Wool Damask

For most historical costumers, finding the perfect fabric is one of the most difficult parts of getting the look right. One of the main difficulties is that many fabrics used in the past just aren’t made anymore in the same quality, or they are too expensive for a hobby seamstress. Just finding really fine linen is nearly impossible.

One of my favourite historical fabrics is wool damask. And it’s another of those fabrics which has sort of died out. It just isn’t made anymore, which is a shame, because it’s stunning.

Wollen damast, Norwich | Modemuze

 

Yes, that’s wool. Wool damask is two-toned, and pretty much always in the same color palette. So you get a lighter/darker combination, so light green with dark green, dark blue with black, or beige and brown.

Wool damask is also usually glazed. It’s treated in such a way that it gets a shiny finish, making it almost look a bit like silk damask. It would’ve been a cheaper than true silk damask, but gives the same impression. The patterns of the damask were definitely inspired by their silk counterparts.

For comparison, an 18th century silk damask:

 

And a wool damask one:

Rok van wol, lichtgroen met grote witte bloem en zoom en splitten afgezet met koord | Modemuze

 

Wool damask was used for skirts in the 18th century, and continued in traditional clothing throughout the 19th century. They were probably often also worn as petticoat under the upper skirt, as they’re a little less fancy than the silk ones.

Some of them are pretty stunning though, so I definitely think they were worn as upper skirt as well. Look how shiny!

Rok | Modemuze

 

The wool damask was used mostly in skirts, but also in men’s waistcoats and in stays. In some regional wear parts of the stays were visible at times, calling for fancy fabrics.

Korset of rijglijf van wollen damast, blauw met groene bloemen, met rijgsluiting middenvoor en een schootje van losse pandjes | Modemuze

 

The richer farmers would’ve worn wool waistcoats as well.

 

Despite the popularity in this country, the wool damask worn in the Netherlands was mostly not actually made here. Instead, this fabric was imported from England, Norwich to be exact. Interestingly enough, I’ve never really seen it in English collections though, suggesting that it was primarily an export product. Wool damask was woven on narrow looms (giving much narrower fabrics than common today), and so that the back of the fabric ‘mirrors’ the colors on the right side, as with all damask. Some more information on this fabric written by Meg Andrews is here. It became a staple of some Dutch dress, and I suspect the skirts in these well-known prints might be from wool damask:

1770s - 18th century - woman's outfit with mixed print fabrics (jacket in floral, skirt in a different floral, apron in plaid/checks, and cap in floral) - From "An album containing 90 fine water color paintings of costumes." Turin : [s.n.] , [ca.1775]. In the collection of the Bunka Fashion College in Japan. Underneath the illustration is handwritten in pencil "North Holland." - Netherlands - Dutch.

A lady from Zaandam

1770s - 18th century - woman's outfit with mixed print fabrics (jacket in floral, skirt in a different floral, apron in solid, and neckerchief either in stripes or simply showing pleats/folds) - From "An album containing 90 fine water color paintings of costumes." Turin : [s.n.] , [ca.1775]. In the collection of the Bunka Fashion College in Japan. Underneath the illustration is handwritten in pencil "Hamburgh" (I think that's what it says!) Hamburg, Germany.

A lady from Friesland

 

Some more, beautiful 18th century skirts, all from the Dutch Openluchtmuseum:

Petticoat, The Netherlands, fabric: Norwich, England, 18th century. Green silk damask woven with large flower and leaf motifs.

Rok van wollen damast, Zaanstreek, 1700-1800 | Modemuze

Rok van blauw-bruine wollen damast, West-Friesland | Modemuze

Rok van achttiende-eeuwse wollen damast, Noord-Holland | Modemuze

 

One of my more prized possessions is a black wool damask skirt, probably from the late 19th or early 20th century. This one is from the Veluwe, where these skirts were still worn as petticoats (underneath a plain black skirt) with the traditional costume. It’s constructed pretty much the same as an 18th century petticoat would be. It’s gathered at the top, with a flat front, and two side slits. It’s got one tuck in the skirt, and a velvet band a little above the hem. The bottom has got a bit of fluffy trim to protect it, and it’s got another ribbon as well as a hem facing on the inside to protect the fabric.

The full skirt, front & back:

 

A close up of the fabric, left from the outside, right the inside.

 

The top is tightly cartridge pleated to a waistband.

20180625_112002

 

Despite the age, the fabric is still very pretty. The velvet trim and hem facings clearly show wear, but the main skirt is still in very good condition. This was another reason these skirts were so popular, the wool fabric wears very well. If only they still made fabric like this today!

20180625_112157

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “Wool Damask

  1. I love your posts on period fabrics, and how they tie in with local clothing!

    Some Norwich wool damask skirts are in Swedish collections too, though I’ve seen very few photos. I’ve been thinking that they were an alternative to silk damask, for those who couldn’t afford it, or weren’t entitled to wear it (sumptuary laws were still in place here in the 18th century).

    It’s interesting that they ended up being worn as petticoats under a plain black skirt in some Dutch regions – I wonder if they might originally have been outer skirts, and were turned into petticoats when fashion changed to plain fabrics? That might explain why yours has a tuck.

    • Thank you! I read that they were exported to Scandinavia as well yes. I haven’t seen any either, but I have to admit I haven’t looked specifically for those either. Would be interesting to see the differences to the Dutch ones.
      And I think you’re definitely right, that they were an alternative to silk damask! It makes a lot of sense, because the fabric was both cheaper and more durable.
      This might definitely have happened yes! Although even in the 18th century, often the ‘upper’ petticoat was of very nice fabric in many Dutch regional dress (still very similar to fashionable dress at that time). Because the upper petticoat could show when lifting the skirts :). But some old upper skirts would definitely have ‘moved down’, being worn as petticoat after a time. As for the tuck, it was also super common that clothes would survive for generations, so the tuck might very well have happened because the new wearer was a little shorter.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s