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«Contents Introduction General Fashion Notes The Philosophy of Costume Reconstruction The Lincolnshire Mantua The Shape of the Gown The Petticoat The ...»

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AN 18TH CENTURY MANTUA from the collections of Lincolnshire

County Council Library and Heritage Service

By Sheila Landi of the Landi Company Ltd.



General Fashion Notes

The Philosophy of Costume Reconstruction

The Lincolnshire Mantua

The Shape of the Gown

The Petticoat

The Development of the Dummy and Undergarments

The dummy

The corset

The pannier

Final touches for display Conservation Methods Further Comment on Construction, Alterations and Treatment Reconstruction The Petticoat The Gown Final Mounting 1



Introduction The Mantua, consisting of a gown and petticoat, both in a deteriorated state, was received in this workshop for assessment in 1994/5, but remained untouched, except for occasional inspections. Taking into consideration the deterioration of the fabric that was ongoing and the shortening span of work time left to me, I offered to carry out the work here gratis, provided some funding was found for the dummy required and the materials for conservation of the fabric and for building the undergarments. On these conditions being met by Lincolnshire County Council and The Friends of Lincoln Museums and Art Gallery, work started in January 2008.

General Fashion Notes Originating in the 17th century as a rather loose coat-like garment, based on the informal Eastern garment called a banyan, generally although not invariably worn over a petticoat (or skirt that was visible beneath the open front of the gown) of the same material, by the mid- 1730s a Mantua had become a formal garment worn for grand occasions and for attendance at court. The main distinguishing feature was a train to the gown which, for greater convenience, was doubled up from about the level of the hem line of the petticoat, and attached at the corners and centre point to the back of the extended bodice, often by means of pins, while the panels at the top of the triangle, stitched along the inner end to the waist line of the bodice fronts, were turned towards the back to sit on top of the pannier. They were held up with cord loops fastened inside the gown on the main seams of the train and hitched over buttons on the outside about the level of the waist at centre back. This arrangement led to the fabric being reversed on the train and front panels so that the right side was visible when being worn. The petticoat was worn over side panniers that varied in width from quite narrow to the ridiculously wide, the looped front panels sitting on top on either side.

The bodice of the gown was usually open fronted at this date, the robings, i.e. material that was folded in two pleats running from the corners of the straight neck line at the back, over the shoulders and down the front, were squared off just below the waist line butdid not meet each other. The gap was filled with a stomacher, which may be a separate item or made to match the gown. The back of the bodice, made from two loom widths seamed at the centre, was shaped with pleats to sit tightly into the waist while the robings were fixed to the underlying corset at the front. This was sometimes called the English style as opposed to the sack-back which came in from France. The full sleeves were elbow length, cut square and gathered over the top of the shoulder, with the arm-hole cut deep into the back giving an elegant line and they were finished with wide, pleated cuffs shaped to fit round the elbow.

The petticoat could vary in shape and width considerably, the number of loom widths required being determined by the width of the panniers, usually six or eight panels. The pannier itself was a construction made from cane and linen canvas in the 18th century, which was strapped around the waist to hold out the petticoat on either side of the body. There was considerable flexibility built in to allow the wearer to sit down and get in and out of carriages and sedan chairs, etc.

2 As a comment aside it can be noted that furniture and architecture of the period tended to be made to accommodate these rather extreme fashions.

The shaping of the material was achieved largely by pleating, which made for easy alteration as fashion changed. A slash was cut down centre front to allow the top to be turned down at an angle before pleating started, creating a curve in the line of the waist. This slash is usually to be found in the centre of a loom width, but in our example the centre lies on a seam due to the nature of the pattern, giving a strong line down centre front and lines to each side close to the pocket slits. The waist line was never intended to be a close fit, but to sit down more onto the hips to allow the bodice to fit snugly and elegantly.

These garments were more or less made on the body of the client, the Mantua maker being an itinerant seamstress of great skill, one or two still known by name now. A sturdy lining was used as the foundation created to fit on top of the corset. When it came to putting in the sleeves the lower curve was stitched as an ordinary seam on the inside but the top half was gathered up and stitched down onto the outside of the shoulder piece of the bodice, between G and H on the diagram below, the stitching hidden beneath the pleat of the robing, referred to as a false pleat in the diagram. The petticoat would also have been directly pleated over the pannier that was to be used, thus making reconstruction more difficult as one is searching for the form that once lay beneath, rather than building on a known shape.

Diagram 1 A page from The Cut of Women’s Clothes by Nora Waugh Published by Faber and Faber, 1968 3 The Philosophy of Costume Reconstruction This kind of project, which involves extensive conservation of the actual fabric as well as reconstruction of a three dimensional form, has to be constantly juggled between the two sides of the process. At some point, as understanding develops, a decision will have to be made as to how far back in the history of the construction of the object it will be possible to go. Recent theories of conservation are less inclined to endeavour to return to the original form, even if possible, and to regard changes as just as important as a record of society. An exception may be made when the alteration has been for fancy dress, since no fashion statement has been made. In this case, with the object deteriorating, there was no option but to use all the evidence to be found, added to knowledge gained from other garments in order to create a viable 18th century garment.

