Mantua of the Month – March 2020

Mantua of the Month is a fun feature on my blog page, which draws attention to the material culture of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The first mantua to be featured (admittedly I am publishing this a little late!) is this Court dress, c. 1750 from The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, also called a robe à la française.

Court dress, c. 1750, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Court dress, c. 1750, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

The petticoat was worn over a hoop petticoat or panniers to provide structure and to create an exaggerated silhouette.

Court dress, c. 1750, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Court dress, c. 1750, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

This close-up shot of the embroidery on the stomacher reveals the exquisite nature of the embroidery work. Flattened silver wire has been used to catch the candlelight as the wearer moved. The effect must have been truly stunning!

In his trade guide from 1761, Joseph Collyer discussed the nature of the trade of ‘Silver and Gold Thread-Spinners’. He noted that women and men were employed, drawing wire to its ‘utmost fineness’ and then ‘flatted, it is spun, or, in other words twisted round a thread of silk’. The flattened wire was fastened with silk together on a spindle and as the wheel was turned, the precious metal wire was wound around the silk to make ‘slesy’. Thread spinners could earn around 12 to 14 shillings per week.[1]

Very finely drawn wire could also be used to make spangles, which could consist of little coils of wire, or the ‘flatted’ wire could be embroidered directly onto silk brocade. The decorative work on this fabric exhibits many different techniques. There are small discs or sequins with tiny coils of wire stitched in the centre of the large flower design along with flatted wire and slesy to create a 3D effect.

Footnotes

[1] J. Collyer, The Parent’s and Guardian’s Directory, and the Youth’s Guide, in the Choice of a Profession or Trade. (London, 1761), p. 254.

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