Nevertheless, at a recent fair in Liverpool I actually bought some clothing. It was only a few pounds, and is in a very sorry state, but I bought it so that I could study its construction in detail.
At a guess I would say that it’s late 19th century, but I’m hoping that readers with a better knowledge than mine could date it more accurately. Stupidly, I forgot to take any photographs with a tape measure in place to show the size, but the waist stay is 68cm / 26¾“ long, and the measurement from the base of the collar to the waist stay at the centre back is 33cm / 13”.
At first glance it appears to be made of a plain black ribbed silk, but some of the photographs I took show that it is actually a moiré.
|Photograph showing the watered effect of the moiré|
The centre front panel is made of fine ivory silk mounted onto cream cotton. It is slightly pouched. The silk is almost entirely shattered (a description which I love, as it is so evocative and so completely accurate).
|The damaged silk|
The top part of the ivory silk is pleated into machine-sewn pleats of 0.3cm / ⅛”, placed 1cm / ¾” apart. These can be seen most clearly in the part of the panel which was under the black part of the bodice.
|Relatively undamaged pleating|
Almost none of the silk remains on the lower part of the central section, but from the fragments which remain it is clear that this part wasn’t pleated. The collar has also lost almost all of its silk, but from the shape of the tiny portion which remains, I think that this was also pleated, with the pleats running parallel to the top edge of the collar.
|The remains of the collar silk|
At the base of the bodice is a false belt made of pleated fabric, with a black metal buckle.
|The 'belt' and buckle|
The bodice opens at the left. There are two hooks and eyes on the collar, then a row of large hooks up the centre front on the right side (on the black strip in the photograph below) hook into a row of eyes on the under layer of the left front. This single layer of cotton is beige on the underside but black (with wear marks) on the top. A second row of hooks, along the edge of the centre panel, hook into the thread loops on the under layer of the left front. The two hooks at the top of the pleated section hook into thread loops just below the shoulder seam.
|Fastenings, stage one|
Finally there is a single hook on the edge of the left black silk section, but I cannot find anything for it to hook into.
|Fastenings, stage two|
The bodice is interlined with the beige cotton, and has nine bones; six on the seams, one at the centre back, and one on each front piece. The bones are encased on black tape, with yellow flossing at the top. There is a black twill tape waist stay, which fastens with a single hook and eye, and which has a vertical hook for the skirt at the centre back.
|Interior of bodice|
One of the bone tapes has the maker’s name printed in gold; CAPRIMAL.
|Boning, and maker's name|
The seam edges are overcast by hand in a colour to match whichever fabric is visible, so most are sewn with black thread, but the armhole is overcast with beige thread. The bottom edge is covered with black tape.
|Finishing of seams|
The right edge of the ivory silk is not finished at all, as it is normally covered by the black part of the bodice.
|The raw edge of the silk|
The back is very plain, apart from a curious detail where the collar sections rest below the neckline of the black part of the bodice.
The decoration of the bodice is a leaf design, made from black and ivory cord, opaque black and translucent ivory beads, and ivory gauze with black embroidery.
I think that the decoration of the bodice is a sewn-on trim, rather than worked directly onto the bodice. The pattern consists of a pair of motifs, which alternate around a vertical axis. The collar motifs are symmetrical, whereas the motifs down the front are not. To me this suggests that making the fronts symmetrical would have wasted too much trim; if the decoration had been created on the bodice then surely it would be symmetrical throughout.
|The collar decoration is symmetrical|
|The front decoration is not|
The motifs on the front have been placed so that they slightly overlap the edge of the black part of the bodice.
|Trim extending beyond the edge|
The sleeves are cut in two parts, with pleating at the elbow.
They fasten with two hooks and eyes, and have a shaped cuff decorated with three rows of machine stitching. The cuff is stiffened with buckram which was originally covered with more of the ivory silk, now badly damaged.
The join between the sleeve and the cuff is covered with more of the trim, this time placed symmetrically.
So that is my research piece, in all its faded glory. I'm trying not to even think about the work required to recreate it!