Such voluminous gowns, supported by a frame made of metal, cane or whalebone, accentuated the small waist of the wearer and underlined their wealth and status.
Only the richest members of society could afford to purchase such a large quantity of costly material for a single garment.
A good example was offered by Gloucestershire auction house Dominic Winter (20% buyer’s premium) on July 21.
Correctly titled a robe à la Française (the name pannier comes from the French term for the cane baskets slung on either side of a pack animal), it was made of a gold metallised gauze that had been hand-embroidered with large and small floral sprays.
The skirt measured around 5ft (1.52m) wide. As one might expect from a garment made c.1750, it was worn and frayed in places and had received a number of darns and repairs. However, it was sufficiently rare to surpass the £500-800 estimate to sell online at £3600.
Dominic Winter in South Cerney is one of the few auction houses in the UK with a recognised textiles specialist.
Susanna Winters oversees a broad range of textiles included in sales several times a year.
Sold online at £1700 was an 18th century embroidered cream silk bedcover with a full provenance.
Worked in polychrome threads with a display of fruits, insects and flower garlands the monogram to the centre is that of Elisabeth Clara Morier (1760-1834). She was the daughter of the Dutch banker and merchant David George van Lennep (1712-97), whose family portrait (including Elizabeth as a young girl dressed in Turkish fabric) is held by the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.
As recorded to a late 19th century paper label stitched to a corner verso, the cover was sewn by Elizabeth’s mother Anna Maria van Lennep née Leidstar (1737-1802) and given to her in February 1778 when she married Isaac Morier (1750-1817), a member of the British consulate in Constantinople.
Since that day the 5ft (1.5m) square quilt had descended through the generations of one family.
It came for sale for the first time with a guide of £500-800.
Among the more enigmatic lots in the auction was a 13in (33cm) square needlework sampler inscribed for Mary Grae, Ag[e]d 12, The Ye[a]r of God 1791.
Its most engaging feature was a pair of black female figures, each wearing a long dress, apron and white cap.
Samplers depicting people of colour are extremely rare and the figures here quite different from the kneeling slaves of abolitionist needleworks. Unable to find a comparable, Winters speculated it “was executed by an African American schoolgirl, rather than a white American or English girl” and proposed a possible context.
“In the state of Philadelphia, the vanguard of the movement to abolish slavery, there were several so-called ‘negro schools’ established by the 1790s that taught sewing, knitting, and embroidery.” Was this a very rare survivor? Estimated at £1000-1500, it took £2400.
A striking beadwork pelmet, designed and made by London couture house Reville & Rossiter, sold at £1100 (estimate £200-300).
Measuring 6ft 1in (1.85m), it had a printed and manuscript label to the linen backing for the court dressmakers who provided Queen Mary’s heavily beaded coronation robe in 1911.
A much earlier silk pelmet made in Italy c.1700 sold at the low estimate of £1000. Measuring 8ft 4in (2.25m) it was embroidered across its scallopedge with gold and silver metal threads forming a framework of arabesques and urns of flowers.
Of a similar period were a pair of English crewelwork panels worked in polychrome wools with flowers, fruit, and exotic birds.
Measuring just under 3 x 4ft (90cm x 1.2m) each, these had been cut down from a larger piece but in their favour were colours that remained remarkably bright.
The pair led the sale, bringing £5000 (estimate £400-600).