Wednesday, January 11, 2012

What the Mantua-Maker's Apprentice Wore, c. 1775

Wednesday, January 11, 2012
Susan reporting:

Collections of historic clothing are usually filled with the clothes of the rich and famous, which can give the misguided impression that everyone in the past wore silk and lace. Not quite; but the dress of ordinary folk is much harder to find (and, for us writers, to imagine) because not much of it survives. Clothing was expensive, and most was worn until it was worn out. Garments were patched and mended and handed down, refashioned (see here) and recut until there was often nothing left. Even rags were useful, with a gentleman's fine linen shirt eventually ending up as bandages or rags for the paper maker.

All of which is why I especially enjoy seeing what our mantua-maker friends in the Margaret Hunter Shop, Colonial Williamsburg, are wearing to work. While they might be stitching fine silk, for the most part they're dressed as their 18th c. counterparts would have dressed. A shopkeeper's assistant or apprentice in the fashion trades was expected to dress as stylishly as possible within her means, and their clothes often reflected the latest fashions sewn in more modest fabrics. Stylish was good for trade - she was, after all, a walking advertisement for the shop - but not so stylish that she rivaled the customers by dressing above her station. (As always, please click on the photos to enlarge to see details.)

Here Sarah Woodyard is dressed as a mantua-maker's apprentice c. 1775. Her gown is a reproduction of a closed-front English gown with the skirts looped up into two puffs in the back. While this style would have been most fashionable in silk, it's here made up in block-printed cotton. The printed pattern features a meandering vine and tassel motif which would also have been copied from expensive woven silks. The single color would have made the fabric more affordable, too, but the design of the gown – carefully cut to make the most of the cloth's pattern – more than compensates.

While the gown has no costly silk ribbons or trimmings, the apprentice's fine linen cap features not only a wide silk bow, but also extravagant pleating for maximum effect. Her kerchief and apron are also fine white linen, and her white thread stockings and quilted petticoat also contributes to the impression of a neat and tidy assistant. I like the subtlety in the white-on-white textures; if you look closely, you'll see that there's a woven check in her neck kerchief, and diamond-patterned quilting in her petticoat. There's another spot of color in the heart-shaped red pincushion - an essential part of the trade - that hangs ready at her waist, and more in her red ribbon garters. Everything except the stockings was cut and stitched by hand by Sarah herself, just as any good apprentice should.

But it's her shoes that are truly eye-catching. As we've seen before, the 18th c was a glorious time for women's shoes, and these are no exception, made from red silk with yellow leather-covered heels and brass buckles. Sarah is particularly proud of these shoes, since she made them herself while working in CW's shoemakers' shop – see her carving the heels from wood here.

Many thanks to Sarah Woodyard!For more pictures of her shoes in progress, see the Margaret Hunter Shop's Facebook page.
All photographs here copyright 2012 Susan Holloway Scott

11 comments:

A Taylor said...

Those apprentices are moving on up!

Sarah Waldock said...

All red or all blue prints [the shades of colour formed by the density of colour] were most common on cotton or cotton/linen unions, but the manipulation of different mordants using a madder dye meant that several apparent colours could be acquired from one dyebath. I had great fun researching that to blog about and can't resist sharing

vintagevisions27 said...

Lovely pictures! Thanks for sharing!

Time Traveling in Costume said...

I always enjoy seeing these lovely ladies in the shop. They are inspirational and I always want to own everything in the shop.
Val

Isobel Carr said...

I am so jealous of those shoes I can barely contain myself! I have a new pair from American Duchess, but they don’t even begin to rival those for beauty or accuracy. Footwear is always the hardest part of a costume, because it’s one of the items that most of us can’t make ourselves.

Her costume is lovely too, but it’s the shoes I’m gnashing my teeth over.

nightsmusic said...

Out of 220 feeds today O_o, yours is one of three I'm reading and you know it's today because of the shoes. We've talked red shoes before and these are fabulous.

Want! wantwantwantwantwantwantwant...

Well, you get the idea ;o)

Susan Holloway Scott said...

A Taylor - you KNOW how apprentices can be....

Sarah Waldock - would you mind sharing the link to your blog on the red dyes? Please? :)

Vintagevisions 27, Time Traveling in Costume - glad you enjoyed the post. The CW mantua-makers never fail in make me!

Isobel, nightsmusic - ah, yes, the shoes! Sarah's shoes are amazing, and I was so happy to be there on the first day she wore them. Nothing like new shoes, esp new old shoes.

Isobel, I totally agree about the difficulty of finding good reproductions. Nearly all that are available are just not "right" - they're too clunky, the heels and toes aren't extreme/stylish enough, and they're often like the Model T: any color you want so long as it's black. But these with the yellow heels....::sigh:: Sarah's just begun another pair, and I can't wait to see what they look like!

Isobel Carr said...

Also, if you do find just the right shoes, they often have prohibitively high price tags. I paid a little over $500 for my first pair of good 16thC reproduction shoes. And then I’m hiking about in the mud in them.

Susan Holloway Scott said...

Isobel - no kidding! As an example, the Sarah Juniper site is totally drool-worthy. For the handwork, the prices are fair, but as you say, not in the mud. Maybe if they came with a sedan chair and two strapping chair-men...

http://www.sarahjuniper.co.uk/

Isobel Carr said...

I love her shoes. The shapes are just really nicely done. Someday ...

Isobel Carr said...

Two of my other favorties are

Plantagenet Shoes in the UK
http://www.plantagenetshoes.co.uk/home.aspx

Thomas Posenanski in Germany
http://www.ledermanufaktur.com/default.htm

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