Wednesday, October 24, 2012

My one on one with the Manchester chemise a la reine

So, today started off lazily and the quickly spun into high gear. I had a hard time sleeping last night (jet lag sucks for a reason) so I ended up hitting the alarm a few times and dozing off. No problem to sleep in a little, seeing as how my hotel is right across the street from the Manchester Art Gallery. It would be all of a thirty second walk to get there, after all. So, by the time I got out of bed and dressed, and did my 30 second walk across the street to the front door of the Gallery, I was feeling pretty smug about myself and how lucky I was to find a hotel SO CLOSE so as to make this research trip ridiculously convenient. I rang the bell, as I was instructed, and was admitted.  However, upon introducing myself to the reception staff, they seemed completely surprised I was there at all.  Huh, I thought to myself, this is odd.

It got odder.  I asked for Dr. Lambert, but was met with blank stares.  Curator at the Gallery of Costume? Ring a bell? That's when the young man at the reception desk suddenly came to life. "Oh!" he said, picking up the phone and punching in a series of numbers. "You want to go to Platt Hall!"

Apparently, in my haste, I neglected to observe that the costume collection is housed at a separate facility some three or so miles from the Art Gallery proper. Epic fail, Sarah! The reception guy got Platt Hall on the phone and related the message that I was at the Art Gallery, and then suggested it would be about a 15 to 20 minute bus ride toward the university. Or, you know, I could just hail a taxi... Which, as luck would have it, had drove up just as I was walking out the door.  Hopped into the aggressively scented cab, handed the address to the driver, and I was off! Only ended up being about 30 min late and £10 poorer all told, but my professional dignity was salvaged  as the staff at Platt Hall were very understanding and we all had a laugh.

I was shown to the gallery room which houses about a dozen 18th and early 19th century costumes but I barely noticed anything else in the room because... there she was.  Right there in front.

I squeed. So much for professional dignity.

I was unsure if I'd be allowed into the display case since Dr. Lambert was busy attending to donors (who, understandably, are far more important than hanging out with me) but his assistant, Adam, lead me through a back passage way cluttered with the typical assortment of odds and ends that you see stashed behind the scenes at every museum, and suddenly, there I was, face to fabric with the only extant chemise a la reine from this early in the 1780s.

One of the first things that struck me was that the fabric was actually patterned. That had never been mentioned in any of the descriptions I had read of it. Nor had there been any mention of the narrow cotton fringe that had been applied around the hem and up the center front to the waist.

According to the museum, the style of embroidery is called "chikan" and it looks to me like a very fine tambour stitch, though I admittedly haven't researched it to see if there is any similarities. The chevron motif is all over the body of the dress, however, the sleeves and the flounce around the neck are undecorated. In fact, the sleeve material is possibly the same as the gown, except for unembroidered. However, the flounce is a looser weave muslin than either the body of the gown or the sleeve fabric. It had a similar effect of cheese cloth, whereas the gown and sleeves were woven finely with a tighter weave. All of it is definitely cotton fiber, which answers my question as to whether or not this was a linen muslin. Nope, definitely cotton, and most likely of Indian origin.

That's all I'm going to post for now... Admittedly, I am trying to strike a balance between giving all of my information up immediately (because I'm a huge fan of instant gratification) and drawing this out slowly and deliberately. Part of the reasoning is that I don't want to spoil my thesis... Hopefully, you will all get to enjoy the entire package once the thesis is written and available for download!

Coming up, I have some thoughts on the type of undergarments worn with the chemise gown, including more pictures from the Costume Gallery!


  1. Wow, so fabulous to see it so close up and discover all that fine detail!

    Years ago now I saw a bunch of Regency dresses in a private collection and was struck repeatedly with how very fine the fabric was, so much more delicate than most of the repros I'd seen. I'm having the same feeling looking at your close up of the fabric, so very fine!

  2. Ahhhhh! I'm drooling on my keyboard :D Amazing!

  3. This is so interesting! Wow! I so look forward to read more!