Monday, August 29, 2011

A Yellow Gown At The Met

On our recent journey to New York, Mrs S. and I were lucky to see this portrait in person in the American Wing in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Another good choice for young matrons and maidens as well to look to for their own reproductions!  Wearing a simple taffeta gown, this portrait of Margaret Strahan, was painted in 1771.  Her yellow silk gown closes in front with a compere stomacher.  Pinked self fabric trim twists and turns up the robings of her gown, simple but effective, providing a textural and 3 dimensional appearance so important to 18th century gowns.   This is not an expensive fabric, this gown can be reasonably reproduced by any re-enactor or costumer.

This closeup of the compere shows the small self fabric covered buttons that appear to be functional, not decorative and the two rows of pleated trim on either side of the buttons.  Neither difficult to do or expensive, no additonal purchase for trim.

Simple sleeve flounces and we can see the edges are pinked.  Two flounces and whitework sleeve ruffles set off the yellow of the gown and yet are simple in their embroidery design, something more easily duplicated than a complex embroidery design like Dresden work. 

This closeup of the pearl necklace shows us  six small pearl strands, with one giant strand of pearls, faux of course!  What a nice detail to incorporate into a necklace!   Faux pearls are a dime a dozen (literally) at rummage sales and yard sales, this would not cost a fortune to do.   If you look at the full portrait you can see the ribbon ties at the back of her neck securing the necklace.

 This last detail combines two elements.  First the gathered and pinked trim, gently flows up the robing.  Note that it does not match the pleated design on the compere, but the twisting on the robing is a nice balance to the geometric pleating on the compere.  This is also a good closeup of her neck thing.  It is obviously fine muslin or linen, with a series of box pleats providing the shaping as it goes around the neck.  It is not a handkerchief per se, but does the work of one, filling in the low neckline of the gown.  Could this be a tippet sighting?  Don't know! 

Please go to the museum site and look closely using the zoom feature.  Look especially at her hair ornaments, they almost look like enamel work to me.  Other opines welcome!

Mrs. Peabody


  1. This gown is absolutely fabulous. Although yellow is not a colour I can pull off, I think this would be interesting to try patterning. I am particularly fond of the small details that set this gown apart (and you so wonderfully pointed out.) I was wondering if those smaller pearls might actually be a single strand looped around the neck. They do not sit perfectly as one would expect of a series of strands to do. Also, I am curious how one would go about pinking the fabric. I love the look, but cannot figure out how to reproduce it. Thank-you for pointing me to this wonderful portrait.

  2. Helen, pinking tools used to be available online, but the craftsman who made them is out of business. You can still pick them up on ebay from time to time. Basically the tool is set on the fabric and a mallet is used to pound the edge of the tool into the fabric, creating the pinks. Modern rotary cutters can be an option, but the pinks are not as fine.