Sunday, April 23, 2017

An Elegant Block-Printed Cotton Gown, c1805

Sunday, April 23, 2017
Susan reporting,

This elegant - and adaptable - gown is on display in the Printed Fashions: Textiles for Clothing and Home exhibition (currently at the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum of Colonial Williamsburg through 2018; see other articles from the exhibition I've mentioned here, here, and here). The photo, right, shows the dress as it appears in the exhibition, and gives you an idea of just how much other printed gorgeousness is on parade in this amazing exhibition.

There are several features that make this dress unusual. First is the fabric itself, a block-printed cotton that was intended to mimic lapis, reflecting the era's interest in nature as inspiration for design. The fabric was printed with a curved hem border design (called "to form" or "a disposition") to be incorporated into the garment's finished design when made up.  Also of interest is the fact that the dress has a pair of matching long sleeves or mitts to offer extra options to the wearer.

Here's the collection's placard:

"This small-scale spotted pattern was printed especially for a gown of this style. The red borders outlining the hem of the curved train and the skirt front are printed to the finished shape, not stitched on separately. The remaining red trimmings around the sleeves and neckline are cut from the printed yardage and stitched in place.

The red and blue printing technique is usually known as the "lapis style," named for the semiprecious stone with a blue ground. The printing method involved printing a mordant (color fixative) for red in with a resist paste before dyeing in indigo blue.

This graceful gown exemplifies the neoclassical style with a raised waistline and skirt falling close to the body. The bodice closes by means of a drop panel fastening in place at the proper right shoulder. Removable matching mitts could be used to cover the arms down to the wrists for warmth or protection from the sun."

The dress is also proof that not every woman in early 19thc Britain - an era much-beloved for the costumes shown in many Jane Austen-inspired films - dressed in plain white cotton muslin. Prints and color were available for ladies who wished to stand out from the crowd, and those who understood the practicality of a dark print and its ability to mask a bit of dirt between laundering.

Woman's gown and mitts, printed to shape, Great Britain, c1805. Collection, Colonial Williamsburg.
Photographs upper and lower left courtesy of Colonial Williamsburg.
Photograph right ©2017 Susan Holloway Scott.


kat newkirk said...

minus the train, i'd be thrilled to wear a dress like this!

Reds said...

Do you know of an exhibit catalog for the Printed Fashions: Textiles for Clothing and Home exhibition?

Unknown said...

Is this like an empire style?

Susan Holloway Scott said...

Reds, I don't believe there is one. You should contact the bookstore of the DeWitt Wallace Gallery at Colonial Williamsburg to be certain, but I don't recall seeing one.

Linda, Yes, this high-waisted style has become known as "empire", because it was popular in France during the time when Napoleon was emperor. Sometimes it's also called "regency." Neither was used at the time to describe the style, but are more modern descriptions. :)

Unknown said...

Thanks, I remember this being a popular style when I was a teenager.

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