Extracts from correspondence, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, 1784, 18th Century Embroidery Techniques, Gail Marsh
Last year I was looking for a design for a new party frock. I was intrigued by the quote of Georgiana wearing a white, silver sprigged, gown. We often have very low lighting in our local balls so I thought a glittering white gown might be the very thing to wear. I started looking for extant gowns and fell in love with this gown, cutaway front English gown with silver-plate embroidery. Heileen very kindly shared the patterns for this dress and the project was born. I was finished with the embroidery and main construction a year ago, but then I fell out of love of with the dress. All the whiteness begun to bore me. After a year of sitting in the closet I finally dug it out and made the finishing touches. This is one of those dresses that are almost impossible to photograph. It's so much nicer in person. The only thing that makes it stand out is the glitter when light hits the embroidery, but it's hard to capture with a camera.
The skirt and bodice are made from white duchess silk sateen with an over layer and over sleeves of silver-plate embroidered light weight cotton. The gown skirts are a single layer of cotton. It has a linen lining and it's hand sewn with linen and silk thread. Neckline and sleeves are trimmed with roll hemmed silk gauze ruffles and silk ribbon bows. It's worn over shift and stays, a false rump and two linen petticoats.
"Georgiana" and the gambling table.
A brilliant seamstress once wrote "What makes a “meh” dress fabulous? HAIR, MAKEUP, TIARA, and a COCKTAIL!!" I took that advice to photograph this gown at home in candlelight. I failed the tiara part, but the rest is there.
I knew that I would never have enough time to make the embroidery pattern as elaborate as in the original, so I settled with small scattered sprigs and simple borders.
After patterning the dress I made the embroidery. I found 1 mm wide silver plate but to my surprise it was too wide to look nice. However it was easy to cut in half with scissors. The plate isn't sewed on with a needle. The end of the plate string has to be cut diagonally to make it sharp to go through the fabric. It's somewhat soft so you have to turn the work as you come through from the underside. Turning the work makes it slow, but I think it's the most attractive form of metal embroidery on thin fabrics. When the embroidery is done it's hammered flat.
A finished front bodice piece:
I cut all the skirt panels to period width and sewed them together with mantua maker's stitch. I like having enough seams in my skirts and the narrower width was also practical for embroidering.
The dress is sewn together by making the lining first. Then I put the silk and cotton layers on top of each other and mounted them on top of the lining and sewed them down from the outside. It has bones in the back seams and center front.
My new pretty fan is from Aurora. I think it suits the simplified style of the late century gown very well.
All but the candlelight photos are taken in Tuomarinkylän kartanomuseo or the surrounding park. It'll be closed down on the 17th of November so if you have planned a visit, you better hurry. It's a lovely place with a friendly staff. I'm so sad to loose it.