An 1860s maybe mourning bonnet

Another Historical Sew Fortnighly Challenge down.

This time I made an 1860s bonnet to wear with my Greek key afternoon dress.

An 1860s inspired bonnet

I was roughly inspired by this bonnet from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Bonnet, 1862, American, straw,  Metropolitan Museum of Art, 17.15.9

Bonnet, 1862, American, straw, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 17.15.9

I started out with a simple hat that I’d unsuccessfully reshaped a 1920s cloche.  It was just too big for my head to work.

Making an 1860s inspired hat

So I cut off the back and trimmed down the sides.

Making an 1860s inspired hat

The original idea was that I would use pale pink ribbons, but they simply didn’t look right.  And it turns out I didn’t have any black lace in my stash that worked (how is that possible?).  So I ended up going with palest grey rayon ribbon and a silver and black lace.

Making an 1860s inspired hat


Obviously the silver didn’t look right, so I had some fun on the sewing machine:

Making an 1860s inspired hat

I pinned all the ribbons on the hat until it looked good:

Making an 1860s inspired hat

And then there was lots, and lots and lots of handsewing.

Making an 1860s inspired hat

I’m really pleased about the lace – I picked it up over the weekend at Fabric-a-Brac, and the pointed edges ech the edges of the black lace beautifully (I’m having a brain blank and can’t remember the technical name – one of those days).

And here is the end result:

An 1860s inspired bonnet

All the muted black and grey makes it look quite subdued.  It could possibly be a half mourning bonnet, but I haven’t researched whether un-dyed straw was acceptable for half-mourning in the 1860s.  I’ll look into that, and if it doesn’t work for half-mourning, I’ll add some cerise flowers.  That’s how I’ll wear it with the Greek Key dress in any case.

An 1860s inspired bonnet

The Challenge: #7 – Tops & Toes

Pattern: None, just fiddling with shapes until they matched period silhouettes.

Year: 1860-4

Notions: One straw hat, 10 metres of pearl gray rayon ribbon ($1pm), 3 metres of silver and black lace ($1pm), 4 metres of vintage lace (50 cents the lot), lots and lots of thread.

How historically accurate is it?  My construction techniques are half period perfect and half completely mad.  The materials are pretty iffy, but I do think the overall look would pass pretty well in 1862.  60%?

Hours to complete: 6.  It was supposed to be a simple, quick project, but grew.  A lot.

First worn: To wash dishes. I was trying to take pictures, and got distracted.  It’s not a good bonnet for washing dishes as it happens.  The ribbons rather get in the way.  I’m sure it will be much better outside on a fine day!  

Total cost: $13.50

An 1860s inspired bonnet
An 1860s inspired bonnet

Rate the Dress: Bottle Green Riding Habit

Last week I showed Élisabeth Alexandrine in a mad hat and a bizarre fabric dress and a robe.  Many of you found the hat just wee bit weird, but the suggestion of the outfit as a masquerade costume for Nanny Ogg tilted the balance in its favour (and besides, it was rich and elegant and fashion forward), and the rating came in at exactly 8.5 out of 10.

This week’s Rate the Dress was chosen primarily because the mannequin and presentation are strong contenders for the creepiest costume photos ever.  I’m not sure it quite beats the staging of the plunging Regency frock for dreadfulness, but I could equally see it as a Dr Who villain!

So yeah, no points for the mannequin.  But what do you think of the riding habit with its gold trim and high standing collar?  The gigot sleeves and back pleated skirt?  Perfect sartorial elegance for a day with equines, or too stiff and formal?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10.

Terminology: What is matelassé or marseilles cloth?

As I’ve just finished a matelassé waistcoat,  it’s high time I (finally) finished my matelassé terminology post and added the term to the Great Historical Fashion & Textile Glossary!

