Here's a photo from Venice in February to whet your appetite for the rest of this post, because I'm going to be talking about quilting a petticoat for quite a while before we get to the nice Venice photos:
|(The thing I'm holding is a black velvet moretta mask - more on that later)|
This post is mostly about the quilted petticoat in the background image for this blog; the one I've been in love with since Dr Lynn Sorge-English first pulled it out of the collection to show us in the (second?) year of my undergrad at Dalhousie University. This petticoat:
It's mid-eighteenth century, made of emerald silk lutestring/lustring (a flimsy plain weave, like a really thin taffeta or habotai), hand-stitched to a linen backing, and it's just ideal in every way. I'm very grateful that Lynn allowed us to examine it, learn from it, and photograph it on two occasions during my undergrad.
I decided almost immediately upon seeing it that I needed it, and I was going to make a reconstruction. A couple of years later, when I took a class on textile dyeing at NSCAD, I went in for extra time in the studio so that I could use their vats to dye some silk using weld and indigo - one of the most common early modern natural dye combinations for green. Unfortunately, the indigo vat was pretty exhausted by the time I was able to get my silk in, since I had to use it for some class assignments first, so my green isn't quite as deep and vibrant as the original petticoat. But it's still a lovely colour!
Then, when I was at Colonial Williamsburg, the curator of textiles in the DeWitt Wallace Collection at the time, Linda Baumgarten, very kindly pulled a number of the quilted petticoats in her collection so that I could examine them, and she allowed me to take photos. Most of the ones there are more elaborate than the Dalhousie petticoat, and are backed with wool rather than linen. Since I'm always cold, I decided to adopt this method. The Williamsburg petticoats are also bound with ribbon on the hem in many cases: something that was either not applied to the Dalhousie petticoat, or was applied but later removed. I liked it aesthetically, so again decided to borrow this technique. I collected the necessary materials from Burnley and Trowbridge while in Williamsburg - wool backing and many yards of green silk ribbon to bind the hem.
|A petticoat in the DeWitt Wallace Collection at Williamsburg|
When I started my masters, I brought the materials with me and got as far as basting all the layers of silk, wool batting, and wool lining together, and then I got distracted by the Bath Victorian Ball and our trip to Versailles and my dissertation, and I put it in a box. Then I started a PhD, so that was that for a while.
But then, last October, James surprised me for my birthday by telling me that we were going for a weekend in Venice during carnevale in February, and I'd better get ready. Naturally, when I thought of an appropriate carnevale costume, I thought of the quilted petticoat just waiting to be quilted.
I had months!, I thought. Lots of time! Easy!
This is the petticoat pinned to my big embroidery frame. It was a permanent fixture in my living room between November and February.
And here's a photo of the original to show the hem design, which I slightly enlarged based on some of the other originals I'd viewed:
As you can see, the Dalhousie petticoat has a rectangle of glazed cotton pieced in at the back, up by the waistband. This saves on silk, since this area would be invisible under a gown. However, I knew I wanted to wear mine under a short jacket, so I went with silk all the way up. I did have to do quite a bit of piecing, though, since I only had a few yards of narrow-width silk.
I also liked that the original quilter had made some mistakes and had just corrected the line instead of pulling the stitches out. This implies that the original was quilted by eye, without lines drawn as a guide.
For mine, I used pins to mark general guide-points, and eyeballed the curves:
|Excuse this extremely washed-out image|
Anyways, it turned out that I did not have lots of time, because, as I remembered, I was writing a thesis. I finished about a third of the quilting before Christmas, and couldn't take the frame with me for the holiday, so that was that until January. And then I had about a month left to finish the other two thirds.
|The first third done|
|Back - extra poofy! There are no other petticoats or pads under this. It's just that fluffy.|
I wore my little silk brocade jacket and the stomacher from my Louisbourg Gown, did my hair 1760s-style, and added some silk mitts, colourful silk stockings, and a harlequin-pattern pin ball for a carnevale-appropriate look. Then we headed to Ca'Rezzonico, an eighteenth-century palazzo in Venice, to take some photos. I couldn't have asked for a better location, and I love that, in Venice, all the historic sites let you come in wearing costume! British sites do not like that, for the most part.
|The mitts, stomacher, and pinball. I'm taking off my mask here, hence the weird pose.|
All the photos from Venice were taken by James, by the way. He is very patient.
|By the canal outside|
They're a bit creepy, as the black velvet absorbs all the light coming onto your face (they're descendants of sixteenth-century vizard masks, which were used as a form of sun protection), and you hold them in place using a bead that you clamp between your teeth, so theoretically you can't talk (although I managed pretty well).
They did give women some additional freedom of movement, however, because while wearing a mask you were protected to some extent: you couldn't be immediately recognised, you didn't have to greet or respond to unknown men, and it was a way to appear demure. Kind of like wearing sunglasses to avoid talking to people on the train.
|Here's a woman in a jacket-and-skirt combo much like mine. She, and characters very like her, make appearances in a number of Pietro Longhi's paintings of Venetian Carnevale from the eighteenth century|
|François Boucher (1703-1770), 'Le Soir or La Dame allant au Bal'|
|Jean-Baptiste Santerre (1651-1717), 'La Comtesse de Bersac'|
|I think this one looks like the old photos where they're trying to prove the existence of ghosts or faeries or something.|
I'm really glad I finally got to make this petticoat - and it was a perfect inaugural event for it!