Monday, November 2, 2015

Trade Craft-Mantua Maker-More Patterning Techniques

Mantua Maker's advertise infrequently.  When they do it is almost always looking for an apprentice.   So it is rare to not only find one with details, but also one which leaves no doubt about the requirement of the person's body not a necessary part of the process.

This advertisement is providing us information about the fourth and fifth methods of making a gown.  Use a pair of Stays or an existing Gown for a pattern. 

Daily Advertiser, February 7, 1783

"Dresses equally cheap, plain Gowns from 2s. to 4s. Sending a Gown or Stays that fit prevents Ladies the Trouble of trying on their Cloaths."

We would call this today pulling a pattern.  We do this when we study extant garments.  That is how all those patterns of extant clothing get into books.  It is not a difficult skill to learn.

 If a gown fits, why would a professional dressmaker not be able recreate the fit?   If the stays fit, the gown will fit.  So two more ways of making a gown added to the list.

1. Patterns.
2. Taking the measure.
3. Make a pattern from Stays that fit.
4. Make a pattern from a Gown that fits.
5. In person.

Keep in mind that the gown style is changing very little from year to year until 1775ish and you can better understand how these techniques can be easily applied.  You are not creating a completely new silhouette, but rather just recreating the old one in new fabric.   It makes sense, especially for those not within fitting distance of a Mantua Maker.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Trade Craft-Mantua Maker-Taking the Measure

Taking the Measure?  Isn't that a technique used by tailors?  Yes.  It is.  It is also a technique used by Mantua Makers to create a gown.

Up until the publication of this research, we have assumed the technique of cutting on the body known as "draping" (a modern term, not a period one) was the 18th c method of making and fitting a gown.  What Steph Smith and I are finding with our ongoing research is that there are multiple methods available to the Mantua Maker.

We can document both taking the measure and patterns, but so far have not been able to document cutting directly on the body.  If anyone has this information please contribute with citations.  We think it was done but so far have not yet found something concrete to share.

Taking the Measure

Taking the measure by the tailor involved a paper tape, with notches cut into the tape indicating the measurements of the body.  While inches, feet and yards were measurements in common use by other trades, actually putting them on the measuring tape for the tailor's trade was not done until the turn of the century.  Why?

 It seems so simple to us looking back that it would be so much more efficient to have a marked tape.  It would also make the trade craft of the tailor much easier to understand.  Keeping one's methods on the QT, keeps the entire trade a mystery.  It does seem magical when you see someone with expertise like Mr. M. Hutter, wield and cut his tape with confidence and élan.  You can't help but be impressed, and if Mr. Hutter was not explaining what he did,  you, as the observer, would be clueless.

 Why has it been thought patterns and taking the measure to be only the territory of the tailor?

My opinion is that the entire process of Mantua-Making has been shrouded in mystery because the documentation has been inaccessible, scarce and scattered.  And it  still is.  There are no English manuals on the process.  Up until now M. Garsault  and M. Diderot have been the only sources with text and images.  Now with Google books,  the Historical Newspapers as well as the Old Bailey online so many more resources can be tapped and  parts of the pieces of the puzzle can be assembled into a somewhat recognizable pattern.

Saint James Chronicle, August 20, 1767

"a Mantua-maker, in the same City, who had taken Lady Jane's Measure for some Gowns, which she had fitted up for her after the French Fashion."

The Fortunate Country Maid, 1782

"a mantua-maker came in.  Come Miss, said my directress, put off your gown, that your measure may be taken: your cloths will be made to admiration." 

How is it possible to take a measure and create a gown?  

Uniformity: The overall style of English and French gowns over the 50 year time period of 1725-1775 changed very little.  

This makes the interior shapes of the bodice lining pieces change very little.  Alterations in fashion were in details like the sleeves, ornamentation and most importantly the appearance of the fabrics.  The open front gown ruled for a very, very long time. 

Constants: From gown to gown, regardless of size, the interior shapes of the bodice lining appear very similar. 

