Friday, January 15, 2016

Vernet: I Spy Eyelets! Different Qualities of Handmade Eyelet Embroidery

Reverse side of piece of finely produced eyelet embroidery
with new threads laid on top for comparison.
Discussion below. 
The embroidery I've been doing for the Vernet dress has struck me as fairly coarse. I am an occasional embroideress, so no surprise there. Am almost done with the satin stitch portion of the embroidery, and ended up using my most powerful 3x glasses, plus a round-the-neck magnifying glass, and it still required excellent light to get a decent stitch at all. Good embroiderers needed good eyes!

(Remember, you can keep up with all of the projects on the Vernet's 1814 Merveilleuses and Incroyables Facebook page.)

Now, if the satin stitch is coarse, how are the eyelets likely to look after I finish them? I have several examples of handmade eyelet embroidery. Here are two of them: they happen to illustrate well that eyelet work appeared in both coarse and fine qualities. I do not know the age of either of the examples, and one of them may well be quite late or be a re-use of older fabric. Neither is from the early 1800s.

A Piece of Unused Fine Work


Let's start with the fine work. This is a piece beautifully worked across a piece of crisp, very, very tightly woven fabric. It is almost, but not quite opaque. The hand is hard, not soft: there are no tiny fuzzes to soften it, and the few loose threads are so, so fine, and also "hard". It has not been starched: it's naturally crisp. I haven't the heart to do a burn test, but feel that this may be a finely woven linen cambric, or perhaps a percale?


Thérèse de Dillmont's  An Encyclopedia of Needlework, 1886, she recommends readers to embroider with a  "loose, soft make of cotton, the looser the better, and very little twisted, is the best material for embroidery". The work being published by the DMC company, she recommends a coton à broder. They still sell it.

As for the material the embroidery is to be worked upon? She doesn't define it. 




Look carefully at the pictures. Notice that each eyelet is slightly differently shaped and sized. Note that the scallops vary, too. The real giveaway that this is handwork is on the back side, though. Let's look at the reverse of one end of the piece.



What do you know? When you have a chance to look at the messy side, the thread is thicker than it appears on the front side, isn't it? You can also tell that the embroidery thread doesn't have that much twist. We'll talk about that a bit later.

In the image above, I've laid both a regular Guterman sewing thread on top of the work, to the left. To the right, I've laid the type of thread I am using to create the Vernet dress embroidery. As you can see, the original thread thickness is in between the Gutermann thread and "my" thread. "My" thread has more twist, too.

"My" thread is the one on the left, marked 


If I were to try to work at this level of fineness, I'd use a fine coton a broder #25, still made by DMC.

A Less Refined Stitch on a Petticoat


Now that you've seen the fine example, what about the coarse work? Can it be there is coarser eyelet and satin stitch work than mine? Oh yes and glory be.

Here is the petticoat, a museum de-accession I picked up locally. It is closed with a drawstring, and the embroidery may be earlier than the rest of the piece. Anyone care to hazard a guess as to the age? It doesn't feel Edwardian since this sort of work was out of style by then, and in Kentucky patterns were easy to be had except perhaps in truly remote areas of the Appalachian hills.

Examine the pictures closely. To see them really close up, click on the picture, and copy the file source, and open it in a fresh tab or window. I have uploaded large files so you can do so.

Note how thick that embroidery thread is! How slapdash the stitches! Notice the thread is not twisted much, either...once again it may be like a coton à broder that Thérèse de Dillmont's talks about in her book. Embroidery thread can come in different thicknesses, and you can split the strands as well.


Top row of embroidery, at top of flounce.


Second row from top of flounce.

Third row from top of flounce.
Scalloped bottom.
Back side of top row: examine the stitchwork.

Well, My Embroidery Thread Isn't Like Either Example...


Oh well. I should have done homework before choosing thread, shouldn't I? Lesson learned. Still, my thread is far easier to use than the floss I've used in the past, so really, I am not overly dejected :}

Why Not Call Eyelet Work Broderie Anglaise?


In short, I don't know, as yet.

By the time the British work The Dictionary of Needlework, by Sophia Frances Anne Caulfield and Blanche Saward, and published in 1882, eyelet embroidery was often being called Broderie Anglaise. They write that the "work is adapted for trimming washing dresses or underlinen" (p. 49). By this point, it wasn't for best wear, was it? The type of embroidery thread is to be used is not mentioned, and the entire species of embroidery gets only a short entry: it was out of fashion.

In this book, the work was to be done on "white linen or cambric" (p. 48). In another entry, cambric (Kammerack - German; Toile de Cambrai or Batiste - French), is defined as a beautiful and delicate linen textile, of which there are several kinds. Its introduction into this country dates from the reign of Queen Elizabeth." (p. 59). They also mention cotton imitations.

Thérèse de Dillmont's book, first published in France and circa 1886, lumps eyelet work under White Embroidery. She calls the holes "eyelets", and spends a bit of time, including nice clear pictures, on how to produce it. See the chapter five section on eyelets.

