Some remarkable coincidences can occur when searching for rare and early textiles. Such an event happened to me recently, when through two completely different auctions I found glorious 18th Century garments with an embroidery motif I had never seen before. So rare, and both in my possession! Unbelievable!
The first was a single engageante [sleeve ruffle], decorated with fine whitework and Dresden work. Absolutely beautiful, I placed it onto my Ebay shop and it was sold before even one day was out.
But I have examined many engageates in the past, so why the big fuss? Well, it was decorated along all of it's length with PEARS! So unusual was this, that I decided to do a little research into 18th Century fruits available in Britain. Here is what I discovered:
Engageante description, Ebay. Yours truly.
'I have briefly researched the pear as an edible fruit in English history. [Because the main motif of the flounce is gorgeous pears!]It seems that the pear was only used as a cooking fruit in the 18th Century for most folk. And even then only accessible to the richest few. But dessert pears were grown in private gardens
.Dresden work was only ever available to the rich as it was made to emulate lace, and became so sought after in it's own right that prices matched the finest lace of the time. So it could be that the embroidery of this ruffle was made to show the rarest of fruit available. But in the 1770's, there was one pear, called the 'Williams Pear', that could be grown as a dessert pear more widely.
Could this be a clue to the age of this fine work?'
So, I thought the engageante would date to the start of the period when pears became edible as a raw fruit.
Then, remarkably, I found this 18th Century infant cap:
Typical of an 18th Century cap, and made in three sections, with one long central band that runs from front to back throughout the cap, we have pear motifs to each section. Pears again!
Now, for me, Gail Marsh, in her book '18th Century Embroidery Techniques' [see Links & Research for full reference], provides the best description of quilting techniques to date, and she tells us that not only is cord quilting one of the most skilled sewing methods of the time, but she also says that 'plain corded quilting, without any additional embroidery, had fallen out of fashion by the mid 18th Century' [Page 95/2006]. So this fabulous cap probably dates to the mid 18th Century and George II, when pears were a pure luxury for the very rich, and no-one else.
I have another cord quilted cap, and will blog more about this wonderful technique soon!
Thank you for reading.