Garsault: The Art of the Lingère - Introduction

François Alexandre Pierre de Garsault (1691-1778) was a sort of Renaissance man of the eighteenth century, interested in art, natural science, and technology. In the 1760s and 1770s, he published a number of books explaining the occupations of a number of different types of artisans, including those in trades related to sewing. Of these, I believe only The Art of the Shoemaker has been translated (and annotated), and I decided to do my own translations of the others, and maybe seek publication or self-publish them.

Fast-forward several years, and Regency Women's Dress has gone out of print (at least in the US). There simply isn't the level of interest in primary sources to justify all the bother of printing these translations! But there's no good reason to let them continue to languish on my hard drive, either. So, I will be gradually releasing them here, free of charge - as they represent rather older work, I'm not even making paid posts on Patreon for them.

With many thanks to Hélène Thomas for help in editing, once upon a time.

THE ART OF THE LINGERE

By M. de Garsault

Foreword, by the Translator

The eighteenth century occupies an interesting niche, in that it's close enough to the present day that a substantial amount of extant clothing and related text exists, yet at the same time it's early enough that there is still much to be uncovered about its trends and techniques. The popularity of the time period (often due to its political-historical associations) has led to a lot of information propagated which is based on modern ideas about the past or modern sewing techniques, which means that people studying the period have to sift through this and use their own judgment based off of surviving evidence to get to the truth, although great strides have been made in the past decade or two.

Linge (from which we get the word "lingerie", but meaning at the time prosaic linen undergarments, baby accoutrements, sheets, aprons, cleaning cloths, and the like) was the most basic part of life. Shirts and shifts were all cut in similar shapes and with similar proportions regardless of class level. Apart from the linen for the Catholic Church given at the end of the book, just about everything described by Garsault would be used by ordinary people in their lifetimes. To understand eighteenth century clothing, one must begin with the body linen.

To be more practical, this book is invaluable to the reenactor, interpreter, or living historian, as it gives explicit instructions in making these garments, often with scaled or approximate patterns. The stitches used are named and explained, and the order in which pieces are put together is stated. M. de Garsault's intention in writing the book may have just been to document the artisans of his time, but it can now be used both as a manual and as a look into everyday material culture and an industry dominated by women.

It was difficult to balance my desires to make the text immediately comprehensible and to introduce some specialized French terms so that readers can derive more meaning from their original orthography, and perhaps recognize them in other contexts. In the end, I decided that the only terms that would go untranslated would be those that have no direct translation, or where translating would take more words. These are mostly confined to the specific pieces of clothing no longer in use, occupations that no longer exist, and the term "Linge", referring to the variety of linen products made by lingères.

INTRODUCTION

Lingères are a guild of the most necessary people, given that they not only have the right to sell all types of Linge, linen fabric, hemp, cotton, and lace, but also to cut, sew, and finish all linen garments, which are used both for necessity and for propriety, and even for luxury. Linen covers man from the instance of his birth, during his life and even after; it covers tables, beds, altars, etc.

It cannot be doubted that the guild is very ancient and that it was confirmed by several of our kings in succession; but as only the most recent statutes have been found in their office, it will suffice to say that these statutes use the titles of Mistresses Toilières, Lingères, Canevassieres;* that they date back to May 3, 1645, in the reign of Louis XIV; and that they include, other than the guild laws, what was just generally described above.

*Respectively, women who sell linen cloth, women who sell body linen, and women who sell coarser linen, possibly for embroidery

As it is impossible that Mistress Lingères could work all the Linge that they need alone, and gather the quantity of workers that would be necessary to maintain the public supply in their workshops, they have a number of women that they authorize to work, called linen-workers: but these women cannot supply or sell for themselves without risking seizure by the guild of lingères.

The author's knowledge of this art is owed entirely to Mademoiselle Merlu, former first shop-girl of Mme du Lége (one of the most celebrated lingères of Paris) and at present Mistress Lingère in the Rue Taranne. The zeal which that young woman took with regard to the public interest merits her being known and for her name to appear at the head of this work.

The body of this work is split into four large parts, besides the chapters which divide them, which give all the products made by of lingères. They are titled: First, Second, Third, and Fourth Part of the Works of the Lingère.

The first ends with the description of the pieces of a trousseau in Chapter Four. Two chapters are found between the first and second parts, the fifth and sixth: the fifth includes the terms of the art, used in manufacture, and their explanations, while the sixth treats on the stitches for seaming, for marking, etc.

The second large part, Chapter Seven, is the description of the pieces of a layette.

The third is the descriptions of several pieces of lingerie which are in neither the trousseau nor the layette, Chapter Eight.

The fourth is the description of church linen, Chapter Nine.

I believe that there is hardly a type of linge in use which has escaped our research, except for the differences in coiffures and the variations of fashion, which change among women from day to day; still, the basics are found in the coiffures and caps described in this tract.

With regard to sewing, some women use one method while others use a different one, so what is said here when detailing diverse works cannot be taken as an absolute principle.

Next: Chapter I: Measuring

Comments

  1. I am so sorry that Regency Women's Dresses is out of print!! I ADORE my copy. It is truly a wonderful labor of love on your part, and an invaluable guide for the day when I will be asked to costume a late 1700s or early 1800s show! I look forward to reading your translation.
    Many thanks for all your posts,
    Nancy

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    1. Thank you! To be fair, I did a little more looking and I think it's just the American printer that has orders not to do any more - there are only a few left in stock on Amazon.co.uk, but the site says there should be more soon. So that's good!

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