The Regency Wardrobe collection - research & making - Dressed for promenading

Reader's note: This post details the work done on one or more of the pieces in The Regency Wardrobe collection. The collection was created over 15 months and is the result of a residency at the Regency Town House, Hove; a Regency era house that is gradually being turned into a heritage centre through the work of volunteers.  Fine artist Stephanie Smart worked closely with town house volunteers in order to: incorporate local social history and period research into the design of each piece; develop paper and thread techniques. She also visited the storage facilities of public and private collections in order to research Regency art, design and fashion. These include: The Royal Pavilion Brighton, The National Maritime Museum Greenwich, The National Trusts’ Fashion Collection at Killerton House, The Army Museum London, Chertsey Museum, Worthing Museum, Bath Fashion Museum and The Fan Museum Greenwich.

The Regency Wardrobe collection consists of 11 life size garments, plus accessories and shoes, all made entirely from paper and thread. The entire collection was due to be exhibited to the public in May 2020. Due to Coronavirus this had to be cancelled. The collection is due to tour with pieces being able to be seen at Chertsey Museum and Worthing Museum over the coming months. For more information please check back. More venues expected.   

 

 The Rouleaux Pelisse

Please note the images of the three white promenading outfits will be enlarged and the whole collection made visible online once it has been exhibited. Please come back.

 

"Walking Dresses were worn to see and be seen. They are often referred to as Promenade Dresses, a very literal definition of their purpose. The fashionable Regency woman was seen walking in the parks or in the shopping districts during the London Season (spring and early summer); at the popular seaside resorts in August and September; and in the countryside at their own estates or at house parties during the fall and winter months. Walking Dresses differ for each location and season of the year. Because they were meant to be worn outdoors, the full costume of the Walking Dress always included a head covering of some kind, an outer garment or wrap, and gloves. Bonnets, caps, and veils were worn to cover the head, and were often the means of the most dashing or frivolous fashion statement".

- https://www.janeausten.co.uk/walking-dresses/

 

Imagine if you will setting out for a walk in Brighton, from Brunswick square, in the late 1820's. You would likely head along the sea front of course; promenading along the promenade so to speak. But in the early days of its existence Brunswick square was right on the edge of Brighton & Hove. So if you'd turned right instead of left you'd have walked straight into a green landscape, whilst yet staying beside the blue one. As this image shows:

 

 © The Regency Society & the Society of Brighton Print Collectors - please see: http://sbpc.regencysociety.org/view-of-brunswick-square-and-adjacent-buildings-adjoining-brighton/

 

And if you were female and the weather was a little chilly you might be wearing a floor length pelisse.

 

As is evident in the quote from janeausten.co.uk above the term "walking dress" seems to have included outer layers, jackets, cloaks, wraps etc, often made from colourful fabrics, and not just your dress, which was often white during this period. Earlier styles of jacket include one coincidentally (considering where our imaginary character is walking) called the Brunswick, please see: https://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O115756/brunswick-unknown/ but by the early nineteenth century fashion would more surely have dictated you wore a spencer or a pelisse.

 

For more about the history of the pelisse please see my earlier post: https://stephaniesmart.wixsite.com/stephaniesmart/single-post/2018/11/26/Pelisse

 

 

 

 

I found this wonderful sky blue example early on in my research and became absolutely enamoured by it (there seems to be a green version in existence also). It's owned by the museum of London: https://collections.museumoflondon.org.uk/online/object/82460.html and covered in, what I then discovered, was called rouleaux work. I went on to find other examples of beautiful rouleaux work but none quite compared.

 

Rouleaux is usually made (from fabric of course) by sewing together the edges of a long strip and then turning it inside out. Please see: https://fabricnfiction.com/tag/regency-dress/

 

Making garments from paper means that many fabric techniques have to be adapted and I'm very grateful to Gilly Burton for all the time she spent working out the best way to create reams of paper rouleaux for the front of The Rouleaux Pelisse as part of The Regency Wardrobe collection.

 

 

 

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Working and finished photos of the Rouleaux Pelisse showing the paper rouleaux being applied. For more images please click right

 

 Rouleaux credit to Gilly Burton, Jenny Fraser, Kerry Crofton

 

 

 

 

 

In the past I've always banned the inclusion of any material other than thread and paper (including card) in the making or even in the display of any of the garments I've made. But I have found it very interesting, during my research into historical fashion, including whilst looking at real pieces in museum and private collections (please see: https://stephaniesmart.wixsite.com/thehiddenwardrobe), to consider how real garments were held together. And pins were commonly used not just during construction but whilst pieces were actually being worn, to hold them on the body.