The size of the pieces of course vary, but the overall appearance of the pieces are remarkably similar.  The Mantua-Maker is making the same gown over and over.  You become very familiar with the shapes very quickly.  There are after all only three major parts of a gown; Bodice Back, Bodice Front, Sleeves.  

Shapes: The same gown is being made the same way over the same shape.  

The stayed body of the 18th century is different from our own stayed selves as we don our stays for the weekend or even the workweek.   We deal today with bodies coming from a wide range of  of ethnic backgrounds, varying degrees of athleticism as well as different nutritional standards.  They dealt with  fewer of those wide swings, the bodies were more similar than dissimilar. And the bodies had been wearing stays for their entire lives.  That makes a  huge difference and creates more constants to deal with than variables. 

We as modern Mantua-Makers have many more challenges to making a gown than they did.  The range of bodies we deal with is huge, the quality and fit of stays are all over the place and the fabrics we have at our disposal are always a compromise.  Always.

And there is always more primary source research that needs to be done.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Trade Craft-Mantua Maker

 As someone who has been making 18th century gowns for quite a while now, the fascination has only grown as my knowledge and expertise has grown since beginning the journey into making and patterning 18th century gowns.  The questions have grown too.

Many of the questions stem from the fact that there is such sameness to extant gowns.  Not the fabric or the trim, that of course varies, but the inner workings of gowns.  There is an overall continuity to the inside, the lines, the pieces themselves, the technique and the overall appearance of the finished product.

When you ignore the outside and are not bedazzled by miles of fly fringe or elegant brocaded silks, the humble linen lining becomes the focus of study.  What can we learn from it?  What does the gown have to tell us?  How were Mantua Makers taught?  How did they practice their craft?  How is that sameness of construction achieved?  Where are we in documenting the craft and art of the Mantua Maker?

Based on the past 20 or so years, there has grown a belief that all 18th century gowns were draped.  Fabric was placed onto the body and pieces cut out.  Those pieces are then used as the lining with the gown constructed on top of those draped pieces.  That is the way an 18th century gown was made and should be made today as we attempt to replicate the product of the Mantua Maker.  

What I am discovering and will be documenting in this blog is that draping is not the only way gowns were made for individuals in the 18th century.  

This advertisement from was one of the first that indicated to me that there were other  options available to the Mantua Maker.

Virginia Gazette, October 24, 1771
This advertisement was placed by M. Brodie.  She is a Mantua Maker residing in Williamsburg, very near Mr. Randall's store.  She trained in London, and is to be supplied with the "Fashions" every three months.   She "makes and trims".  I think this is an important clue to her role.  She is not making trim, but applying trim.  She promises to be prompt and hardworking as do all tailors and staymakers.  Interestingly she does not have a storefront, instead she gives directions to her lodgings.  This may be one of the reasons the documentation of Mantua Makers is so scarce.  Working from home maybe her account books were in the simplest of forms and that is why we have very little to go on.

The point of interest in the advertisement is her shout out to ladies who are not local.

"Ladies whom it may not suit to come to Town may be fitted by sending her a Pattern."  

That means three things to start and probably more.

First, an individual would have a pattern for a gown that fit her.  She had it on hand and could mail it off.

Second, the Mantuamaker could make a gown from that pattern.  She did not need the body to accompany it.   She knew how to do it from the paper pattern and must have done it in the past in order  to offer the service.  Was this a service available in other parts of the country?  Unfortunately each piece of information brings up more questions!

Third, someone else made the paper pattern. Who made the pattern that was to be sent?  Another question! Up until now, we knew that tailor's worked from patterns, certainly staymakers did as well, ready made stays are widely available.  But there was no evidence that women's clothing had any attachment to patterns at all.

But, now there is, and there is more to come!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Some Super Stomachers

For now I am indulging my love for beautiful things.  This post was kicked off by revisiting this portrait.

