Friday, 16 August 2013

Edwardian Undergarments

Elva Brain's chemise, Brain Watkins House Collection
Over her drawers, the Edwardian lady would slip on a chemise – a long sleeveless gown protecting the skin from the corset. Next would come the corset designed to shape the figure into the current trendy profile.  Over the corset was a corset cover to protect the outer garment, and in particular, to hide the undergarments if the dress was of a sheer fabric.  Often these undergarments were more decorated than a dress.

The cotton ‘petticoat’ photographed is an example of ‘waste not, want not.’  It appears that one petticoat has been cut down, and a top from another garment attached, with sleeves added.  The length suggests that it was made for a young Elva , as some of the many rows of fine tucks appear to have been unpulled as she grew.

Although all the stitching is machine sewn, it was probably done on a treadle machine. The garment is embellished with wide borders of commercial broderie Anglaise. A deep panel of Buckram- a stiff fabric- is stitched beneath the bottom of the skirt, and again decorated with many rows of fine tucks. This served to hold out the bottom of the dress worn over it.

An interesting feature of this garment is the ‘ribbon’ that is threaded through the insertion lace. A closer examination reveals that is a piece of jersey fabric cut to fit, and very cleverly done.  Whether this garment was made in this way because materials were hard to obtain, or whether it was that nothing that could be reused efficiently should be wasted, we will never know.

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