However, I have yet to find out what this work was called before then. We learned last post that the Journal des Dames was referring to the embroidery in April 30, 1814, as more a découpure, a cutting, than an embroidery. That leads me to suspect that this was rather a new type of work, but I don't have full evidence yet...more reading to do!

In Other News


This week I've been plagued by fatigue and a busy schedule. Life is about to get even more interesting, because to help diagnose one son's digestive issues, we're about to start a 4-6 week trial of life without any dairy products or soy products. We don't eat much meat (I hardly at all), and we do eat a lot of yogurt and cheese, so this will create a great deal of extra cooking and a deal of experimentation, and nibble away yet more of any moments that used to be somewhat leisurely. Best to roll with the punches: what else can you do?

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Vernet: Ninon declares, "Vive le Roi!"

Arrival of Louis XVIII at Calais, 1814; Edward Bird.
Courtesy BBC Your Pictures. More info.
Are those angels on the stairs? No, sailors on the shrouds.


It was lilies, lilies, everywhere, "Vive le Roi" in fashionese:

Ce 4 mai 1814.
Le costume de cent quarante dames choisies dans les douze arrondissemens, pour offrir leur hommages à S. A. R. Madame la Duchesse d'Angoulême, au moment de son entrée au Palais des Tuileries, étoit une robe blanche, en soie, crêpe ou mousseline, une coeffure en lis et un bouquet de lis.

"This May 4th, 1814: The costume of 140 ladies chosen from the 12 arrondissements to offer their homage to the the Duchess d'Angouleme, at the moment of her entrance entrance into the Tuileries Palace, was a white robe of silk, crape or muslin, the coiffure with lilies and with a bouquet of lilies."

This, the first paragraph in the May 5 Journal des Dames et Des Modes. Not a peep about N. Bonaparte, and no sign of bees anywhere. It's lilies and rose color:

Une guirlande de lis, ou un bouquet de lis, orne le devant de beaucoup de coëffures en cheveux; et l'on voit les fleur de lis brodées non-soulement sur les écharpes blanches, mais sur des écharpes  couleur de rose...

"A garland of lilies, or a bouquet of lilies, ornaments the front of many coiffures en cheveux (without a cap); and one sees fleur de lis embroidered not only on white scarves, but on rose-colored scarves." (Ibid., May 5, p. 200)

It had been lilies for at least a week, at first rather quietly, as Paris became used to the idea that Napoleon was going, going, gone and that King Louis XVIII was returning. The April 30 issue's fashion plate pictured a young lady, her hat adorned with lilies, tending a lily plant.

Chapeau orné de Lis, Robe de Perkale.
Journal des Dames et des Modes, 30 April, 1815.
Image courtesy Sabine, Kleidung um 1800.
Please see her reproduction of this hat! 
In the weeks following, lilies proliferated along with the celebrations.

So, naturally, my Ninon must celebrate along with the rest of the Bon Ton. Her dress is white and she wears folds across her bosom, and she keeps fleur de lis in peekaboo embroidery close to her heart. Vive le Roi!

If he is King, I am Queen, purrs Miss Blueberry Muffin. Eyelet embroidery in progress.
Of course, this is imagining. Vernet didn't draw the neckline details clearly. It could be folds in the fabric. However, the underdress bodice is tightly cut across the front, making drawstring folds less likely, and given how the fabric stands out and is opaque, it feels like percale to me, percale being the popular fabric for spring 1814. Fleur de lis would be a natural embroidery. Now, eyelet embroidery across the lowish neckline, as we'll read below? Mmmm, maybe, but this is a latter-day Ninon de L'Enclos we're channeling, and no mere mortal.


Finally, Journal des Dames mentions a certain English fashion for tight bodices:

Il faut de même beaucoup de grâce et de belles formes pour adopter une nouvelle façon de robes introduite par les dames Anglaises. Le corsage très-juste et sans plis, dessine parfaitement le taille, sur-tout par devant. Comme ces robes montent moins que les robes à guimpe, on adapte un plisse de tullè à leur corsage, ou l'on croise un fichu de gaze sur la poitrine.
(Journal des Dames, 10 May 1814, p. 202)

Roughly: "One must have plenty of grace and a pretty form to adopt a new fashion of robe introduced by the English ladies. The well fitting bodice without folds, delineating the waist perfectly, all over the front. Because the robes rise less high that the "wimple" robes, one adapts a fold of tulle on the bodice, or one crosses a fichu of gauze over the chest."

For some reason that description rather recalls Ninon, does it not? Or am I out of my head? A tight-fitting bodice with folds of tulle across the chest. Vernet could have a great deal of fun with that idea, especially when he adds an English hat to underscore the idea. A Frenchwoman dressed almost entirely English fashion, but looking very, very French.

Where Do We Get the Eyelet Embroidery?

Across the channel, purple prose:

Here, at last, is the reviving charter of the happiness of the world, the golden fleece, which the champions in the holy cause...have, with the valor of their sword, extorted from the execrated tyrant in his very den. 
(Ackermann's, May 1814, p. 288)


After this breathless beginning, the unnamed author in the May, 1814 issue of Ackermann's Repository, a popular British magazine "of Arts, Literature, Commerce, Manufactures, Fashions, and Politics" -- a magazine of everything, really -- goes on to describe Napoleon's capitulation. His pen appears to stumble; he is that happy to be rid of a decade of truly heinous bloodletting and the insult of bearing with an emperor who had crowned himself:

We confess, however, that the task is beyond our powers, humble in themselves, but at this time scarcely sobered from the marvel, the stupor, the intoxicating delight, into which the intelligence so recently plunged our senses. (Ibid.) 

