Tuesday, October 27, 2009

19th Century Clothing From Paintings and Photography

Miss Elspeth Mallock
by Edward Arthur Walton, Scotland

Two Girls at the Frame
by Alexander Max Koester, Germany(1864-1932)

The Pitcher Girl
by Victor Thirion , France (1832-1878)

Portrait of a Young Woman
Carl Timolean Von Neff, Estonia (1805-1877)

by Charles Edward Boutibonne
France (1816-1897)

In the Garden
by Frederick Fursman
United States, 1874-1943

I have been absorbed  in the study of textiles and  clothing in the 19th century, and also  enjoying the book, "Calico Chronicles: Texas Women and Their Clothing," which is available in various online bookstores.  I only wish it had been in color.  However,  a friend told me about a magazine article she had read, which told about  late 19th century color photography called "autochrome," which was made with potato starch to produce color.  It was discovered and developed by the French, and  was used before color photography as we now know it.   In many ways, I think it looks better,  and the people in the pictures more life-like. 

Window Ledge Portrate (autochrome photograph)
by Marice Rampert 1907

 I have been looking at the autochromes from the online public libraries, and would like to include them here.As I  looked through these photographs, I was happy to see that they were not at all inconsistent with the artists of the time, which I have been showing regularly on this blog.

Alpine Group (autochrome photograph)
by Maurice Rampet (1866-1941)

Among the Irises (autochrome Photograph) 1924

Woman Reading in a Garden (autochrome color photograph from the early 1900's)

The above photo is very similar to paintings that I have shown here before.  The one of the woman in the peasant blouse has very detailed painted lace. All of the dresses you see worn in the paintings and the photographs, can be sewn today, using current patterns. Just find a peasant blouse and a long skirt pattern and a vest.  Some of the other photos and paintings can be immitated with what is called the "Garden Party Dress."  Patterns for Garden Party dresses can be found at Jennie Chancey's pattern site and Costume sections of your pattern books at fabric stores, which I will post later.

Autochrome Photograph, early 19th century. Notice the pretty striped fabric and the lace collar and and cuffs . This appears to be a hand made matching mother and daughter (or sister) outfit.  The autochrome has a very life-like appearance. Learn more about autochromes here http://www.photographymuseum.com/exhibitstart.html

There is a way of looking at paintings and photography that helps you understand more about it. You can ask the following questions about them:

Where is the lightest part of the painting?
Where is the light coming from?
Is the painting portraying something warm and sunny, or cold and foggy?
What other colors do you see?
What are the people in the painting doing?
Name some other things you see in the room of the painting.
Point to other things in the painting that show how the people lived or what their activities were.
What is in the background of the painting?
Tell something about the hairstyles of the women in the paintings, as well as the clothing styles.
What do you think the focus or subject of the painting is?
Tell something about the fabrics you see on clothing or draperies.
What do you think the artist was trying to show?
Is there a mood in the painting, of happiness or contentment, excitment or adventure?

Part of the fun of viewing these paintings is the opportunity to pose them yourself, using similar props and scenes and clothing, and take photographs.
This is especially enjoyable with scenery or still life and with children.
Both the paintings and the photographs show that women and girls dressed femininely, and without wearing men's clothing, were quite active and engaged in hard work.

Speaking of potatoes, I have been busy getting mine out of the ground, washed, and stored.
There are several colors of potatoe: purple, red, gold and white. My favorite for flavor are the gold or yellow potatoes. They look yellow when cooked, as though they have butter in them, and have a lot more flavor than the other kinds. These are red potatoes.  Potato growing is about the dirtiest work in the world, but at least my boots match my dress ;-)

These are some colors around here that are easily imitated in fabrics.  I am sewing an autumn dress the color of the dark red leaves here.  A burgundy colored dress, with a light green shawl is bright spot on autumn days when the light is dimmer, and it is also a pretty color on houses.

Butterfly-ladybug fabric from http://www.joann.com/


Anonymous said...

