Wednesday, July 08, 2020

1895 Outfit: Period Methods To Add Skirt Fullness, Part 5, Steels, Rattan, Candlewicking, and Dust Ruffles

At this point in the article series, it's very apparent that designers and dressmakers, and ordinary women came up with all kinds of ways to achieve the sartorial -- skirtorial? -- ideal of plenty of base amplitude and an undulating, lush skirt back, while retaining a smooth waist and front. 

Here is what we have covered so far. 
If you thought that surely we'd have covered all the bases, guess again: there is yet more. Some of the these last methods to widen the bottom of the skirt were, I am thinking, for the most determined of fashion followers. Most of the methods involved additions to the exterior skirt, not a petticoat.

Using "Steels" Around the Bottom of Outer Skirts

The first mention I have read of the use of steel in outer skirts appears in Demorest's Family Magazine for December 1894, (p. 121).
"Some skirts have a narrow and very flexible steel sewed all around the bottom; but better than this to secure slight stiffness is a thick cord of candle-wicking covered with velvet or satin to harmonize with the gown. This is seen on many gowns, and is a popular finish this winter."

By "very flexible" I believe the author meant that the steel might have been more pliable than that used for crinolines, bustles, and corset and bodice boning in previous decades, but cannot know for sure.

Nor do I know what it looked like. We know what flat corset boning looks like, and here is a shot of crinoline steel covered with a layer of braided cotton that was used in an antique bustle in my collection. It bends, but would not undulate at the bottom of a skirt.

Three rows of bustle steel wire, which is flat, covered in braided cotton, 
from a bustle in my antique clothing collection.

You might want to know that this thread-covered steel, which is about 3/16" in width, is still available in a similar form to that used in the 19th century. It's used for making tutus, and is very expensive for amounts needed for a bustle or crinoline. Check Farthingale's for what they call "crin steel". 

In May, Mrs. Hooper, in The Ladies Home Journal, remarked again upon using steel bands to hold out the outer skirts (p. 24):

Well, what about that? A "tiny band of flexible steel covered with webbing". Might this be a flexible wire covered with a flat tape? Cotton and linen tapes -- the wider ones -- are sometimes known as webbing, in my anecdotal experience.

Fellow costumers, this sort of thing is eminently doable, with some experimentation. A flexible jewelry wire, either one or several rows, might be wound in and out of a tape and applied to the skirt as Mrs. Hooper directs.

Now, to our Demorest's Magazine writer, the "humps and bumps" despiser of interlinings is not much pleased with wires, either:

Demorest's Magazine, May 1895, p. 420.
She goes on:

Demorest's Magazine, May 1895, p. 420.
So, sensible sisters, if you do not want interlinings and want stiff amplitude, it's heavy brocades and tweeds and cotton ducks for you!

Steels Up the Skirt Sides

In the March 1895 issue of The Ladies Home Journal, "The Gowns of Spring" article on p. 10. has quite a bit to say about steels used in the outer skirts, but the steels are going perpendicular.
"The godet skirt will remain in vogue, and the fashionable modistes are inserting steels that reach up almost to the knee, setting them in the seams lengthwise to cause it to flare."

Oh, my goodness. Bodice-style bones in the skirts. That is what Mrs. Mallon is saying, isn't it? "[L]engthwise in a seam" means following the seam..."up almost to the knee". The seams are vertical, and Mrs. Mallon knows the difference between a skirt hem and the seams between skirt panels. Am I reading this incorrectly? 

Isobel Mallon describes an indoor dress that employs the steels:

"An extremely pretty dress, intended for wear in the house, and which has a bodice differing from its skirt, is shown in Illustration No. 2. The skirt is light-weight summer silk, the background being pale green, while sprays of wild roses and their deep green foliage are scattered upon it here and there. The skirt is lined and steeled so that it has the usual fashionable flare, and its only trimming is that which is arranged at each of the two side seams. This consists of to straps of three-inch green velvet ribbon which start at the edge of each side of the seam, are brought up almost to the knees, where the two ends meet in a long looped bow."

The Ladies Home Journal, March 1895, p. 19

Interesting...the velvet would cover the seams where the steels might most be noticed.

