There really aren’t many silk tulle gowns still in existence from the regency era. For a long, long time, silk was sold by weight instead of by linear length. So merchants would soak it in salt to make it weigh more. Unfortunately, salt makes fabric frail and eventually shatter due to the razor-sharp edges. So seeing on of this age in such pristine condition (the one I own needs substantial restoration work) is incredible.
This gown, made in about 1810, was one of the earliest gowns made of tulle. John Heathcoat‘s bobbinet machine was a brand new invention patented only in 1808, when he was just 25 years old, then again in 1809 when he made a slight modification.
This photo shows well that the bodice front is an inserted panel, not just chenille embroidery made to look like a panel. The excess fullness is gathered in the middle.
The ribbon on the outside front ties in the back to close the gown.
Sleeve embroidery, taken from the back.
Small bits of embroidery were missing here and there, but I like that this enables us to see the casing beneath the neckline embroidery.
Something I find interesting is that the skirt is just straight cut and attached to the bottom of the bodice without gathers, and the excess gathered in the back. These days, we tend to cut skirt panels at an angle or gather just enough to prevent the type of pulling seen here. I admit I’m not a fall of the pulling on this, and don’t know if this was done as an intentional design element or was one of those things where a seamstress attaches a skirt without thinking about it, realizes the error, swears aloud a few times, and decides to leave it rather than undo the stitching, and just hope everyone either overlooks it or thinks it was meant to be that way. (My fellow seamstresses and seamsters know exactly what I’m talking about. 😉 )
The pulling does give an almost-bustle-like appearance to the skirt, and I do like the short train a lot.
I can’t help but get a 1970’s vibe from the chenille. Chenille, which is French for caterpillar, was a new type of yarn at the time of this gown’s creation, but it was extremely popular in the 1970’s with a bit of a comeback in the 1990’s (I still remember how upset I was when my brother put my favorite burgundy chenille sweater in the washer when trying to be helpful…it came out threadbare). The colors don’t help matters. Who remembers all the rust and avocado colors from the ’70’s, either firsthand from the decade or second-hand from the velvet couches and such that were still in wide use in the ’80’s and beyond?
But this gown loses that ’70’s feel when worn over a red undergown. The red is striking.
When Mrs. George Atkinson and Mrs. M. F. Davey gifted the gown to the museum, they said the gown original had a red undergown, but that it was “very perished.”
Something I find fascinating is that this gown has a regency waist of 34″ (87cm), and is 44″ (1m13) from waist to floor, making this a down that would be wearable today, if it weren’t so fragile.