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As mentioned in my post about materials on offer at Woolcrest, I have been thinking more about the colours available to women in the 1890s. The film footage shows pale colours, and the images of Paris fashions, which would have led popular taste, are often in brighter, more pastel hues.

In order to make my own contribution after our bloomer making workshop with MA Fashion students here in the Goldsmiths Design department, I decided to take on the challenge myself – researching the materials available, and then embarking on making my own pair of bloomers. I am keen to make the full bloomers which would have been worn alone – sans skirt.


Dye History from 2600 BC to the 20th Century, by Susan C. Druding- Originally written for a Seminar presented in Seattle, Washington at Convergence 1982, a bi-annual gathering of weavers, dyers and spinners


William Henry Perkin with a sample of Mauve dyed fabric


I am interested in investigating Mauveine (1856). Mauve was talked about in relation to new forms of cycle wear, which reflects the innovations happening in Victorian aniline dyes (also responsible for indigo, whose history, on a tangent includes the way women adopted ‘mens’ blue jeans socially and as they moved into the workplace) such as the first synthetic dye. William Henry Perkin’s patented Mauveine (invented 1856 and manufactured in london from 1857) closely followed by Fuchsin pink (1958-9) and  a range of reds, violets and greens.



Queen Victoria depicted in Mauve






The 1890s was known as The Mauve Decade, or the Gay Nineties as characterised by its social prosperity. Analine Purple when first dyed was extremely bright and visible-  a happy colour and the perfect signifier for both radical and artisically inclined dressers who wanted to be noticed but also socially mobile and upper class women, not least because of Queen Victoria’s regular appearances – to The Great Exhibition for example – in Mauve. We are interested in exploring some strong colours for our collection – though analine mauveine dulls with age, any samples we’ll see won’t reflect its true bright colour when first produced.


The Reproduction and printing press.

Another reason why using a colour found on the Penny Lilac Stamp is so interesting to me is the idea of mass production. The parallel life of mauveine as a fabric dye and as a new technology for print reproduction proceeding the press also renders it as a kind of proto xerox, so after a few days helping produce a batch of identical bloomers in workshops, mauve as a signifier of re-production seems the most perfect material to be working with now, in reference to the process.



…in the making…



This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. I am working on a Bygrave inspired suit for an upcoming antique cycling event. I’ve been searching for mauve fabric appropriate for cycling as it just seems like something Alice would’ve done. Your book leads me to believe that she was excellent at marketing herself and her design, so it seems reasonable to guess that she would’ve done it in the latest color. Do you have any source you could share? I will check the Tweed shop you’ve mentioned.
    Thank you so much for your research. I cannot wait to reference your work in hopes that many other members of our club will enjoy your book as much as I am!

    1. Hi Cathy, it is really great to hear from you – that you enjoyed the book and that you are making a Bygrave skirt! Yes – I think Alice embraced all kinds of new technologies and materials. And, I agree that the design looks great in a mauve. I chose a striped wool to really exaggerate the gathering or what Alice called the ‘festooning’ effect of the skirt’s pulley-system. Re: references for colour – I’m afraid I only found black and white photos of the garment as worn by Alice and her sister-in-law, so I did related research about what colours were fashionable at the time (and other kinds of garments Jaegar were selling, as they were the main distributor of the “Bygrave Quick-Change Cycling Skirt”.) Dashing Tweeds is an excellent source of beautiful tweed. They sell end-of-roll for half price on saturdays, if you can get to their central London shop. Also Woolcrest Textiles, out in east London, is also a great good spot for a huge range of cheaper wools. I’m looking forward to seeing what you make – please send me a photo!

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