I’m in Dr Lambert’s office and decided to take a stretch break after hunching over the chemise gown. There’s a museum catelog on a nearby windowsill, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza: Old Masters, so I’m flipping through it and what do I spy?
Zoffany, Group Portrait with Sir Elijah and Lady Impey, detail. 1783-84.
And six feet from that book is a real chemise gown. This is a cool feeling. :)
I just had my first, of two, study sessions at Platt Hall, and so far it’s been worth it!
First, some assumptions about the dress that I walked away with in 2012 were set straight immediately. The frilly collar around the neck that was of a different fabric? Modern. It was put on the dress when it was installed in 1983 because it “looked right.” Upon studying the neckline I couldn’t find an indication of there having been a collar attached prior to the one the museum tacked in place, though I’m going back tomorrow to do some more sleuthing. While it’s interesting, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the dating is off, because images of chemise gowns sans collars abound, but it does make it unique since we are lead to believe most chemise gowns have collars.
Second, the fabric probably wasn’t embroidered, but woven. In fact, Dr Lambert changed the description in the database (also reflected online) while we were discussing the that the motif just was too tiny, to regular, too mechanical for it to be embroidery.
Also, apparently the original accession card had the note that it was a type of Indian woven gauze, but it was changed in the 80s to “chikkan embroidery” when the gown was installed. It has some similarities to chikkan embroidery, I’ll grant those who made that decision but even fine chikkan work isn’t this fine. Getting up close on the fabric, you can see how integral the motif is to the weave, and its identical on both sides of the fabric, with no tie-offs anywhere. The final clincher was examining the hem of the dress, which has a slight train. While it’s possible to say that the panels were embroidered in straight, rectangular pieces before being assembled, most embroidery work is done with the shape of the pattern piece laid out, so you can avoid embroidering into the seams, and take into account things like trained hems without having to worry about cutting into the embroidery and risk unravelling it. The hem on the Platt Hall chemise is cut without regard to the motif of the fabric, which makes me feel pretty confident that it was actually woven.
This is an interesting project in that it is actually a very simple dress. Four panels, some drawstrings, and a pair of sleeves. That’s really all it is! And speaking of the sleeves, they are original, even if the fabric is a plain muslin. The sleeve head is not gathered in, but pleated at 1″ intervals all the way around, as it is only about 10″ or so larger than the armscye.
The stitching is pretty average, too. No insane 22-stitches-per-inch or whatever. Just small enough to not be obvious, and spaced close enough to be secure and still get the job done. In fact, on non-stress bearing seams like where the panels are joined, the stitches are fairly fast and spaced further apart. Clearly sewn by someone competent and confident, but not anal retentive.
And check out that teeny tiny selvedge! It’s about 1/8″ wide.
Tomorrow I’m going back and will fill in the gaps with more photos and notes and whatnot. I may even beg to see some other items in the collection, if Dr Lambert can be prevailed. Also, I wish I’d gotten a photo of his rather chubby Scottie dog… I was too distracted by the box of chemise sitting on the table when she trundled through. I love critters!
Thank you so much to everyone who contributed to helping me offset the cost of this trip. I hope it ends up being as worth it to you as it is to me!
(Appologies if the layout is being weird. I’m doing this on my iPad and it’s not exactly going smoothly)
If you had asked me at 10 p.m. on May 11 if I thought I’d be sitting here in a hotel in Manchester typing this up, I would have said no way in hell. The reason for that would be because I was sitting in a Boeing 747 with 360-some odd highly irritated people because our plane had been towed back to gate some 4.5 hours earlier due initially to mechanical issues. Some two hours after our designated flight time, the mechanical issue had been fixed (but not before a lot of back and forth between the ground crew at SFO and the engineers in London, and a part that apparently had to be brought in to replace the broken part, and for all anyone knew, could have been flown from Seattle in the time it took for it to get to us). Then, as a cheer of relief erupted, there was another inexplicablly long amount of time where we continued not to move before the captain came back on the intercom and said we were being delayed because the food on our plane had sat on the plane for too long and had to be replaced before he would be legally allowed to take off. Except that didn’t happen for another THREE HOURS, because SFO has its head firmly up its ass and couldn’t apparently get any food to us, although it successfully got food OFF the plane.
By now we had spent aproximately 50% of our scheduled flight on the ground, unfed, and before anyone asks about alcohol, we weren’t allowed that either because apparently allowing people trapped on a plane for hours on end to have alcohol has gone badly in the past, so the TSA made a regulation about that as well. We did get water, though. And a breakfast sandwich which seemed to have been made in the Pleistocene, judging by its petrification. So, technically we did get fed, I suppose.
