1 – Welcome to #ThreadTalk: I Can See Sheerly Now.
Yes, sheer fabrics: Organdy! Voile! Tulle! Aerophane! Somehow symbolizing both the virginal & the most scandalous.
Prepare for layer cake 🎂gowns & kimonos 👘galore.
(below: Tulle & taffeta ball gown, 1858, via Boston MFA.)
2 – The allure of sheer fabrics is ancient. Veils have long been signs of chastity, mystery & wealth. And making sheer fabric isn’t easy.
Gauze (likely named for Gaza, where it was made) is a loose open weave (bottom R), which gives it that airy quality.
3 – Muslin is also in the sheer family & that’s already been addressed at length, so we’re going to focus on some of the other sheers in the family.
But first: Salome. Perhaps the most famed sheer fabric wearer & dancer of all. Here in a 15th C rendition.
4 – Sheer fabrics are basically netting, but on a micro level (more on construction later). Until modern techniques, this was done on a hand loom & required a tremendous amount of labor.
The high-end stuff was mind-numbingly expensive. Early gauze was made with silk, too.
5 – Chirimen is my personal favorite, and it’s a raw silk gauze made in Japan for summer weight kimonos. (h/t to @IsVittra for the links)
“Ro” and “sha” are the fabrics, and using different adjustments can make drop-dead gorgeous sheer patterns. (Images via Yasuda textiles)
6 – The kimonos you find as a result are absolutely diaphanous. This one (2nd half 18thC) contains a poem:
Celebrating old age, turtles
live for ten thousand years,
and the offspring of cranes
for a thousand years—
flourishing in their long lives.
7 – This purple silk gauze kimono is from the same period as above, but it makes use of a far more simple design–using the pattern within the weave, along with metallic thread. Gold on purple remains one of my absolute most-adored combinations.
8 – Before we leave Japan, this is from Artist Kitagawa Utamaro I (Japanese, early 1750s–1806) ca 1795–96 – “Woman Holding a Piece of Gauze Before Her Face”. This is precisely what I would do. I love how the artist captured the pattern and translucency.
9 – So let’s talk tulle. It’s netting that began in silk, and we now know it most commonly in bridal veils and puffs. It’s named after Tulle, France. Originally found in embellishments, it made its way to the big time in the crinoline age (we’ll get there). 1815, below, French.
10 – Tulle, as in this purple people eater of a dress, coupled with Chantilly lace and moiré faille, can add softness when used as an accent. It’s rather festooned, I say, with bows, and whew. A LOT going on. 😮😮😮1860s, but of course, because… I mean. Look at it.
11 – This 1880s gown is a perfect crossroads because it uses piña cloth (our next sheer) which is made of pineapple leaf fiber and is from the Philippines. It’s got tulle ruching on it, but the piña is also combined with silk netting for a truly gorgeous ensemble.
12 – Of course, it became a colonialist trend, but piña, aka “pineapple silk” is a cultural heritage. This Early 19th C shirt is called a barong tagalog. You can see the subtle design between and through the stripes. Truly stunning.
13 – If you, like me, fell in love with piña, you can learn much more about it, and the maintaining of this heritage art, with this video:
14 – One of my fave finds is aerophane. Typically seen in embellishments, it’s a crisp silk gauze that works great in 3D & shows up particularly in the early 19th century onward. This dress is ALL up IN the aerophane. And I love it. 1827, from LACMA. Also the color is 💯.
15 – I will say, it’s hard to tell from pictures, which sheer is which. There’s a chance the flowers on here are aerophane. But the description just says “silk, cotton.” So it’s anyone’s guess.
Either way, yes please, I will wear this gladly. This dates from 1855, & is American.
16 – Voile is another sheer fabric you may see (from the French for veil). It is semi-transparent & is often made of cotton, but sometimes silk. Lightweight, it bears similarities to both chiffon & muslin. This 1868 example is silk voile–so light and airy! MAAS Museum.
17 – And let’s not forget crepe fabrics and mourning. It was A BIG THING. This is a silk and cotton blend sheer crepe (I think?) judging by the crimping, and knowing how popular crepe was for mourning. 10/10 would totally wear this today. (Nandor approves.)
18 – This mourning hat is barely translucent, but just manages to let in a little light. It dates from 1918, though, so pretty late on the public mourning spectrum. Still pretty impressive, though. I love the puckered patterning here. From the Boston MFA.
19 – Then on the other side of things we have organdy. It’s another cotton or silk fabric, often stiffened, and we see it in bridal wear today still. This dress was altered by the original owner, and was once a bridesmaid’s gown. I think it’s absolutely stunning. 1872.
20 – Keep in mind I’ve mostly shown you large pieces, but just like with our lace #threadtalk, average people had small bits of sheer to wear as collars, cuffs, hats, that sort of thing.
Or, for little humans. Like this organdy dress from France in 1959.
21 – This is by NO MEANS exhaustive. The list of sheers is long. So let’s gaze at some more gowns.
First: more piña. 1855, super flammable crinoline. Love that purple, though. Still colonizer bullshit. That’s a LOT of yardage. No details from the Met on this one.
22 – Whitework muslin for this Regency nerd. I pretty much love everything about this gown, and especially the bottom. I could never be trusted within a 10 mile radius of it, of course, because I would absolutely stain it somehow. But it really is absolutely charming. V&A, ofc.
23 – We couldn’t talk chiffon without mentioning the Edwardians. And this had me at “green chiffon over pink satin” because yes PLEASE. This is just a delight, and I love the additional draped chiffon down the length of the skirt. Boston MFA, 1918.
25 – This Doucet ball gown from 1910 uses chiffon and crochet to create a doily of a design. All those layers are rather yummy, I think, & it almost looks comfy.
Also looks like it would taste like vanilla ice cream.
Also a good time to remind you never to lick the costumes.
26 – Yo, the 1850s never let me down. I think this might even be paisley? But there’s sheer fabric! And layers! Plus ribbons! And my eyeballs are floating in my head now! I think I have entered another dimension.
27 – And this… is a thing… that happened. In the 1860s. On purpose.
Wondering if this is more piña cloth? It looks very similar, but the Met has no details. Just [no medium available] which makes me very grumpy. More hidden paisleys in the ribbons, too…
28 – And of course the 1820s have their own jam. Via @Fashion_Museum: “…1829 gauze & satin evening dress with its giant puffed ‘gigot’ sleeves.”
I’m personally rather obsessed with those sleeves. I think I’d feel like a dragonfly in them. Just need a cool hat to go with. 🐛
29 – And that’s a wrap, ha ha. Just the beginning, really!
30 – Second sources:
31 – Also:
A few notes:
– Gauze/Gaza is contested (I left the “may” out of my tweet”
– I fudged some of my terminology on Japanese silks, check the comments for clarity
One more: 1850-56. Netherlands. Rijksmuseum
32 – Thanks for joining me for another #threadtalk! May your own threads be as precisely transparent as you would like them to be…