18th Century

What do you think of this fabric?

Blue & pink chintz on dark red background

I picked it up cheap at an op-shop in the form of two curtain panels.  I’m really not sure about it.  It’s sorta late 18th century – but really pushing the accuracy with the pattern.

A curtain panel pinned on Isabelle

I’m either going to commit to making something out of it, or de-stash it right away.  I don’t want it just sitting around in my stash.

No matter what I think, Felicity likes it

Things that are not historical about it:

  • The dark background (most 18th c chintzes have a white background)
  • The evenness of the print
  • It’s a little too busy
  • The pink and blue are a little too modern

Modern pinks & blues, and clear lines

But on the other hand…
  • It was super cheap
  • I already own it, and finding these types of prints can be a headache
  • I want a late 18th c chintz dress
  • It isn’t completely out of the bounds of historical accuracy
  • It’s 100% cotton, and good quality cotton

And it looks rather nice with a pleated back

But on the other hand…
  • Some of the edges are faded
  • There is just enough to make a round gown, if I’m lucky.  It will be a squeeze.

So, dear readers, I ask you, what do you think of this fabric?

Does it say late 18th century to you?  Or does it say “bad fake late 18th century”?

And is it visually appealing?  Do you think it would look good as a robe a la anglaise?

If you saw it made up nicely at a costuming event would you go away saying “wow, did you see that gorgeous wine red chintz dress” or would you forget about it entirely, or would you go away saying “wow, that wine red chintz dress was awful!”

Be brutal with me!


  1. I have seen enough examples of dark-background chintz that I don’t have any issue with that–the Met costume site has both green and brown represented, I think. Honestly, the clear lines and the way in which they’re outlined bugs me the most, but one wouldn’t notice it until one was close-up. To be brutally honest, I’m not fond of prints that busy, but that’s a personal, not necessarily historical, preference. If I saw at it at an event I would probably think, “Rather nice, but I’m not fond of that much print.” See? Personal preference, not snarky “OMG did you see that insane gown?” I think as a round gown it could work quite nicely–or you could make an open gown to break up the busyness with a plain petticoat.

  2. The dark background is totally historically accurate as are most of the colors. The shapes of the flowers, not so much. While I don’t mind it, I don’t love it. I think it would be a dress I would forget if I saw it, but I wouldn’t say it was awful! If it’s the closest/cheapest option you’ll find for a while, I say go for it, you can always look at it as a wearable mock-up for when you find the good stuff!

  3. It says “18th century” to me, but I agree with you that while there are examples of dark-background chintzes from the period, the light backgrounds were more common and I think also more flattering.

    That being said, I’m an approximist, and I would make it into a gown. But you’re not an approximist, you’re a dead-on-accurist (do you like my made up vocabulary today?), and I’m not sure you’d be 100% happy with a gown made from not 100% accurate fabric. or would you?

    As far as “bad fake 18th c” goes, it’s really not so bad. At least it’s using the same color range that extant textiles of that period used – the red, blue, white, and brown (is that brown for the lines?), as opposed to the crazy polychromic stuff we sometimes see today, with a correct print but way-off colors.

    My personal taste (which doesn’t matter so much)? … it’s too densely patterned, with too-big patterning, for later 18th c.

    I’ll stop with my two cents now, hahaha.

  4. I’m new to commenting on your blog so I feel awful saying something negative but all this fabric says to me is the 1970’s. It reminds me so much of the type of prints (and colour schemes) we wore then (I would have been a young teenager at the time.) I just can’t see it as any other era. I’m assuming you would make it with a boxed pleated back (?) and a plain petticoat in the front as Rowenna suggested. My only concern is that it will look more pantomime than anything else, espcially with the pale blue.

  5. Elise says

    Note: NOT a historical costumer. But I do remember reading something somewhere about South and Southeast Asian textiles. It said that Europeans liked the white backgrounds (which you mentioned), but locals prefered red backgrounds. So…

    • I know the exact quote you are thinking of! There are even letters from fabric importers telling their offices in India not to send any of that ‘muddy red stuff’.

  6. The fact that you said, be harsh, says it all doesn’t it, you don’t really want it, know its not quite right, and because of that wouldn’t enjoy sewing it up or wearing it. I say ditch it, you might be surprised what you can get for it on Trade Me if you photograph it well. You could use the money to buy the fabric you really want.

  7. Stella says

    It says 18th century to me, and not in a bad-fake way. I’ve seen 18th century prints with a dark background, and while the flowers aren’t quite period, they’d be good enough for me. Let’s be honest here; finding prints that work for the 18th century is very hard and often costs a bomb, so I say go for it.

  8. Chris says

    I know military uniforms better than ball gowns but I’m sorry but it looks like my grandmothers curtains. The dark color is fine, but the pattern is too cluttered in my opinion. From what I’ve seen of your work I’m sure that you have the talent to make something beautiful from it, maybe in conjunction with another fabric.