In "Two Girls at the Frame" the view outside their window touches my heart! How beautiful!!

Anonymous said...

These paintings and photos show a good way for autumn dressing: sweet and soft colors that make you think of scents like pumpkin and spice, mocha or hot apple cider. Love it!

Anonymous said...

I always come here when I need some encouragement to keep dressing femininely and modestly. I appreciate your blog so much in a world where women look and dress like men and make you feel that you are strange if you don't. How things have changed.

Anonymous said...

Can you tell us if you know how the overskirts are pinned back on dresses like the one in "The Pitcher Girl". If I wanted to do that, would I need a pin, or is it tucked a certain way?

I really liked that idea when you mentioned it and showed it in a post quite a while ago. Seems like a good way to keep the top skirt clean(er?) when doing dirty work. Let the stains get on the underskirts that are already older or stained, and only worn for gardening or floor scrubbing.

Anonymous said...

Fascinating information and examples re Autochrome! Incredible! For the commenter wondering how overskirts are held up for work etc, Both Lydia and fellow commenters have previously mentioned *if memory serves me correctly) a loop and button method where tabs of the required length are sewn into the inside of the skirt that can be fastened to anchorpoints at the waistband or kneelength to keep everything manageable and preserve the outer skirt.

Fantastic!! Our potatos down here were ready for harvest around 2-3 months ago and lovely; especially the texture. Our carrots are going gangbusters, we've harvested a cauliflower, have another nearly ready for picking and yet another just newly flowered. Our garlic will be ready by Christmas.

Herbs are jumping out of the ground and citrus trees are still hanging on

Anonymous said...

It always amazes me in these and in my own family album that the people always seem perfectly relaxed to sit or lay down directly on the grass in these beautiful clothing!! If we ever did see women wearing beautiful dresses now we could be certain not to find her sitting on the ground admiring the flowers or picnicing with friends and family, I have some of my Grandma and friends sitting in snowbanks laughing in beautiful long dresses, and coats. It gives the feeling of beauty being such a common thing .

Anonymous said...

I really like this post! The pictures are beautiful, just what I need to see at the start of this dreary New England morning!

I also want to say I started sewing a dress. The pattern had 10 pieces and it got too hard for me to read the instructions. I can sew simple things, but this was too hard and I wasted some beautiful fabric that cost quite a bit for my budget. If you were ever to offer online sewing tutorials for making beautiful attire, I would certainly pay to subscribe to something like that. In fact, I would consider it money very well spent. I hope you would consider this as I am sure I am not alone.

Thank you again for the beautiful post!

Lydia said...

Yes it is a loop on the back of the skirt, hooked over a button on the waistband in back, or thereabouts. However in "Two Girls at the Loom" they simply have half aprons that match each vest. One is in brown tones and the other in blue tones. I prefer brighter colors but these are so charming. I think women knew a lot more about fabric and clothing than we, with ready made clothing, do today. Yes I am still considering and formulating in my head how I would provide a tutorial. I am trying to think of a good pattern that would work the best. I find the bodice area of most patterns just not roomy enough, nor the sleeves or waist, no matter what your size, so I want to take that into consideration before putting time into a tutorial. Most necklines are too low and hemlines not long enough.

Lydia said...

If you are a beginner, choose a pattern with two or three or four main pieces.

In the pictures of the girls with overskirts tied back, it can also be a ribbon or fabric string sewn on the inside of the dress in two places, which then is pulled up from the underside and tied together in the back.

Lydia said...

Be sure to click on "older posts" at the end of the articles on this main page, for more paintings and beautiful clothing.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this new post. I've been missing you lately. I also read the book Calico Chronicles after you recommended it.

It snowed yesterday for the first time this season. I was dressed in a navy flowered skirt and purple peasant top that matched one of the flowers, which I wore all summer. I added black leggins, knee socks, mary janes, and a wool jacket. I only felt cold when the wind blew hard. Then I put on my wool over-coat. I might actually make it this year.

