Looking Back…Fabric Safari in Munich

While Munich is not known for being a major fashion center, one can still find interesting fabrics such as those below. Now we just need to transform them into garments! 😉

Fabric Safari in Munich uncovered silk lampas, silk moire, and an interesting velvet for a waistcoat for Adam.  It’s amazing what you can find in the more out-of-the-way places in Europe. 🙂

And because they shop owner was amazed that we’d come all the way from the States, she threw in a few of these neat combination pen/penlights with our purchase: 🙂

1890s Day Wear & Poplin

From the July 16, 1899 issue of La Mode Illustree, this elegant yet functional walking suit style described as a toilette de visites ornee d’applications (roughly translated as a “Visiting outfit decorated with appliqués”):

This style features a simple wrap-around multi-gore fan skirt characteristic of the 1890s and decorated with a large floral design on the outer corner of the wrap skirt. The bodice is interesting in that it’s a jacket-bodice that’s intended to mimic a jacket over a vest although if you study the illustration, it seems that the vest blends into the jacket revers but you can just barely make out a faint line dividing the two- talk about optical illusion. 😉

Here’s some more details from the description: The dress is made from a bottle-green summer-weight poplin.  Also, the skirt is decorated with a large white lily appliqué on the right front of the skirt and white trim run along the edge of the skirt. On the jacket-bodice, the lily theme is taken further with a white decorative lily motif trim on the sleeves and bodice front- it’s also noted that the appliqués are edged in bottle-green silk to match the overall dress color.  At the top of the vest portion of the jacket-bodice, there’s a silk green plastron covered by white ecru lace.1This is an extremely rough English translation from the description in the original publication.

This is an interesting style and it would have been nice to see fully created. What really sticks out is the use of a poplin fabric. During the late 19th Century, poplin was a plain weave fabric that usually combined silk warp yarns with wool weft yarns and often given a moire finish.2Dictionary of Textiles, 8th Edition; today, Poplin is woven from a variety of fibers, mostly cotton and the finish is often flat. Often confused with Broadcloth, Poplin is heavier. Although the fashion illustration doesn’t really provide any clues in terms of finish, it still bears more investigation as a fabric for spring and summer garments.

1880s Style- A Color And Texture Perspective

Color and texture were two major elements in the daytime styles of the mid to late 1880s and often effects were achieved through the use of one color combined by differing fabric textures. The highly sculpted smooth silhouettes of the 1880s further enhanced this effect in that emphasis was placed on the fabrics themselves rather than through the use of trim or draping. Typically, style effects were achieved through the use of contrasting fabrics:

Day Dress, c. 1885 – 1890; From Augusta Auctions

“Contrast” could also be a bit more subtle- note how the jeweled texture of the under bodice/underskirt also goes a long way in visually setting the two fabrics apart:

Day Dress 1887

Day Dress, American, c. 1887; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1978.295.2a–c)

Contrasting colors were also employed:

Day Dress 1885-86 1

Day Dress, c. 1885 – 1886; Goldstein Museum of Design (1961.003.006)

Worth, Day Dress, 1888; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.665a, b)

La Mode Illustree September 12 1886

La Mode Illustree September 12 1886

Sometimes, the two ideas of contrasting fabrics and colors could be combined:


Edouard Alexandre Sain, The Red Parasol, Private Collection

With either method, a wide variety of aesthetically pleasing effects could be achieved and the possibilities were nearly endless. However, there was one other way a style effect could be achieved and that was through the use of different fabrics in the same color:

Day Dress, European or American, ca. 1885

Day Dress, European or American, circa 1885; Bunka Gakuen Costume Museum

Day Dress, European or American, ca. 1885

Close-Up Bodice Front

Day Dress, European or American, ca. 1885

Close-Up With Cuff Detail

Day Dress, European or American, ca. 1885

Side Profile

What is striking about this dress is that it uses two different fabric textures through the use of wine red silk fabrics- a plain silk satin combined with a floral silk brocade. The two fabrics are different but their colors are identical (at least from examination of the pictures); this contrast is very apparent if one examines the front bodice and cuff details:

Close-Up Bodice Front

Close-Up With Cuff Detail

While the style effect of the above dress is not as dramatic as contrasting fabrics and colors, it is still effective although much more subtle. This effect projects a more restrained, conservative image and as such is representative of a more middle class aesthetic that was unaffected and not meant to be fashion-forward (i.e., “we’ve got money but we’re not going to be too ostentatious about it.”).

Here is another example of the same type of effect, only this time the contrast in textures is achieved through patterns of soutache:


Day Dress, c. 1880 – 1885; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.65.2.1a, b)


Side Profile


Rear View

The contrast in textures is achieved through soutache which is most prominent on the front and neck of the bodice and at the tops of the overskirt on both sides. Here’s a better view of the bodice:


Close-Up Of Bodice

Four our final example, we now view a court dress that was made for the Empress Elisabeth of Austria circa 1885:


Court Dress for the Empress Elisabeth of Austria, Fanni Scheiner, c. 1885; Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna (Inv.-Nr. MD_N_123)


Full View With Train


Rear View


Full View Of Dress And Train

With this dress, we see the texture of the base fashion fabric, in this case a silk moire, create the major style effect- the Moire catches the light at different angles and creates a three-dimensional effect that is further enhanced by the black-gray lace trim.The Moire effect is further brought out with the large court train and overall, this is a dress that  readily catches the viewer’s eye. Truly the fabric speaks for itself. 🙂 In each of the three above examples, each dress is of a single color and depends on either the construction of the fabric or the addition of soutache to create texture and depth. Brocades and Moires can provide some striking effects that transform an otherwise flat surface into something more. In the case of the blue dress with matching soutache, the end effect is also the same.

