Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Goldwork-Embroidered Petticoat, Back at It To Ease Stress

For those of you for whom messing with teeniney, wee bits of beadlike wiggly wire, minute spangles, and small motifs stresses you out, read no further, for your blood pressure may rise.

For those who find doing very precise, small-scale work actually relaxing, you may find the below a bit fun.

Do you remember the goldwork-embroidered petticoat I made last summer? The one with little sprigs all over it in a variety of motifs? Here it is as worn in August.

As a first effort, it is nice, needs more work, for a couple of reasons.

First, a look at it laying flat in decent but night bright light reveals a lack of brilliance. The work is executed only in spangles and purl. Spangles are flat sequins; purl is tightly wrapped gilt (or 2% gold, for those with more cash) wire, formed into long hollow tubes.

Now, some fashion plates and originals, for example the pretty French 1790s muslin in the Napoleon and the Empire of Fashion exhibit (which spaces its motifs on the upper part of the dress), or the dress from the Met, below, do widely space their motifs. That was the effect I was going for initially. However, because the motifs are composed more of faceted purl than of spangles, the shine factor isn't as high as I'd like it to be.

Metropolitan Museum of Art, accession number


Second, I am not happy with the motifs that outline leaf shapes, but leave the interiors blank. I've looked at a lot of extants since designing the petticoat, and so far as I can tell, only very tiny sprigs are made with their leaves barely outlined. In spriggy designs, purl leaves of any size are usually filled in with the purl running obliquely. Here's my silly drawing:
If you have a copy of 18th Century Embroidery Techniques, and look at the goldwork section, you will get a better drawing:}

Third, the bottom of the petticoat lacks a transition between the spriggy motifs and the fringe. Sure, some dresses were just sprigged, but I like the versions with a wide repeating band of embroidery about the bottom, especially when the motif is composed of swagged floral motifs. By 1800, swags weren't as hot as they'd been earlier, but they were still about, and I like swags, and don't get to have swaggy fun very much, so I want swags here. Want to see 1790 swagged petticoat emvroidery designs? Check Gallery of Fashion (enter the periodical name into the search box). Also search for "embroidery designs" on the Victoria and Albert museum site. There aren't overmany actual embroidered petticoats extant, at least that I can find.

Fourth, Christmastime, and the state of having young children, is stressy, so that some some sort of quiet release, some quiet place to retreat to that has nothing to do with Christmas Preparations or Productivity, becomes a Restorer of Balance. Some activity in which the brain can focus on something pretty, and for which the creation process is somewhat repetitive but does command the conscious mind almost 100%. Something that can be taken up and put down in a moment. Embroidery is perfect for that, and sparkly embroidery in the depths of short days is perfect.

Enter a rework.

After all, I've put too much work into this petticoat to chalk the effort up as Learning Example #1 and move on. With each motif consuming upwards of 20 minutes, you do the math in terms of hours, and I am betting you would rework the piece if it were in your hands, too.

So, What Changes to the Petticoat Lie Ahead?

Fill in the leaves, of course. That means snipping off some of the old motifs and redoing them. Second, add a band of embroidery to the bottom.

You can see the tentative first results of both below.

Here is a shot of the position on the petticoat that I am working on: the center bottom. I have set the embroidery hoop over a sprig in the bottommost row of the sprigs, and under that I have started a swag that will be some 5 inches high. There is actually a decent amount of room between the sprig motif row and the fringe. That's what will be filled in.

The design is a row of swags made of a rope of tiny leaf sprigs all done in purl, and tied at the top with bows in spangles. At the middle of each swag, a second spangle-and-purl bow with tassel tails dangles. Underneath, a second set of swags, this time in silk chenille and silk embroidery thread.

The design is a take off of a pattern in a pocket of a man's waistcoat, found in 18th Century Embroidery Techniques in the goldwork section, and is roughly the same dimensions, perhaps a little larger. I'd show you the original design but since Gawthorpe Hall hasn't posted an image of it, and the only images I have are in a copyrighted book, sorry, guys.

You are looking at a motif in the bottommost row of the sprigs, and the first bow in a series of swags.

Now for the detail shot.  Mmmm. Needs work. Let's examine what is going on.

What's the deal with the sprig motif riding so close on top of the bow? A bit of explanation. I did that work before deciding to add the swag motifs, so yes, off it will come, to be repositioned higher. Thankfully, the silk-cotton voile weave is widely spaced enough to allow redos without leaving holes, and all of the sprigs were freehand-embroidered...there is no drawn pattern on the fabric.

What about how rough the floral sprig leaf looks when executed in purl?
  • First, I haven't laid the purl obliquely enough. Have to redo it.
  • Second, close up, purl often looks rather imperfect, as if it just won't sit where you put it. In fact, it is hard to manage purl. First, you have to cut each piece before you lay it, so close measurement is important and tough to achieve. Second, no, it won't lay down easily: it is wire, and likes to bing-bong around, and only couching stitches hold it in place. All but the best of the best trained professionals had those issues, and so purl easily looks wonky and heavy up close. Don't believe me? Have a look at All That Glisters Goldwork, in Stitch with the Embroiders Guild. Look at the purl laid on top of the spangles on this German 18th Century professional example. See how it wanders a little? Okay then. Makes me feel better. Plus, practice will help.

