This week on Costume Analytics, we’ll be looking at a wonderful painting by Pehr Hillestrom, entitled “En piga höser såppa utur en kiettel – i en skål,” or something along the lines of “Maid Dipping Soup Out of a Bowl.” (Swedish speakers, please help if I’ve got that wrong!)
This is a great painting because it shows so much, but it is also confusing. For one, I can’t find a date for it. The artist lived 1733-1816, so my best guess on this painting, based on his years and what the maid is wearing, is sometime in the 1770s. Her clothing is also very posh for a maid, don’t you think? Let’s take a closer look…
Our lovely kitchen maid is wearing a simple outfit of a bed gown, walking-length skirt, and a rather large apron. Upon her head is a cap, with an interesting tie arrangement. She is wearing a basic chemise with a ruffled neckline, no neckerchief though, and on her feet are plain stockings and mules (backless heeled shoes).
For her outer layer, this maid is wearing a bed gown, a loose garment with no fitting, flared skirting, and tied at the waist. Of bed gowns, Costume Close-Up: Clothing Construction and Pattern, 1750-1790 says, “for physical labor and very informal occasions, women wore short gowns with separate petticoats as comfortable alternatives to fitted gowns with long, full skirts.” (pg 43).
|From Duran Textiles – a bed gown layed out flat.|
Our maid’s apron is very much like one seen in the Colonial Williamsburg collection, or page 47 of Costume Close-Up: Clothing Construction and Pattern, 1750-1790. The skirt of the apron is very broad and long, ties at the waist, and the triangular-shaped front pins to the bodice.
|Costume Closeup apron|
The skirt our maid is wearing is the most interesting piece. It is a short, “walking-length” skirt, just above the ankle, popular in the 1770s, and has a decorative application I’ll talk about in moment. These types of petticoats were made of six panels of fabric, pleated at the front and back in two pieces that tied around the waist. Petticoats like this, from the Williamsburg collection, have hem circumferences averaging around 100 inches.
Fabrics and Trims
Paintings can sometimes present challenges in identifying fabrics. Silks and velvet are easy to spot, but what are the other textiles?
Our maid’s bed gown might be silk, based on the rendering of highlights on the folds of her jacket’s skirt, particularly, but bed gowns were not often such a lovely material – linen or cotton were typical. Whatever the material, it is a solid color, an contrasts sharply with her skirt, which is very obviously silk, and appears to be a shot silk at that.
|From Pure Silks online – orange shot through with green silk taffeta|
|Pure Silks online – gold shot with blue silk taffeta|
While her caraco is untrimmed, her skirt has a very posh trim around the hem – this would have been a sheer gauze, pleated in a band, and with little puffs on the top and bottom. It’s a very common trim style for the 1770s, but what kind of maid wears a silk skirt with that kind of trim!?
|via Margaret Hunter Shop, Colonial Williamsburg, on Facebook|
Then there is her apron – this would have been linen, functional and durable. For the lower classes, aprons were made of linen, linsey, and holland, with check, particularly in blue and white, being very common. Our maid prefers stripes, but notice, they are blue and white! (more about aprons here)
Undies first – even as a maid, our gal would be wearing a chemise (visible), and at least one big petticoat beneath her outer skirt, if not more. She may or may not be wearing a false rump, and it does appear she is wearing stays, even with the informal bed gown.
This woman’s stockings would have been something like linen or wool – probably not silk, for a lower class gal, but then again, her petticoat is silk, so perhaps! For her shoes – impracticality again! – she is wearing mules, very much like these.
Mules were a backless heeled slipper worn by the upper classes, mostly as indoor footwear. The uppers on these would have been textile – silk or possibly calimanco (wool), and the small heels leather.
Lastly, our lady’s headgear is quite interesting. She wears a cap of fine, sheer linen that appears to be figured in the ruffle. It sits very high on the head, and is trimmed with puffs, similar to those on her petticoat, and the whole thing ties under her chin. I admit I’ve never seen a cap arrangement like this – if you know more about it, do share in the comments!
|Here is one vaguely similar in design, but fuller in back, and missing the tie under the chin. This iq Queen Caroline Mathilde, by Jens Juel, 1773|
Commentary and Conclusions
As we’ve been looking closely at this painting, what do you think about the woman depicted? Was she a maid wearing silk? or possibly a middle class lady tending a household without servants, but aspiring in rank by way of wearing the clothing of her betters?
Could this painting be a member of the “the idealized maid” genre? (was there such a thing, or was that only later in the 19th century?). A similar painting from 1761 also depicts a rather well-dressed working woman, though not nearly as luxe as our lady here.
|Jean-Baptiste Greuze, 1761, “La Blanchisseuse”|
What do you think is going on here?
Tips on Making This Costume
- Your basic pieces are easy to find patterns for, luckily – JPRyan, WM Booth Draper, Costume Close-Up.
- Real silks are available at PureSilks, RenaissanceFabrics.com, and synthetic taffetas can be found at Fashion Fabrics Club, and various fabric stores online.
- Linens, especially striped and checked linen, along with other historical fabrics can be found at PeriodFabric.com
- Mules aren’t an easy type of shoe to find these days, but try hunting on Etsy or eBay, or spend the big bucks with Sarah Juniper’s custom-made Georgian footwear. Otherwise, a nice pair of Kensingtons will serve you well, until American Duchess releases some historically accurate mules.
- If you *really* want to complete the look, how about a historically accurate, hand-painted earthenware bowl from WoodRidge Studio? Check our their ware on Facebook.