Sunday, 8 December 2019

That awkward moment . . .

. . . when you realise that you have spent so much time in the Victoria and Albert Museum's costume court that you can recognise a new addition when you see it.

I was there recently, doing some research for a project I am planning for next year, and as I strolled out I spotted this dress and thought, "Ooh, that's new". The accession date of 2018 confirmed this.


Just to put this into context: I live 200 miles from London, which is actually the closest I have ever lived to the capital. Although I go to visit exhibitions etc, it's only a couple of times a year. That I know the V&A's costume collection so well is testament to the many, many hours of 'misspent' youth (and middle age) devoted to gawping at historical costume.

And this one is well worth gawping at. The label describes it as having been made in the Netherlands in the 1770s, from English copper-plate printed cotton. Despite my best efforts leaning against the case, it wasn't possible to see the front.

The best I could manage

Fortunately, the dress is on the V&A website: you can find the details, and more photographs, here.

Front view, image © Victorian and Albert Museum, London

The fabric itself is amazing. At first glance it just looks like alternating 'stripes' of broad and narrow motifs. On closer inspection it becomes obvious how much variety there is.

Different motif designs, I think I got them all

As they appear in the fabric

Clearly whoever made this dress was a skilled dressmaker, as they made excellent use of the print.

Bodice back

Strips of the wider motifs are used around the neckline

Piecing around the shoulder

The centre back 'stripe' is a striking feature

Clever use of the design on the cuff to mimic trimming

Different elements on the front and back of the cuff, but carefully matched

Whether by accident or design, the wider motifs barely show in the gathers at the top

Finally, if this dress inspires any visitors to have a go themselves, the museum bookshop has just what they need.

The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking

Now all that is needed is for Ikea to use this fabric design for a range of bedding!

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