 

"Pins were so essential to the 18th c. lady that the British trade embargoes against American colonists during the Revolution made their price skyrocket in Boston and other colonial cities. Ladies could live without tea. Pins were quite another matter. Abigail Adams famously wrote from Massachusetts to her husband John in London in 1775, begging him to "purchase me a bundle of pins & put them in your trunk for me. The cry for pins [in Boston] is so great, that what I used to buy for seven shillings and sixpence, are now twenty shillings, and not to be had for that." - http://twonerdyhistorygirls.blogspot.com/2009/11/pins-pinning.html

 

While hooks and eyes for example (see image above) were in use by this period pins were still essential during the Regency for holding together parts of an outfit whilst it was being worn. 

 

For an interesting history of pin usage please see: https://regencyredingote.wordpress.com/2011/09/16/regency-pins/

 

I mention this because it's true that for the first time I did decide not always to try and find alternatives, tying etc, when stitching was inappropriate for holding parts of a garment together during it's display. The parts of paper garments are obviously fragile in certain different respects to the ways in which fabric garments are but there are many lessons that are transferable, both in construction naturally, but also in attachment. After all, who am I to argue with the fact that humans have used pins since possibly as early as 3,000BC for good reason; they have sometimes been just the best way of holding this part to that.

 

Likewise I looked at belts, from the period, particularly those attached to a pelisse. In fact it's hard to find images of women's belts otherwise, the empire line, high waisted style of many dresses meant they appear to have rarely worn them except on these long jackets. And when we visited the store at Worthing Museum to see this gorgeous emerald green example we found another large bow attached to the back of a belt that had a simple sliding front just as in the Museum of London example shows. As can be seen there was also more beautiful rouleaux on this piece.

 

 

Megan Breckell and the Worthing Museum pelisse.

 

 

The top three pictures of this pelisse were taken by me on our visit to Worthing, the bottom two come from: https://www.facebook.com/pg/KentCostumeTrust/posts/

 

 

I would take what I'd seen and go from there. In the end I chose to mirror the design of the front fastening of these belts on the Rouleaux Pelisse, whilst applying a large decorative feature (but on the front as a twist) to the third white walking dress in this series of three, The Chertsey Pelisse (below).

 

As I've said in other posts pieces made by The House of Embroidered Paper are never direct copies of historical garments that were once made from fabric. Instead each is a unique piece. Sometimes however it's design will be the result of combining elements of two or more other pieces, depending on where the research leads. That is true in this case. Having fallen for the pale blue pelisse above I also went to see examples of both pelisse and spencer jackets held in store at Chertsey museum, part of the Olive Matthews collection.

 

This was one of them and its leaf like trim, around the neck line and on the shoulders, seemed to speak directly to the slightly larger version of the same that can be seen on the museum of London Pelisse. Plus it also was covered in beautiful rouleaux 

 

 

Spencer 1 1815 - Image copyright The Olive Matthews Collection, Chertsey Museum. Photo by John Chase Photography

 

For more images of this piece please see: https://stephaniesmart.wixsite.com/thehiddenwardrobe/post/chertsey-museum-fashion-collection-spencer-jackets

 

 

 

 

- accompanying video

 

 

 

In my original sketch and plan I had made for the walking dress that would become The Rouleaux Pelisse I'd stayed quite close to the Museum of London garment but added, for the first time into my work, the idea of using projection. The idea of projecting simple shadow imagery, in black and white, on to the skirt of an all white outfit, in this case around the trim, excited me.

 

So rather than planning to place rouleaux all over it I'd though I'd reproduce those twisting shapes, meant after all to represent foliage, by projecting the shadows of long tall grasses onto the piece; shown twisting in the breeze by the side of a verge as you might see while promenading past them. So I made my first short, experimental, clip on a bright breezy summer's day while I was out for a walk:

 

 

 

 

It was after I'd seen the Chertsey Museum spencer that my ideas began to chnage. I could see on both garments that the layered leaves around the shoulders and necklines looked like the layered branches of trees, giving a three-dimensional element to the shoulders. I was now pulled instead toward other clips I had filmed, this time of the shadows of leaves in woodland.

 

 

 

But I wasn't so sure about projecting this onto the skirt of the dress, the shadows of grasses might be cast on the bottom of a long skirt but the shadows of leaves would fall on you from above, and/or would fall around you.

 

Gradually it became clear that all three of the white dresses in this part of the collection could be and would be under lit in some way. I knew I would use shadow and light but not as I had been thinking. I considered projecting imagery from inside out, using turntables, and that's an idea I might return to.