    • Awwww….thank you for the comments on my talent! I’m beginning to lean towards passing it on though – even if I can make something lovely out of something less than lovely, I’d rather start with the proper fabric.

  9. Libby says

    If I were you, I would make an underpetticoat. That way you can still use it, and if it should peak out, it will look appropriately 18th century.

    • Good idea, except an underpetticoat is the one thing I have definitely put as a ‘no’ for this fabric – you never see chintzes as petticoats unless the over-dress was also patterned.

      • I do recall seeing one extant petticoat that had a band of chintz on the bottom and was referred to as an underpetticoat–I’ll have to find the reference. Unfortunately, it would only use about a quarter yard of those panels. And the red would look kinda bizarro nipping out under some stuff!

  10. It makes me think more “American colonial” than Marie Antoinette. I think it would make a cute, playful polonaise or pet-en-l’aire – something to wear at a picnic or for very active reenaction stuff. The patterning is forgiving, and the wine-pink-and-blue colors would suit you.

  11. Hayley says

    I agree with Sadie, if it’s curtain material it should be quite sturdy. Why not make it into something you can use if an event is outside, so if it gets muddy/torn/pilled you won’t really mind?

    Or make it into something basic that you can lend to people who are interested in wearing something historical (or for a drunken fancy dress party) – who knows, you might get more people interested in historical costume recreation?

  12. You’re not squeeing with delight over it, and as far as I know, don’t have a pressing need for a calico robe a la anglaise for any specific purpose or upcoming event, so I say de-stash it and keep an eye out for something that makes the angels sing.

    Life is too short to sew mediocre fabric.

  13. I made a late 18thC gown when I was younger from a fabric that was VERY similar to this one. I wore it once, tossed it onto a pile of fabric, and have never worn it again. :-/ (Though, I have loaned the dress out several times for school productions of historical dramas and such.)
    I really like the colour scheme of this fabric, but it’s a bit too busy for my tastes. I would probably notice someone wearing this fabric, and go, “WOW, what a great colour!” And then I’d probably forget about it. :p I vote to de-stash it.

  14. I agree with Carly W. (the historicity isn’t too bad except maybe for the shape of the flowers) and Sadie (it’s more American colonial than Marie Antoinette) and Jo-Anne and Sarah (don’t use it if you don’t really love it). Though the more I look at it, the more it strikes me that the flowers are a bit too big for a proper 18th c. look.

    Since it’s cheap, you shouldn’t agonize if you don’t want to use it. Resell it if you can, and use what you get to buy something you like better.

  15. Well not surprisingly, I think it’s gorgeous! In fact I would happily offer to buy it off you except that a) if you think there is only just enough fabric for a gown for you then there definitely won’t be enough for me, b) no gold in it and c) you would have to look at me in it I imagine most times I wore it and there would be no escape!
    Having said that though, is there enough for a jacket maybe, for moi? :):):)

    • I bet you could get a lovely caraco jacket out of it, so I’ll save it for you to have a look at next time you come by 🙂

  16. Kim says

    I agree with Sarah and Mistress of Disguise. Only sew fabric that you love. If you don’t love it, get rid of it.

  17. OK I’m not an historical costumer. So accuracy isn’t something I am gonna get myself in fits over. Life is too short.
    I expect those 70s materials were based on 18th century prints or similar. And we aren’t living in the 18th century so we don’t have mills conveniently down the road with the right sort of materials easily available.
    If you like it honey go for it. Does it make your heart sing?

  18. I am often at Colonial Williamsburg and learning all the time from the tailors and millliners to refine my handsewing of our own 18th century clothing. I am learning a lot about period accuracy to the 18th century and analyze “the look” more and more. I go through this all the time myself, and sometimes lean towards a general look for sake of economy since I’m making several outfits a year, especially for my children to play 18th century in. For my own gowns, I have been more picky, asking the same types of questions as you have.
    Although 18th century chintzes did have dark backgrounds, something is bugging me. I think the pattern is too uniform and cluttered. But then, I’m still learning, so perhaps I’m wrong. Nevertheless, in my opinion, this would not make a wow gown. I would not use it for myself. I think this fabric is more appropriate for recreating a 1970’s prairie dress, which would likely require the yardage you have. Perhaps worn with a cute blue jean jacket or vest. And with boots. =)
    Love your blog!!!

  19. Zach says

    How Scarlett O’Hara of you! I don’t really mind the fabric all to much. The big flowers are kind of annoying, though. Over all, I think it is okay, and if nothing else, a neat jacket could be made, or an oriental inspired outfit if that thing about the Indian’s patterned fabric catches your fancy. (That would make it a little more historically accurate, I suppose.) From a decent distance it would probably look pretty good–just so long as no one got a magnifying glass out to examine it more closely. You know far more about fabrics than most people, so hardly anyone would think anything about accuracy anyway, and you absolutely do have an undeniable talent for making clothing and making it well, so I have faith in you.

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