Quilted Waistcoat Thoughts, 20 Years On

This article on the quilted waistcoat was the very first thing I ever wrote for the internet, it was at the request of Sally Queen, for her website, in 2000.

Please read the original article here!

In light of 20 years of further research, there isn't much I would change, but there are some things I'd like to add.

First of all, it is no longer clear to me that women wore these items all through the 18th century. The surviving examples of quilted waistcoats for women all point to a date range of maybe 1700-1750, roughly. Upon reflection I believe that the bulkiness of a quilted undergarment may have been compatible with the looser women's gowns of the earlier 18th century but became increasingly less compatible as fashions changed and gowns became more form fitted in bodice and sleeves. So this might not be a thing you can wear under fashionable dresses of the AWI period, though it might still come in handy under bedgowns or wrappers.

1759 Greuze, Jean-Baptiste, Simplicity

1765-80 Greuze, A Girl, National Trust

1771 Greuze, Jean-Baptiste, The Broken Pitcher

In the past 20 years, the proliferation of museums with digital catalogs means that finding images of extant examples of these garments has become incredibly easy. Here are just a few; your favorite search engine can yield you many more.

Philadelphia Art Museum 1996-107-2

Dewitt Wallace, Museum Colonial Williamsburg Foundtion 1991-509

Nordska Museet NM-0086478

MET Museum C.I. 39.13.43 probably late 18c

This proliferation of specimens allows us to see more clearly that there are blurry lines and significant semantic ambiguities among similar objects variously identified as waistcoat, corset blanc, and jumps, as well as some further confusion introduced by the possible misidentification of ethnic folk bodices. If one of these garments contains any boning at all, it seems to be the inclination of scholars to call such a garment "jumps". However I think a clear definition of what constitutes "jumps" and how much or how little boning need be present to justify that label, still eludes us.

Victoria and Albert Museum 494.1902

Victoria and Albert Museum T.87-1978

Victoria and Albert Museum 339-1878

I also have some further thoughts on making one of these. For one thing, there other options for the quilting; you can use a different design than the one given, or you could quilt it in parallel rows to form lozenges or diamond shapes. For those who are in a hurry and/or care less about strictest historical accuracy, you can just use a prequilted fabric. If the pattern from the Atwater Kent collection isn't your size and you lack the skills for pattern grading, you might consider simply buying the Mill Farm Juste a Corps pattern in your size and using that to make a quilted waistcoat to fit you. I do encourage everyone who quilts their own to heed the wisdom inherent in the original garment; quilting tends to make a thing smaller, so draw out your pattern pieces with lots of extra seam allowances, quilt them, and then check against the pattern pieces again to make sure you get the correct size.

© Sharon Ann Burnston 2019


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