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Light & Airy Unfinished Painted Silk Length - for Gown?

Light & Airy Unfinished Painted Silk Length - for Gown?

For several years I have kept a painted silk, trying to find out more about it; it came from a very grand home with many 18th Century and Regency clothes - probably my best purchase ever! Very difficult to actually find out much about them, I have now discovered a super description of how 18th Century silk was painted, and a very complex business it was! Cut and paste this to see what the Victoria & Albert Museum tell us about how the silk had to be prepared in advance, and to see a wonderful 18th Century painted silk dress:


I once had a painted 18th Century dress - it was fabulous but in very poor condition. The problem is that painted silk has a tendancy to split and shatter. The dress I examined had shattered badly, and the previous owner had selotaped it all over! Horrors!


Now I should say that we are not talking about batik work or many ancient crafts so famous from the Far East. We are talking here about water colour painting on silk.


So now, here I have a long and large panel of painted silk that is in far better condition, although with a little damage, and the light and airy floral design makes me think it dates to the circa 1770-80's. But it was never finished. I wonder what happened?

There are a few paint blots within the length, but I remember searching for these on the dress mentioned above, because they signify that the work is hand crafted, so I wouldn't think it was abandoned for that reason. We will never know.

This panel could indeed have been made as part of a gown, because the entire width of the fabric is used, with the warp lying sideways and the weft from top to bottom and measuring 19.5". The V & A article tells us that the silk almost always came from China but that the design could be finished in the West.

The colours of the painted flowers, which include carnations, are very subtle and soft. There are blues & yellow, rusts, soft greens and browns. Given that the colour is even, it is difficult to know if it has faded, which is quite possible, but the effect now is lovely.

The design to the right end is not a match for the left end, so it is a finished painting with nothing cut away. To each end there is evidence of stitching, but I think this may be where it would have been attached taut to a frame on which to paint the design.

For a painted gown? Or painted in a professional workshop to show a possible embroidery design? 

Still so much to find out about water colour painted silk!

Please be sure to read the condition report below, as there is some damage - but not too bad!

The length of the piece is 41" long, with each long edge having an undecorated inch or so as a 'border'.


    First, the cream silk is a good colour, with a little soft staining but nothing to concern us.

    As described above, the piece is unfinished mostly in the centre, where we see the outline design 'pounced' but not filled in. Two thirds are almost all complete.

    At the top end of the piece, I have found six leaves that have given in to holes. Only these leaves are affected, which may be the particular colour being less stable? The six area's vary in size from almost the whole leaf to very minor damage.

    Now, go to one end of the design and directly on the sewing line mentioned above, there is a 3" long hole plus a lower leaf. This is untidy. The obvious solution would be to cut along the sewing line to almost remove the damage completely. As I mentioned, the other end compliments but is not a match, so no harm would be done.

    You could then if you wish to, gently patch those damaged leaves with the spare silk from the side edge.

    Please study the photographs which show the problems.

    Finally, and not an issue, the piece has been stored folded. There is no damage along the fold lines, but a gentle iron to the back of the work [see image] to smooth these folds would preserve it for a lot longer.


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