Thursday, January 16, 2020

1895 Outfit: Period Methods To Add Skirt Fullness, Part 3, Skirt Interlinings

Now that the Advent and Christmas seasons are over, it's time to take up the pen again -- okay, plop the keyboard on the lap again -- and continue with the articles about how fullness was added to skirts in the mid-1890s.

Here is the entirety of what has been published so far:
The 1890s was also the age of heavy linings and interlinings. In some ways, the mid-1890s remind me of the Tudor era, when doublets were stiffened and stuffed and molded. Open any sewing guide of the decade and it will advise the use of stiffening in the form of a variety of interlinings to achieve the fashionable flare in the sleeves and skirt. Columnists had some humorous things to say about them and how they affected the women encased in them, as you'll read.

The use of skirt stiffenings and petticoats was interrelated: in general, we can say that if a skirt's material was too lightweight to admit of a heavy interlining, then the petticoat, or petticoats, would pick up the slack. If the skirt was heavier, it would become more likely that other expedients would be found to create the flare. Interlining a skirt was a key method.

Skirt Interlinings and Facings

The admonition to interline a skirt with something to give it the proper fullness -- or to do the opposite and NOT interline it -- was nearly incessant during the period.

As we have seen, if a skirt was of a very lightweight material, such as a cotton, or a light silk, a lining and interlining, would be omitted. Our old friend Isobel Mallon, the regular fashion columnist for The Ladies Home Journal magazine, wrote, "I have before this described the haircloth petticoat, the wearing of which makes it possible either to omit lining the cotton skirt, or the having a very soft, thin one." (July 1895, p. 21).

If the skirt was of wool, duck, serge, or any non-lightweight fabric, a lining would be standard, plus a facing, which is a small-scale stiffening, plus if needed, interlining. To repeat a quotation from the first article in this series, from The Elements of Modern Dressmaking for the Amateur and Professional Dressmaker, p. 135, by Jeanette Davis and Cora Holahan in 1894:
It has been stated that the bottom edge of a well-cut skirt should flow outward (sufficiently so, in fact, to quite shadow the feet when the wearer is in a standing position -- and a skirt which does not fulfil this condition is never quite satisfactory). To maintain this effect, frills, flounces, ruches, linings of crinoline and horsehair, balayeuses (or inside frills), wadded hems and rolls, etc., are all used in turn, and anything in the choice of lining or in the finishing of the bottom edge of the skirt that allows it to fall soft, or that draws it in in the slightest degree, is at once rejected as not meeting the requirements of the work. Methods of finishing which leave the edges thin are, therefore, less favoured than those which leave them firm and full, and all hems, stiffening, etc., are cut amply wide, and bindings, etc., well eased on, to guard against the danger of drawing in.
What a valuable set of information in one concise packet! Materials used to line the skirt should be "firm and full", with wide hems.

The Art of Dressmaking by Sophie Klug treats the facing and interfacing method in detail. So that you understand what is going on, I will quote pages 30 and 31 at length:
When the lining is ready, cut out the outside fabric and then the facing of linen canvas, haircloth or cross-bar crinoline. The canvas and crinoline should both be cut bias, from five to fifteen inches wide and to fit around the bottom of the skirt. Where the latter is not in one piece, cut the facing to fit each section. The depth of this facing is ascertained by the prevailing fashion, or shape of the skirt being made. If the style requires an interlining of stiffening, the above facing is only put on five inches deep, it being otherwise nine to fifteen inches wide, according to one's fancy. Baste this across the bottom of the lining one-half inch from the lower edge of the skirt, and fasten to position by stitching with the machine across its top edge. When haircloth is used, the edges must be bound with some firm material to prevent the hair from gradually working through to the top surface. If an interlining of stiffening is needed, there is for this purpose organdie, grass linen, moreen, fibre-chamois, haircloth, etc. The latter is often used for the back of skirts, while crinoline or fibre-chamois will be found quite sufficient for the front. This is chiefly done to lessen expense as only good haircloth should be employed. If the haircloth is to be entirely omitted use fibre-chamois throughout the whole skirt. (All haircloth must be shrunk before using.) To join any of the above named linings lap the edges one over the other, and sew together with short basting stitches, the haircloth having strips of firm lining stitched over each seam. Do this work very smoothly and press well to avoid seams showing on the outside material.

