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Posts Tagged ‘eighteenth century embroidery’

Embroidered suit, with matching breeches, waistcoat and coat. c. 1780’s

I have wanted to make an 18th century men’s suit for a while, and my eye had been drawn to the amazing embroidered court suits popular during this time.

During the 18th century, the men’s suit consisted of knee-length breeches, long waistcoat and full-skirted coat. Suit ensembles could be made from matching fabric, with either coordinated breeches and coat and a contrasting waistcoat, or sometimes all three items matching.

A sample of embroidery, from the early 19th century.

Clothing that was worn to court was more elaborate than other clothing, and the embroidered mens suits generally fit into this category. Some ensembles were truly elaborate in embroidery, but others were much more simple in design and sedate in colour.

Suits were embroidered in panels, and then sold uncut to the customer. A tailor would then be employed to make up the panel into clothing.

The detail from an 18th century waistcoat.

The Pattern

I have always been a bit scared of embroidery, as I used to often start a difficult project – outside of my skill level – and then feel disappointed in the result. My trick to combat this has been to plan the embroidery pattern well (with sketches), to plan the types of stitches I will use, to practise the stitches on a scrap sample, and to make sure that all (or at least most) of the techniques are within the scope of my skill.

The first sample, practising stitches, colour placement, size, etc…

Sometimes I have stepped out of my skill area for a small part of an embroidery, to stretch myself, so that if only a small part goes awry it doesn’t affect the final result as much. As a result I feel like I have really improved in my embroidery skill over the past 7 years!

A second sample once the design had been decided on. This was to practise spacing, how large it should be, and how long it would take to do one repeat of the design.

Understandably, I was quite daunted taking on this type of project, but I searched for embroidery patterns that I thought were manageable for me, and looked for stitches that I could complete with a level of proficiency.

It was also important at this planning phase to get “approval” from my husband for the design. (I did want him to feel comfortable wearing it!) Embroidered coats of the 18th Century were very flowery, which is not something that necessarily appeals to the modern man. In the end, my husband really wanted a much more monochrome colour palette (compared to some of the coats of the time) and was happy with some flowers, but not heaps.

The Materials

The stitches I have used are chain stitch, heavy chain stitch, backstitch, satin stitch, beetle stitch, colonial knots and feather stitch. I also used spangles and beads as part of my design. I used cotton DMC for the embroidery, and the fabric was a polyester taffeta that I have had great success with in the past.

The Process

I decided to firstly do a mockup of the coat on my husband, to make sure that the pattern pieces were the right size. I used, as a starting point, the three-piece suit in Costume Close Up, by Linda Baumgarten. Once the pattern pieces were finalised, I would then be able to embroider in a panel, rather than embroidering the separate pattern pieces or the finished coat. (As you will see in future posts, there are problems with each option!)

The finished panel, showing the two fronts at the top, the pocket flaps on the right, the buttons, and the cuffs at the bottom. The picture is not very clear, but I did want to try and get one photo with the whole panel in it!

My finished panel included the two fronts, the two pocket flaps, the two sleeve cuffs, and a whole stack of button shapes. I decided to leave the collar until the coat was pretty much fitted and then draft and embroider the collar last.

The detail of the embroider on the centre front.

The embroidery took two months to complete (for the coat alone), and I embroidered almost every day for around 5 hours a day. It was unfortunate that I was sewing to a deadline, as it created much more stress than my other embroidery projects had! It also meant that there were some elements of the embroidery that I had to change so that it could be completed in the time frame.

In the end, I was pleased with the way the embroidery looked! The grey and blue was a really nice colour combination. Stay tuned for the next post in this series, making the coat. – coming soon!

Related Links

Making a Stomacher (c. 1700’s-1770’s)

Making an Embroidered Stomacher, from 1725

Sources and Relevant Links

Image Source: Embroidered Suit, c. 1780s, at Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Image Source: Embroidery sample, early 19th century, at Met Museum

Image Source: Embroidered waistcoat, 18th century, at Ruby Lane.

Costume Close-Up: Clothing, Construction and Pattern, 1750-1790, by Linda Baumgarten – buy on Amazon

18th Century Men’s Coats, by 18th Century Notebook – a list of extant 18th century men’s coats available to view online.

The Lives of a Man’s Eighteenth Century Coat, by National Gallery of Victoria – an interesting article about repurposing clothing in the 18th and 19th centuries.