We finally took off at 12:30 a.m. on a flight that should have left at 6:45 p.m. the previous day. I am profoundly grateful to the Dramamine I took as we began taxiing down the runway, because I was able to sleep all but the last 2 hours of the flight. We landed in London with a sigh of relief that we were finally going to get off this plane and on with life!
There were issues with the jetty locking system so we were stuck another 45 minutes waiting to deplane. Once we were off, the ground agents handed us vouchers for any of the airport restaurants, while the people with transfers besieged them for rescheduled flights. Luckily, all I had to do was get myself to my hotel, which was easy enough to do jetlagged and semi-conscious. I felt grateful that I’ve navigated London so many times in a semi-conscious state that it was no real problem for me to get to my hotel. The only thing I was bummed about was that I had planned 24 hours in London to visit the V&A and hang out with some friends, and I wasn’t going to get to do any of that. The champagne my hotel comped me sort of lifted my spirits, but champers is great and all… It’s just not the V&A. :P
Tuesday morning, I had a brief moment of genius about extending my stay in London one more night, but that was squashed when the hotel had no available rooms. So, I duly packed my stuff and went on with my plan to travel to Manchester, even more bummed because I had all this free time I could have been using for London and now, I was going to be twiddling my thumbs in Manchester.
Not to hate on Manchester, but… It’s actually kind of a depressing industrial town. Yes, yes, I know there’s culture and stuff, but it’s just not got the depth of London. I can burrow in London. Manchester feels, to me, like an American city with it’s mostly post-19th c. industrial revolution history. It’s an important part of history, but it’s not my fandom.
Manchester, however, has Platt Hall and that’s the whole reason to come here. If you’re a historical costumer, you should make your way here at some point in your lifetime. The collection is extensive, and unlike the V&A where you have to have the stars align for a viewing of their historical clothing collections (it’s never happened for me in 10 years of visiting and researching in the UK), the Gallery of Costume is very accomodating and open to contact.
So, anyway, that’s my first two days in the UK in a nutshell. Tomorrow’s post I’ll talk about my first of two sessions with the chemise gown (I’m writing this a day behind, so I’ve already got the first viewing under my belt and am digesting it).
One of my favorite things is seeing Trystan take a historical style and make it into her own. She’s VERY committed to her personal aesthetic and warped sense of humor, in case you haven’t noticed. Trystan made this gown for our trip to France last year, from some beautiful lightweight silk-cotton Indienne printed lawn. To create the ruffle at the neckline and sleeves, she used black lace (I think it was recycled from her Eugenie gown, if I’m not mistaken). You can see more photos and read more about her gown on her website.
Way back in my first post, I discussed the terminology confusion surrounding the “gaulle” and the “chemise.” Back when we thought these dresses were two different things, and not simply later iterations of the chemise gown, Kendra made a lovely peach-toned gaulle.
Kendra’s gown features the tight, wrist length sleeves, and the fitted back of the late-1780s-90s style chemise gowns, and is made from a pale peach colored cotton lawn. This gown ultimately spurred me to try my own hand at making a “gaulle,” based on one of the gowns from The Duchess (my one and only movie costume, to date).
You can learn more about Kendra’s gown by visiting her website.
It’s really gratifying to see your research being interpreted by someone who knows a thing or two about making beautiful clothing. Cathy Hay has been a supporter of my aspirations since practically the beginning, and so she turned to me for help when she decided to make her own chemise gown for our France trip last year. I was only too happy to let her see my secret stash of photos from my first Platt Hall visit, where I was only able to study the chemise on the mannequin.
I have this vague recollection of 2007 being the Year of the Chemise Gown in my costuming circles. I think it started off with Katherine, who spontaneously decided that she had to have one, and then others rapidly followed suit. Yeah, costumers are kind of sheep like that. ;)
At the time, I remember thinking “Why on earth would you want to wear a boring white cotton dress?” Well, seeing Katherine and my other friends at Costume College the following year changed my mind.
I think it’s high time I gave a shoutout to Cassidy over at Mimic-of-Modes. Cassidy has been putting up translations of Galerie des Modes and Cabinet des Modes fashion plates for a few years now. Her translations on the chemise gown have been helpful for my own research, as her grasp of the nuances of French is somewhat better than mine, so I’d frequently check my translations against hers as I was compiling written references to the chemise. Her thesis was also on the chemise gown, but on the later iterations, whereas I’m focused on the earliest incarnations.
If you haven’t been spending hours trawling through her translations, you really should start. It’s an impressive project she’s got going on there!