Early original furnishing textiles are rare. They were often recycled as tastes changed, or simply as they wore out. "Slip", "loose", or "protective" covers are examples of such textiles. Once upon a time they were a common item custom made for all types of furniture (not just upholstered seating furniture) often to protect the expensive fabric or surface that lay beneath. Leather coverings for tables were also made, as were covers for expensive carpets. Now, few of these coverings survive. A few museum collection's have them, with probably the fewest examples for easy chairs.
|The "bare-bones" of the chair. This chair has a slip seat, under which,|
at center, is indeed an opening for a chamber pot to be placed below.
Historic illustrations, as well as small domestic and formal paintings of the time, are hugely beneficial and very useful in recreating a slip cover to accurately reflect the time period that Boscobel wanted to interpret. Such examples of historic illustration are by Ella Emory and Mary Ellen Best, two women who created many illustrations of interiors in the late 1800's. The amount of detail found in their illustrations is remarkable, as is their amazing detail. These sources can assist with identifying fabric type and indications of fabric direction and trimming locations.
However, questions of construction still remained.
The solution was to find originals. With the help of the Boscobel curator, Judith Pavelock, two were located. One from the collection of Historic New England, which was quite well known, being illustrated in several publications on slipcovers (Its accession record can be found here), it specifically comes from the Sayward-Wheeler House in York Harbor, Maine.
The other is from Locust Lawn, an 1814 historic house outside of New Paltz, New York, that was shuttered in the 1880's, and so remained a time capsule of the early nineteen century.
|Chair from Locust Lawn.|
|The wing of the chair during the construction of the slip cover.|
Dimity refers to a cotton, woven on a harness loom into a patterned fabric. It was originally imported from India, but soon was woven in Britain and in the Americas. The term dimity covered a wide variety of weave patterns, from figured, bird's eye, to stripes. Strips were the most common being the easiest to weave. Dimity was both sturdy and serviceable, being attractive for finishing and clothing.
|Positioning the fabric around the arm and cone.|
Read what you can about these textiles. Slipcovers are a fascinating and often overlooked textile. Another great resource is "Furnishing Textiles" by P. Clabburn. Chapter eleven in particular is fully devoted to "case covers".
Gwen Spicer is a textile conservator in private practice. Spicer Art Conservation specializes in textile conservation, object conservation, and the conservation of works on paper. Gwen's innovative treatment and mounting of flags and textiles is unrivaled. To contact her, please visit her website.