It is of an unknown woman, possibly by Durand.  I would guesstimate 1760s as the date.  Her stomacher is obviously not matching her gown.  It is not embroidered, but colorful with flowers, on a creamy white ground bringing in the colors of her jewelry and hair ornaments.

So lets look at some original stomachers with similar elements.  Can we use them as guides for our own?


The flower decorations on this stomacher relate to the gown but since it is listed on its own, probably not original to this gown, but it is a stunning look.  At first glance the flowers could be silk and they are, but they are silk thread/floss, not cut silk flowers.  I have seen this technique before and it is truly amazing.  

In this image especially you can see the loops of the thread making up the flowers, as they stand proud of the appliquéd/embellished/embroidered vines.  Manipulating silk floss is not easy on a good day, and while I have not yet tried to make these type of flowers, the degree of difficulty is there.  Lots and Lots of floss, the flat silk kind, not twist.

This similar but not the same stomacher from LACMA does have silk ribbon flowers.


 Ombre ribbon is something we don't use enough of, the blue large ribbon is the main design element.

The little loop thread flowers are on this stomacher as well.

Similar but not the same and also from LACMA.

A blue ground gives this stomacher a totally different look.

A combination of ombre ribbon roses and loopy thread flowers with fly fringe, make the blue pop out even more.  The picot edge to the ribbon also adds to the appearance of the flowers.

Last one, this is from the MFA.  Lots and Lots of fly fringe with a few ribbon flowers thrown in for good measure.   A simple cream ground, loaded with metallic lace and colorful flowers and flies.

Why show the unachievable?  Maybe they are.  But….Lots of us like to make things. Making flies and ribbon flowers is not hard, just time-consuming.  Having a stomacher that does not match the gown is documentable as we see in the above image and from the advertisements for ready made stomachers.  A place to show off your flies without killing yourself trimming out an entire gown?  Maybe.  Which one to try will be the hard choice.

Maybe a future workshop?

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Stomacher Rabbit Hole

This is not the blog post that was on my radar this morning, but sometimes you have to go where the rabbit hole takes you.  Have not come across this portrait before, and it caught my eye in a big way.   Captured my fancy so to speak, so the blog post I meant to write is still in my head.  This one first.

Countess of Caven, Alan Ramsay, 1751
At first glance just another lady in a blue gown.  Ho hum, you say!  Let me show you the detailed shots and I think the ho hums will turn to oh wows.

What first caught my eye was not the stomacher arrangement at all.  It is this handkerchief.  How gorgeous is this?  Sheer silk with sheer gathered lace applied.  It is shaped and overlapped at center front.  Beautiful.  LOVE this.

Keep in mind she is wearing a very simple gown.  No bells or whistles.

This is a detail shot of her stomacher.  Ribbons lace across a self fabric ground.  The ribbon edges are bound in silver.  The lace rosettes go down the front.  Mystery lace is to the sides, peeking out from the robings.

A four loop bow at the elbow continues the format of the design to the remainder of the gown.  This rosette looks doubled or just more intense than the ones at center front.  More flower like?

Another detail easily overlooked, but adding to the overall pop, is this small decoration on top of her head.  Tiny lace rosettes with a blue center.  C'mon girls, let's give this lady a thumbs up for bringing it home!

What I find so wonderful about this portrait is that it is the accessories and very small amount of trim  that brings the wow factor to what would otherwise be just another blue gown.  Follow the link and explore the portrait in detail.  There is a wonderful zoom.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

OMG Not a Match!

Taking a look at stomachers that are not the exact same fabric as the gown. 

Mrs Jacob Hurd, 1762, Metropolitan Museum of Art

This detail screen shot of her stomacher is fascinating.  Could this be the "puckered" stomacher?  What are the chains crisscrossing?  Ribbons most likely, with a deaths head button to secure them?  Interesting choice by the artist to paint the child's sash in the same color family as Mom's gown.

