|Detail of silk damask|
|Apprentice Abby measuring |
|Journeywoman Sarah taking advantage of daylight for sewing|
I was very fortunate to be able to spend time recently at the Margaret Hunter Milliners and Mantuamakers at Colonial Williamsburg, watching the construction of a sack back dress (a robe à la française) of gold silk damask. It is based on an original held in the Charleston Museum collections, dating from the mid to late 1760s.
To watch the
skilled work of the apprentices and journeywoman, under the masterful eye of
Mistress Janea, was a true education for me, as well as the dozens of onlookers
who packed into the shop. Word had spread
quickly that there was a dress being made and visitors were anxious to see the
how the “gown in a day” project was proceeding.
|Mistress Janea offers instruction |
As the first cut
was made into this rich buttery yellow gold silk damask, I actually felt a pang
of fear – I could not imagine cutting into the textile with such deft certainty.
Over the weekend, I observed the first cutting of the fabric, the creation of
the sleeves, the extensive pleating which went into the self fabric robings,
the mock up of the stomacher, and the sack back (from which the dress derives
its name), falling from the neckline and trailing elegantly behind. As the
dress on which it is based, it is unlined.
|Sleeves and trim|
|Self fabric robings with trim applied|
On my final day,
I was able see the gown fitted for Journeywoman Sarah. Due to the bustling activity
in the shop and the level of detail required for the dress, the work was not
yet complete when I left Colonial Williamsburg, but I will share finished views
when they are available. (For additional in-progress shots, follow the shop on
FaceBook, Twitter or Instagram:
|Note the deep pleats for the sack back, the play of light on the silk|
|Fitting the dress|
A few tidbits
shared by the mantuamakers:
The estimated cost
of the fabric at the time would have been about 10-12 shillings per yard; approxiamately18
yards were needed for the dress
It would take
about 30-40 hours to construct, most time would be devoted to the trim
cost would have been approximately 10-11 shillings for “making up”
The dress was
designed to be worn over small pocket hoops
The extras are
known as snips
I spend a good
deal of time reading about historic garments, but nothing compares with
actually seeing the handwork involved for garnering a deeper understanding.
everyone at the shop – Janea, Sarah, Abby and two very talented and poised interns, Fiona and Lily -- and to friend and colleague, Susan Holloway Scott of Two Nerdy History Girls (http://twonerdyhistorygirls.blogspot.com) for introducing me to this creative group. I am already planning my next trip!
For more about
the shop and its activities, see