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Lady Violette

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Posts Tagged ‘History’

Two Antique Manton de Manila Embroidered Silk Shawls From The San Francisco Gold Rush – 1850

Sunday, January 28th, 2024

Part One in a Series on Antique Mantons de Manila, Antique Embroidered Shawls from Canton, Antique Embroidered Silk Piano Shawls, Embroidered Spanish Shawls and Spanish Flamenco Shawls ……..


During the Gold Rush, San Francisco was a frontier boomtown, a slice of the Wild West that was rapidly civilizing with the influx of money from the mining activities. In the early 1850s, two sisters attended the traveling opera in San Francisco, in a makeshift music hall with wooden chairs for seats. They wore their status on their persons, in the form of two dramatic, embroidered silk shawls, imported all the way from the exotic Far East by rickshaw, rail and sail. As they made their way up the steps, the shawls flowed around them, adding a sense of glamor and drama to the evening before the opera even began.

These women wore Cantonese, via Manila, Mantons – exotic heavy silk shawls hand embroidered in Canton for the export market, originally produced for well to do fashionable women in the Americas.  These two shawls were acquired by a ship captain in Canton and brought by ship to Manila, the capitol of the Spanish Colony in the Philippines. Then they traveled on the Manila Galleons from the Philippines to San Francisco where they were purchased by a gentleman gold miner who had struck it rich from the sea captain in 1850 during the heart the San Francisco Gold Rush (1848 – 1855.) It was socially and economically important for this businessman to exhibit his success by dressing the women in his family in the most expensive and fashionable attire of the times. In those days the opera was the place to see and be seen as well as the place all manner of social and business transactions were conducted. It was the perfect venue in which to exhibit these exquisite and expensive shawls and show off his beautiful wife and sister…

Provenance: His niece wrote, 

“This Spanish Shawl was bought in California ($150) in the years of the Gold Rush  – 1849 by my father’s Uncle, Nathanial S. Harold, for his sister my grandmother, Margaret Case, who gave it to me about February 1881. My uncle bought these two shawls from the captain of a ship that came from a far country for his wife and my mother and these two ladies wore them to the Opera in San Francisco.” Estylle M. Davis.

 Incidentally $150 in the years of the San Francisco Gold Rush (1850) is equal to $6,090.24 today! (January 28, 2024.) These shawls are now 176 years old!

The black and white shawl covered with camellias is one of those two shawls worn to the opera so long ago. It is wonderful and unusual that I know the provenance of this beautiful shawl. I acquired it 45 years ago from an antique dealer friend of mine who purchased it directly from the elderly niece of the original owners described above. I have both shawls from this transaction. The niece wrote the above statement on a card that accompanies the shawls in her own handwriting. I expressed interest in meeting Estylle M. Davis herself and my friend was able to arrange it! We visited her in her family home on Clay Street in San Francisco and she was so kind and lovely! She was happy that the person who acquired her shawls appreciated them and her family history. She showed us photos of her family from the Gold Rush days up to the present period which was 1986. She was in her late 90s when we met! I later learned that she passed away at the age of 103! She explained that the shawls were left to her by her female relatives when she was very very young – too young and small to wear them. She was the only female relative in the family to leave them to and they wanted to be sure that she would have them, as part of her history when she grew up.

Her motivation in selling her shawls was that she wanted to find them a home in which they would be treasured and cared for. She only had sons and they were not at all interested in the shawls. My antique dealer friend assured her that they would only be sold to an appropriate person. She was actually delighted to meet me and fortunately I was approved and passed inspection! Here is the note Estelle wrote:

Ideally, Estelle Davis wanted these two shawls to remain together as they had been purchased by Nathaniel Hawthorne from the sea captain and worn by his wife and sister, Estelle’s grandmother, Margaret Case. I promised to do so and so far have managed to keep them together……

The second shawl is ivory silk covered in a profusion of brightly colored birds, butterflies and exotic flowers skillfully hand embroidered in silk thread. A large peacock with its tail spread open occupies the center of this shawl, while colorful pheasants, flamingos and other exotic birds fill out the four corners. It is finished with a heavy white silk macrame lattice and long ivory fringe. I call this one The Birds of Paradise Manton. Manton is, simply, the word for shawl in Spanish.

