As I mentioned in my last post, not all fabrics are suited for historical gowns. For example, polyester was not around in the 18th century, so if you are trying to be as historically correct as possible, a lot of thought has to be put into the fabric used.
I am going to be using cotton for my entire project. This isn't the most historically accurate thing to use for the gown, however the cotton is kinder on my budget than wool or linen would be.
The reason that cotton isn't always the most historically accurate is because of the fact that it was actually illegal through much of the 18th century in Prussia, France, and England.
This seems like a weird thing to be illegal, but the governments did have a reason. Before cotton got so popular, it was very expensive and not super common, but in the 1600s, it's popularity started to grow. Linen was originally the fabric used for undergarments, etc, because it breathed easily, was tough enough to be washed often, and could be bleached to be quite white, which was a symbol of wealth. However, linen could get clammy during winter as it holds moisture very well, plus it could not hold colours very easily. To dye it something other than white took a long time, which meant that it was pretty expensive to do. This is where cotton came in- cotton holds colour much more easily, and the colour stays through washing better. Chintz became very popular. Chintz was from India, and it was a flower pattern in blues, reds, yellows, and sometimes green. England, Prussia, and France did not like the popularity of cotton, because the money from the cotton did not go to them, but to India and America. At first, the governments just added taxes to the fabrics, but by 1701, the parliament of England banned the import of imported calicoes and Chintzes. In 1721 in England, they made it illegal to wear printed cottons from India, America, and basically any place that was not Britain. People took this law very seriously, and there are accounts of people wearing cotton being molested on the street and having the clothing torn off of their body's, or in an extreme case, having acid thrown on their clothing.
In America, it was a different story. Cotton was very popular for it's ability to breath well, how easily it is dyed and also the fact that it grew so well there. Near the end of the 18th century, England finally decided to get rid of the law making it illegal to buy and wear cotton. By the early 19th century, cotton was widely popular everywhere. Muslin is very commonly seen in gowns from the early 1800s. Because of its hardy nature and easily dyeable fibers, cotton was a popular choice, and still is.
I recently picked up my fabric from Ikea, of all places. Out of all of the fabric stores that I had access to, Ikea had the nicest prints that looked like they could have been block printed. In the 18th century, the colours that were normally used on Chintzes were red, blue, and yellow. The yellow was not often seen, but it would be added to the blue to create a green colour. This green would not be the same as the greens that we see today, since artificial dyes did not come into the fashion industry until the mid 1800s. Chintzes were expensive to make, since it was a lengthy process, involving many steps to create the final look. If you are interested in the process of woodblock printing and learning more about Chintz, the Met has some great videos and essays about it here and here. The second link is a great video that describes the dyeing process through the 17th and 18th centuries.
Next week I will talk about events that occurred in the mid 18th century, and talk about creating the correct silhouette for the time period through proper undergarments.