Monday, June 13, 2022

Tour of an Early Edwardian Silk Taffeta Gown In Photos and Videos: The Bodice

Screenshot from one of the videos I made about the gown.

Last post I introduced you to a black taffeta Edwardian two-piece gown in my collection.

This and the next post look at it in more detail, in both photos and in eight YouTube videos. The gown is much easier to understand in motion in 3-D on a mannequin than flat in photos.

Find the videos about the entire gown on my YouTube channel at

No worries, I am not replacing this blog with videos, but in cases where video is a good means of communicating about a project, they are a helpful adjunct. 

In this case, I kept finding new parts of the gown to explore, so the planned four videos became eight.

Now for the additional photos, and some more information about the gown.


The bodice is abundantly pintucked. The front pintucks give a sort of yoke effect and release into the lower bodice. Not much fabric is used up by the pintucks: it's the width of the fabric itself formed into center-facing pleats at bottom that gives the blouson, pigeon-front effect.

The front is longer than the back, which cut The Delineator called a "dip". With a straight-front corset, the front of a loose bodice would fall loosely naturally, while the hips, angled back, would cause the back itself to be shorter. Pulling the loose fabric close and moving the bulk of it to the front causes the pouch effect. This pouching is moderate and doesn't look as heavy as on some bodices because the fabric is crisp and stiff.

Detail of the front and its pouching.

The collar band is top-stitched over the raw neckline edge.

There is no evidence that the high collar that originally went with the gown was fixed to the band collar, as was sometimes the case. Instead, it would have been separate, and probably in matching black silk, either a taffeta or just perhaps a satin. It's tempting to think that it was also tucked, but we do not know.

The collar interior is lined with a very soft silk.

The silk lining is hand-hemmed in matching thread.

The fashion fabric at the bodice bottom is pleated with five center-facing pleats. Two on each side are nearly on top of one another to keep the pleats concentrated at the center.

Closeup of the fashion fabric bodice bottom. It is bound with a fine silk tape or ribbon. The tape is straight tabby woven and merely folded over the raw edge and running stitched to hold it on. The stitches aren't especially small.

Sleeve detail at the elbow: the pintucks give out to allow for a modest elbow puff, quite popular during 1901 and 1902. Then the tucks begin again and travel to the wrist. The sleeve isn't tight as in 1899 or 1900, but there is no sleeve puff and it isn't especially wide, either.

The puff, concentrated at the back of the sleeve, makes the sleeve a modest bishop sleeve. By 1903 such puffs could be quite large, but this may have been either a 1901-2 dress or a conservative cut.

The cuff is pintucked and finished with a natty arrow shape, and closes with a convenient snap.

Snaps were available on menswear in the 1880s. (See Wikipedia post). When they arrived on womenswear I do not know, but we usually think of them as a bit later. Both bodice and skirt use snaps and there is zero evidence in the fabric that hooks and eyes were ever used, and no buttonhole for a button. 

The inside of the bodice. It's lined with a tightly woven polished cotton, pinked and never hemmed to finish it. Fast to put together!

The lining fits tightly with darts.


Lining seams are hand-overcast to finish them. Interestingly, in creamy white thread, neat and even work. The shoulder seams are handled similarly. 

The armscye appears to have been basted in a slightly heavy light brown thread, then stitched in black thread, and then seam binding added.

By the way, all machine stitching was made by a straight-stitch machine, not a chainstitch machine. The stitch size is small, and in places where it does not show, is not perfectly fact, it wanders some.

Note the silk tape or ribbon loop for hanging the bodice. It is very lightweight and pressed at the top. Barely looks used...

Sleeve lining, more brown thread, this time used to connect the fashion and lining layers together to finish them. The sleeve was constructed with the lining and fashion fabric treated as one piece -- flatlined -- not bag-lined.

The cuffs are faced and the wear on them shows that the garment was worn a good bit.