These exquisite shawls were among the most treasured possessions of these two early San Fransisco women and were passed down to the niece who kept them carefully until she was an elderly woman in her 90’s, wearing them only on special holidays. These shawls were beautifully made and properly cared for and, as antiques, will continue to increase in value. They are both in excellent condition for their age – clean and free of damage. The embroidery is perfect. The hand macrame lattice is exceptionally elaborate and heavy and the silk fringe is dense and long. 

The embroidery on the Birds of Paradise shawl is unique in its imagery and imagination especially in the realistic depiction of birds from pheasants, to flamingos and peacocks – other atypical details include fanciful flowers and vines and plant pods insects and butterflies. Much of the embroidery is executed in satin stitch but the tails and wings of the peacocks and other birds are done in a fine herringbone stitch that imitates the texture of feathers. I do think some of the birds were fantastical combinations of different birds made by the designer embroiderer and I love this about it! The one below, in my opinion, is a kind of flamingo/ peacock combination!

When I discovered and acquired these two San Francisco Gold Rush Shawls I fell in love with them. I was fascinated by the highly skilled embroidery and the incredible designs as well as the history surrounding them. I began to investigate Manton’s de Manila and visit them in museums and textile collections whenever I could. And I began to assemble my own collection. I have now been collecting Manton’s de Manila for 45 years. In the process I have learned a lot about them and the women who originally owned and wore them. I have learned how these shawls were made and the history of the silk and fine embroidery trade between China, the Americas and Europe. I love learning the background history of the shawls as well as their beauty and especially value knowing about the women who originally owned them.

In future posts I will discuss the interesting history of the Mantons de Manila and share beautiful examples from my own collection and others. I am a dancer and I of course become interested in how the shawls have been incorporated into Flamenco and Spanish folk dance. I will show examples of their use in dance and how each art form has enhanced the other. Isadora Duncan, the famous modern dance pioneer, also initially from San Francisco, famously wore such shawls in performance and daily life with her famous Delphos gowns.

I will also explain how to care for these shawls properly, how to restore them, how to evaluate the originality, authenticity and quality of an antique Manton de Manila, and how to locate one if you want to acquire one for yourself. Because there is a lot of information to share I am choosing to do it in a series of Manton de Manila related blog posts.

The embroidery on the Black and White Shawl is executed in satin stitch. Both shawls are double embroidered on both the front and back in the same images making them completely reversible.

These shawls are large. The Black and White one is 60 inches square before adding the measurement of the fringe which is another 5 inches of macramé lattice work plus 13″ of long silk fringe. Thus another 18 inches of fringe all the way around the shawl.

When these shawls were made in the 1840s Western ladies were wearing enormous voluminous skirts that steadily grew in size through the decade! The large skirts were supported underneath by multiple petticoats, sometimes as many as seven at once. At least one of these petticoats would be a crinoline – a type of petticoat stiffened by horsehair. The steel cage crinoline was introduced in 1856. It provided immense relief from multiple heavy and cumbersome petticoats and allowed skirts to reach even larger new proportions especially between 1858 and 1862, relatively inexpensive, the cage crinoline was worn at all levels of society. The shawls were required to cover the lady and her crinoline skirt – thus the size! Today this size can adequately cover a queen or king sized bed as a coverlet or be used on a grand piano as a piano shawl or as a glamorous coverlet on a chaise lounge.

Shawls and beautiful historic dresses and other clothing and accessories are for sale in my online shops. 

Ebay: ladyviolettedecourcy

Etsy: LadyVioletteBoutiqe

Poshmark: cocoviolette 

Fashion Conservator: Lady Violette Boutique


Cold Rayon WWII Era Print Dresses

Friday, December 15th, 2023

Brown Print Cold Rayon Dress – 1940’s

A gorgeous historically significant 1940’s Cold Rayon Dress from WWII Era. With Iconic multi-directional print of nosegays, doilies, flowers, and bows.

During the war fabrics were rationed and prints were cleverly designed to be multi-directional so that laying out and cutting pattern pieces could utilize as much of the yardage as possible. Rationed yardage allowed no more than 4yds for a dress. And it was usually only 36” – 39”.wide.  Every inch of precious fabric was utilized in these clever dress designs. 