Again, your post is most encouraging and lovely. Thanks for taking the time to minister to me.

Anonymous said...

I am so glad you are considering tutorials. As you are still considering how you might do it, I want to tell you about a site I joined. For a set fee, I get two homemaking lessons a month. They vary from making a simple quilt to canning and everything in between. They are printable and only members can access them by a password. We are notified by email when the lessons for the month are ready.

If you were to take a similiar approach, but for sewing, that might work. Every month, for a fee, members could download a sewing lesson. Maybe you could choose a simple, current pattern subscribers can purchase and walk them through it with a new topic every two weeks. For example, I can sew a very simple dress, but while I admire the piping on a dress you made, I don't know how to do piping. So, that is a subject that would interest me.
Or, maybe you could write up several downloadable topics about sewing and allow people to purchase them as needed according to their ability. The site I subscribe to has past lessons available for individual purchase from their archives. For example, a beginner can buy a tutorial about choosing fabric, while someone more advanced might like to know about customizing patterns. These are just a few ideas. Homemakers like me would definitely be intersted in these things as it would be nearly impossible for me to find a seamstress to teach me and even if I did, I have children who are sick a lot in the winter due to underlying asthma and due to their care, it would be hard to make it to scheduled classes sometimes. A home sewing tutorial would allow me to work at my own pace whenever I could and it would be to look forward to the next lesson. So many of us have no one to teach us - it would be such a valuable service. While there are sewing books out there, they usually focus on all kinds of apparel, like exercise and career wear. You really understand what homemakers want and need so you could add a personal touch books can't, perhaps even choosing to vary tutorials based on the seasons (a spring dress, a gift simple gift project that can be made for Christmas giving, etc.)

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

To Anonymous at 3:44-
You probably haven't wasted the fabric. Put it all away and start with simple things. I started making elastic waist skirts with only 2 pattern pieces, then moved on to a simple pullover dress. After making about a dozen items, I feel I could tackle something more difficult. See what you can do with that pattern and material in a year's time and you will be surprised. Don't let yourself get discouraged. We have all been beginners at one time.

Anonymous said...


the 'Gardening Dress' at www.thekingsdaughters.com would make a good base pattern to work from; sleeves and trim of choice could be incorporated. there are no zippers or button-up fronts in the basic dress design and sleeve Neckline and skirt length are good on this dress, and a variety of fabrics/prints/trims can ring the changes. Both TKD and 'Lilly's Apparrel' will doubtless have simple dress patternns that are modest and, with a few tweeks, won't look as if they're denomination specific. experimented with.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful photos

Anonymous said...

You might find the secret to that pulled back overskirt by looking at patterns at Past Patterns, on the web, and other historical pattern sites

Anonymous said...

just have to comment on the picture with the young lady leaning out the window... notice how far forward she can lean and STILL not look immodest? i love that! pretty, modest, and hey, you can move in it! love these pics!

Lydia said...

That is an extremely good observation. If I can use power point somehow in my next modesty class and fashion show, I will display some of the modest photos. Not all of them were modest, but it shows that many people did dress modestly, at least, in the daylight ;-) I think the sleeves are very interesting and hope to find something like it on Past Patterns or some other historical pattern site.

Gail said...

Thanks for sharing about the Autochrome. It is fabulous, and really brings the subjects to life!
We really are swimming upstream when we try to be modest and feminine. I am in my fifties and have long hair and more than one older woman has admired my hair and then advised me to cut it. How does that make any sense? However, after visiting a married couple who were childhood friends, the husband admonished his wife that she should lose the man haircut and start growing her hair out. So I really do think the men appreciate it when we look feminine.

Lydia said...

Greetings to the reporter in Chennai.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful, beautiful. Let's surround ourselves with beauty and strive to create it ourselves. I am tired of seeing UGLY.

Anonymous said...

I found this website while searching for a photo of a white crazy quilt. This lady likes to suround herself with beauty also.