Off To The UK

Traveling can be a lot of fun but there’s a lot of planning involved and calculation that goes into it and our most recent trip is no exception. So what motivated our trip to the UK? Well, besides a basic desire to get out and see the world again now that the threat of COVID was diminishing, we’ve always had a soft spot for the UK, its rich history, and a wide variety of historical sites. But even more importantly, we’d been invited by some good friends to participate in their ten-year wedding anniversary celebration with a late 19th Century theme. We simply couldn’t say no and thus began the months-long planning process for us. 😄

Up until our departure date, there were a lot of tasks that needed to be accomplished and while the process could be exhausting, the end result was well worth it.


After a very smooth flight on a half-empty Virgin Atlantic airliner, we arrived at Heathrow rested and raring to go. We felt confident enough driving on English roads (which can be very challenging for foreigners such as us) and this would afford us the opportunity to take in a lot of remote sites off the normal tourist paths.

Anticipation…

And we were greeted by these wonderful views of London…this was the closest we got to London on this trip (visiting London itself will have to wait until another trip).

After enduring the various immigration formalities and collecting our baggage, it was off to the West Country…

Fortunately, our trip started down the M-4 Motorway so our re-acquaintance with English roads was a gradual one…

Stay tuned for more…



A Trip To Whitchurch Silk Mill

In contrast to the blogging of our prior trips, we’re going to blog our recent trip to England one somewhat out of order but it should still make sense (hopefully). So sit back and relax… 😄

At Whitchurch Silk Mill

 


While we were in England, we had a chance to visit the Whitchurch Silk Mill. Located in the town of Whitchurch in Hampshire, the mill was constructed from 1813 through 1815 by Henry Hayter on a plot of land called Frog Island. Taking advantage of the nearby River Test, the mill’s looms were powered by a waterwheel (today, the looms are run off of electric motors).

The River Test Looking Away From The Mill

Part of the River Test passes below the mill, providing force for the waterwheel.

Since its initial construction in the early 1800s, the mill has had a number of owners and today it’s a public site managed by the Whitchurch Silk Mill Trust. Interestingly enough, silk is still produced here by commission, mostly for film and television productions. Below are some pictures of the machinery:

Skeins of silk thread.

Bobbins on a winding machine.

We couldn’t get any good pictures of the looms themselves so we found some images online:

One of the most interesting aspects of the mill were the looms and they even had two small ones that were set up for visitors such as ourselves to try out 😄:

Here I am giving the loom a try…

The most compelling thing about the mill was that we were able to see how a typical silk mill might have looked (the looms you see date from the 1890s and later). Moreover, looking at the looms, one can instantly understand why the selvage widths of period fabrics were narrow- older looms simply were not as big as the massive ones now commonly used.1Admittedly an “Oh wow!” moment for us. We’re still processing the whole experience but the one major takeaway is that we have a deeper appreciation of how silk fabric was manufactured.



And We’re Back! 😄

We’re back from England and recovering from the jet lag. 😄 While it was a fun near-two weeks, we’re glad to be home- it’s probably the longest time we’ve been away from the atelier in a long time. We apologize for the long silence here on the blog but the WordPress App on the mobile phone is difficult to use and error-prone so things have had to wait. 😄

Waiting to leave Heathrow for LAX.

Overall, it was an amazing trip and we visited all manner of interesting places and learned some new things- it’s been some 20 months since we were last in the UK and it was a relief to be able to return there and visit with our friends. We’ll be posting updates as we sort through all the pictures we took as well as others that our friends sent us- please bear with us as we slowly get caught up. 😄



Something Blue- A Reception Dress From the 70s…

Just when we thought we’d seen it all when it comes to 1870s style, there’s always something new to us that grabs our attention and in this case, an interesting circa 1876 reception dress from the Centraal Museum in Utrecht:

Reception Dress, c. 1876; Centraal Museum, Utrecht (4468/001-002

This dress features a dual solid/patterned fabric combination characteristic of 1870s style with the skirt and undertrain constructed of what appears to be a bright blue silk taffeta silk combined with a floral patterned silk brocade bodice and train. The bodice front features a narrow plastron of the same blue silk taffeta found in the dress and undertrain. The neckline is relatively modest, combined with a high Mandarin-like collar. The sleeves are three-quarter and are trimmed with ivory/champagne-colored lace.

