Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Keeping Warm

Spring seems to be hiding just around the corner and out of plain sight. The chill in the air  remains persistent, and I still find myself wrapped up in jumpers, scarves and heavy coats.  Thoughts of eighteenth century fashion never far from my mind, I often wonder how my Georgian counterparts coped with the cold, and what exactly they did to guard against the winter chills. The answer isn't really all that far away from just what we would do today; layers and thicker fabrics, as well as the subject of today's post: quilting. 

Floral Print Quilted Cotton Cloak, c.1780-90, Platt Hall, Manchester Art Gallery

In the 1700s, the notion of wearing quilted clothing was successfully borrowed from warm, quilted blankets. A bed-quilt would essentially be two pieces of material filled with an insulating substance like wool, and then embroidered on the upward facing side in a variety of patterns. The most popular was a diamond pattern, seen on the glazed cotton cloak above. 

Satin and Linen Gown, c.1780-90, quilt made c. 1730 -59, V & A Museum
This gown from the V & A Museum's stores shows how quilts which originally served as bed covers were recycled and cut into dresses fit for winter wear. The museum puts the embroidery pattern as mid-eighteenth century, but the style of the gown to much later (1780s). 

Silk Waistcoat, c. 1745, V&A Museum
As well as gowns, separate pieces also received the quilting treatment. There are examples of pockets, petticoats, jackets, cloaks and waistcoats.

Silk and Linen Jacket, c. 1700-20, Platt Hall, Manchester Art Gallery
My favourite example is this beautiful, pristine looking jacket from the early 1700s; part of the collection at Platt Hall in Manchester. Made from silk lined with linen and trimmed with fur, it is quilted both inside and out. Nowadays, quilted jackets and coats are all over the High Street come winter time, keeping us protected against the elements. Modern outerwear often uses quilting technology; heat generated by the human body warms the pockets of air in the quilted fabric, thus keeping us warmer for longer. Light modern fibres have replaced more bulky, heavy insulation, but it's interesting to think how the idea has evolved over time, making its way from our beds to our bodies - a clever solution to the problem of keeping warm.

Images courtesy of Platt Hall, Manchester and the V & A Museum.


  1. I sometimes forget that, not so long ago, staying warm was a challenge. I think the quilted vests, petticoats and capes were an ingenious and beautiful solution to that. The example of the blue quilted jacket with fur trim looks so modern that I find it hard to believe it was made in the 1700's!!

  2. I was so surprised to see the date of the last vest. It reminds me more of the 40's or 50's! Oh, I see that Ingrid has said the same thing. In that case, it must be so!

  3. I know, I couldn't quite believe the date on that blue jacket either. It's amazing! Platt Hall have some beautiful examples, and if you're ever in Manchester at all, I can't recommend it enough. I used them a great deal for thesis research and they are so helpful there.

    I would also (not so secretly now :) ) love a hooded cloak, haha!