Tuesday, April 10, 2012

1790s Sleeveless / Convertible Spencer: Neckline Modification

Last I wrote about this project, I'd just fit the toile. Since then the silk has been dyed lilac, and now is the time to cut out the garment. Yet I can't seem to confidently take scissors in hand to the lining fabric, to create the second toile that will then be the pattern for cutting the silk.

What's the barrier, besides mowing the lawn, polishing windows, weeding, weeding and more weeding, laundry and more laundry, work, childcare, and a happy trip to family and friends in Georgia to celebrate Easter?

It's the neckline. I'm just not happy with it. Here is the toile:

The blue marks show where the toile is cut now; the red ones show the up-to-now modifications. After all, I was going for this sort of front: very low, very open...really 18th century short bodice sans sleeves. (If you look at the endless string of posts on this project, you'll get the history.)

You see, this design might do well with a ruche in the back, like my fashion plate inspiration model below, but can you see the ruche working in the front? Of course not. It would look really silly to ruche narrow straps and then a broad expanse of low neckline. You see, in the effort to make the poor little garment do so many things, I initially thought to tack on the ruche and then remove it as desired, for a different look. Ditto the epaulettes.

I've been looking at ruched spencers since the project began: the Met has lots of them, but not until Sabine of Kleidung um 1800 finished her cotton variation on the theme this past week did I really focus on my own ruching plan...and decided that I'd better rethink the front.

The best plan, I thought, would be a low rounded neck, ruched, or better yet, a vee neck, ditto. Luckily, an extant comes easily to hand, from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which has quite a selection of spencers, a good number of them featuring a ruched or plaited neckline. This one is perfect in cut for my purposes. It's center-front closing, cut very deeply in the neckline, and has a narrow ruching.

Black spencer, 1800-1830, Metropolitan
Museum of Art, number


The Met included a fascinating photograph from an exhibition long past showing the spencer on a dressed model.

The Met gives a wide date range for the garment, and given the tiny diamond back, it is very unlikely to be 18th century, though the silk seems to be. No matter, the front cut is reminiscent of late 18th century fashion plates, such as this sleeveless spencer, or body, from 1799.
London and Paris Fashions, December 1799
(but appearing in the January1800 number)
Image Bunka Gakuen Library.
 The front works so much better with my wrap-front dress...

Just to show another favorite example. Here's a Met extant with the low round neck, a good bit lower, I might add, then some of the other specimens the Met has with the popular neckline treatment. Here, the ruching has become a careful pleated flat frill, sewn near the neckline, with a header.

Late 18th to early 19th century quilted blue
spencer, with pleated neckline frill. Metropolitan
Museum of Art, number


Most of the other examples, and in fact my inspiration fashion plate, employ quite a wide ruche. Sabine did in her spencer, too. However, I think a wide ruche or plaiting, lovely as it is, would overwhelm my sleeveless spencer, so the narrow version in the black spencer above is more appropriate.

There, now I can rest easy tonight. Sometime later this week or next, as time allows, it will be time to cut the lining!

p.s. Ruched jackets were nothing new. The Victoria and Albert has this delightful printed and quilted jacket from France. Look at that neckline!

Printed and quilted linen jacket, France.
c 1785-1790. V&A, number


Kleidung um 1800 said...

Dear Natalie,
ah, what a wonderful choice! I love the black spencer!!! I love the simple shape, which supports the lovely details on the collar! Have you noticed that the collar is made of two rows of ruching actually? In the front the upper ruching is almost sewn on top of the lower one, whereas in the back the lower one is pulled down to create that v-shaped look...and the pleats are very fine only stitched down in the middle. The back piece is delicately small and the armholes reach out very far in the back - beautiful!
This will be fantastic and don't be afraid to cut the linen fabric, you'll see this spencer will be such a delight to assemble :)


ZipZip said...

Dear Sabine,
Am very glad you like this one, for I trust your taste implicitly. I hadn't noted that we were dealing with two *separate* rows of ruching; that is good that they are held down only in the middle, because I am aiming for a 3D, high-relief effect. With narrow ruches the high relief works, while if the ruches were big, it would be overwhelming. Am really looking forward to the cutting process.

Hugs and happy day to you,