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One of my earliest attempts at costuming was a sacque-back gown, however – as is normal for one’s first attempts – not all aspects of the gown were historical. One of my first corrections of this was to make a set of 18th century stays that would more accurately shape the torso for the dress, but because the “stomacher” for this gown was embroidered onto the front of the previous stays that I used for this dress, it meant that the gown was left without one!

An embroidery pattern for a stomacher, by Margaretha Helm, ca. 1725.

I have made an embroidered stomacher before, to go with my caraco jacket, and I really enjoyed making it! It really stretched my embroidery skills, and ever since then I have wanted to make another to match my sacque-back gown.

Pattern

In my search for ideas for a pattern, I happened across several drawings from a pattern book by Margaretha Helm, on the Victoria and Albert Museum website. Here is what is written about the particular one I chose (pictured above):

This is a printed design for embroidery, with some drawn-thread work, for a stomacher featuring a floral pattern. Drawn-thread work is a form of counted-thread work in which the embroidery threads are used to pull the fabric threads apart. This creates an openwork pattern of holes and stitching. A stomacher is a stiff panel, usually triangular in shape and often heavily decorated, inserted in an open bodice to cover the corset in eighteenth-century dress. It is from a pattern book for embroidery (about 1725) by Margaretha Helm (neé Mainberger) (born in 1659 in Deiningen, died in 1742 in Nuremberg, Germany). Helm worked in Nuremberg as an embroiderer, a teacher of embroidery and a copperplate engraver who had her designs published by Johann Christoph Weigel. The V&A has a series of pattern books for embroidery in three parts by Margaretha Helm of which this volume is Part I. It is entitled Kunst-und Fleiss-übende Nadel-Ergötzungen oder neu-erfundenes Neh-und Stick-Buch or
The Delights of the Art and Industry of the practising Needle or the newly invented Sewing and Embroidery Book.

from Victoria and Albert Museum website

The design is symmetrical but not perfectly identical on both sides. I printed off the pattern and enlarged it to the size I needed to fit the front of my gown. I traced the full-sized pattern onto a large sheet of paper (as enlarging the pattern with the photocopier reduced its clarity), and then I traced it onto my fabric and began stitching!

Construction

The stitches I used are all ones that I have found before on extant embroidery pieces. Despite the V&A description stating that the pattern included “drawn” (or maybe more accurately, “pulled”) work, I did not do any of this on my stomacher. Instead I used laid work or various types of filling stitches that provided a patterned look to the finish.

The stitches I used were chain stitch, satin stitch, backstitch, seed stitch, long-and-short stitch, colonial knots, buttonhole wheel, laid work (called lattice work in this video), feather stitch, and stem stitch.

The beginnings!

I used a blue, water-erasable, pen to draw the design. This works well for me, although the colour does have a tendency to reappear after a while.

A flower, showing detail of the laid work, chain stitch and stem stitch.

A flower, showing detail of satin stitch, seed stitch and chain stitch.

More flowers, showing the detail of satin stitch, laid work, french knots, and chain stitch.

Flowers with satin stitch, laid work, and eyelet stitch (or buttonhole wheel), plus the chain stitch stems.

Once the embroidery was finished, it was mounted on to a boned base made from cotton broadcloth and synthetic whalebone.

The back of the stomacher, showing the boning channels.

The edges were bound with a bias-binding strip and tabs were handsewn on.

All finished, with a boned base and tabs handsewn on.

And some photos of it being worn!

I wore my stomacher for the first time to a Georgian High Tea!

I have a new embroidery project on the go now, so keep an eye out for posts about it later in the year!

Relevant Posts

Making a Stomacher

A Sacque-back gown (one of my earliest costumes)

A Caraco Jacket

Making 18th Century Stays

Sources and Relevant Links

Image and Quote Source: Embroidery design for stomacher, ca. 1725, from Victoria and Albert Museum

18th Century Embroidery Techniques, by Gail Marsh – buy on Amazon

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A pair of Dresden sleeve ruffles, embroidered with whitework (see below for image source).

The only thing my caraco jacket ensemble needs now is some lawn ruffles.

During the eighteenth century, it was common for ladies to tack several layers of white ruffles to the sleeves of their gowns or jackets. These could be made from lace, such as Mechlin or bobbin lace, or embroidered with whitework on cotton lawn or muslin.

Pattern

In making this pair of lawn ruffles, I used the pattern from Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion 1 as a guide to the dimensions they should be. Altogether there were four ruffles, an upper and lower ruffle for each arm. The ruffles are asymmetrical – as was common in the eighteenth century – and were both 13.5 inches wide. The lower ruffle was 8 inches deep and the upper ruffle was 6.5 inches deep.

