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Sack-back

  • Place of origin:

    Spitalfields (textile, weaving)
    England (ensemble, sewing)

  • Date:

    1755 - 1760 (weaving)
    1760 - 1765 (sewing)
    1770s (altered)
    1870 - 1910 (altered)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Silk, linen, silk thread, linen thread; hand-woven, hand-sewn

  • Museum number:

    T.426&A-1990

  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

The style and decoration of this gown characterise women’s fashion of the early 1760s. Adorning the front are wide strips of silk, the raw edges pinked and scalloped. These have been gathered and sewn on in serpentine curves. A narrow strip of gathered silk and an elaborate white silk braid further enrich the decorative effect. The curvilinear arrangement of this appliqué reflects the principles of Rococo design.

The gown has been made from a floral patterned silk woven in Spitalfields, London. In the article on silk designing from a contemporary handbook to art and manufacture, George Smith's Laboratory or School of Arts, the author recommends that pattern-drawers should take advantage of the seasonal variety offered by nature. 'Every season of the year produces .... plants, flowers and shrubs, as afford greater varieties than we are able to imitate. Summer will in like manner furnish a manufacturer with a vast variety of new and beautiful objects...and the produce of flowers thereof...will charm the eye.' The naturalistic drawing of the flowers in this dress fabric, including honeysuckle and rosebuds, illustrates this characteristic of English silks very well.

Physical description

A woman's sack-back and petticoat of yellow plain-woven silk with a supplementary weft of white silk making the pattern, which is of floral trails including honeysuckle and rosebuds. The sack back is open at the front with robings to the waist and elbow-length sleeves with a single, scalloped and pinked sleeve ruffled. The bodice and sleeves are lined with bleached linen. The back has two double box pleats stitched at the neckline. There is a waist seam from the front opening to the bodice side-back seam. The sack back is made of 4 widths of silk with partial panel and triangular gore of silk on each side of the front. A narrow ruching of pinked scalloped silk adorns the robings and back neck, arranged in a serpentine line, with a fringe of white silk gimp and floss knots sewn on top. A wide ruching of scalloped pinked silk, arranged in reversing curves, decorated the skirt fronts. A length of the silk gimp edges each skirt front and serpentine curves of fringe are sewn to the skirt fronts. The silk gimp also edges the sleeve ruffles.

The petticoat is made of 5 widths of silk, with a box pleat at the centre front and flat pleats at the sides and back. The waist is bound with linen tape which forms the ties at the back waist. There are pocket openings on either side. The front of the petticoat is decorated with a deep flounce of scalloped, pinked silk, edged at the bottom with the white silk gimp and arranged in a serpentine line.

At some point in the 1770s or 1780s, the petticoat was lengthened at the waistline and waist binding re-sewn. Some of the stitching holding the ruching of the front skirts was unpicked.

The gown was altered for fancy dress in the late 19th century. Two darts (now unpicked) were machine-sewn into the bodice fronts and a hook and eye sewn to the bottom of the front robings.

Place of Origin

Spitalfields (textile, weaving)
England (ensemble, sewing)

Date

1755 - 1760 (weaving)
1760 - 1765 (sewing)
1770s (altered)
1870 - 1910 (altered)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Silk, linen, silk thread, linen thread; hand-woven, hand-sewn

Dimensions

Width: 50.5 cm silk, selvedge to selvedge

Object history note

Purchased. Registered File number 1990/2183.
Two lace borders that were attached to the gown as cuffs when it arrived were detached as they were not original to it. They have been given the numbers T.183:1&2-1991.

Historical context note

The flowing style of the sack-back, which was flattering to most women, dominated women’s fashions during the 18th century. It developed from a loose negligee but became a more formal type of dress.

The double box arrangement of the pleats at the back of this gown are typical of the construction of such gowns in the mid century. Almost all of this style were made of four widths of silk at the back and two at the front. The lengths of silk were cut to accommodate the height of the wearer. By adjusting the depth and placement of the pleats at the waist and shoulder, the gown would be made to conform to the shape and measurements of the woman for whom it was made.

This gown and petticoat would have been worn with a hooped petticoat, acting as a support to both the silk petticoat and the robe.

Descriptive line

Woman's sack-back and petticoat, 1760-65, English; yellow silk figured with white floral trails, Spitalfields, 1755-60; altered 1870-1910

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Hart, Avril and Susan North. Historical Fashion in Detail: The 17th and 18th Centuries. London: V&A Publications, 1998, pp. 34 & 50

Materials

Silk (textile); Linen (material); Silk thread; Linen thread

Techniques

Hand weaving; Hand sewing

Subjects depicted

Flowers; Scrolls

Categories

Women's clothes; Textiles; Fashion; Europeana Fashion Project

Production Type

Unique

Collection

Textiles and Fashion Collection

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