Another possibility for the "puckered" stomacher is this portrait by

Francois Hubert Drouais

I will still be on the lookout for more examples of this sort. 

A completely contrasting stomacher color to gown color gives an entirely different look. The color of the stomacher is repeated in the bows at the elbow. This follows the artistic rule of don't use a bold color only once.

Rhonda Cranston, Fralin Museum of Art
White stomachers are not an uncommon choice with a colored silk gown.

Princess Caroline of Wales, Essex Hall
And the reverse, white gown and pink stomacher and bows.  Again the color is repeated somewhere else, bows at the elbow and neck ribbon.

Mrs. Laura Keppel, MFA Boston
This time in blue, which I really like.  One of the interesting tidbits that I am noticing while looking at literally hundreds of images, is how many PLAIN silk gowns there are in portraits.  Decorated to the 10th power or  left undecorated.  Artistic license?  Easier to paint?  Or are we trying to over represent brocades and prints because that is what survives?  Did the brocades survive because the designs were so old fashioned too frumpy for remodeling?  Did the plain silks not survive in the same quantity because they were so easy to reuse?  Food for thought or thoughts plural.  

Portrait of a Woman, 1750, Yale Center for British Art
Another white and blue combination, with the hint of criss cross lacing on the front of what could be the foreparts of the stays.  Very plain gown, no bows or decorations of any sort.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

More Early Stomachers or the Lack Thereof

A couple of 1740s portraits of women clearly wearing their stays as stomachers.    The decorative lacing is front and center on both of these ladies.

Annetje Kool, c 1740 by Pieter Vanderlyn

Peter Vanderlyn, 1741
Early stays with the application of silver trim that is not meant to be hidden.

Metropolitan Museum of Art
Long fingers/tabs, broad back with a very tiny and long waist at center front are typical of early stays, as are the shoulder straps.   A number of these stays are mislabeled as 1780s stays due to the shoulder straps and long fingers.

Another very similar yellow pair from Les Arts Decoratifs, also yellow.

The bows are a cutsie add on by the photographer/stylist.  Ignore them and look at the shape of the stays and the lacing at center front.  The lacing does nothing.  It is purely decorative.

Does this trend continue into the later decades of the 18th century?  Yes it does,  and I will be looking at the 1750s and 60s next!   Truly the highpoint of all things stomacher, the 50s and especially the 60s are killing it with gorgeous stomachers and stays as stomachers continues too.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Ads for Stomachers

Most of us who are familiar with stomachers know that many are lost or separated from their original gowns.   The smallest part of the ensemble, easily put aside (aka lost) when a gown was remodeled later in its life.  The stomacher was often made to match the gown and petticoat, the crowning glory, but limited in scope to the gown it was made for.  A stomacher that did not match a particular gown would be useful for mix and match between a variety of gowns.

So where did these random stomachers come from?  You could buy the fancy ones, which makes sense.  Much of the embroidery and/or decorations on these stomachers is professionally worked and available for sale or import depending on where you were.  The ads in England feature ready made stomachers as well as those ads placed here in the colonies.

Pennsylvania Gazette, November 28, 1754

The ads only hint at what these might look like.

Boston Newsletter, November 1, 1764

Can we assume silver lace?  Silver embroidery?  Silver, like gold goes with just about any color gown. 

Boston  Gazette, May 21, 1764

This ad is a little more descriptive, but only a little, "black and colour'd pucker'd", hmmm…. Is puckered what they are calling the ordinary ruching technique we see on gowns as trim?  Or is it the same as the pucker'd cuffs we see on later 1770s gowns?  I am going with the puckered cuff comparison and will hope to come across one as I search for images of stomachers on gowns.  I don't remember ever seeing an original with that technique, similar, but not quite the same. 

Pennsylvania Packet, February 2, 1772

Now this one is interesting.  What my friends is the difference between French and Italian flowers?  Are they noticeably different?  Is one paper the other silk?  I don't know.  Does anyone?  For real?  Not speculation?  If you do please share with notations.  

