pages 18-19 pages 22-23 

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silk satin brocade

French, 1770s

Women’s dress of the mid-to-late eighteenth century in France was often fanciful, and novelty became synonymous with all things fashionable. The concept of nouveauté caused an increase in the use of ornamental trimmings such as lace, ribbons and passementerie, and challenged silk manufacturers to create innovative types of weaves to compliment the finishing touches already in vogue. Textile designs incorporating fur patterns and textures first appeared in the middle of the century, and as seen on this glorious brocaded satin of the 1770s, the leopard motif emerged as a suitably exotic, novel theme for dress silks.

The trompe l’œil effects captured here are delightfully convincing. Two gracefully meandering leopard-patterned ribbons trail along the shimmering ivory satin surface, surrounded by vividly colored sprigs and bouquets of chenille roses, carnations and other flowers. The rosettes sprinkled over the ribbons’ surface are naturalistic in shape and color—knotted at regular intervals with large bows that secure plumes and floral sprays, the spotted ribbons intermittently reveal mauve “undersides.” The luxurious quality signals that this brocade was produced in Lyon, the leading source for exceptional figured silks; the unusual selvedge width (several inches wider than the standard of the day) designates it as a special commission, possibly for a member of royalty

Garlands of fur ribbons seen on brocaded silks may have been inspired by actual ribbons used for dress trimmings: ruban tigré, as leopard-spotted ribbon was called, graced some of the most au courant fashions of the second half of the century. This panel was originally part of a gown; a complete robe à la française in the collection of the Fashion Institute of Technology, New York (P82.27.1a,b) is made from a brocaded silk related to this example.

51.5” H x 28.75” W

whitework linen border

English, ca. 1725-40

Admired for its delicacy and translucent qualities, whitework embroidery was widely popular for dress accessories and trimmings throughout the eighteenth century. Less time consuming to make and hence more affordable than the best laces, it was nonetheless worn by men and women of fashion in the form of caps, lappets, kerchiefs, aprons, sleeve and shirt ruffles, and cravat ends. The finest whitework was produced in Saxony, and Dresden merchants supplied lace dealers throughout Europe. Imitations of “Dresden work,” as it was called, were made elsewhere on the continent, in England and America, and the term came to designate this particular type of white-on-white embroidery.

Brussels bobbin laces inspired much of the linen and cotton whitework made in the second quarter of the eighteenth century. A variety of embroidery stitches combined with elaborate drawn-thread and pulled-fabric work resulted in a richly patterned yet soft material, characterized by naturalistic and geometric motifs, that successfully emulated its more expensive models. In this border, probably intended for the skirt of a dress, buttonhole, blanket, satin, and feather stitches create the precisely rendered, stylized exotic birds perched on double-handled flowering vases, fruiting branches and floral sprays; pulled-and-drawn-work is used for the strapwork band that provides a unifying element to the overall composition. Buttonhole stitches with tiny picots finish the scalloped, openwork edging.

Made by both professional and amateur embroiderers, the refinement of whitework was a perfect compliment to elegant eighteenth-century fashions.

6.5” H x 148.75” W (detail shown)

pages 18-19 pages 22-23  

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