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