Painted Silk…

One of the more interesting methods of embellishing skirts during the late 19th Century was the use of hand-painting floral decorate motifs primarily on silk. Although not as common as other methods such as taking on silk flowers or using fabrics with various types of woven-in patterns and motifs, painted silk did offer a somewhat easier, more inexpensive method of of creating decorative embellishment. Below is nice example from  the Fashion History Museum of Ontario of a mid to late 1880s day dress (it’s hard to tell from the staging):

Day Dress, c. 1880s; Fashion History Museum Ontario

It’s difficult to tell an exact date for the dress since there was no information on the museum website but judging from the silhouette, such as it us, it appears to be mid to late 1880s . The bodice and skirts are constructed from a pale blue silk satin which provides the perfect “canvas” for the detailed floral motifs which we see on both the bodice and the overskirt. The floral motifs provide an interesting range of greens, yellows, oranges, and reds all set against a cool blue background that’s reminiscent of water. Definitely just the thing for Spring. 🙂

Somewhat more restrained, here’s a wedding dress, from 1888:

Wedding/Day Dress, 1888; Ohio State University Historic Costume & Textiles Collection (HCT.1999.19.1a-d)

This dress bodice and skirts are constructed from an ivory wool with silk side panels and lace covers the front underskirt. Visually, the eye is first attracted to the two panels with the painted floral motifs and then drawn upward to the silk plastron on the bodice. Here are some close-ups of the painted floral motifs:

The use of painted flower motifs on silk is an interesting, subset of decorative effects that were used on fashions of the late 19th Century and it bears further study and hopefully we’ll unearth some more examples for your consideration in the near future.

5 thoughts on “Painted Silk…

    • It’s amazing. It’s not super common but it was definitely done, more at the middle income level. My personal theory is that it offered a relatively cheap(er) and easy way to create decorative effects in lieu of some sort of brocade or the like.

  1. Whoa! NICE gradations of color, very lifelike! Did the museums have any information on the kind of paint used? Wouldn’t oil bleed out little halos of oil or medium into the surrounding fabric? Watercolor would not be durable enough–the first drop of moisure would cause it to dissolve and run and stain. Ink might do the same. Egg Tempera, though durable on wood panels, would have its own drawbacks on the more flexible silk–and I hate to think what the oxidizing sulfur in the yolk would do to the fabric over time. Encaustic might crack and craze and flake off. Acrylic paint hadn’t been invented yet. So … I wonder what sort of paint was used. Casein, perhaps? “Milk” paint?

    • As far as I’ve read, some sort of preparation/priming was done to the fabric in order to control the color spread. Also, a resist could be used to prevent the paint from adhering to areas other than the pattern. Silk paints were typically water-based and dyes were often used instead.

      • Well, there you go! Thank you for letting me know. I learned something new today. ^_^ ALWAYS a PLUS! ^_^

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