An interesting note, there are zero ads or mentions of stomachers up to 1731 in our colonial newspapers.  The first mention is a woman struck by lightening.  

New England Weekly Journal. (Boston, Massachusetts) • 10-11-1731
Is a "tagg" a sliver ornament or clasp of some sort?  Not sure, but the poor soul was badly burned. This came from a search for the word "stomacher".  A search for "stomachers" revealed the first stomachers for sale in 1749.

Boston Evening Post. (Boston, Massachusetts) • 02-27-1749
This is the first advertisement in the colonial newspapers of stomachers for sale.  Curious that it is so late. When you search sometimes the results are interesting in their lack of citations as well as when we hit so many. 
Daily Post (London, England), Thursday, March 7, 1728
This is is the first advertisement in the British Newspapers that I could find.  Bringing up a question, what is a "slit" stomacher or is it a "flit"?    It is mentioned with "bodice" so one can possibly assume it was part of a set of stays.  This came from a  search for the word "stomachers" and the same ad comes up first in a search for "stomacher". 

The lack of stomacher hits sent me to the Old Bailey online.  Often they have much more, since it seems like thievery was as frequent as purchasing in 18th Century England.  The very first mention of the word stomacher was in 1684, stolen along with a "girdle". 

Hannah Rider, 25th February, 1713

This thief was accused of stealing both "boddice" and "stomacher", again linking the two as possibly the stay/stomacher combination.  Many of the early mentions of stomacher are with "pair of bodice", or with "jumps".  Will go into more detail later, but this is extremely interesting, to me anyway.  Not having any preset ideas on early stomachers, I am finding the results of the searches fascinating.  

But not making too many assumptions, much more work to do before that. 

Friday, September 18, 2015

Early Stomachers

Moving forward from the 17th century to the early 18th century.

What is going on with the stomacher?

The stomacher has to become separate when you want to do something to it that makes the separation necessary, such as embroidery.

Philadelphia Museum of Art
A great many embroidered stomachers survive, especially from the early part of the century.  Most often the embroidery is silk with heavy metallic elements as well.  The shape and form of the stomacher are in line with the shape and form of the stays they are put on top of.

This early version is a long tall sally, narrowing at the bottom with two fingers on either side.  This will work on a pair of stays with similar styling such as this example from LACMA.


Broad and full at the top, narrow waist and lots of fingers are typical of earl 18th century stays.  They are also typical of much later stays in the 1770s and 80s. This makes it difficult for many museums to assign a proper date and you will find many of these types of stays mislabeled as later.  The dead giveaway is the broad back, sweeping ropes of braid or ribbon all down the front and the spade at the bottom.


Another early stomacher, this time you can see clearly how the design is worked so that the tabs will be seen as they flare out over the stays.

Some serious dating to this style from an embroidery how to book, 1725, in the Victoria and Albert Museum.  

Form following function.

Early stomachers still reflect the criss cross lacing on the stays.  A popular look that hangs around a long time.

Metropolitan Museu

To my eye some of the most beautiful embroidery of the 18th century is done on early stomachers and aprons.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Don't Have the Stomacher For It?

Research is ongoing, still exciting and still turning up information to share even after all these years.

This past summer Larkin & Smith had two exciting opportunities for research, writing the standards for the "Stamp Act" 1765 event in Newport, Rhode Island, and as two of the coordinators of the Old North Foundation Fashion Show to be held in Boston on September, 30, 2015.

So with those two projects, lots more time was spent looking at images for those details we often overlook.  And now that they are almost completed, will have more time to research and write.

One of those details is the stomacher. We receive lots of questions.   Should it match?  Should it just match the gown?  Should it match the petticoat?  How should we trim it? What does a lower class woman use for a stomacher?  All kinds of questions and frankly all kinds of answers.  So here goes,  I am taking a look at stomachers if you have the stomach for it.

