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18th c painting

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Wool Damask Skirt

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Wool Damask Jacket

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Norwich Worsted Textiles 18th c

Skirts or bovenrok made from woven wool damask, patterned with stripes or diamonds , were particularly popular in the areas of Zaanstreek, Waterland and West Friesland, all in the north of Holland. A voluminous skirt made from expensive fabric showed the wealth of the owner and a Dutch expression might be paraphrased as ‘the wider your skirts the more you spend’.

Some skirts contained as many as 10 widths of fabric. The length of the skirts at the front was much shorter than the sides and back due to the panniers or side hoops, worn under the skirt, taking up the fabric. Side splits at the top of the skirt allowed access to pockets, tied round the waist beneath the skirt. Many of the skirts were glazed or calendered. Skirts could be lined with striped linen or were left unlined and had a deep hem. Many of these skirts are mentioned in inventories and wills of the time. The damask fabric was known as mirror damask or spiegeldamast. Thick worsted woollen was warm and hard wearing.

By the nineteenth century skirts made from Norwich fabrics had moved down the social scale and were sold to the wealthy farming middle classes and the lower middle classes, who appreciated their warmth and quality, as well as their beautiful patterns. By the middle of the century, when the crinoline was fashionable, ladies wore the more practical layering of skirts, known as pel rather than the hooped steel crinoline frame. The hard-wearing damask skirt was now altered and being worn beneath as the top petticoat ). The fabric was also adapted at this stage for men’s short jackets or hemdrok2.

The Fries Museum’s small sample book, produced by the company STZ Sybouts te Leeuwarden, established in 1742, shows samples of woollen textiles, damasks, glossy calamancoes and camlets, all from Norwich. They are offered in yard lengths. It shows calendered wool fabrics including plains, stripes, floral and diamond patterns. When the pattern book photo (8) is enlarged you will clearly see that one of the damasks is in the pineapple design of (3) and (10) and the acanthus leaf design of (2) and (7). Similiar textiles are shown in sample books in Winterthur Museum in the USA and the Moccasimanuscript (Bibliotheque Forney, Paris).

In 1763 a J H Knoop wrote that woman in small towns and rural areas in Holland wore jackets of chintz and skirts of lustrous woollen damask (supported by four or five petticoats)3. An eighteenth century whalebone corset covered with a Norwich woollen damask is illustrated in the Mode in Friesland catalogue4 (9). There is a similar corset in the Gallery of Costume, Platt Hall, Manchester.

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