The stiffening is basted on the foundation after the canvas facing has been added and before the outside fabric is to be adjusted. The latter is then basted on smooth and even; under no circumstance should the baster allow the outside to be fuller than the lining, as this would cause the skirt to show puckers in the seams after being finished. Now baste the sections of the skirt together, stitch and press open the seams, which are then bound, over-casted or pinked.

An 1890s skirt in my possession features a lining and interlining made in this manner. Please see An Antique 1890s Black Skirt With Brush Braid In My Collection and check the lining and facing sections.

With three to four layers involved, even if some were lightweight, it is no wonder that wearers would complain of weight.

A key point, too, in Mrs. Klug's directions: how far up that interlining went was at the discretion of the maker and the wearer, and the interlinings could be very high indeed. In March 1895, The Ladies Home Journal column "The Gowns of the Spring" (page 19), written as usual by Isobel Mallon, wrote, "Facings that are light, and which, at the same time, stiffen, are put in the back breadths quite up to the belt, and in the front and side breadths to just above the knees."

Whether Sophie Klug would call these facings an interlining, I don't know.

A Bit About Interlining Materials, Including Fibre-Chamois

In the quotations above, we have heard of a variety of materials being used as interlinings: organdy, "grass linen", moreen, haircloth, crinoline, and "fibre-chamois". Organdy is still used as a lining and interlining, as are crinoline, and haircloth, which we met in the last post, and which is still made and sold in different widths. What about the rest?

Grass Linen

In June 1896, The Ladies Home Journal article by regular columnist Emma M. Hooper, titled "The Latest Summer Gowns" (p. 20) recommends grass linen for collars, blouses with cuffs of the same, and entire gowns and blouses and says that the fabric is very popular. A Complete Dictionary of Dry Goods and History of Silk, Cotton, Linen, Wool and Other Fibrous Substances (1892) offers a neat definition of grass linen as "a fine grass-cloth". Grass-cloth, in turn, is defined as being both "a heavy, buff-colored cotton muslin, used at present for children's underwear", and "China grass-cloth, beautiful, fine fabric made from the fiber of an India nettle" (p. 170). Well, another example of the all-too-common problem of the same name being applied to very different fabrics.

The 1894 Bulletin of the National Association of Wool Manufacturers said that grass cloth was made from a fiber in the nettle family.  The book Fabrics and How to Know Them, dating to 1923, has the best definition I have found (p. 26), and one that clears up our problem:

Canton linen. Commonly called grass cloth, Chinese grass cloth or grass linen. A fine, translucent fabric which looks like linen. Made of ramie fiber (china grass). It wrinkles like linen, but has a distinctive, clear, oiled appearance due to luster of ramie fibers when not twisted. Much worn in China in the stiff (or natural gum) unbleached state. Mostly hand woven. Cool and durable. Bleached or dyed blue. Sold usually in Oriental shops. Uses: lunch-clothes, doilies, blouses. Weave--plain. Width: "12, 18", 32", 36".

Aha! It has a linen look, so that's why it was popular for summer gowns, but, and here's where we can see its use in skirt interlinings: it can be woven in the ramie fiber's natural, gummed state. Ramie is a bast fiber, like flax, and like flax, it has a natural gumminess. I know that from hand-spinning! When a person hand-spins flax fiber, they keep their fingers wetted in order to dampen the fibers as they are drawn out and twisted, to wake up the gum and make it help the fibers stay twisted. The gum is washed out later. Ta-whoom-boom, a mystery no more.

You know, that only took me an hour or so to solve, with the help of Google Books and the Internet Archive. I am continually grateful for the internet and the decision some years ago to digitize old texts; doing so expanded our research abilities by a factor so large that I don't know what number to assign to it. A far cry from 1989, long afternoons when I photocopied pages from books and journals, and kept track of citations kept on index cards, as a graduate student working as a research gofer to a professor.


This was a woolen or wool and cotton fabric with a watered surface.


Now we get to the fun stuff. Fibre-chamois. What is it, a plant-based version of chamois-skin that's still available for car buffs to buff their cars with? (What's up with "buff" meaning someone who has a particular hobby, anyway?) Or what was it?

It was an interlining, and it was a scam. Eh, not a complete scam or sham, but a product that the early marketers went wild with, which turned out to be made of pretty ordinary, cheap materials, as it came out.

