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Young Boy's Waistcoat, ca. 1720

Maker: Unknown Maker, English

Medium: Linen with silk embroidered appliqués

20 1/4 x 21 1/2 in. (51.4 x 54.6 cm)

Credit Line: Gift of the Decorative Arts Trust

Object Number: 95.2

Not on view

Cora Ginsburg, Inc., New York, New York, 1995

In the early 18th century, the dominant influence upon design in England continued to be the Far East. It had affected nearly every branch of craftsmanship in the country since the mid-17th century, when commercial trade with the East increased. The vogue for oriental wares, chinoiserie, was reflected in the many fabric patterns that decorated household furnishings as well as personal dress. Embroidered goods incorporated many Anglicized Indian and Chinese motifs, such as pagodas, bridges, dragons, or more commonly, the exotic flowers, birds, and butterflies that adorn this small child’s waistcoat.

 

The front of this garment is covered in a whimsical design composed of embroidered appliqués placed in a symmetrical pattern. Each motif—rendered in vibrant hues of yellow green, bright pink, rich blue, or mustard yellow—contains several rows of graduated color that replicates shading on the leaves, petals, and feathers, and provides a lively contrast. Worked in a chain stitch with French knot accents, these appliqués were produced with fine silk thread on a separate piece of linen, cut to shape, and then sewn onto the coat. This practice was less time consuming than embroidering directly on the ground fabric, as more than one worker could assist in the production of a garment. In professional shops, it helped keep production costs down. Another advantage was that appliqués could be easily removed and later reapplied to another ground fabric.

 

This waistcoat is made of simple linen, but more elaborate ones were sewn in silk fabrics and included embroidery with gold and silver metallic threads. Expensive fashionable waistcoats continued to be embroidered up until the second half of the 19th century.