Rationing dictated the wartime silhouette and influenced the fashions. Dresses were narrow and featured short sleeves, high necklines and “short” skirts. Clever cutting and seaming was utilized to embellish this basic shape. Bodices were closely fitted and the waistline was often slightly dropped below the natural waist to create a long waisted line through the torso. This mades a woman look taller and narrower. 

Examples of embellishments used are peplums skirts, curved seams, ruching, shirred seams, hip flounces, draped skirts and extended shoulders with the use of shoulder pads. A-line or straight skirts with peplums applied over the top created the illusion of a jacket without using the extra fabric required to make one. 

Sleeves were short and often cut in one piece with the bodice. These little sleeves were called kimono sleeves. Long feminine gloves were often worn with these short sleeves. 

Fabric rationing required that hemlines be less than 2″, and in accordance with the regulations this one is a mere 3/4″ then faced with hem tape. Because of the lightweight fabric this actually looks nice and adds to the flowy effect of the skirt.

This brown print dress has shirred gathering at the side seams and one shoulder, moderate shoulder pads extend the shoulders and make the  wearer’s waistline appear smaller. The high jewel neckline was the style of the times. One shoulder, the Left one, is gathered creating a draped effect across the fitted bodice. Clever pattern construction creates a diagonal seam across the bodice from L shoulder to R hip and a flouncy ultra-feminine gathered drape over the Right hip. The narrow skirt is attractively draped, appearing long and lean, but is actually gently flared and reaches to mid-calf in length. The short sleeves are set in. A metal zipper in the center back seam of the dress is 21” long allowing for easy in and out. 

The shoulder pads are of modest size to achieve the wartime silhouette, but not extreme such as those worn by Joan Crawford. They are basted into position so that they could be easily adjusted if required. 

This dress has been freshly dry-cleaned by a cleaner specializing in vintage clothing. It appears not to have been worn much because it is still in excellent condition. Amazing for a garment that is 80 years old! This dress is very well made, but there are no labels in it. It could possibly be a homemade dress or custom made dress made by an exceptionally skilled seamstress.

Size and measurements: Shoulders: natural shoulders are 16”,across the back measured side to side at seam, but are only 15.25” across the front . They are extended to be about 1” wider with the shoulder pads. As mentioned above shoulder pads are basted into place and their position could be changed or they could be removed entirely if desired. People’s shoulders are uniquely shaped so it was common to insert shoulder pads is such a way that they could be repositioned easily to best flatter the wearer.

Bust : 17″ x 2 = 34″ maximum – because of the design fabric drape is required across the bodice. I recommend a bust size of no more than 32” to allow for adequate drape, comfort, freedom of movement and proper fit. A smaller bust size will work just fine because of the drape. 

Waist is 12.75″ x 2 = 25.5 ” at most – again, some space should be allowed for the waist to fit comfortably and allow for movement. I recommend a wearer’s waist size up to 24″ so dress is not too tight. 

Hips: measured 7” below waistline :  skirt measures 20″ x 2 = 40 ” in circumference, but I recommend a looser fit to allow for the proper drape and comfort. Wearer’s hips should not be more than 38″ to allow for a graceful drape. Anything less will also be fine. 

Sleeves: From top of shoulder to hem are 8.5″ in length. They are loosely cut to flutter gently around the upper arm. 

Back length of bodice from center of neckline to slightly dropped waist is 16.25″ . Waistlines were positioned a bit below the natural waistline to create long-lined look through the torso.  

Skirt length from waist to hem is 30″ long.  

Care: This type of Rayon should be dry-cleaned only. If it needs ironing use a cool iron and press on the back side of fabric only.  I recommend pressing over a pressing cloth. 

Modern sizing is equivalent to a size 2  – my recommended best fit for this dress is modern sizes 0 – 2. 

Fitting Note: My mannequin is a well endowed size 6 and this dress does not come together in her bodice back. 