Not all the evidence that will inform the various decisions taken along the way will be immediately obvious, so that it is very important not to jump to conclusions too quickly. It takes time to get to know even a simple object let alone one of such complexity as an 18th century Mantua. The actual evidence lies in traces of stitch lines and old thread, marks of pleating and the creasing that comes from wear. There may be cut edges of cloth that has been removed, leaving seams incomplete, or insertions of foreign or self material put in to change the size of a bust line or waist measurement. Some experience of dressmaking and familiarity with the style of the period concerned is essential to understand what these signs may mean and how to maintain them while work is going on. For example, if the fabric is laid out and flattened while being conserved, as most things are, much evidence will be lost.

The fabric has a memory of long held positions, creases, direction of folds, stitch marks and seam lines which can very easily be lost, unless they are noted and retained as far as possible while giving each unit individual support.

Another factor in such a reconstruction is that, although the petticoat was a discrete object in its own right, it could only be fully understood in relation to the gown and vice versa.

Although presented separately in this report for simplicity it must be understood that, in practice, both petticoat and gown were being worked alongside of each other.

When an object, such as the gown in this project, is in such a state of collapse, careful interpretation and knowledge of the generic methods of 18th century dress-making is essential. The way of joining the bodice and sleeves together, for example, and how the buttons and loops functioned with the train to create the “cuffs” that sit on the top of the pannier must already be understood. When the bodice was fully opened out a number of alterations were seen to be present and that quite large areas of the fabric had been deliberately cut away (the details will be discussed later.). Plus there was an insertion possibly to enlarge the bust. In the latter instance the alteration had to remain as there was no other material available to play with but in the first the material had to be built back in order to take the shape back to the earliest point to match the petticoat. The evidence available was clear in one case but not in the other.

When conservation was complete the reading of how the train had been dressed proved difficult and we are obliged to Madeleine Ginsberg, late of the Victoria and Albert Museum, for her invaluable advice in this respect. It is very gratifying when, suddenly, something falls into place.

4 The Lincolnshire Mantua The Lincolnshire Mantua, consisting of gown and petticoat, was given to the Usher Gallery in 1937, on condition that it was displayed.

The fabric is a Spitalfields silk identified and dated as 1735 by Natalie Rothstein, late of the Victoria and Albert Museum. It is a very rare survival of a style known to exist but of which almost no examples are still extant. The ground weave is dyed black on which a formalised pattern of lace is outlined in white, brocaded with large flowers in bright colours.

Unfortunately the nature of the process of producing the black dye is very destructive to the silk fibres, introducing an inevitable loss of strength almost as soon as it is made. When received there was a continuing loss of surface fibre and fragments were easily detached. The colours are still remarkable even though slightly faded.

All evidence points to the conclusion that the original 1735 version was altered to suit the fashion of a decade later. There were further interventions but none that altered the essential character of the garments.

The Shape of the Gown Apart from the shape of the train the gown followed the lines of the generic type fairly closely. The pattern for a bodice shown in The Cut of Women’s Clothes, for 1735 (see diagram

1) was almost identical, any variation accounted for by the replacement of part of the underarm material, let in alongside the seam which joins on the robings. The stitch lines of the original dart in the armhole were also visible. When worn the length of the train is halved, the bottom section looped up to be fastened at the corners to the main seams at the level of the join. More details of the way the train is constructed and dressed will be given later.

The Petticoat There were six full panel widths, each 52centimetres wide with narrow selvedges. For convenience each piece has bee identified with a letter, U – Z. When received the two centre panels were stilled pleated and retained some fragments of a waist band. Otherwise it was flat and open down the back but there were fragments of a different material, blue and white checked wool, that suggested that there had been a seventh panel at some time. Pieces V and Y each had a pocket slit that finished about 4cms from the top edge. The slit was neatly finished with a rolled and hemmed edge.

In order to try to understand the form of the petticoat a toile was made in calico including the seventh panel and the pleat marks on the original were drawn in pencil along the top edge. When this was pleated up, however it was much too big around the waist for a pannier of average width so a construction was put together that reflected the assumption of a wide.

1740s fashion. A toile can be useful but it has no “memory” of past positions to help in deciding which of several possibilities is the right one. In the end it is only by trying the real thing that anything convincing can be achieved, and when the petticoat itself was offered up it was obviously wrong around the waist and the vertical seams were dragged out of line. The width of the pannier was reduced and slowly we arrived at the present shape, which corresponds to the earliest version that can be traced.

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Conservation Methods:

Before going further with the description of the construction and reconstruction of the gown and petticoat a brief account of the way the basic fabric was conserved before it could be put back together is given here.

In a situation such as this, where the fabric had to retain the ability to fold and mould to pleats, using sufficient adhesive to hold the Stabiltex firmly enough to prevent the cracks from spreading would be selfdefeating. The use of the adhesive was more to make the Stabiltex controllable than to adhere it to the silk.

In any case there was so much loose fibre around on both reverse and front surfaces that it was impossible to create a really strong bond.

To Treat Stabiltex with Beva 371

Method 1 using a spray gun only in a spray booth with strong extraction:

prepare the Stabiltex by stretching it between two bars or rollers (depending on the size of the piece required) one above the other, making absolutely sure that the ortogonality of the weave is maintained.

Beva must be diluted from the gel in which it is sold, with a solvent from the hydrocarbon range, between petroleum ether and Stoddart‟s according to the speed of drying needed. A very thin solution is best for spraying but not one that will dry too quickly or the solution will form strings before it hits the surface and create a rough and uneven film. With the right mixture two or three coats are required to build up sufficient adhesive in an even layer.

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