It’s interesting where this blog is leading me. I think I’m turning into a Victorian. Or at least, my culturally biased idea of a Victorian. Certainly my fashion sense has changed.
I came across a Victorian jacket in an antique shop in Leominster. I told the owner that I loved the jacket, but the Victorians were so small that I would never find anything I could actually wear. “Oh, I’ve worn it”, she said. As she was slightly bigger than me, this sounded promising. So, of course, I tried it on and bought it.
Here it is:
I didn’t initially decide to document what I was doing, so at this stage I’d already ironed it and done one or two repairs. It then occurred to me that it was relevant to Minnie. This is to do with the way I’m experiencing the garment. The lace, beads, silk, and fastenings are all of their time, and this is the time in which Minnie lived. Likewise the sewing methods. To be able to wear it will bring me even closer to Minnie’s world.
I believe that this jacket would have been part of a dress. Here’s its label. It looks quite posh:
I also have its provenance. It came from the estate of Lady Inchiquin of Moor Park near Leominster. If indeed lady Inchiquin wore this dress, I think she must have been stout for her time. There is plenty of room in it for me, without the need for corsets.
It’s an intricate and complicated dress. Here are some of its features. I should say initially that this garment is jet black, and I’ve lightened all the photographs to show the detail better.
The front edges, which fasten with hooks and eyes, have four layers.
Firstly the basic structural boned silk layer:
Then a layer of chiffon covering this:
Then a layer of lace:
Then another layer of different lace. You can see this held down by the pin:
It’s not clear initially how all this should lie.
The front is beautifully beaded:
And a layer of lace is attached in a continuous piece going around the back to the other side of the front:
Under the lace is another beautiful decorative piece:
This side is slightly damaged, but the other side is intact.
The bobbles at the base of the front looked like this:
The beads had been originally threaded onto three strands of brown thread. As a child I was taught to embroider with six strands of Anchor cotton divided in two, and this what I think was used here. I rethreaded the beads with three strands of black Anchor cotton, and wondered if perhaps the brown was faded black.
Here are the rethreaded beads:
I had a look at the fastenings. None of the hooks and eyes were missing. They were set with the hooks and the eyes arranged alternately down each side of the garment. I’ve noticed this before on Victorian clothes. I assume it was to prevent the garment from becoming easily unfastened.
A different kind of fastening held the layers of chiffon in place.
There are two hooks at the back of the garment which I imagine attach to eyes on the skirt:
The back needed no attention. It was in good condition. The two layers of lace at the neck were sewn together in such a way as to make them stand up, which gives a clue for their extensions onto the front of the dress which I now think were pressed towards the centre.
Here’s the whole of the back:
The inside was stitched neatly, and boned. The bones look like horn:
My main problem was the long chiffon ties at the front of the dress. I had no idea of their use. I detatched the longer part of these before I photographed the original garment. The detatched pieces were tubes of pleated chiffon. They had been fastened to the lengths of non pleated chiffon on the garment by knots and stitching. This was not very attractive and I doubt it was original. I decided to abandon these extensions and work with the strips attached to the garment. Here they are after removal of the extensions:
You can see the crumpled ends where the extensions had been knotted on.
As I explored I found two more eye fastenings, and three hooks on the chiffon tie. Obviously they were meant for each other. The tie fixes across the front after the garment is put on and the other fastenings are done up.
The final job was to secure the few sequins and beads which were loose.
It took me some time to understand this complex and interesting garment, but having worked it out, it was time to put it on.
I felt quite claustrophobic in this jacket. I certainly would not have wanted to wear it had it been tighter, or if the weather had been hot. I got into and out of it singlehandedly, though it would have been easier with help because of the several layers of fastenings not easy to see even in the mirror. The jacket gaped at the bottom of the front where the two sets of bobbles should lie together, and I remedied this with a pin. Interestingly, the following find on eBay suggests to me that the Victorians did indeed fasten themselves in with pins:
In addition to the way it was held together, the whole garment was very fragile. I cannot imagine wearing this and doing anything other than sitting in a cool place. Is this how Minnie felt in her ‘best’ dresses?