Dressing Down: Private Life and the Dressing Gown, 1890-1950
Aquidneck Cottages Industries
In this scene, the lady of the house, an active supporter of local social causes, wears a gown made by a Newport-based Aquidneck Cottage Industries seamstress. Established in 1904 by Miss Effie Blount Waring at 40 School Street in Newport, Aquidneck Cottage Industries was a vocational charity that created employment opportunities for over two hundred Newport women and children by teaching them domestic skills and arts and crafts. The school was supported by several members of the Newport summer colony including Misses Maude and Edith Wetmore. In 1911, the Wetmore sisters, together with Mrs. James Laurens Van Alen and Mrs. William Woodward, hosted a bazaar on the lawn of their family house, Chateau-sur-Mer, to raise funds by selling the work produced at Aquidneck Cottage Industries. Embroidery and fine needlework were key elements of the Aquidneck Cottage Industries curriculum for working women, but the needle arts were practiced by ladies from many walks of life as a recreational pastime. On display is a needlepoint pillow worked by Mrs. Edward Maitland Armstrong of Kingscote. The seven-piece Wedgwood blue and white painted Louis XVI style bedroom suite was also made in Newport, by the firm of George E. Vernon & Company.
The dressing gown at left is exemplary of the craftsmanship and luxury of the waning Gilded Age. The fabric, called peau de soie or Duchess satin, is an expensive, medium-weight silk fabric with a satin weave that was usually reserved for bridal gowns or formal dresses. The needlework and passementerie fringe on this dressing gown are a late expression of the declining era of fine handmade clothing and Victorian fashion. This gown is also an exquisite example of the ancient needle technique known as "cut and drawn-work," in which portions of the woven textile are clipped and pulled out. The remaining threads are heavily bound, yielding an intricate ribbed design, and the resulting voids in the fabric are reinforced with needle lace. Advanced students at the Aquidneck Cottage Industries demonstrated their skills on masterpieces such as the dressing gown seen at right, a fine example of bobbin or pillow lace.
Photography by Al Weems