Friday, November 25, 2011

1790s Convertible Spencer: A Collar Construction Issue

Our poor little Metropolitan Museum "body" may have been the salvagey product of, let's be honest, not the finest of seamstress work. That's Mrs. C's take and the longer I look at the item, the more I am inclined to agree. The collar is attached so oddly! Remember this interior detail? Where at least one side of the collar is simply rolled over the neckline and hemmed down?

It makes me wonder if the original garment was some sort of collarless bodice that received a quick update. Rather like this one:

Well, if I were to design wrap-front body, perhaps along the lines of the 1796 Luxus und der Moden model, below, how to construct that collar? The wrap-front would "go" better with my wrap-front dress. Much as I'd like to replicate the Met item (shout out to Sabine!), it would just look plopped on top of the wrap-front dress, and I haven't energy or time to make a gauze chemise.

Over the last few evenings I roamed through Nancy Bradfield, Janet Arnold, etc., etc., finding nothing useful, then remembered the exceedingly detailed dress diaries of Brocadegoddess, produced for her thesis, Rockin' the Rococo. She had made a riding habit, and was focusing on garments she believed, after in-person examination, had been made by seamstresses, not tailors.

So I visited, and, happy sigh, there is the collar construction, illustrated. Mrs. C., you may be glad to know that the construction is much as it is today:
  • Sew the underside of the collar, right sides together, to the neckline edge.
  • Hem down, with slanted slip stitches, the upper side of the collar to the lining.
She even has photos, which I take the liberty of reproducing here:
Underside of collar stitched right side to right side
(lining side stitiching shown here). Courtesy Rockin-the Rococo.

Upper side of collar hemmed down to lining.
Courtesy Rockin-the Rococo.

Collars on Extant Spencers

I know that sewing techniques began to alter as the nineteenth century progressed. However, later eighteenth century collared items not made by tailors aren't too plentiful, and not many other garments featured collars, so, perforce, I look at spencers...all of them at the Met, which appears to have the best selection online, at least with zoomable photos.

To start, an c 1800 example, and my favorite of the lot, a snappy muslin item picked out in black...appears to be cotton yarn? I must make this one. Gee, if I cut this one out at the same time as the silk body, it shouldn't be too hard to finish two of them, eh?

Metropolitan Museum of Art

Second, an 1805-1815 unlined muslin spencer, whose primary decoration consists of tucks and piping. It's a tour de force. Sabine, this one's certainly for you. Look at the little manchets at the shoulders, the neat treatment with the piping, and the eyelet embroidery.

Metropolitan Museum of Art


Third,  a spencer dated 1815, fawn colored. In the detailed view you can see that the lining and collar are slip-stitched on the interior, although it isn't clear to me whether the lining is slip-stitched to the collar, or the collar to the lining.

Metropolitan Museum of Art

Yet another Met example, a sleeveless jacket-spencer from 1818-1819. It reminds me almost of a waistcoat. The Met seems to have the widest selection of spencers with large photos online, by the way, that I have found.

Courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Here's the same shot, blown up to show the collar detail.

Thus endeth our tour of spencer collars.

Next step, making sure that shawl-style collars could be handled that way right down the front, even in very lightweight fabrics.


MrsC said...

Oh I really do like this little cross over body. And given the stylised presentation of the drawing, which one must take with a grain of salt, I would still suggest that this shawl collar is 'cut in' to the front and not laid on as a separate piece. The back of the collar is extensions of the front panels, joined at centre back and attached to the curve of the back neck. I don't think this technique is so modern as to be inappropriate, but it would mean lining the body so that the facing that shows as the upper collar could be attached to the lining and not have to be sewn down to the actual exterior fabric, which would show through. Unless you sewed something over the line.
I love how much thought and research you put into choices about a costue, Natalie. It in itself is a satisfying process and adds so much to the enjoyment I am sure of teh finished piece. IT certainly adds interet and excitement for us! :)

ZipZip said...

dear Mrs. C.,
Ah, yes, I bet the front part of the shawl collar on the Luxus example is cut as part of the front pieces...good point!!

As for the back part of the collar, I am going to construct it as nearly as possible as in an original, so I can understand the fit and visual effects that result.

Also, a Kentucky summer can be drippy humid and 95 degrees, so am just about convinced that no lining is necessary. Ah, the skin is sighing in relief :}

Very best,


Lady D said...

You blog is inspirational. Mixing the ideas of the spenser and the shawl 'spenserisation' I experimented a bit using my paisley shawl (rather than silky one) and a wide ribbon as the colours matched.
You can see results in picture at bottom of the page.
Excuse the dress made from a bed sheet.

ZipZip said...

Dear Lady D.,
I had a look. Experimenting is fun, isn't it? People back then did do interesting things with wrapping shawls and long "cloaks" -- essentially giant scarves -- in nifty ways. Do have a look at original fashion plates to for more ideas.

Very best,