We hope that you’ve enjoyed this brief foray into 1880s fashion effects and it’s clear that there were an almost unlimited range of design by possibilities and we hope that this will serve as an inspiration in recreating styles of the 1880s.

Evolution of an 1879 Dress- Redux

With the coming of Spring and the COVID-19 lockdown, we’ve had a lot of extra time to go through our collections and refurbish and update as necessary. In the course of doing so, we came across this wonderful picnic dress that’s given us excellent service…

So we thought we’d take another look at the design process that guided the creation of this dress…

In keeping with the theme of fashion inspiration and design, we present a short overview of the process applied to a picnic gown, narrated by Karin.  With the coming of Spring, comes longer and warmer days and the opportunity to get outdoors and enjoy those days. 🙂 Picnics are a favorite with us because they give us an opportunity to wear our designs in a relaxed atmosphere (balls are fun too, don’t get me wrong) and we just naturally associate it with Impressionist picnics. 🙂

Claude Monet1

Claude Monet- “The Artist’s Family In the Garden” (1875)

With the arrival of spring, vegetation begins to flower in a riot of color and that is where we find our inspiration. As we noted in a previous post, greens are a special favorite with us but they’re not the only favorite…

There is a host of other colors to include shades of blue, red, magenta, pink, and lilac…

Lilac is one of those easily overlooked colors but it struck a responsive chord with us. We’ll let Karin continue the story…:-)

It’s no secret, I have a thing for sheer frothy summer picnic gowns straight from an Impressionist painting. My favorite lilac summer gown started with every intention of being “that white Met dress” that I have a crush on:


The original gown inspiration from the Metropolitan Museum of Art website. It has three of the four “food groups” that interest me with gowns: pleating, ruffles, shirring, ruching…guess which one this one doesn’t have. 🙂 Pleating…mine will have it.

However, the moment I announced that I was going to make this gown on Facebook, a friend of mine posted that she was going to use this same cotton batiste! Thus, the evolution began…so I decided to dye it.

First, the lilac rinse. The top of the sample has been left plain:


Everything came from my work studio and was carefully dyed to harmonize and not match. This is how to create depth so things don’t appear to be flat.


Vintage fabrics have stories to tell. This vintage eyelet came from a Lid family friend’s chalet in Switzerland (and some stories, I’m sure!) It took over four sheet dips of  color to get the right shade. I’ve been carefully using this gift of fabric over the years and there are only two meters left.


Second and final color later and silk ribbons to match, because…you never know, right? Color is clear and not muddy, not an easy thing to do. I’m an artist myself and as such, I usually get ideas from other painters…Tissot is one of my favorites. 🙂


Foundation skirt front, very girly with both micro pleats, shirring, and ruffles, book is showing my inspiration dress. That’s a lot of narrow hemming! Et voila…


Lilac summer gown (the first version) standing next to my W&G treadle machine that I made the hat with. The gown (like most of mine) will eventually evolve. This version had no collar, just an antique piece of lace slipped in the piped neck edge and after wearing it once, I hung it up and told Adam:

“It’s BORING and flat, it will never again be worn”.

A re-direct was required. I like the next version much better…


Final version with a shaped velvet edged lapel that is curved to fit over the bust with no ruffles…more tailored, much better! The difference is that it’s now balanced visually, nothing “floats” near the face, which is better for me. I’ve learned to say “never say never”…


Summer gowns and stagecoaches? Count me in! See how the collar curves with the bust? That has to be done with a curved neck edge (on the lapel) slipped onto a straight neckline. I like that much better. 🙂


Of course, the garden photo Rancho Los Camulos…matching the bougainvillea was a happy surprise. <3 Monet would approve.

And now, back to Adam…

So there you have it, straight from the designer herself- often the design process takes various twists and turns, sometimes in response to a change in conditions or sometimes as simple as someone else is looking to create a similar dress. Also, a chance encounter with a specific piece of fabric or variable dye results can send the design process spinning in an unanticipated direction. In short, it’s not a mechanical process as one would find with designing a car or an airplane: it’s more art than science. But also note that “design” is not the only factor at work here; it’s also essential to have an understanding of how garments are constructed and the interactions between textiles, dyes, and construction.

Fashion plates, original images, and extant examples are all useful (and essential) but unless one understands what is going on “under the hood”, so to say, the end results will not be optimal. The design process is a bit more complicated than one would initially think but at the same time, it’s not magical and mysterious (no matter what some designers will claim). The key is diligent study and constantly being open to new possibilities and have a willingness to learn new techniques.

Has our opinions on the design process changed over time? The short answer is no. The longer answer is that with the additional research that we’ve done since this post was originally written, we’ve become even more aware that there are no certainties when it comes to the design process and that one’s sense of aesthetics is in a constant state of flux and as a result, we must always be open to new possibilities. 🙂