Wartime Fashion Facts: 

An interesting historical note : Food was also rationed during WWII and many people did not get enough to eat so were very thin and often malnourished. This historical fact explains why many of the clothes from the period are such small sizes. These women just did not have any fat stored on their figures. A woman who was a nurse in England during this time period explained this to me. She said the girls looked fragile and waif like and very pretty in their clothes but this was the result of not having enough to eat.  It was easy to be slim if there was not enough to eat! Audrey Hepburn was an example of this. She grew up in Holland during the German occupation and they could not get enough food. She was malnourished after the war and it caused her lifelong health problems. That delicate gamine look came at a price! 

Rayon fabric is made from wood pulp and as such is considered a semi-synthetic. Its properties are akin to a natural fiber. Rayon is breathable, takes pressing quite well, is absorbent and can hold in body heat. 

Cold rayon is made via a cold process. It is smooth, has a subtle sheen and drapes beautifully. It initially feels cool to the touch. During the World War II era it was a popular, more affordable and more available than silk and was used to produce women’s dresses, blouses and lingerie. Fabric artists cleverly developed multi-directional prints so that pattern pieces could be cut and seamed facing any direction instead of just one – way. This allowed for the maximum use of every inch of rationed fabric. 

Rayon takes dye very well so prints were often quite colorful. Whimsical floral patterns were popular as well as unusual atomic prints…. The multi-directional prints developed by clever artists allowed you to use all the fabric without concern for which way the print was running. 

Rayon fabrics in solid colors were used for summer weight military uniforms for men and women as well. 

Rayon was economical. The established American rayon industry was positioned with raw materials and manufacturing capacity to produce goods for the war effort and civilian use. In 1940, the average price for a pound of rayon yarn was $0.53, while wool was $1.34 and silk was $2.79. 

Silk was allocated to the military for parachutes. Soldiers would sometimes send damaged parachutes home for their women to make into dresses, blouses, nightgowns, slips and other lingerie. A few girls even made their wedding dresses out of damaged parachutes. Parachute silk was highly prized! 

Most women sewed and sewing skills improved during the war as you had to keep your old clothes in decent shape, mend and remake things into other things, and make what new items you could out of rationed fabrics. You got more value for your ration coupons in sewing fabric than in ready made clothing. 

 A woman’s skirt could utilize no more than 2.5 yds of fabric. The number of pleats allowed in a skirt was also restricted. Remember this fabric was also narrow! By 1945 each woman was allowed only 36 clothing coupons per year. A woman’s ready-made tweed suit cost 18 coupons and a pair of shoes cost 5. Be aware that people had to pay money as well as present coupons to buy the rationed articles of clothing. By 1946 the number of coupons issued was reduced to 26 per person per year. 

All silk came from Japan. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941 silk was completely banned because it came from Japan! That put an end to luxurious silk stockings, lingerie and dresses! Rayon was the substitute and they began to call it “artificial silk.”

Fabric artists, clothing designers and the women who sewed and wore rayon during WWII became clever and resourceful resulting in some very attractive prints and clothing designs and styling options resulting from the limitations of rationing.

After the war, more synthetic fabrics were developed and manufactured. Then cold rayon the distinctive WWII era rayon prints were replaced in the marketplace by something newer. Rayon gradually disappeared from the marketplace and now is practically impossible to find! The type of cold rayon in the prints used in these Iconic WWII Dresses is now rare, expensive and highly sought after.

If you find a dress in good condition that fits you should acquire it! If you come across a 4 yard piece of Cold Rayon fabric from WWII era that has not yet been made up you should acquire it! And if you find a lovely dress pattern from that period you should also acquire it. Either make your own dress or find a seamstress to do so. The styles of this era are unabashedly feminine and charming!

This Cold Rayon Print Dress and and other rare and beautiful historic clothes and accessories are for sale in my online shops.

Ebay: ladyviolettedecourcy on Ebay

Etsy: LadyVioletteBoutique

Poshmark: cocoviolette 

Fashion Conservatory: ladyvioletteboutique

Note the high round neckline, the shirred gathers on the left shoulder, the short sleeves, the below natural waist dropped waistline, the flounce on the right hip, and the non-directional print.

Note the curved seams, the ultra-feminine hip flounce, the softly gathered skirt, the mid-calf skirt length, the shallow hem giving lightness to the skirt; and, again, the multi-directional print that could be cut and assembled in any direction.

Note the curved seam, the waistline which is dropped below the natural waist to elongate wearers torso and the hip flounce which creates the illusion of a jacket with very little material being used.

