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Remember our girl from Jan Siberechts’s “The Wager” (detail at right)? Notice how even though she’s a poor, working class woman, she has gold trim on her skirts?
As strange as this may seem, we see this gold trim or guarding on many common women in Dutch paintings of the 17th century. If you go back and look at the pictures in yesterday’s entry as well as in this article, you will notice that it’s a rare common woman who doesn’t have gold (or silver) guards on her skirts. Yes, this may be artistic license, added by the artist to bring interest to the painting (or to boost his prices since his patron would have to pay for gold leaf). But since I’m portraying a fairly successful merchant of fine wools, silk threads, and other luxury goods, I feel justified in adding gold lace to my skirts.
Yesterday, we tackled the bodice. Today, we are wrestling with those skirts. I have some beautiful scarlet wool flannel in stock as well as some gold narrow-width lace for the guarding. Skirts are fairly simple creatures, being rectangular. So I cut two full-width pieces of wool 41″ long. I am about 43″ long from waist to floor. I don’t want my skirts to touch the floor. I barely want them to graze the tops of my shoes. In the pictures I’ve shown you of these particular skirts, the shoes are quite visible, and sometimes even ankles can be seen.
Now, before you gasp, get that idea out of your head! “Showing ankles” was not scandalous in the 17th century. That’s a Victorian idea. While noble women’s gowns did drag on the floor, even very rich women of the gentry had skirts that at least cleared the floor. And the more common a person is, the shorter her skirts. Some we see on peasants don’t do much more than cover their knees.
So I cut two full-widths of my red flannel to a length of 41″. I also cut two full-widths of our linen Osnaburg to the same length. Although Osnaburg is considered a canvas, it is fairly soft and drapey. I’ve used it to line skirts before with much success. The wool is slightly narrower than my linen (57″ as opposed to 60″ I think), so I centered the wool over the linen and allowed an equal amount to stick out on either side.
A picture of how much the linen sticks out from under the wool.
Before stitching any of the gold to the skirts, I had to hem them. I did this by turning the seam allowances of both the linen and the wool towards each other, turning the linen a slight bit more so it wouldn’t droop and show, and blind stitched them together. You can barely make it out in the picture below (that’s why they call it a “blind stitch”), but it’s there. The rest of the stitching you see is where the lace is tacked on.
The underside of the hemmed skirts
You may be asking yourself, when I put the front and back skirts together, if I’m just going to snip off the linen that sticks out at the sides. I am not. I’m going to use that extra bit of linen to encapsulate the seam. Yeah, I could just cut it off, and sew both outer material and lining into the same side seam, treating them as one. But then I’d have a raw edge inside my lovely skirts! Can’t have that… I could have bag lined it before I put on the gold lace, but bag-lined skirts’ linings can grow and then it just looks ugly. Besides, bag lining is a fairly modern practice and we’re eschewing all modern techniques, remember?
No. I am going to sew the wool together in the usual manner (with a small, even running stitch), press open the seam allowances, and then make a lapped seam on the lining over the wool seam. I press one side of the linen flat against the wrong side of the open wool seam. Then I tuck the seam allowance of the other side of the linen under and press it flat, aligning the pressed edge with the wool seam under it by touch. Then I carefully whipstitch the pressed edge of the linen to the linen underneath, catching a few threads of the wool seam allowances as I go so that the skirt layers will move together when I walk. Be careful not to catch too much of the wool. You don’t want these stitches to show on the outside. Catching the seam allowances of the wool is enough purchase for the lining to hold onto.
“But is it period?” you ask? Silly peoples… The lapped seam is a technique that survives in many extant garments, many of them centuries older than this. See the Museum of London book Textiles and Clothing (Crowfoot et al.) for more information. And best of all, it makes for a gorgeous skirt interior with no raw edges showing. See?
The overlapped skirt seam from the inside (inside a different skirt — I’m not finished with the red one yet)
But before I do that, I have to finish couching the gold to the skirts front. I finished the back months ago, but I noticed the vertical stripes on the front were wavering a bit too much from the straight. So I cut the threads and decided to redo them. I’m stitching these down with the finest silk thread I can get (I think it’s like 200/2 or something). It’s so fine it sometimes falls out of the needle eye! I’m using silver thread because, believe it or not, it disappears on the lace. Black and gold both showed too much.
Couching the gold lace onto the skirt fronts
Tomorrow… Putting it all Together!
© 2009 Kass McGann. All Rights Reserved. The Author of this work retains full copyright for this material. Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of this document for non-commercial private research or educational purposes provided the copyright notice, the author’s name and website, and this permission notice are preserved on all copies.