What about the band of swags at the base of the skirt? What's the design, and what's going on with the elements?
  • The design must be drawn because the design success depends on consistency in the pattern repeats.  Here you see the bow tying up two swags.
  • The bow:
    • The spangles are backstitched in place, and overlap heavily. However, guess what. I backstitched them backwards. Each thread should lay of the part of the spangle that is not covered by the spangle before. That helps the spangles lay flat and in place. Oops. I had no directions on how to do it, other than that I knew such lines of spangles were backstitched. Another lesson learned. The only pity is that riding free as they do now, the spangles reflect a lot of light. Pooh.
    • The spangle at the center of the bow is overlaid by a piece of purl. 
    • The original laid a line of purl atop the spangles, but I found that this addition diminished the brilliance of the spangles so much that I left that element out of the design. Spangles were often left plain.
  • To the left of the bow, the beginning of a purl-and-sequin leaf swag: the central stem and each set of leaves are of purl only, each piece of purl strung and attached like a bead, and then couched down. Each leaf set is divided by a cupped spangle filled with a tiny piece of purl. 
  • To the right of the bow, you can see the penciled design.

Since goldwork was usually accompanied by silk embroidery, another phase of this project may be to add some small floral motifs in yellow and cream among the swags, again per the original. The original had more naturalistic color, but some designs were very restrained in color use by this date, and did not aim at naturalism. I won't touch that for at least a year. Meantime, I can still wear the petticoat!

So that is what I am doing this season, and into January. It should be a pleasant process and even is now, right in the learning phase.

This Evening, I Leave You With...

A cozy wintertime scene. The boys playing with their Legos under the gardener's bench in the family room. Little ones like corners and hidey-holes. Do you remember?


AvaTrimble said...

Natalie, you are an inspiration! What dedication! I admire that you're going back to it and re-doing it it to make it just the way you want, rather than trying to just live with it and ending up unsatisfied with something that took so much time and dedication. I want to embroider something with spangles at some point, but I figure I should probably wrangle undergarments and basic clothing for my various time periods of interest before I start the reeeeeally long term projects. Nevertheless: I am inspired! Happy spangling. :)

Lady D said...

The gold embroidery looks beautiful. I didn't realize sequins were period correct...I thought they were a modern thing. You learn something new every day.

ZipZip said...

Thank you both!

Yes, spangles of various sorts, flat, concave, convex, and in shapes, were very popular for Full Dress, for those who could afford them. They were made of metal, and could even be gently colored. Look in museum collections and you'll see examples all over.

Agree on starting slowly, Ava. If you get the undergarments right, then you can actually wear the spangled ones! :}

Very best,


AvaTrimble said... I'm inadvertently picturing spangled 19th century undergarments! Yikes! Now that's a visual. :D

ZipZip said...

Ouch, scratch, scratch, scratch, errrgghhh....those silly corset spangles. :}

Time Traveling in Costume said...

I'm one of those who like fiddlely things and handwork. I haven't handsewn a gown yet but love to attach the trims by hand. My dream dress has soutache sewn all around it. Someday....
Your's is looking fabulous. I'm wondering how heavy it would be? And does it cause any stress on the fabric?
I'll bet you would be magnificent in a ballroom with candlelights flashing off your trims. :)

ZipZip said...

Dear Val,
The dream is to indeed be feel magnificent as a duchess in a ballroom :} Much like you in that yummy, yummy, yummy froufy hat the other day!

I love soutache too. You know, it's not too bad to do. Some machines have feet that can apply it, you know. My Wilcox and Gibbes antique can do soutache. Although couching really is not that hard, and if you are fiddly minded, well then, you will enjoy it.

Yes, the skirt IS heavy, even with only 60-70 motifs on it -- I've lost count. It will become even heavier with that embroidered band. Over time yes, the work will stress the fabric to some degree, but I am hoping that the combination of silk and cotton will hold up pretty well.

Very best,


Time Traveling in Costume said...

Thank you, Natalie. I just did a write-up on my froffy hat yesterday. So you too can make one. :)
Happy Holidays to you!

ZipZip said...

Dear Val,

Saw said fabulous write-up, and have all kinds of ideas, for Regency the over-the-head, over-the-top look.

Happy holidays to you and yours too,


Lauren said...

That is going to be amazing!!! I can't wait to see the progression.

CareGiving Daughter said...

You inspire me!! I have been following you blog, but this is my comment (of many more to come I hope :) There was a time in my life I designed and made all my clothing, and as my children grew took on making the costumes for school plays and musicals. Time has passed and now I am eager to take out my sewing machines and once again meet my love of sewing--this time my focus on my other passion, Jane Austen. Have I told you that you inspire me?

Your gold work is beautiful.


ZipZip said...

Dear Lauren and Mari,
Thank you both kindly! I've made a little progress since that last posting, and am enjoying the process. It's peaceful.

Mari, it's so neat to be able to take up a passion again, and there's hardly anything better than the Jane Austen-sewing combination :}

Very best,