Hand woven dress silk c.1780

After the death of Louis XIV in 1715, dress became simpler during the 18th century. The outline of gentlemen’s coats became tighter fitting above the waist and flared out over the hips whilst feminine dress always included the corset, trimmed with lace and ribbons, with an overskirt attached to the corset and pulled up on each side to increase the volume.

Highly patterned fabrics were still the fashion, some with added embellishment, with the rich brocades and velvets remaining the reserve of the rich. Many designs incorporated this look of embellishment, either within the pattern repeat, or to give the impression of detailing.  Many of these designs (being hand woven on draw looms) required great skills to create these complex patterns.

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                  Doc 302, hand woven silk fabric c.1780

The fabric piece within the Archive, Doc 302, is a wonderful example of this work. The pattern displays small bunches of flowers, ‘sprigs’ which are laid in a ‘scattered’ pattern. Amongst these pretty bunches, the pattern of a piece of lace has been folded, to create a uniting repeat. The design encompasses the later 18th century interest in nature, a soft motif such as the flowers, combined with a structure, often follies or landscapes – in this case, lace. At one point, the fashion for lace became so excessive that a limit of use was passed in almost every country. Therefore, using lace as a pattern in itself became a fashionable substitute.

Doc 302 - whole piece front - lower res

Doc 302, hand woven silk fabric c.1780

The sample shown is a section from a dress corset, which has been carefully unpicked. A soft pink/lilac as the ground colour sets the more vibrant colours within the flowers, each bunch being hand brocaded into the cloth. The photograph of the back of the cloth, shows how the yarn ‘floats’ across the back of the fabric, and is reintroduced back into the design, when the weaver needed to weave more of the pattern.

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    Doc 302, hand woven silk fabric c.1780

Many fabrics from this period have not survived, due to wear and tear, but also as they would often be cut up, alongside the changing fashions. The Archive has many quality samples from this period as furnishing as well as dress fabrics.

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