A grid of tiny holes patterns the sleeve ruffles of this 1770s woman’s gown. The practice of making deliberate decorative cuts in fabric was known as ‘pinking’ and it was revived in the mid-18th century. The fabric would be folded several times and cushioned with paper, then placed on a block of lead. Striking a metal punch with a hammer created a pattern of regular cuts or ‘pinks’. Punches with a curved and serrated edge made the decorative edge of the ruffles, an effect similar to that produced by modern pinking shears.
Pinking is found on the robings of this gown as well as all the trimmings of the petticoat. Although it was time-consuming and required considerable skill, pinking could be executed more quickly than other decorative techniques, such as embroidery. In the mid-18th century, the curvilinear edges and surface patterning produced by pinking harmonised with the aesthetics of Rococo design.