Dresses of the 1830s introduced the infamous ‘gigot’ sleeve, one of the widest in the history of women’s fashion. Combined with billowing cartridge-pleated skirts, these dresses became a delightful expanded canvas to display the vibrant fabrics of the period. Everyday printed cotton day dresses predominantly featured textiles sprinkled with vivid bouquets or stripes with tiny garlands of flowers.
It is difficult to envision the multicolored textiles featured in period fashion prints without viewing an original period garment; but now you can explore an extensive selection of authentic 1830s fabric swatches highlighting the charming prints so often employed in the making of these dresses.
Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum has an Electronic Swatchbook containing bright, unfaded swatches of fabrics for both home décor and fashion, ranging from the 1830s to the 1920s. These period swatchbooks were made and used for a variety of purposes. Fabric manufacturers and merchants assembled large swatchbooks to record and promote the latest textile designs to markets at home and abroad. The books were also prepared by pattern services that collected and sold fabric designs by various manufacturers.
Today, over two thousand public domain patterns are available to use and re-use, including more than 900 from the 1830s, 300 from 1849, 40 from 1887, 300 from the 1890s, and 300 from the 1920s. Within the interior design and fashion textile industry, these fabric swatches are treasured as a source of instruction and of inspiration. Hours of visual exploration await the costume and textile collector as they search this incredible collection by color or by year.
Visit the Powerhouse Museum Electronic Swatchbook. [Images of fabric samples are from the Powerhouse Museum]