Open-front sack-back gown, 1760s. The fabric was made and embroidered in China specifically for export to Western markets. The design is a meandering floral with ruching and chenille trim. This style of back, with a box pleat at the neck and hanging loosely from the shoulders is often referred to as a Watteau back, after the 18th century French artist Jean Antioine Watteau (1684-1721) who painted so many women wearing this type of gown (also known as a robe à la française).
In addition to the indicative Chinese embroidery, the fabric of this gown is 29 ¼” wide with tempole holes in the yellow selvages, clear indications of Chinese manufacture.
The dress is lined with linen. The long sleeve ruffles were “pinked” on the edges – a finishing method utilizing a pinking iron to cut a zig-zag edge. The pinking iron was a sharp punch hit with a hammer that cut the fabric either into tiny scallops or zig-zags, much like pinking shears today. It was a popular method of finishing edges, especially on flowing sleeves, where a turned hem would be too stiff.
This dress is currently on exhibit in Charleston Couture. Come visit it for yourself!
Since we first posted this dress, we’ve had several requests for detail photographs. We managed to find a few ancient ones. We apologize, the photo quality is not great, but it will help our textile junkies out there. Click here for the new photo set.
TEXTILE TUESDAYS: Each Tuesday we post a piece from our textile collection. Some items have been on exhibit, some will eventually be shown in our new Historic Textiles Gallery and some may be just too fragile to display. We hope you enjoy our selection each week – do let us know if there’s something in particular you’d like to see on TEXTILE TUESDAY! #TextileTuesday