 

While I'd begun my imagining projecting onto the outside of this one piece, around the trim of the whole skirt I also wanted to honour and focus on the craftsmanship apparent in the growing piece itself, and not get too distracted by projection. The quality of the rouleaux that by now Gilly Burton was making demanded note.

 

I therefore began to cut shapes that reflected the shapes of the twisted rouleaux and to experiment with layering on the underside of the skirt then lighting the piece from within, while applying her rouleaux all the way down the front.

 

These pictures show me putting the basic garment together

 

 

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For more images please click right

 

 

And these show the paper cut stems (mimicking the shape of the rouleaux design) that run up the sides of the skirt underneath. I'd though black might give a darker shadow but be hidden beneath the white top surface layer. It showed through however so I went for layers of white.

 

 

 

 

I still planned to use the video I'd made of the shadows of leaves moving, as a backdrop and also onto the surface of a matching parasol, for with her parasol above her head it would be that onto which shadows and snippets of light would fall, and by which she would be surrounded, as she (our imagery woman) went promenading, away from town, walking perhaps along a lane that's momentarily covered and leafy.

 

 

The single dark blue thread

 

There is a single piece of dark blue thread sewn into this all white garment. The question is why?

 

During the period when I was making The Rouleaux Pelisse my, rather old, sewing machine started having trouble. The exhibition deadline was looming and I tried sending off for a new one but had to send it back. Then I was stuck, I didn't have time to research and purchase another but needed to get the work done. My partner stepped in. Kathleen Sullivan, his mum, was a seamstress in the East End of London for much of her working life. Born in 1936 she lived and worked primarily in and around Hackney in a time before mass imports of cheap garments from the East, when many of the shirts, blouses, trousers and knickers bought in the UK were instead made in the East End; often by women, often doing piece work.

 

"The area of the East End known as Spitalfields has been home to clothing manufacturing businesses (often referred to as ‘The Rag Trade’) for over 250 years. Started primarily by the Huguenots, religious refugees from Eighteenth century France, the Rag Trade has dominated the area ever since..."

 

There is evidence for this even in the names of the roads and markets. Petticoat Lane market was in fact begun in: "...the mid 1700’s...named after the Petticoats and Lace that were sold in the area by the Huguenot weavers... Another interpretation of the name is that unscrupulous traders would “steal your petticoat from you at one end of the market and sell it back to you at the other end…”! It was formally recognised as a trading area, by an Act of Parliament in 1936, the year Kathleen was born

 

When she died in 2016 her sewing machine was left with her husband, my partner's father and now I was able to borrow it.

 

I used Kathleen's Janome Jem Gold sewing machine to make this piece. It had come to me with dark blue thread on it, including a litttle on the bobbin. I wound white over the bobbin thread but at some point the white ran out and instead of stopping sewing as usually a machine would it somehow hooked up the blue and carried on.

 

It took me a moment to notice, when I did, my first thought of course was that I must stop and cut it out, but as I raised my scissors I stopped myself realising this small piece of blue thread would be my tribute to the lady who's own work during her life had saved mine at this period. So it remains, part of the all white garment, in honour to Kathleen.

 

Note: In fact it felt it especially pertinent to leave Kathleen's thread because she died of demenia and all of my work is about memory. For me this single blue thread represents the fragile thread of human memory that links us all with the past.

 

Both quotes above from: https://the-east-end.co.uk/tag/rag-trade/

 

 

 

 

The Chain Pier Spencer

 

 

 

 

 

Please note the images of the three white promenading outfits will be enlarged and the whole collection made visible online once it has been exhibited. Please come back.

 

Ideas, tassel and trim credits to: Liz Fitzsimons

 

I wanted to make a Spencer as well as at least one pelisse and there were dozens of images to choose from and base my own design around. These fashion plates from the time (below) show just some of the infinite variety. It was the first, the purple busted lady with a tall hat that caught my ongoing attention however and which I showed to the group of volunteers at The Regency Town house whom I was working with.

 

 

For more about the history of the Spencer jacket please see:

https://stephaniesmart.wixsite.com/stephaniesmart/single-post/2018/11/27/Spencers

 

 

 

For more images please click right

 

 

 

 

 

 

The collar of this outfit was unlike any I'd seen, likewise the accompanying neckline and the sculpted shoulders, while the frilled cuffs seemed to add complimentary frivolity, femininity and froth to this architectural tailoring.

 

Architectural tailoring, now there was an idea! Combine it with froth and you seemed to me to be describing the combination of elegant line and bubbling waves that might describe a pier.

 

But then I had just been to Brighton Museum and seen their model of the old chain pier so had it in mind.

