No, I’m not delving into postmodernism here, I’m talking about sewing – and unsewing! I was sitting on my porch last week, relishing the warm spring breezes and taking advantage of the bright afternoon light to salvage a sad old black silk skirt. As I worked, I realized that most of the sewing had been done by hand, and that I might pay tribute to those hands by sharing pictures before it was gone forever.
Silk damaged beyond repair.
Lest you think I cannibalize antique textiles lightly, let me assure you there was no saving this piece. It was a silk faille gored skirt – of such a generic cut that I hesitate even to date it – which had begun to shred and shatter all over. The lining was in excellent condition though, so I wanted to preserve that for reuse.
Unfortunately, I didn’t think to take a picture of the whole skirt before I began. Although it might not have added much to this post since solid shiny black is notoriously hard to photograph! The cut was smooth and somewhat fitted across the front, tapering slightly toward an “A-line” silhouette, with tight gathers in the back. It had a narrow waistband, and two tiers of ruffles trimmed the hem.
Side seam of skirt, running stitches with a few backstitches piled on for good measure.
The silk fabric was about 21″ wide with white stripes along each selvage. The skirt was completely lined with the standard brown cotton, and then an extra piece of darker glazed cotton was added to the bottom ten inches. A velvet binding strip protected the edge of the hem. There was one deep pocket which looked like a later, rather clumsy, addition.
The extra lining along the lower part of the skirt is neatly hemmed down.
A view of the pocket from inside. Maybe added later?
I hadn’t expected to find hand sewing in this piece, so I was intrigued to note the different types of stitching and thread. The long side seams used a basic running stitch made with a heavy brown cotton thread. Although the finished skirt was nice and sturdy, some of the stitches weren’t particularly neat or even.
The only seam finishing, overcasting, was done where the lining edge was raw. I don’t think the maker was too worried about raveling.
Raw edges of lining were roughly overcast with a light colored thread. The waist was “gauged” in the back. Machine work was limited to the top stitching of the waistband and the hems of the bias-cut ruffles. The only careful handwork was the finishing in some places on the lining. A brass hook and eye were the only fastening, and two loops were attached inside for hanging.
The skirt back was tightly gathered using the gauging technique.
Here’s a view of the gathers from the inside.
The ruffle was hemmed by machine, but gathering stitches were made by hand.
And it looks like they were done at high speed!
The seamstress took extra pains when hemming down the inside of the placket opening with a finer weight thread.
It was common in the 19th century to finish skirt hems with a sturdy braid, wool or velvet, to protect them from wear. It could be purchased ready-made, but this velvet strip appeared homemade.
The deconstruction process was predictably tedious, but there was one moment that’s hard to describe. I was working on the old velvet at the hem when out spilled sand and bits of twigs. The debris had obviously been locked inside for a more than a century. It was as if a shadow passed by while I worked. Who was the woman who wore this skirt? Where was she walking, what was she doing, what was she thinking on the day when her shoes kicked up that sand? I don’t suppose I’ll ever know. But I hope her afternoon was as lovely as the one I enjoyed.
I tried to offer a peek inside the velvet, but it’s too dark to see. I couldn’t hold the crease open with one hand and take a picture with the other!