A light pointed cape worn by ladies, to cover the neck and bosom, and extending to the shoulders;– usually made of lace. — Webster, 1882
A fichu is a triangular cloth, two rectangular cloths joined in the back, or a square cloth folded into a triangle, mainly worn in the 17th to 19th centuries to cover the shoulders or to conceal an extensive décolletage. A typical fichu was large enough to be crossed in front and tied behind the waist. However, a fichu could range in size from quite large and square to something smaller and more triangular in size, both worn around the neck and shoulders. The illustration at left is from the September 1882 Godey’s Lady’s Book and Magazine, and shows a triangular fichu of black lace.
Godey’s Lady’s Book and Magazine included a number of triangular fichu patterns during the 1880s, including the simple pattern shown at right and knit as follows: Commence at one corner with five stitches, knit backwards and forwards in plain knitting, increasing one stitch at the commencement of every fourth row, until the work is ten inches across, then decrease in the same proportion as you increased. For the edge, work one double crochet into the edge of knitting, chain five, pass over two rows, and repeat. For second and third rows, one double into the third stitch or center of each chain, chain five; repeat. — Godey’s Lady’s Book and Magazine CIII (November 1881), 617.
The previous decade, however, fichus were shown in Godey’s that were two long rectangles, draped over the shoulders and joined at a portion of the back. One such fichu is described as follows: Muslin fichu, trimmed with lace and embroidery front and back. The thin muslin fichu consists of two pieces joined behind, and crossing at the waist in front, the corners, trimmed with lace and embroidery, fall below the waist. Around the neck the fichu is trimmed with a frill edged in lace, set on in slanting plaits. Over the fichu is laid a set of muslin folds, and at the back a fan-shaped muslin rosette edged with lace. Bows and ends of ribbon ornament the fichu in front, behind, and on the shoulders. — Godey’s Lady’s Book and Magazine LXXXVI (January 1873), 511.
In These Happy Golden Years, Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote that fictional Laura Ingalls received the wedding gift of a white silk lace fichu from her friend and maid-of-honor, Ida Wright. Neither this fichu nor any wedding gift is mentioned in Pioneer Girl or the existing manuscript for These Happy Golden Years.
A piece of lace is on display at the Laura Ingalls Wilder / Rose Wilder Lane Home & Museum in Mansfield, Missouri, identified as the lace given to Laura Ingalls by Ida Wright. It is not clear who first identified this as being the lace from These Happy Golden Years. If it was a gift from Ida Wright, it is unknown whether she made or purchased the lace; descendants of Ida’s do not remember her as being an avid needlewoman of any sort, or of hearing about or seeing any lace-work done by her at any age.
The lace on display is only about four inches wide and less than a yard in length. It is definitely rectangular, more like a traditional scarf or lace frill to be worn at the throat. It is similar in construction to Brussels net lace, which is embroidered flowers and leaves on a netted (or machine made?) background. After machine-made bobbinet (tulle) was introduced, it greatly lowered the cost of production of such lace, which then became much in demand for shawls and bridal veils.
Laura’s lace has fewer embellishments than typical Brussels net lace, with only single flowers in the center of the piece running its length, plus embroidered “leaves” along an embroidered “vine” near the scalloped border. Only one end is ornately decorated, having a large starburst or medallion in the curved center, and smaller, similar stars at each side. This end is also the only one with fringe, but it is possible that Laura’s lace was cut into a smaller piece at some point, or was damaged at some point, and shortened.
fichu (THGY 28)