Thursday, November 5, 2015

An 18th Century Embroidered Linen Bodice – Remade, Refashioned

It was the exquisite, delicate silk thread embroidery which first caught my eye. Some of the threads have worn away and the penciled outline drawn to guide the stitching is faintly visible. I know nothing about who embroidered this bodice or even where it was made. It was purchased in America, so perhaps it was made here during those turbulent mid-century decades. And yet the global nature of goods in the 18th century, does not necessarily support this attribution without a provenance.

 It has been suggested that the bodice is of a hand loomed linen – if true, that is an uncommon find. Given the wispy quality of the embroidery and the type of garment , it probably dates from the mid- to later half of the 18th century. There is a drawstring at the front and skilled piecing at front and back. The diminutive garment was in the process of being transformed –although into what it is not certain. There may have been sleeves, which have been removed, as the shoulders have been unpicked. The previous owner  notes “I would surmise from the way that the embroidery is cut and folded on the underside of the shoulder straps that originally this piece had sleeves.”
A single stay survives. The hand embroidery features those familiar Jacobean flower and leaf motifs we find through much of the 18th century.

The height is 13.5 inches, it is 14 inches across, and 20 inches from bodice edge to edge when open. 

While not considered a “museum quality” garment, I nonetheless find it interesting as a study piece, which I share with my museum studies and material culture students. Was it being remade for a younger member of a household? Was it in the process of being completely disassembled for some of its pieces to go into a new garment? While we may never know the answers, it serves as a good example of silk embroidery and a time when even the smallest pieces of textiles were used and reused and remade.

Former collection of

For more on embroidery, see: The Project Gutenberg eBook of Jacobean Embroidery, by Ada Wentworth Fitzwilliam and A. F....

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