First a little back history.  In order to appreciate the evolution of fashion, looking back before looking forward can be helpful.  One of the best looking back places to go is Bunka Gakuen, a treasure trove of early fashion prints.

Some really interesting ones, all French, all around 1695, with many design features found on later gowns that start here.  Really.  The mantua itself is the precursor to the gowns of the 18th century.

So much to see that changes over time thru the 1750s, 60s and even the 1770s.  Let's see how many design elements transfer over, into and thru the next century. 

Stripes going around the arms.  check
Small ugly dog.  check
Sleeve ruffles. check
Robings/folds on either side of center front.  check
Front opening.  check
Lace at bosom.  check
Decorations filling in center front.  check
Small choker necklace of pearls. check

Looking closely, she is not wearing a stomacher, the lace we see is on top of her stays.  Not a separate garment.  

We see it here as well, clearly noticeable chevrons on top of the stays.  You can even see the binding at the top of the stays.  Just to make us crazy her stripes are going down her sleeves.

I thought this plate was also of interest.  We certainly can equate with the concept of bows down center front.  Bows are still big, just ask Kate  Spade.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The Original Stays

A line drawing is nice, but seeing the original is even nicer.

The extant stays we used for our new pattern follow the convention of fashion fabric on the foreparts (front) only.  With the back and side panels in plain linen.  This is inline with so many other pairs of stays and the mindset of " if it don't show it don't matter".  The ultimate 18th century guideline.

Before beginning to pattern the stays, we needed to try them on a person.  Measurements are good, but there is nothing like having flesh to lace up to determine the actual size of the person the stays were originally made for.  Well, it turns out I was the person.  They fit me perfectly.  They were amazingly comfortable for the short time they were on.  Nothing at all like any other pair of stays I have ever worn.  And no harm was done, it was no different than placing a pair of stays on a mannequin.

The foreparts are green worsted, laced shoelace style over a stomacher.  We are using a repro stomacher since the original is long gone.  I have used the shoelace arrangement for some time.  It does do something different than spiral lacing.  Because you are pulling equally from both sides, it provides more compression and more shaping to the front.  The sides ride relatively high under the arms, but not uncomfortably so.  What the sides do is help control all the wiggly flesh under the arms that most of us have.  Some skinny minnies don't have any, but most women do.  In our workshop classes we call it schwable.

The back of the stays are not quite even steven.  Leading one to wonder, if these had been made ahead of time and then taken from the shelf and made up into the stays.

The back is spiral laced, the top of the stays are bound in white leather, the bottom only in leather in the front sections, the back bottom of the stays are bound in linen tape.  All the stitching appears to be by the same hand.

The front lacing holes are in a much darker green silk/mohair thread so when making the reproduction, I decided to go with the darker green of the silk twist.  There is obvious fading and damage to the outer fabric of the stays.

So a nice worsted was obtained and the sewing begun, using a silk buttonhole twist and linen thread for the back panels.  The original was sewn with 8-10 stitches per inch.  I ended up with 11-12SPI.

One thing a pair of stays will do for you is improve your backstitch.  I started with the back linen panels first, counting threads and by the time I reached the wool, muscle memory took over and the stitches were just as even as counting the threads.  As an apprentice staymaker for many years, I will say this pair was/is my master piece.

I varied somewhat and did leather all around the bottom.  I also decided on artificial whalebone as the boning material of choice.  In the past I have used all kinds of reed, some very good. Riven oak and pounded ash were also good. For a reproduction of a 17th c pair of stays for Plymouth Museum, I did use artificial whalebone and was very impressed with the look and feel of the finished stays.  And the same holds true for these, not only the look but also the feel is just like the original.  Having worn them in mid80 temperatures, I can vouch they are no hotter than anything else I have ever used as boning.  Unlike the zip ties a lot of people use, this is a corsetry product and does not have a memory. In other words it can be reshaped with heat if necessary.   I am happy with the shaping, the feel, the look and comfort level of these stays.  I am hoping they work as well for everyone else.