Woman's open gown (with petticoat HD F.495A) made from a Spitalfields silk dating to the late 1740s or early 1750s, consisting of a tan-colored faille ground with flushing and a polychrome brocaded floral design. According to family tradition, this gown was worn by Hannah Hopkins (1731-1766) of Springfield, Massachusetts, for her marriage to John Worthington (1719-1800), a lawyer from Springfield, in 1759; by their daughter, Hannah Worthington (1761-1833) who married Thomas Dwight (1758-1819) of Springfield in 1791; by their daughter, Elizabeth ("Betsey") Dwight (1801-1855) who married Charles Howard (1794-1875) in 1824. Woven on a drawloom, it is made from a patterned silk known as a brocade. Supplementary weft (or horizontal) patterning threads of silk form the color and primary design interest. This kind of textile was one of the most expensive available, and its ownership in the Connecticut River Valley during the 18th century is remarkable. The silk’s pattern first had to be drawn out by a designer, possibly John Vansommer (1706-1774), and then translated into the set-up of the drawloom for weaving. The whole process could take several months, and new designs were issued seasonally. The Hopkins family acquired this material as a special order, either from a merchant in Boston or New York, or else from abroad. Because of the recognized importance of the textile, the garment was remade several times during its life for the subsequent family weddings, as seen on the bodice front, where still-visible fold lines indicate alterations (an earlier a l'anglaise pleating now on either side of the center front bodice closure, which could also be earlier front robings pressed flat), which was sometimes referred to in the period as “turning” a garment. The most recent alteration reflects a date of about the 1780s or early 1790s. The robe opens in front with a center closure and low, rounded neckline. The bodice ends in a 'V' shaped seam in the front and back. The three quarter length sleeves, shaped to fit the natural bend in the arm, each end in a lace ruffle, applied later. The robe skirt is pleated at sides and back, where it is stitched into the waist seam. The bodice is lined in an off-white linen; the skirt is unlined. There are also horizontal lines near the top of the skirt, which may be where skirt was originally folded over. Conservation performed in 1988.
Patterned silks like the one making up this colorfully-brocaded gown were extremely rare in the Connecticut River Valley during the 18th century. The weeks required to design and weave this fabric on a drawloom in Spitalfields, England, made the cost prohibitive for all but the wealthiest colonists. Those who could afford it probably worked with an agent to obtain the entire run of a particular pattern, about 12 to 18 yards. Consequently, garments made from these expensive fabrics were altered and reused repeatedly, even after the pattern had gone out of fashion.
When Hannah Hopkins (1731-1766) of Springfield, Massachusetts, was married in 1759, she wore a gown made from such a fabric woven some ten years earlier. Both Hopkins and her bridegroom, John Worthington (1719-1800), had older silk garments remade for their special day. Additionally, Hopkins’ gown was altered for the wedding dresses worn by her daughter and granddaughter in 1791 and 1824.