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  • Victorian Costumes: The fashion of the Victorian Period and into Edwardian Times

    The Victorian period spanned from 1837 to 1901, whilst the Edwardian Period was from 1901 to 1911. Over such a long time span it is inevitable that Victorian costume design would develop in some ways, although certainly not at the rate at which we are accustomed to in modern times.

    The most dramatic and far reaching change of the period was the introduction of machinery and a move from hand tailoring to factory production. At the start of the period clothes would have been largely made by hand, while by the beginning of the twentieth century they were being turned out by factories and sold in newly emerging department stores. This meant that clothes which had been previously prohibitively expensive now became more affordable. In adition technological developments made it possible to achieve costume styles and designs which had previously been the stuff of dream. Here are some of the techniques that evolved:

    The lockstitch sewing machine The lockstitch is the most widely used method of machine stitching and is the same method used in most sewing machines today. A design of sewing machine was invented by Walter Hunt in 1833, but it had faults and he did not really develop it enough to make it successful. Others modified the design and then Isaac Merritt Singer took up the challenge to improve the clumsy early machines. Trained as an engineer, the name of Singer has become synonymous with the sewing machine. His machine used a flying shuttle instead of a rotary one; the needle was mounted vertically and included a presser foot to hold the cloth in place. It had a fixed arm to hold the needle and included a basic tensioning system. He also devised a method of treadle power which was used on some machines. He was granted an American patent in 1851.

    Lacemaking machinery Various lacemaking machines were developed in the 19th century, which meant that trim could be made more easily and therefore with less expense. Previously various lace had been made with various techniques and largely produced at home as a cottage industry.

    Dyes Although the use of dyes goes back to early times, until the Victorian period, they had to be produced from animal, vegetable or mineral sources, with no or very little processing. By far the greatest source of dyes has been from the plant kingdom, notably roots, berries, bark, leaves and wood. In 1856 the first synthetic dye was produced by William Henry Perkin a British chemist born in the East end of London. The first, a purple aniline dye, was called mauveine. Other colours followed, and Perkin set about adapting for use in the clothing industry and raising funds to develop the necessary manufacturing capacity. Public demand developed dramatically when dyed garments were worn by Queen Victoria in England and by Empress Eugénie, wife of Napoleon III, in France, and was further extended by the introduction of the crinoline or hooped-skirt, whose manufacture used a large quantity of cloth. Synthetic dyes were inexpensive and were available in many bright colours, and so they paved the way for advances in fashion.