18th century waistcoat
Matelasse or Marseille’s cloth (sometimes shortened to marcella or called piqué de marseilles) is also known as woven quilting, because it is a weave specifically designed to imitate quilting.  It looks like a fine quilt, or like a slightly bubbly, blister-y brocade.  Matelassé is sometimes patterned in simple geometrics, or (like my waistcoat), in elaborate foliate designs.  It can range from a heavy, bulky fabric, to a fairly light but still puffy and squishy crepe.  A very similar fabric (sometimes sold as matelassé, and it’s difficult to tell the difference on some examples), is cloque.

From a technical standpoint:

Matelassé is a figured fabric made with either three or four sets of yarns. Two of the sets are the regular warp and weft yarns; the other sets are crepe or coarse cotton yarns. They are woven together so that the yarn sets crisscross.  When the fabric is finished the crepe or cotton yards shrink, giving the fabric a puckered appearance.  Heavy cotton yarns sometimes are used as stuffer yarns beneath the fabric to emphasise the three-dimensional appearance of the fabric…Cloque is made of four sets of yarns: two warp yarn sets and two weft yarn sets.  The interlacing pattern is complex and simulates the appearance of quilting stitches on a solid coloured surface. Since there is no shrinkage of some of the yarn sets as in matelassé, cloque is a flatter fabric.

In the early 18th century quilted petticoats (along with other quilted items such as waistcoats, banyans and pockets) were hugely popular, and Marseilles in France was particularly famous for its quilting, especially of what would come to be known as whitework or trapunto quilting.  England, always eager to promote British made goods and to discourage importation, sought to control the importation of the quilts through taxation and import restrictions.  Various societies and manufacturers also offered rewards to anyone who could come up with an alternative to Marseille’s quilting.  In the early 1740s one Robert Elsden invented a technique for imitating the hand-quilted look on a loom.  He was immediately awarded a prize by the Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufacture & Commerce.*

Elsden’s technique was probably quite rudimentar, because it was not until the 1760s that woven quilting became commercially available, probably after much refining to the technique to make it workable and viable.  Capitalising on the fame of Marseilles’  quilting, the cloth was sold in England as ‘Marseilles cloth’, and soon became extremely popular.  Merchants in England and the American colonies could choose from dozens of patterns, sent out in samples books, some of which still exist in museums.  The fabric was sold for bedcovers, petticoats, waistcoats, and even in special designs for small items such as pockets.

In 1783 the SEAMC congratulated themselves on the success of the fabric their reward had supported:

When the proposition was first made in the Society, of offering a premium to encourage the making in the loom, an imitation of that Species of Needlework, long known by the name of Marseilles Quilting, it was almost rejected as visionary and impossible; but the laudable spirit of enterprise, which has always distinguished the Society, determined them to publish the premium, and the consequence has justified the venture. The manufacture is now so thoroughly established and so extensive, being wrought in all the different materials of Linen, Woolen, Cotton, and Silk, that few persons of any rank, condition, or fix……exist who do not use it in some part of their clothing”

18th century Marseilles cloth consisted of two layers of fabric woven together, with the patterns defined by cord.  As the Societies advertisement stated, it could be made in silk, cotton, wool or linen, though most varieties, and silk in particular, were more decorative than durable, so few early examples survive.

While the English called the fabric Marseille’s cloth, the French did not want it to compete with their prized hand quilting, so they took a name from the French matelasser – to quilt, hence the modern matelassé.

Marseille cloth disappeared from fashion in the early-mid 19th century, though it remained popular for bedspreads and furnishing.  There are a few reasons why matelassé fell out of fashion.  First, the fullness that matelassé would give to skirts was no longer desirable with the slim Regency silhouette.  Second, lighter, simpler, less bulky fabrics were fashionable for the first few years of the 19th century.  In addition, the line between underclothes and outerclothes became more distinct in the early 19th century, especially where petticoats were concerned.  Because petticoats were no longer interchangeable with skirts, expensive decorative petticoats fell out of favour, and fabrics associated with petticoats became undergarment only fabrics, rather than general fashion fabrics.

Finally, fabric manufacturing methods were revolutionised by the invention of the jacquard loom (yes, I’ll be doing a post on that!) in 1801.  Today matelassé is usually made on a jacquard loom, but I’ve not been able to determine when the jacquard loom was first used for the manufacture of matelassé.   It probably took some time to adapt the jacquard to the matelassé weave, so matelassé was eclipsed in popularity by other previously expensive fabrics like brocade that could be cheaply (or at least less expensively) be produced by a jacquard loom.