Construction

Once I had traced out the pattern on some ivory lawn with tailor’s chalk, I then used a scalloped embroidery stitch on my sewing machine to finish the bottom edge of the ruffle. Then I traced a pattern onto the ruffles to embroider with whitework.

The one at the top is the upper ruffle, and the one at the bottom is the lower ruffle.

The embroidery consisted of a small chain stitch with eyelets at intervals. The eyelets were made with an awl and then stitched with an overcast stitch to keep it from closing.

The embroidery detail

Once the embroidery on each ruffle was completed, I sewed each ruffle seam and gathered each top edge separately. The upper and lower ruffle were placed on top of each other, arranging the scallops so they were lined up evenly, and then they were sewn to a band. This band can now be tacked to any garment and removed for separate cleaning.

And the finished product looks like this!

Finished!

I am really pleased with them! I haven’t had enough time to embroider them as much as I had planned to, as I am going to wear them this weekend. However, I would like to come back and try some pulled work on them later. I think pulled work in embroidery is so pretty and effective. It seems to be the closest thing to lace that I could fairly easily make!

Embroidery is my cup of tea!

Related Posts

A Caraco Jacket

Making a Stomacher

Sources and Relevant Links

Image Source: Embroidered Dresden Engageantes

A large selection of links to both lace and embroidered engageantes

Patterns of Fashion 1: Englishwomen’s Dresses and their Construction, by Janet Arnold – buy on Amazon

Whitework Sleeve Ruffles – with some background information on sleeve ruffles in the mid-eighteenth century.

Ruffles in cotton with whitework embroidery

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Early on, I had decided that I needed to make a new stomacher to match my 18th century robe a l’anglaise. The original one I had made 12 years ago was completed using quick and easy ribbon embroidery and appliqued lace motifs, mainly so that I could wear it immediately to a ball. But once I found out that the dress no longer fitted me, I decided to make a caraco jacket.

An embroidered stomacher (c. 1700-1729), displayed in Victoria and Albert Museum. (Image source below.)

Caraco jackets were worn as day wear in the last half of the eighteenth century. They were styled similarly to a gown but the skirts were trimmed off at mid-thigh level, with a petticoat worn underneath. Some would meet in the middle, fastened with hidden hooks and eyes, but others were worn open and had a decorative stomacher displayed at the front. Since I really like the idea of a pretty piece of handiwork displayed on the bosom, I decided to make another stomacher that would match my new jacket!

Stomachers were often worn during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, though they did change shape a little throughout the period, depending on the fashion. They were triangular shaped pieces of material, either boned or unboned, usually pinned in place at the front of the bodice. They were often elaborately decorated, using many different methods and items such as embroidery, bows, pleated ruffles, braid, lace or sequins.

My Pattern:

Using a stomacher pattern in Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion 1 for inspiration, I drew out a pattern on tissue paper and cut out two pieces of calico and one piece of outer fabric. I researched common embroidery patterns for stomachers and drew out a pattern for this on the tissue paper.

The pattern

Construction:

The two layers of calico were placed together and boning channels sewn through all layers. As you can see from the picture, the stomacher is fully boned. Once the embroidered outer layer was completed, it was laid on top of the boned layer and the edges bound with satin bias binding.

The back of the finished stomacher

Embroidery:

After a lot of deliberation, I decided to stretch my embroidery skills to long and short stitch, and try embroidering a carnation with some buds in true eighteenth century style! The V-shaped border and the stem of the carnation was done with a whipped chain stitch, and the scrolling curves at the sides were done with backstitch. The leaves were done in a satin stitch, creating a groove where the stitches met in the middle of the leaf.

The front!

I am VERY VERY pleased with the result! I have never been good at embroidery, but I have spent a lot of time practising with very simple plain stitches to create some good effects on my costumes. I never thought I would be able to do this so well!

Now all that remains is to finish off my caraco jacket!

Relevant Posts

An 18th Century Robe A l’anglaise

Stays from the 18th Century

Sources and Relevant Links

V&A Stomacher Image from In Jane Austen’s England

Embroidered Stomachers, c. 1700-1729, from the Victoria and Albert Museum

Embroidered Stomachers, c. 1700-1725, from the Victoria and Albert Museum

Patterns of Fashion 1: Englishwomen’s Dresses and their Construction, by Janet Arnold – buy through Amazon

Long and Short Stitch Tutorial – on Youtube

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