Monday, August 29, 2016

One Shot: Silk Crochet Dress 1904

     For a span of about 20 years the fantastical skills of Irish crochet artisans, covering the end of the 1800s and continuing into the 1900s became a major player in high end apparel for women.  The amazing skills brought to bear by these unknown craftswomen live on in numerous examples of partial and entire dresses and suits composed of intricate crochet.  This particular example, which is part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's permanent collection is unique in more than one aspect.
    The demand for crocheted dresses and suits was so great that they were often done as piece work to be assembled later.  So a woman could adjust the fitting without having to be present with the crochet artist.  This example is an entirely custom piece. A complex pattern of repeated crocheted medallions is further decorated by silk embroidery that has been applied on top of it and flowing onto the solid tan silk of the dress body.
    It is obvious from the disposition of the crocheted sections that this garment was created especially for one person, and with the lady close to hand for regular fittings.  Piece worked dresses would have employed entire vertical skirt panels, not horizontal bands.  Plus, the bodice has been extensively embroidered and appliqued within and over the crochet, with leaves and vines.
    The under-bodice and bishop style sleeves are of silk chiffon. The sleeves, expertly tucked horizontally.  Anyone who has ever worked with chiffon knows what a nightmare that can be.  The waistline, cuffs and collar area all have narrow strips of greenish velvet which is the only other color present in the dress and a needed break for all of the tan.
    The central band of the skirt has a magnificent silk embroidered phoenix in flight and several tiny bias strips appliqued in a kind of cage pattern over the crochet.  There are even several bunches of padded, appliqued grapes on the back section of the skirt.  All in all a masterwork of the arts of crochet, embroidery, applique and dressmaking.

Such a dress as this one would have been considered suitable for afternoon visiting, or driving in the park.  It's high neck keeps it from being a dinner dress, along with it's color which was thought too casual for evening wear.
    As a final notation, we are fortunate that this dress still has its maker tag. Margaret Mulhall, 20 E 55th St, New York, New York.  Clearly Ms. Mulhall was a dressmaker of the very highest skills, with access to a staff of similarly brilliant workers.


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