costumes

Chemise Post #26: First date with the chemise

I just had my first, of two, study sessions at Platt Hall, and so far it’s been worth it!

First, some assumptions about the dress that I walked away with in 2012 were set straight immediately. The frilly collar around the neck that was of a different fabric? Modern. It was put on the dress when it was installed in 1983 because it “looked right.” Upon studying the neckline I couldn’t find an indication of there having been a collar attached prior to the one the museum tacked in place, though I’m going back tomorrow to do some more sleuthing. While it’s interesting, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the dating is off, because images of chemise gowns sans collars abound, but it does make it unique since we are lead to believe most chemise gowns have collars.

Second, the fabric probably wasn’t embroidered, but woven. In fact, Dr Lambert changed the description in the database (also reflected online) while we were discussing the that the motif just was too tiny, to regular, too mechanical for it to be embroidery.

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Also, apparently the original accession card had the note that it was a type of Indian woven gauze, but it was changed in the 80s to “chikkan embroidery” when the gown was installed. It has some similarities to chikkan embroidery, I’ll grant those who made that decision but even fine chikkan work isn’t this fine. Getting up close on the fabric, you can see how integral the motif is to the weave, and its identical on both sides of the fabric, with no tie-offs anywhere. The final clincher was examining the hem of the dress, which has a slight train. While it’s possible to say that the panels were embroidered in straight, rectangular pieces before being assembled, most embroidery work is done with the shape of the pattern piece laid out, so you can avoid embroidering into the seams, and take into account things like trained hems without having to worry about cutting into the embroidery and risk unravelling it. The hem on the Platt Hall chemise is cut without regard to the motif of the fabric, which makes me feel pretty confident that it was actually woven.

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This is an interesting project in that it is actually a very simple dress. Four panels, some drawstrings, and a pair of sleeves. That’s really all it is! And speaking of the sleeves, they are original, even if the fabric is a plain muslin. The sleeve head is not gathered in, but pleated at 1″ intervals all the way around, as it is only about 10″ or so larger than the armscye.

The stitching is pretty average, too. No insane 22-stitches-per-inch or whatever. Just small enough to not be obvious, and spaced close enough to be secure and still get the job done. In fact, on non-stress bearing seams like where the panels are joined, the stitches are fairly fast and spaced further apart. Clearly sewn by someone competent and confident, but not anal retentive.

And check out that teeny tiny selvedge! It’s about 1/8″ wide.

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Tomorrow I’m going back and will fill in the gaps with more photos and notes and whatnot. I may even beg to see some other items in the collection, if Dr Lambert can be prevailed. Also, I wish I’d gotten a photo of his rather chubby Scottie dog… I was too distracted by the box of chemise sitting on the table when she trundled through. I love critters!

Thank you so much to everyone who contributed to helping me offset the cost of this trip. I hope it ends up being as worth it to you as it is to me!

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