Here it is, conveniently visible as a large advertisement next to the home dressmaking column in the pages of The Ladies Home Journal, March, 1895 (p. 35):

Sometimes the advertisements included instructions for how to use it in specific garments. In the New York Journal, (Sunday, March 21, 1897, p. 38) the company's advertisement included two illustrations showing how to interline a skirt. The left illustration shows the front-side of the skirt. It is interlined about halfway up. The right illustration shows the back of the skirt with its many folds. Here, the interlining is set all the way up to the waistband.

The small print under the two illustrations reads "Here we show how to support a skirt with "GENUINE" Fibre Chamois, and when the folds are gathered at the band the result will be as handsome as the finished dress shown above."
Here's an 1895 double endorsement on a trade card, from Lillian Russell, star actress, who has her name paired with it, and does Redfern and Sons, the upscale British tailoring establishment with offices in New York and Paris.

Boston Public Library. Permanent link:

I just love this bit of iffy advertising, pulling in the lawyers to give evidence that the Fibre-Chamois product, and only the patented product, was legal, making all other lookalikes mere shams -- oh, I can't resist -- shammies. There were indeed patent infringement court cases.

Full-page advertisement in The Clothier and Furnisher, 1895.

As we have read, fashion columnists promoted the product, too. I am unsure if they were paid to do so, or not. The Ladies World for March, 1896, included a full-page article (p. 13) by a Madge Preston, titled "Fibre Chamois Is Awarded the Verdict of Superiority". Frank Leslie's Popular Monthly,  and The American Magazine, and probably others ran the same article.

What was it made of? Vegetable or wood pulp. That according to Rob Schoman, in Selling Style: Clothing and Social Change at the Turn of the Century (p. 57). You might have a look at the book to learn the rest of the story.

Oh well, horsehair, wood pulp? Fabric made from a plant in the nettle family? What's new? It wasn't so long ago we were putting cane into stays and beach grasses into farthingales.

Humps and Bumps: Too-Large, Too-High Interlinings

The advice about using interlinings as stiffening varied from journal to journal, and month to month.

The November 1894 Demorest's Family Magazine Mirror of Fashions promoted a blue and red house and carriage gown with a skirt 7 yards around, "lined to the waist behind, and above the knees in front, and on the sides, with horsehair crinoline."

A month later, the same magazine wrote (page 121):
Study to attain a pleasing conventional of outline, avoid eccentricities and extremes of cut or fabric, and you will pass as a well-gowned woman anywhere.
From this you may conclude that if you have the strength to carry great weight, and like to sit down on stiff lumps or humps, you may line your skirt to the waist behind with haircloth or the new chamois lining, but if you object to the weight and like your comfort, you can secure just as perfect style for your new gown by omitting the interlining, or, if a heavy cloth, you may finish it with only a facing.
That's a strong opinion! The writer, if it was the same one, wasn't. Done. Here's May's opinion (p. 420):

Demorest's Family Magazine, May 1895

Demorest's Family Magazine, May 1895

In April 1895 Demorest's Family Magazine, page 360: "Skirts of gowns are severely plain, but as full and rippling as heretofore; and the latest word from Paris is that positively no stiffening is used!" Well. After the above, are you surprised? Skirts were soon to deflate, after that.

Because interlinings and facings are so integral to other methods of achieving skirt fullness, further coverage of them will be interspersed in the next posts.

What Interlinings Might We Use Now?

When I made the 1890s skirt last summer, I used a very lightweight modern interfacing under the skirt facing as an 1890s-style facing/interlining. It did little to nothing to give the skirt body. Now that we understand that light cotton skirts didn't need such things, helps at the petticoat level being more the thing, that's what I'd suggest for a cotton or lightweight silk skirt.

For tailored linen skirts, wool or heavy fabric skirts, what's available? Commercial modern interlinings, of course, which have the advantage of being easy to find and test. Buckram in various weights, and you could size your own linen or canvas to achieve whatever level of bendability/stiffness you wanted, although that takes experimentation. You can also use a player from the original cast: haircloth. Again, this comes in various degrees of stiffness, so you will want to think hard before shelling out the money. Ramie interlining appears to be made still, as references to it pop up in Google, but I can locate no sellers.

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