Note: A Closeup of the multi-directional print and the fact that only four colors were used: brown, white, green and yellow. Also of note are the brightness of the colors since rayon absorbs dye very well.

Note: the high round neckline, the small shoulder pads, short soft kimono sleeve with a bit of billowing drape, the figure flattering fitted waistline and the gentle bust shaping.

Note: how the waistline dropped below the natural waist lengthens the torso adding to the illusion of length and slimness

Note: The ultra-feminine shape of the torso achieved when all the elements of the design come together. There is skill in the design and construction of these dresses which results in feminine flattering results.

Note: The long metal back zipper ( 21″) in length which facilitates getting in and out of such a fitted dress with ease.

Note: how all the features of the WWII Wartime Era Cold Rayon Dress come together in this Iconic Example of the feminine beauty and ingenuity of design during an historic time of adversity.


Portrait of Igor Schwezoff, Ballet dancer and choreographer, 1940, Colonel de Basil’s Ballets Russes Australian Tour

Sunday, February 16th, 2014

Igor Schwezoff Russian Ballet Dancer & Choreographer 1940, Photographer Spencer Skier

I am pleased to present this classic and elegant photo of Russian ballet dancer/choreographer Igor Schwezoff taken in 1940 in Australia during Colonel de Basil’s Ballets Russes Australian Tour.

This beautiful portrait was taken in order to be used as a head shot and publicity promotional photo for Mr. Schwezoff as a dancer/ choreographer and for his ballet Lutte Eternelle which received its professional premier by Colonel de Basil’s Ballets Russes in Sydney on 29, July, 1940, during the third Australian tour of the company.

Having left Soviet Russia in the late 1920s, Schwezoff travelled widely, briefly running ballet schools in Amsterdam and London. He wrote his acclaimed autobiography, Borzoi, published in London in 1935. He then joined de Basil’s Ballets Russes in 1939 as a soloist and worked with the company for two years. Lutte Eternelle was the first of his works to be danced by the de Basil company. This one act ballet was a revision of an earlier work by Schwezoff that was originally staged in Amsterdam by the performing group from his ballet school. Both the earlier production and Lutte Eternelle were well received by both critics and the public alike.

To my knowledge this photo has not been published before. It is from the private collection of Mr. Ian Bevans who worked in some PR capacity with the Ballets Russes during their 1939 – 40 Australian seasons. He was a dedicated balletomane who befriended members of the ballet company and collected and saved photos of many of the dancers taken during their historic stay in Australia.  Mr. Bevan’s friend, Mr. Kurt Ganzl kindly gave these photos to me. Mr. Bevans collection includes action photos, posed press photos, professional head shots of the dancers, some happy snap shots and some personal Christmas cards from Toumanova and Skibine. Some of the photos are autographed and some are inscribed with personal messages. All of them are fascinating bits of classical ballet history. I am grateful to Mr. Gansl for sharing them with me and delighted to be able to share them with other ballet fans on my blog. I plan to post more of these beautiful and rare ballet pictures on this blog soon.


Back side of Igor Schwezoff Portrait, 1940, by Photographer Spencer Skier

The back side of the photo of Igor Schwezoff by Spencer Skier, Collin St. Melb, 1940.

If anyone knows more about this photo or how it was used would you please contact me? I am a former student and friend of Igor Schwezoff and am currently researching details of his life and career.




Ballerina Lubov Tchernicheva’s ~ Cleopatra Portrait Gallery

Monday, October 28th, 2013

Lubov Tchernicheva as herself

Lubov Tchernicheva (1890~1976) was an extraordinarily beauty and a great star of the Ballets Russes. The studio portrait above was taken sometime between 1930 and 1937 and is from the Geoffrey Ingram archive of Australian ballet now in the National Library of Australia. She trained in Russia, then danced with Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes from 1911~1929.  She was married to Sergei Grigoriev, the company Regisseur. She attempted to retire in 1929.

However, in 1932 Rene Blum coaxed her back to continue dancing as first ballerina and serve as ballet mistress for Col. de Basil’s Ballets Russes. Her husband served as Regisseur for this company as well. The couple worked for the Col. de Basil Ballets Russes troupe from 1932~1952. They performed and worked with de Basil’s Ballets Russes in their popular tour of Austrailia, throughout the United States and Europe. An extremely popular dancer her public simply would not allow her to retire!

