is so heavy that it would soon pull itself apart.

Oh, and why am I pulling this garment out just now? There is a reason, and it doesn't have to do with Halloween, but with modern sewing. We shall see.


Taylor said...

Oh my! I can only think of one word: EXQUISITE! Thank for you posting these- can't wait to see more!

Sarah A said...

That is a beautiful skirt, congrats on getting it! And thanks for giving us all the details :)

Jenni said...


This is hands-down my favorite piece in your collection! Gorgeous!

ZipZip said...

Thank you all! Am excited to show you all more. I am working out understanding the construction, such as which way the grain of the satin and sheer silk go. The top layers have but two seams, which means that either the original fabric was very, very wide, or it was cut not on the longways grain, but widthways, which is not normally done.

Very best,


Sarah : ) said...

Amazing! Thank you for sharing and for all the pictures! My three year old already asked if I could make her a skirt like that, lol. I wish I could make us both one ;) Can't wait to find out the details of its construction, thanks again.

ZipZip said...

Dear Sarah,
Sure thing! Hope that you are able to make a skirt like it for your daughter...the upper skirt is not actually composed of that many pieces.

Very best and I look forward to visiting your blog,

The Dreamstress said...

Oh *swoon* What an exquisite, gorgeous, drool worthy skirt! Thank you for posting!

Fanny said...

Such a gorgeous skirt! Makes me want to sew Edwardian clothes as well...

ZipZip said...

You are both most welcome! Am having real fun dating it. The style was long-lasting for these puddly skirts, so it's proving interesting.

Very best,


Sarah A said...

Hi, I've given you an award here:

You're almost at the 200 followers limit, so it was in the last moment I got to you :)

ZipZip said...

Dear Sarah,

Many, many thanks indeed! I will go have a look right now.

Very best,