The Kings & Queens
Hanover to Windsor (continued)
George IV 1820
William IV 1830
The reign of Victoria was a long and prosperous one. The British Empire doubled in size to include colonies in Africa and New Zealand. The Empire was also consolidated and expanded in Burma, the Pacific, Egypt, southern Africa and India. Trade with India and the colonies increased and led to new cloth and dye imports. Several important Acts of legislation were passed during Victoria’s reign including the Education Act in 1870 which gave universal elementary education in England and Wales.
During the nineteenth century technological revolution results in social revolution. The factory workforce superseded craftsmen working at home. Dress was being affected by the revolution. Men and women who followed fashion had always worn equally flamboyant and elaborate clothes. But by the mid-nineteenth century men were universally dressed in discrete, sober clothes in dark colours. Women, on the other hand, had become the decorative sex.
A classical influence was seen in the early nineteenth century with “chemise” dresses and more informal clothing. Necklines dropped and waistlines rose. For the first decade of the century the most fashionable colour was white – often offset with cream or terracotta, lapis blue or malachite green. Such thin dresses were accompanied by embroidered or woven shawls. At this time the shawls from Kashmir became popular accessories.
A high waisted evening dress of 1810-1811 embroidered in chenille thread.
Sometimes the muslin would be embroidered all over with small motifs – often using tambour work. Sometimes panels were embroidered with drawn thread and white work.
A muslin evening dress 1812-1815. Embroidered with single strands of very fine silk, the stalks are embroidered in silver gilt thread.
The period 1815-1825 was a transitional period for women as skirts became fuller with gored panels and hemlines rose above the ankles. Waists rose higher and puff sleeves became popular. By 1827 the waist was back at its natural level and hems started to be decorated with gathers, frills and lace. A tiny waist was popular and was created with tight, boned stays. Sleeves and skirts were inflated and often layers of cotton underskirts were worn.
Male dress at this time consisted of a fitted jacket and pantaloons that extended to mid-calf or below. Often the jackets were made of a woollen cloth.
From the mid-nineteenth century onwards there is a wealth of photographic evidence to assess in addition to surviving clothes and paintings.
Some shops at this time were selling “ready to wear” collections and department type stores began to appear. By the middle of the century the desire to follow fashion had penetrated down the social scale to an unprecedented level. Although the working classes was now, to an extent, able to copy the fashion of the middle and upper classes there was still a wide demarcation in the quality and cut of clothes. Paper patterns became available to the home dressmaker.
For men the dress of the time consisted of black or dark jackets and trousers. In the evening a black tailcoat with matching trousers and a white satin waistcoat were the set attire for the upper classes. A lounge suit was worn at home. As the century progressed the lounge suit became acceptable wear for outside the home. Smoking became popular and men would wear embroidered and tassled “smoking caps”.
At the end of the 1840’s the emphasis for women was on the increasing volume of bell shaped skirts. The invention of the crinoline in 1856 – where steel bands were sewn to a single petticoat- replaced layers of stiffened petticoats. Despite the disadvantages of the crinoline it remained popular for over a decade. Fabrics were often printed with borders, shown to their best advantage with the frills and flounces of the day.
During the 1860’s the crinoline changed to a half crinoline where the fullness of the skirt was concentrated behind. When the crinoline disappeared in 1868 the vast skirts if 1860 became overskirts drawn up into a bustle.
In Regency England embroidery was unsuited to many of the fashions. There was relatively little professional embroidery for private use and what was worked was consciously “imperial” to demonstrate political strength.
Nineteenth century heralds tabard, embroidered by professionals.
In interior decoration pictures in silks and wools continued to evolve. The rise of a relatively prosperous middle class with a desire to emulate the comforts of their superiors lead to an expansion of embroidery – it was no longer the pastime of privileged ladies. Needlework started to develop into a standardised hobby.
Berlin Woolwork almost displaced sampler making and became extremely popular during the Victorian age. A number of chemical dyes were introduced in the mid-nineteenth century giving more and brighter colour choices. A feature of art in the early Victorian era was an interest in romantic, mediaeval subjects; incorporating castle, ruins etc. Berlin woolwork was extremely popular for over half a century. Patterns and kits became available.
Example of Berlin woolwork
In 1880 Russian embroidery helped to displace Berlin woolwork with the introduction of cross-stitch kits worked to patterns.
Indian muslin’s were much admired for their fineness and transparency and were ideal for pulled work and whitework. The development of Arkwrights looms meant that cotton could be produced at a reasonable cost in England. This lead to the popularity of pulled work and whitework and the development of industries producing such work mainly in Ayrshire and Ireland.
Part of a babies robe c.1860
The fashion for light embroidered muslin grew and was especially popular for children and babies clothes. The needlework was very different from the popular woolwork. Whitework was often sewn with a hook using cotton thread and the embroidery expanded to include other stitches such as satin and padded stitch in additional to chain stitch. Much of the Whitework industry was undertaken by homeworkers and exported to the US and Europe. “Coggeshall” embroidery from Essex was a light tambour work on muslin characterized by designs of wildflowers trailing over the fabric. “Moutmellick” embroidery was worked in Ireland with heavy white cotton over strong shiny cotton, the designs were of wild flowers and oak leaves, berries, corns and ferns.
In 1828 a multi-needle embroidery machine was invented and by 1859 used to produce economic trimmings for dresses and tablecloths. At a similar time the sewing machine was developed by Isaac Singer.
Samplers were often produced in schools and orphanages, often with letters, numbers and religious text.
Sampler worked at a Bristol Orphanage 1865
By 1870 there was a strong reaction to the lack of inventive style in Berlin woolwork; women began to want more ambitious and interesting patterns. Embroiderers returned to sourcing patterns from artists who often blended natural and garden foliage with mediaeval images of romance. The School of Art Needlework, founded in 1872 (and later known as the Royal School of Needlework) employed over 100 women and undertook commissions working
Embroidered panels designed by William Morris for his Red House c.1861
to designs by Edward Burne-Jones, William Morris, Lord Leighton and William Crane. “Kits” were produced and became a substantial business.
Many needlework societies were formed such as the Leek Embroidery Society which produced embroideries for churches and made a full-scale copy of the Bayeux Tapestry.
William Morris was the most significant artist who directly influenced needlework. He emphasised hand skills and traditional techniques. Needlework carried out under the guidance of Morris used straight stitches such as darning, long and short and satin. Plants and flowers were adapted into a characteristic artistic design. Morris loved all things beautiful, he used fine quality materials “we shall make the most of them and not forget that we are gardening with silk and gold thread”.
Towards the end of the C19th designs became influenced by Modernism and the Art Nouveau movement.