In the 1950s this extraordinary ballet couple worked together staging Fokine’s Ballets for other companies.

Fortunately for dance lovers and historians Lubov Tchernicheva left her personal papers and ballet records to the Harvard University Library and her husband, Sergei Grigoriev, left his to the United States Library of Congress.

Tchernicheva also had amazing costumes for many of the roles she danced! Fortunately many striking photos of her were taken in many roles and survive.

The Ballets Russes Cleopatra Costume by artist Sonia Delaunay 1918

My favorite photos of Lubov are as Cleopatra originally known as Une Nuit d’Egypt and premiered by Diaghilev’s troupe in 1908. The ballet was revived in 1917 and exquisite and truly fantastic (as in a product of the artist’s Egyptian fantasy) new costumes were designed for the revived production by Russian artist and textile designer Sonia Delaunay. These Cleopatra costumes are the version Lubov wore in these photographs.

Lubov Tchernicheva in her Cleopatra costume designed by Sonia Delaunay

In the days these old photos were taken the ballet dancers often had to assume a pose in the photographers studio and hold it for a long time while the glass plates of film were exposed. By a long time I mean as long as 20 minutes while the photographer got set up and  organized and then slowly exposed the film. It must have been sheer torture!

Tchernicheva reclining elegantly as Cleopatra

It is hard to hold perfectly still in an an exotic pose, no matter how static, without twitching or swaying a tiny bit. I know because I have posed for photographers who were trying out the old techniques.Dancers were really happy when fast film was developed so that they could be photographed in action!

Tchernicheva strikes a pose a l'Egypte in the photographer's studio


Tchernichova’s strong aristocratic profile is amazing and perfect for the character of Cleopatra! And the headdress! it must have taken practice to perform in such a costume – it does not look like it allows for freedom of movement. It looks to me as if the dancer had to adapt to working within the confines and limitations of the costume. Fashion is often like that as well! It is interesting to note that this ballet set off a fashion craze for all things Egyptian in Paris and London. Society ladies were even getting Egyptian tattoos in intimate areas of their bodies!


An Autographed Portrait of Igor Schwezoff from his Ballets Russes Days

Sunday, October 27th, 2013

Autographed Photo of Igor Schwezoff circa 1937 - 1941 during his days with the Ballets Russes.

Today I located this long lost autographed portrait of Igor Schwezoff from his Ballets Russes days circa 1939 – 1941. It has been hidden away in the personal papers and memoirs of the Russian ballerina Lubov Tchernicheva for over 70 years. In a final generous act for her devoted fans, Tchernicheva, donated her personal collection of dance momentos to The Theater Collection of the Houghton Library of Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass.

Lubov Tchernicheva (1890 – 1976) was a leading dancer with Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes from 1911-1929. She was married to Sergei Grigoriev, the company Regisseur. She retired in 1926, but was coaxed out of retirement by Rene Blum to star again and serve as ballet mistress for Col. de Basil’s Ballets Russes. Her husband served as Regisseur for this company as well. She continued to perform with this group from 1932-1952. She was essentially such a popular ballerina her public wouldn’t allow her to retire!

During this period, from 1937-1940, that the company spent an extended period in Australia where Igor Schwezoff staged his ballet Lutte Eternelle as I described in my previous blog post.

In the 1950’s the Grigorievs worked together restaging Fokine’s ballets for other ballet companies.

Lubov Tchernicheva was a great beauty and a beautiful dancer. She was acclaimed for her pure classical technique and acting abilities and excelled in exotic roles that tapped her dramatic skills. She caused a sensation in 1918 as Cleopatra in costumes designed by Sonia Delauney.

She dedicated her entire life to performing and teaching the art of ballet and was especially appreciated by other dancers for her generosity with her knowledge, skill and dance experience.

Lubov Tchernicheva was one of the dancers Igor Schwezoff referred to as “The Eternal Greats”  whose portraits and performance photos hung on his studio walls to inspire his students to excel.

In honor of Lubov Tchernicheva I will put up a gallery of some of these beautiful photos in my  next blog post.