The dress silhouette is interesting in that combines elements of both Early and Middle Bustle Eras. First, the bodice is suggestive of an early pannier polonaise style, a style that was to come into its own by 1880. However, note that the bodice is a separate entity from the pannier draping. At the same time, the bodice rear extends into a full train that style-wise is more characteristic of an earlier bustle era style.  Also, it’s interesting to note that while there’s a fully developed train going on, it’s more suggestive of later Mid-Bustle/Natural Form styles but nevertheless, some form of bustle was utilized and it’s especially a good candidate for a cage style bustle. Finally, we’d like to note the use of two horizontal rows of loose gathering on the dress front along with the loosely pleated hem serve to give the dress front more fullness.

The above picture provides a good view of the train and it’s clear that the bustle that would have been used with this dress would have emphasized the fullness of the train on the vertical plane. Now, let’s take a closer look at the bodice:

The high Mandarin collar and cut-out neckline are very angular and geometric and the theme is carried on further down the bodice front with the plastron that features a faux diamond cut-out below the neckline that reveals the pleated blue plaston.

The plastron’s vertical knife pleats draw the eye upwards towards the neckline, emphasizing the silhouette’s slender vertical lines, a style characteristic found in later Mid-Bustle/Natural Form styles. The overall effect is further emphasized with the minimal use of trim.

In the above picture, one can get a good idea of what the silk brocade looks like- note the bright blue velvet flowers outlined in gold on a background of striated blue and gold fabric. The excellent condition of the colors and the fabrics are simply amazing and it’s obvious that this dress was stored well, away from light. Below are some more close-ups from various parts of the dress:

 

Below is a nice view of one of the cuffs:

Finally, here’s a couple more full views of the dress from different angles:

The pictures above and below really give a good view of the dresse’s fullness in the front which nicely combines with the fullness of the train.

Below is a another nice view of the train.

For us, this is a very interesting dress in its transitional nature, combining earlier and later style elements and a fairly harmonious manner (although some could argue that the effect is somewhat clumsy but we beg to differ). It also shows that often, dresses are difficult to pigeon-hole in terms of style and only shows that fashion history is always full of unique surprises.



Designing For The 70s

When designing an 1870s dress, one is often faced with an overwhelming number of choices. While the basic 1870s style was characterized by the all-encompassing bustle silhouette, all of the other details were far from uniform and there were a bewildering variety of choices available in selecting the fabrics and trims. Moreover, there were many available choices in bodice, skirt, sleeve, and train design to include the princess line that came into vogue in the late 1870s. Finally, compared to earlier eras, there is also a variety of color choices, all made possible by the development of aniline dyes.

With all these choices, where does one begin? One of the most effective methods that we have successfully employed throughout the years is through the use of contrasting colors. Below are some examples of the possibilities:

The Englishwomen’s Domestic Magazine, June 1876

The color contrast could come in the form of a striped fashion fabric with one basic color and the stripes with the other color as shown on the above left figure. On the right, the contrast comes from the trim, in this case large bows and ribbons.

1876

With the above plate, the contrast comes from the fabrics themselves. The dress on each figure consists of two sets of fashion fabric and in some instances, one of the fabrics could be patterned. Below is another example of this:

In the above plate, we see a base fashion fabric combined with a second fabric that’s been draped over the first. The large scale use of fringe enhances the contrast and in the case of the left figure, the second fabric looks like it’s ready for slide off. Of course this is fashion plate and a bit of artistic licence is to be expected. 😉

Fashion Plate c. 1876

Wide stripes could also be used for a more dramatic effect as demonstrated with the above two figures. The cuirass bodice offered a wider “canvas” for these effects because of its larger continuous surface era. The princess line dress offered even greater scope for dramatic effect as seen below:

Le Moniteur de la Mode, 1876

In the above plate, the dress on the left uses contrast to its fullest extent by unifying the contrasting colors in a continuous flow of fabric and especially with the train. The dress on the right is a little different in that contract color is limited to stripes and edge trimming and with the embroidered back panel on the bodice enhancing the overall effect.

The Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine, July 1877

The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine, July 1877

In the above plate, the contrast effect is achieved through the use of striped trims to “outline” the dress in key areas. Once again, the princess line allows for this technique to be used to its greatest effect. Now let’s look at some examples of extant garments:

Day Dress, American, 1876; Philadelphia Museum of Art (1969-147-1a,b). This dress is constructed from steel grey silk taffeta and pale pink silk plain and striped satin; grey silk knotted fringe and pink satin cording.

A color contrast can be achieved through a variety of methods. One of the easiest, as shown above, is to utilize two solid colors with one color acting as the base fashion fabric that covers the largest expanse while the other plays a secondary role with the contrast color. Note that the backside of the fashion fabric that has been turned out as shown along the bottom of the skirt while on the bodice there are revers and a faux waist coat. Below is another example of the solid color method:

With the above example, the secondary contrast fabric has been used to create a series of stripes running in a up the skirt on a diagonal angle to create a spiral effect. On the front of the bodice is a large panel in the same color along with two large sleeve cuffs. Another creative way to approach contrast colors are to use two different colors in two different fabrics as with the silk velvet combined with a silk faille in the dress below:

Day Dress, French, 1875; Philadelphia Museum of Art (1976-120-1a--c)

Day Dress, French, 1875; Philadelphia Museum of Art (1976-120-1a–c). Constructed of silk faille and silk velvet with tatted lace.

But why stop there? 😉 Contrast can be also achieved by having one of the fabrics be a stripe or other type of pattern as with the dress below:

Day Dress, Emile Pingat, French, c. 1874; Philadelphia Museum of Art (1938-18-12a,b)

Day Dress, Emile Pingat, French, c. 1874; Philadelphia Museum of Art (1938-18-12a,b)

In the above example, the two contrast fabrics are nearly equal in volume with the striped fabric being employed as an overskirt on the bottom and as trim on the bodice. Plaids and checks were also employed as with this dress:

Day Dress, c. 1873; McCord Museum (M20277.1-2)

Day Dress, c. 1873; McCord Museum (M20277.1-2)

Note how the striped fabric is dominant in the above dress, comprising most of the bodice, overskirt, and train. The solid color fabric shows up in the sleeves and underskirt and it’s the same color as the stripes in the patterned fabric with the ecru providing the contrast. This is just one possibility of many.

The princess line dress also offers many possibilities. While is maintains the bustle silhouette, the fact that there is no separate bodice and skirt creates a unified whole that runs smooth and uninterrupted as with this dress:

Czech Dress1

Day Dress, 1870s; National Museum, Prague (H2-193316)

Czech Dress2

Czech Dress3

Czech Dress4

All right, so we went a bit overboard with the last dress but it’s an interesting color combination of light pink and steel grey (although it’s hard to detect with the lighting- it shows up best on the rear). In the front is a wide panel of light pink that’s offset by the steel grey on the remainder of the dress (with the exception of some detail on the rear). The above examples are just a small sampling of the color possibilities that are available. Combinations could simply be a matter of varying color shades such as dark and light blue or they could involve a combination of two different colors.

In choosing an effective color combination, keep in mind that while Victorians loved combining different colors, they also sought to have those colors harmonize at the same time, acting as complementary colors. Below is an illustration of a Victorian era color wheel developed in 1867 by Charles Blanc:

In the above illustration, the complementary colors are directly opposite of each other (e.g., yellow-purple, green-red, blue-orange). Naturally there are various shades in between and the complementary pairs will shift. The above is admittedly an over-simplification but it does give an idea of what designers were aiming for during the late 19th Century. And just to complicate matters further is the idea of saturation. Saturation refers to the intensity/vividness of a color. Colors that are highly saturated are bold and rich, while those that are desaturated lack in vibrancy.

color_saturation

An effective color combination could employ the principle of using two colors that are the same except for the difference in saturation. This is somewhat related to juxtaposing fabrics of two fabrics of different color shades as mentioned above:

The above is by no means a comprehensive overview and admittedly a lot of this is subjective. The best suggestion we can give is to look and pictures of original fashion plates and extant garments, making allowances for fading and deterioration. Certain combinations are going to look “right”, others not so much (and some could be downright ghastly- no different than today). We hope that this has provided some ideas to help you get started. 😎