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Lady Violette

The Romantic Lifestyle

Selecting a Manton de Manila & Various Uses

February 10th, 2024 by violette

There are several things to consider, for example, are you looking for a beautiful authentic antique Manton de Manila, an antique to admire and enjoy in your home and wear as a fashion piece, and , eventually turn into a family heirloom?  Or, are you looking for a a manton to take to dance class because you have begun to study flamenco dancing? Or, are you a professional dancer looking for an exquisite manton to use in your performance art? Or, are you an advanced or professional dancer looking for a really good practice manton to use in daily dance class and rehearsals? Or, perhaps you really admire these shawls as works of art and are becoming a serious collector of antique shawls? Or, perhaps you are not a dancer, but want one for interior decor. All of these are very legitimate reasons to consider acquiring a beautiful colorful true antique Manton de Manila.

Possibly several of these catagories apply to you and you will need several shawls to accommodate your various needs. I fall into this category! So, we have the following categories of shawls to consider: 

1) Special Antique Mantons – old mantons with provenance and history such as my two San Francisco Gold Rush Mantons and my Wisteria Manton shown in recent previous posts.

2) Antique/ Vintage heavily embroidered sturdy showy mantons to be used for fashion, interior decor purposes and occasionally performance only – but not as dance practice shawls. 

3) Class and rehearsal practice mantons – usually without embroidery and sometimes made of printed silk fabric – these will be heavily used by dancers on an almost daily basis.

4) Fashion Shawls – for wearing as wraps and as accessories with clothes, not for use in dancing. This category includes embroidered mantons both old and newly produced, printed fabric shawls, Russian shawls, various other types of fabric shawls, lace shawls, knitted and crocheted shawls, cashmere shawls, various ethnic shawls, etc. There is a lot of variety in this category. 

When you are looking for a Manton de Manila there are a few things you should know. There are different qualities of embroidered shawls. For people who do not have first hand experience they may not, at first, be able to tell the differences of what they are looking at especially in tiny pictures online. It helps to look at a lot of shawls. If you possibly can, I also recommend looking at some examples of the real thing in museums in person. 

I also recommend looking at examples online. I am showing lots of examples of high quality antique Mantons de Manila from the Canton embroidery workshops on my blog. I am making an effort to show photographs or the entire shawl laid out flat, as well as details of color, embroidery, stitching, fringe, macrame lattice work, etc. I will also attempt to show some of the other alternatives available for informational purposes. As I am demonstrating with the two examples of rayon shawls below.

As a result of their popularity in mid 1800s Europe less expensive versions of embroidered shawls were made in smaller sizes on lesser quality silk or on rayon – also known at that time as artificial silk. The development of the sewing machine during the industrial revolution led to the development of several embroidery machines. Then came shawls with machine done embroidery and less elaborate rayon fringe. These began coming out by the thousands to meet the demands of the masses. They were initially produced in Switzerland where they had the best embroidery machines. They were sold in mid level shops all over Europe. They were colorful and very affordable. I often see such shawls listed for sale as hand embroidered silk piano shawls and priced as real hand embroidered silk Mantons de Manila, but they are not at all, even remotely, the same thing as the high quality heavy silk hand embroidered shawls from Canton! They are lower quality mass produced imitations made for the mass market. Of course, as such, when they were made they were less expensive. They should continue to be less expensive. Unfortunately I have actually seen many such shawls marketed by vintage and antique dealers who should know the difference between the real deal – the authentic real hand made in Canton, China, Manton de Manila, and the machine made imitations made for the mass market. Here I will try to sort this out for those who are seriously interested in learning how to tell the difference and how to identify the real thing.

The red shawl with repeating pink flowers shown below is an example of one of the machine embroidered rayon shawls made by machine for the European masses in the 1920s. Notice how the embroidered flowers are exactly the same just repeated over and over in rows, notice how shiny the rayon thread used for the machine embroidery is. Notice the machine finished edging and the simplistic rayon fringe applied along the edge with no macrame lattice. If you were able to see and feel the red fabric in person you would also see that is has a slippery finish and is very thin in comparison to the heavy silk used in the high quality shawls made in Canton. This red rayon shawl is also considerably lighter in weight and smaller than the real Mantons de Manila. I am not saying that this red rayon embroidered shawl is completely unattractive and and useless. I am just saying that is is not a high quality hand embroidered silk Manton de Manila. It is a machine made shawl of a different material and these were mass produced so that women who wanted the look of an embroidered shawl and could not afford an expensive hand made one could have something inspired by the real thing. It can be styled to look pretty and serves a purpose of its own. It is lightweight and feels flimsy in comparison the to the silk shawls. It lacks the substance of the silk shawls from Canton and is not heavy enough or large enough to be used for flamenco dancing.