So for the first half (and a bit) of the 19th century, matelassé was quite rare as a fashion fabric .   When examples of it are shown in fashion magazines, they make it quite clear that the reader would not be familar with the fabric.  It was seen as a fabric for bedcovers, and for the occasional petticoat, like this example from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, with a cotton matelassé hem which would help to bulk and smooth out an elliptical hoopskirt:

Jacquard manufacture of matelasse may not have happened until the early 1870s, when the fabric reappeared in fashion in a big way: being mentioned in dozens of fashion articles in late 1874.  It was marketed under the name matelassé in both English and French speaking countries, showing the French dominance of fashion, and a clear break with the link to quilting that had made it so popular in the 18th century.

A fashion column of autumn 1874 describes the fabric and the types of styles made from it, and makes it clear that most women would not be familiar with matelassé as a fabric for clothing:

a novel fabric, which is matelasse.  It is silk with a satin face, and as thick as though it were wadded.  It is woven to look like fanciful quilting in small diamonds, arabesques and floriate designs.  It is made in black, olive green, chestnut brown and a variety of other colours; in fact, matelasse jackets, polonaises, and skirts will be all the rage when colder days arrive.  In pale pink, blue and white the material will be mainly used for skirts for wearing under trained evening or dinner dresses.

Another fashion article of the same period also describes matelasse in great detail:

The new curiasse, however, the tight bodice, with closely fitted basques, is to be made of fabrics specially manufactured for it, and called matelassé.  These fabrics are very thick and firm, and will set closely to the figure like cloth.  They are generally made with a background of wool, and perhaps a little cotton, but in some entirely of silk.  The more modest specimens are what we might term silk piqué, and have geometric patterns upon them.  A more elegant style is covered in handsome designs worked in the stuff itself, that looks as if it were embroidered upon it, and is really one of the most effective materials I have seen for a long time.

Matelassé remained fashionable throughout the rest of the 19th century, though after the 1870s it was used primarily in capes and other items of outerwear.

Examples of matelassé as a fashion fabric are reasonably rare (though certainly not unknown) in the early 20th century.  By 1923 fashion papers described it as ‘a rather old fashioned weave’, though there was an attempt to reintroduce it (or a type of cloque, as the fabrics were often confused) as ‘Cloky‘ (an unattractive re-naming if I ever heard one, and one which thankfully did not take!) After a few decades as an unusual fabric, matelassé experienced a resurgence of fashion in the 1930s, especially as lightweight matelassé crepes in silk and rayon.

Gown of gold lamé matelassé, Mainbocher, mid 1940s.

Gown of gold lamé matelassé, Mainbocher, mid 1940s.

It was once again at the forefront of fashion in the 1960s, when bulky matelassé brocades, often in the new synthetic fibres, lent themselves well to the stiff, sculptural silhouttes – just as they had as ‘quilted’ petticoats when the fabric was first developed.

Evening dress, Paris, France, ca. 1955, Givenchy, Silk matelasse brocade, Victoria & Albert Museum, T.270 to B-1975

Evening dress, Paris, France, ca. 1955, Givenchy, Silk matelasse brocade, Victoria & Albert Museum, T.270 to B-1975

*well, that covers pretty much everything


Maitra, K. Encyclopaedic Dictionary of Clothing and Textiles.  New Delhi: Mittal Publications.  2007

O’Hara, Georgina. The Encyclopedia of Fashion: From 1840 to the 1980s.  London: Thames and Hudson Ltd.  1986

Peck, Amelia.  American Quilts and Coverlets in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  New York: Dutton Studio Books. 1990

Rowe, T (ed.) Interior Textiles: Design and Development.  Cambridge: Woodhead Publishing Limited.  2009

Shaeffer, Claire.  Claire Shaeffer’s Fabric Sewing Guide.  Iola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications.  2008

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