About the fabric: in the videos I wondered aloud if the fabric could have been Nearsilk, an early cellulose-based faux taffeta, because the heavy taffeta shows no signs of shattering. Many silks, especially thin ones, had a tendency to do this because they were treated with metallic salts during production. The metals tends to degrade the fabric over time. So does sunlight. However, even without a burn test, I was able to determine that the fabric is silk, and we even know the brand.

I did find an embroidered label integral to the selvage with "Princess Guaranteed Ta" hidden in a frill pleat.

On a long skirt seam is another label, "Guaranteed Stirling Silk Mfg Co". I looked it up in Google Books and found that the fabric is actually silk taffeta by a Stirling Manufacturing Company, whose fabric was sold in the US and perhaps elsewhere. I located two ads, a full-page ad in 1899 in Book News (volume 17) for the black silk fabric at John Wanamaker Department Store in Philadelphia, and the other a 1900 quarter page ad in another publication.  

Further, this company and another, by the similar name of Sterling, fought over the use of selvage labeling, it apparently being a new feature. The Sterling silk was said to be of lower quality, and the name and labeling chosen to mimic the Stirling silk. (New Jersey Equity Reports, volume 59).

The silk is wonderfully sturdy, so much so that I had thought it might be Nearsilk, an early faux taffeta. Quality indeed, and carefully stored out of the light -- it's not shattering! I am going to have to obtain storage for it that is equally dark and of archival quality. 

The gown came from an estate in Maine, and was sold to me by Pincushion Costuming in Canada. Whether it was made in Canada or the US is unknown. 

Next post in this series: Tour of an Extant Early Edwardian Silk Taffeta Gown: Some Bodice Details

Previous post in this series: A New Project and circa 1901-1903 Extant Gown to Share


MrsC (Maryanne) said...

Oh I get so tingly looking at extant garments, imagining the woman who wore it once.
Burning question for your inquiries - is the front bodice cut as a straight sided piece, or is it cut in an a line, or some other way? I am as fascinated by cut as by construction, please be my eyes Natalie! <3

ZipZip said...

Dear Mrs. C.,
Thought you might like this gown. The design has wonderful potential.

Now for the cut, yes, I can be your eyes, or rather, I will do my best. The lining makes it difficult to see how the fashion fabric. However, with some gentle poking amd tape measure use, think I can figure it out.
Very best,

Anonymous said...

I'm wondering if the stitched edge finish on the side and shoulder seams of the lining are indication that the lining was used as a toile for fitting--reinforcement to keep it from fraying with lots of handling during that process--and the excess was later trimmed off with pinking shears once the final fit was achieved.

And if the answer to that is, 'Well, duh!' my apologies, I've draped very few patterns and am bound to still be coming up with newbie insights and thinking they're profound. :-)

Have just found your blog and am greatly enjoying it so far,

ZipZip said...

Dear Rebecca,
Good evening! So glad that you're enjoying the blog :)

The stitched edge finish on the lining is actually overcasting to prevent the edges of the fabric from raveling and would have been completed after the seams were done. It is too far from the actual seams to have been of much use in fitting.

You've asked a really good question, though. Was the lining first used as a fitting toilet?

I don't recall seeing evidence of pinning in the silk. Taffeta can show every pin hole. There aren't little tag ends of thread left after seams were basted that you sometimes find, either.

However, the lining may have been used as a toile...but for the lining only. That's because the pattern pieces for the front and backs of the bodice were different shapes than the pieces used for the lining. The fashion fabric front piece has the pouch effect, so is wider than than the front lining, and there are no darts in it, for example.

In addition, it's likely that the taffeta for the fronts and backs was tucked before being cut into the pattern pieces. This was standard practice as otherwise knowing how much fabric to use would get fiddly. Better to cut a big piece of fabric, tuck it where needed, and then cut the pattern piece shape.

It would be fascinating to know the dressmaker's process. Did they have basic lining pattern pieces ready to use for a variety of sizes, that were traced into the lining fabric and then cut and fitted to the client? I do not know.

Very best,