 

 

 

https://jasonclarkeantiques.co.uk/products/regency-period-painting-of-the-suspension-chain-pier-at-brighton

 

Shown above in a Regency era painting and below, the Brighton Museum model of the chain pier, built in 1823 when Brighton was the busiest cross-channel port and sadly destroyed by a storm in 1896.

 

 

 

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https://brightonmuseums.org.uk/brighton/

 

It had impressively statuesque towers and memorably shaped chain links.

 

 

 

 

Chain Pier, c. 1875: Chain Pier viewed from the landing stage.

Image reproduced with kind permission from Brighton and Hove in Pictures by Brighton and Hove City Council

see: https://www.mybrightonandhove.org.uk/places/placesea/chain-pier/chain-pier-4

 

For more historic images of the Chain pier please see:

https://sbpc.regencysociety.org/special-gallery-the-chain-pier/

 

Or this page:

http://regencysociety.org/image-collections/

 

 

The question became then, could I combine the main shapes of the pier into a high collared jacket in some way. The way to tell was to try, so I began.

 

 

 

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 Please click right for more work in progress images

 

I began in fact by creating the high neck, almost a polo neck shape but with a frill on the top, as the woman in the Ackerman's print with the purple jacket and white skirt (above) had been wearing, then I cut the shapes of the towers. I was using Duni paper tablecloth, thin card and tissue paper primarily, there are padded ribs running up the high neck area which are also stuffed with paper.

 

 

 

 

Ackermans' was the origin of many surviving Regency era prints, such as those above showing examples of the jacket and skirt combination that was a common feature of "walking dresses":

 

"Mr. Ackermann’s shop in the Strand was the famous Repository of Arts, a print and picture emporium founded in 1796 by Rudolph Ackermann (1764-1834). Ackermann was born in Saxony and apprenticed to his father as a coach-builder. He designed coaches and carriages, working for famous Paris carriage maker Antoine Carassi before moving to London about 1784...In 1795 he married and set up a print shop at 96 Strand and a year later took over a drawing school previously established by William Shipley (which lasted until 1806) at 101 Strand. Thus began the Ackermann print business which lasted over two hundred years...In 1797, Ackermann moved his shop to the premises at 101 Strand, which he named as “The Repository of Arts” the following year. In 1827, Ackermann moved to 96 Strand, In this shop he sold not only prints and illustrated books, but also paper, art supplies (some manufactured by Ackermann himself), old master paintings, miniatures, and many other decorative items.The Repository of Art became a most fashionable place for the upper classes of London to visit. You could browse through the books and prints to learn about the latest designs for clothing or interiors, tea and lectures were offered, and you could be seen to be sophisticated in your taste. Ackermann kept his shop absolutely elegant and up-to-date (his was one of the first businesses in the country to be illuminated by gas)...Ackermann was not only a printseller, but he early on moved into publishing both separate prints and illustrated books. In 1808 to 1810 he published the first of his sumptuous plate books...Besides his plate books, Ackermann was best known for the periodical he started in 1809, The Repository of Arts, Literature, Commerce, Manufactures, Fashion and Politics. This monthly magazine, which lasted until 1828, included articles and illustrations of all sorts, especially on fashion, social and literary news. Fashion plates were included in every issue, and some also included patterns and fabric samples. The magazine became eagerly anticipated by society women and had a huge influence on the fashion of the day. By the end of its run, Ackermann had published almost 1,500 hand-colored plates in the Repository, and there is no better visual source as to the nature of Regency society than these wonderful prints. " - http://antiqueprintsblog.blogspot.com/2010/01/ackermans-repository-of-arts.html


And for a good source of fashion plates from Ackermann's Repository of Arts please see: http://www.ekduncan.com/2011/07/regency-era-fashions-ackermanns_03.html

 

The next item on my agenda had to be the skirt and I knew that this was to be where the froth came in, re. my original plan. That is, this was where the waves would hit the pier. So it was to stylized waves we turned and, as Oriental art and design was such a strong influence during this period, when town house volunteer Xin Harper-little suggested oriental waves to me, the fit seemed perfect. We even stitched these stylized waves onto rice paper.

 

 

 

 

 Ideas credit to Xin Harper-Little. Wave sewing credit to Megan Breckell

 

 

I decided the waves would be forced to a point frothing against straight lines up the front of the skirt as if they were hitting and curving against the straight line of the pier.

 

This dress, as I'd planned for all three now, was to be under lit also so as I went along I had to try lighting it from inside to gauge the effect of what I was placing on the surface.

 

 

 

 

Using layers and gentle padding I went on to add stitching in the same wave design around the back of the skirt that would likewise show up when backlit. Liz Fitzsimons produced tiny quilled tops for the towers and chain link. Finally we created a curling tassel.