Dress Fabric Research

Still on an epic quest to find the perfect fabric. As we saw in a previous post, the artist was on crack and included a dozen shades of purples/pinks/reds in the dress.

ada commentary

The consensus of commenters Nessa and Katie was to use a changeable silk (also known as a shot silk) to mimic this effect.

While I have piles of evidence that shot silk was in use in the 18th century, and it’s a logical assumption that it would still be used in the late 1830s, I decided to do some Actual Research to confirm this!

First I remembered that I keep buying costume books, so I should take a look through those.

V&A T.190-1917. Nineteenth Century Fashion in Detail, pg 175

First find – a purple dress of shot silk! This one does have stripes in another color, and is 10-15 years after my target time period, but that is decent evidence.


V&A T.51-2002. Also in Nineteenth-Century Fashion in Detail, pg 175

Swoooon at that plum color. Similar to the hydrangea sample from Renaissance Fabrics. (Also, contrary to my first post, I realized that learned crossover fronts were still exceedingly common in the late 1830s. I don’t think I’ll do it for this dress, but I’d love to for a future one.) This isn’t a shot silk, but it’s still super pretty.

I then tried searching for the term “shot silk” in the major museum databases to see what turned up.

No image unfortunately, but I found the V&A has a sample textile from 1830 which is a green and black shot silk.

Then I attempted to find free issues of the Godey’s Lady’s Book online. I did turn up the 1839 issue, so I searched through it to see what the fashionable fabric of the day was.

Note, this is incredibly confusing to search because there are 2 sections of the magazine in this one link. So if you read the table of contents and want to go to the fashion page (say page 10) by using the “jump to page” functionality at the top, it will only ever take you to the first page 10, and not the second. It took me a long time before I figured this out.

However, the text search was fantastically good, so I found the best way to get to what I was looking for was to search for terms like “silk” or “dress” and follow those links. Here are some interesting fashion details I found:

Page 190 (the second 190). None of these are about shot silk, but still interesting and relevant:

“Bracelets are again in fashion, it being the custom to wear three on one arm and none on the other.”

“Flounces are general. They take from the height, but as they are in vogue, must be worn.”

“Shawls are indispensable. Cashmere, with gold embroidery, is in request. Levantine silk, or shot silk trimmed with lace – China crape shawls, embroidered, and morning shawls, with a petite chale, falling over, like a collar, are also in request.”

Page 287 (again the second one), Descriptions of Fashions (unfortunately no accompanying picture):

“Right hand figure – walking dresses – Dress of deep green changeable silk, ornamented with a deep flounce at the bottom.”

Alright! This is definitely enough evidence that changeable silk was en vogue in the late 1830s, so I am definitely justified in using it for my dress.

This entry was posted in 1830s, Ada Lovelace dress. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Dress Fabric Research

  1. Nessa says:

    Yay, can’t wait to see which color combo you will go for! The 1830s-40s are totally not my era but now I’m excited for your dress, too. 😀

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