Feel on the scene yourself and read the article: pages 288-297. I promise you fireworks and an apparent engagement at the end.

London dressed in fleur de lis, too:

For evening dress white is of course the predominant colour, and evinces its prevalence not only in dresses, but in every article of dress; and is constantly attended with the fleur de lis whenever it can be introduced. The lilac and sea-green are, notwithstanding, occasionally visible, ornamented with the same emblematic flower, embroidered around the bottom of the dress without exception...Some ladies wear their dresses festooned...the Blücher and elegant scarf mantle are spoken of in terms of high approbation...(w)hite silk shawls and scarfs, richly embroidered at the corners and ends with fleur de lis, have an elegant and novel appearance, and are much in vogue.
(Ackermann's, May 1814, p. 303)

By the way, Blücher was one of the German Allies generals, and was already having clothing named for him. In Paris there was a Blücher hat, and so on.

To help Englishwomen celebrate, Ackermann's published what I think are two very pretty fleur de lis patterns in this issue. Can you imagine the sprigs as the olive branches of peace?



Not finding a fleur de lis embroidery pattern in French magazines, I appropriated the lower pattern for Ninon. It suits her well, I believe. It's elegant, restrained, symbolic, and half hidden under its gauzy bust festoons.

A Early Drop in a Coming Flood of Eyelet Embroidery?

I am only speculating, but this pattern just may be one of the early droplets in a flood of patterns in years to come featuring eyelets. If you examine patterns previous to spring of 1814, the patterns work better as satin and tambour and similar stitches, and in fact when Ackermann's includes commentary on the patterns, they're usually talking about embroidery without holes. This pattern, by contrast, is very clearly and obviously an example of what lots of people now lightly term "broderie anglaise", or English embroidery.

Strange, that, when in the April 30 Journal des Dames issue, the author remarks:

Quelques robes de perkale ont des remplis depuis le genou au coude-pied. Peut-être faudroit-il appeler trouées plutôt que brodées, les garnitures qui consistent en festons; car sur ces festons, les roues, les croissans, les losanges, qui forment autant de jours, donnent plutôt  l'idée d'une découpure que d'une broderie.  
(Journal des Dames, 30 April 1814, p. 192)

Roughly: "Some percale robes are filled from the knee to the instep. Perhaps one must call it "be-holed" rather than embroidered; the trimmings which consist of festoons; because these festoons, the wheels, the crescents, the diamonds, whatever form of the day (??), give rather the idea of a cutting than an embroidery."

It is around this year or so that the French fashion plates, and the English too, really start to feature heavily eyelet embroidery, which is so successfully done on a nice, tightly woven textile like a cotton percale. Again, this is my speculation, since it would need a careful examination of patterns, journals and extant garments spanning a series of years, but it really does seem as if this is what is happening.

The embroidery is progressing nicely. The outlining, in backstitch, is already around all the sprigs and flower forms, preparatory to cutting the eyelets and whipping round each one. The fleur de lis and the poix (peas) above them are satin-stitched, and the winding sprig stem is next. The eyelet work will be left to last because it weakens the fabric.



The Embroidery Materials

I've done the embroidery in a vintage German 3-ply (?), tightly spun, low-gloss, long-staple-cotton thread close to a button-hole thread. Someone I know just might recognize her gift, so prized! It's delightful stuff. It does not knot up, it lays evenly, and draws through the percale neatly. I have several extant 19th century embroideries, and have looked at others. The earliest in my collection uses a super-fine thread, though it's on a very fine muslin, and others seem to use pretty fine thread. At 52, even with strong glasses, my eyes can no longer handle such white on white work without strain, so I've opted for the thicker thread of one of my later embroideries, an embroidered petticoat from the latter half of the century. The results please me, even though they're clearly not remotely close to professional work.

The embroidery is on a 220 thread count pure Egyptian cotton, plain (tabby) weave, percale. Percale was and is by definition a closely woven cotton. It's hard to find yardage, so I bought a sheet. La.

You Can See Already That This Vernet Dress Takes Liberties

Eyelet right at the bustline rather than the hem, a joke about folds and festoons across the bosom, you can see already that my Vernet recreation has its tongue firmly in its cheek. Really, what can you do, when you have such a dress, looking like it does and labeled almost certainly after the demi-mondaine, wit, and letter-writer Ninon de L'Enclos?

As you know by now, having had a year of Vernet and his Merveilleuses and Incroyables, Vernet was a past master at both the subtle and the outre. So, why not have some fun with this recreation? I'm underpinning it -- pun intended -- as much as possible with research, and taking flight from there.

Oh, and did I promise to dissect the dress in this post? Ah, yes, that promise.

Go look that up among Ninon's more famous phrases :} Ciao!