The black shawl above is another example of a 1920’s rayon machine made and machine embroidered shawl from the same era. Note the same type machine done edging and fringe applied around the edge in the same manner of the red one shown above. The fabric is the same type of thin rayon also known as artificial silk when it was produced. The embroidery design is again done in four repeating blocks in the same shiny rayon thread. The fringe on this example got caught on something and tore off taking a sizable hunk of the rayon fabric with it. These shawls were a lot more fragile than the silk ones! This one has a large tear in it so it can no longer be used as a shawl. I will eventually do something creative with the fabric however. You sometimes see pillows made of the good parts of this fabric for this exact reason – the original shawl was damaged.

Compare the two rayon economy version shawls above to this rich turquoise hand embroidered true Manton de Manila from the specialty embroidery workshops in Canton made during the same time period 1910 – 1920. Note the heavy high quality silk fabric, the fine silk embroidery thread used in the ornate hand done embroidery, the refined job of finishing along the edges and the elaborate hand done macrame lattice that provides strong support to the heavy silk fringe. Note the density of the silk fringe and the overall beauty of the complex hand done embroidery design. Note the subtle sheen of the silk embroidery thread, the bouquet of colors used to produce the elaborate floral design and the general over all superior quality of the entire shawl. You can see the difference can’t you? The Turquoise Manton de Manila is also much larger and heavier than the rayon ones. It is also much stronger. And the color is incredible!

Recently small cheap synthetic fabric shawls have shown up on Amazon marketed as Mantons de Manila, Spanish Flamenco Shawls and Piano Shawls. These are terrible inferior products – nothing like the real thing, So buyer beware. Also, very cheap, inferior quality “Spanish Shawls” made in China of polyester with awful looking machine done embroidery and synthetic fringe have shown up on sites such as Amazon and Ebay. These are blatantly awful and after looking at a few examples you should easily know what to avoid!  These are made of low quality synthetic fibers, even recycled plastic bottles. They sell for $48 – $60 before tax and shipping. They are throw away fashion.

Originally the most beautiful silk shawls featuring the most exquisite embroidery on the highest quality silk fabric were made in Canton, China and now, ironically, the lowest quality ugliest shawls claiming to be the same thing are being produced in and exported from China. How sad! 

During the Industrial Revolution machinery was developed that could rapidly embroider a square piece of fabric in a repeating design. They produced rayon shawls like the black and red ones I have shown above, usually one square yard in size covered with a repeating design of machine embroidered flowers. Pink roses were a popular motif. This machine embroidery was relatively neat and tidy on one side – the top, right side – if you did not look at it too closely, but a mass of crossed threads and knots on the under side – the wrong side. You had to wear or display one of these machine done shawls carefully folded to show only the good side. The thread used was rayon and was very shiny. The nuances of color in high quality silk embroidery thread were absent – an expert in embroidery can tell the difference between hand and machine done embroidery work in a split second. And she or he can also tell the difference between silk and rayon or other synthetic fabric quickly. Thus it is important to learn to recognize these differences when you are shopping for a real antique, embroidered in Canton, Manton de Manila.. When you understand the differences between the real thing and an imitation you will only be satisfied with the real thing. 

However, some of the smaller, lighter weight, lesser quality hand and machine embroidered shawls are attractive in their own way and have their own specialty uses – being worn as colorful scarves around ones neck for example. Or as lightweight lingerie shawls or scarves that can be worn draped over the shoulders with a negligee – They should be classified as a completely different garment or accessory,  not compared to or substituted for a Manton de Manila or a Spanish or Flamenco Shawl or a Piano Shawl.                                                                                                                                

The machine embroidered rayon shawls are their own thing and should be marketed as such, not called a Manton de Manila or an embroidered silk piano shawl. The real antique Mantons de Manila are large and can be heavy and hard to handle until you learn how to work with them. They are not right for every situation in which you might want to wear a shawl or scarf. In many fashion related contexts a smaller scarf or shawl is necessary – a big Manton de Manila would be unwieldy and awkward. The thing I object to is sellers mis-identifying the rayon machine done shawls as silk hand embroidered Mantons de Manila and hand embroidered silk piano shawls. I do not like when sellers do not understand what they are selling and when they claim something is rarer and more valuable than it is. To me this is dishonest.

It is really unfortunate when they claim it to be something really special like a totally hand done antique silk made in Canton Manton de Manila and price it as such when it is actually a machine made rayon shawl. Yes, the rayon shawl is legitimately vintage and a shawl but it is not the same type of product or workmanship and should be priced accordingly. Later on in this treatise on shawls I will go into valuation and pricing.

Coming Next: What are the various different types of Mantons available? Which best suits each situation? And where can you find them?

Rare and beautiful historic clothing and accessories are for sale in my online shops. If you see something on this blog that you are interested in buying, but do not find it for sale in my shops message me on Etsy or Ebay and I will get back to you about availability. I check messages daily and can always prepare a special listing for you if you do not find it already listed in the shops.

Ebay: ladyviolettedecourcy

Etsy: LadyVioletteBoutiqe

Poshmark: cocoviolette 

Fashion Conservator: Lady Violette Boutique


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