If you're brave, why not try it? I might just. I have a box of narrow antique steel bones, very light and probably for boning bodices. What if I set a few into the seams of my 1890s skirt and see what happens? It's not like it's difficult to do. 

Using Candlewicking On Outer Skirts As Part of the Trim or Hem Binding

Now this I find very interesting. It reminds me of cording petticoats in the 1830s and 1840s. We know that helps them to stand out.

Demorest's wrote about using candlewicking to stiffen skirts repeatedly. This was probably because the writer  -- whose name I cannot locate in the issues -- preferred more moderate styles that would assuredly not stand out around the bottom in the way a wired skirt would. 

Demorest's December 1894, p. 121, recommended a thick cord of candlewicking covered in velvet or satin to go with the skirt, just a few paragraphs after deriding the humps and bumps of interlining.

In this usage, the covered candlewicking cord becomes part of the gown's trim on the skirt exterior, while also helping to hold out the skirt. Remember that she specifies thick cord.

Skirt trim for which one might employ candlewicking covered with velvet.
Mildred has found her companion, Grace, missing in the serialized novel "Our Working Sisters". Demorest's, May 1895, p. 397.
March 1895 Demorest's, p. 299: tells how to lay the candlewicking when it's used as part of the binding at the bottom of the skirt:
"Bright, changeable taffetas are the first choice for linings; thus a mixed cheviot of black, white, and green is lined with green-and-rose taffeta...the fashion is not so extravagant as formerly. The binding should be of velveteen, and it is better to buy the piece goods and cut it at least two inches wide on the bias. It may form a cord on the bottom, filled with candlewicking, -- a much more pliable and graceful "stiffener" than rattans or wires, -- and should always be left to show like a piping below the gown fabric; otherwise it affords no protection."

If I understand correctly, when the binding is applied, the cord is at the inside-bottom of the binding, and looks like a piping brushing the floor.

What can we use for candlewicking today? If it's the same thing, the cotton candle wick material used in traditional candlewicking embroidery, is still available but it looks quite thin, like a string. Mmm, probably not what we want. Actual candle wick bought by the roll comes in several thicknesses. It might be worth exploring. What about cotton piping cord? That could also work. It comes in different sizes and will produce an undulating line. Even the Sugar 'n Cream yarn might do, although one would want several rows.

Boy, I really like this idea. Applying the cord either as part of hem binding or as trim might be a doable skirt amplification method that would result in pleasant curves and organ pleats and folds.

Silk Stiffening Trim

Heavy silk cording was an alternative to candlewicking, and it was placed on the outside bottom of the skirt, just above the hem edge. It was recommended as a way to help hold the godet plaits. This would have formed a rather dressy trim, too. Without actually knowing by testing it, I would suspect that the cording would want to run in large waves, not into flat pleats, and would thus help hold the deeply undulating effect created by the godet plaits. Mrs. Hooper, in her advice column, wrote in March, 1895 (Ladies Home Journal, p. 35):

Because she wrote "It is thought to keep the godet plaits in shape", I suspect that she hadn't tested the method, either. 

Think about how wide a 1 1/4" diameter cord is: wow -- that's big.

Rattan Instead of Steels Around the Skirt

I have only found rattan used to hold out skirts in one place, in the quote about candlewicking above. To repeat part of it (March 1895 Demorest's, p. 299): "It may form a cord on the bottom, filled with candlewicking, -- a much more pliable and graceful "stiffener" than rattans or wires". Was the Demorest's writer joking, or was rattan, that is, cane, an option? Gracious! Very thin-split cane is plenty flexible, but also readily breakable. As costumers, we would find this an inexpensive option, but it would have to be replaced early and often. 

A Balayeuse or Dust Ruffle, Fixed Inside the Outer Skirt

Here is an interior skirt ruffle, illustrated in the Frauenzeitung, 1 Feb 1895, p 35. The illustration shows the outer skirt inside out, with the ruffle attached around the skirt base. 

The ruffle had several purposes. It helped to hold the skirt a bit away from the feet. It
was also used to help keep the inner edge of the skirt clean. The Art of Dressmaking (1895), described its use and making in detail on p. 32:

"The balayeuse or dust ruffle is not considered absolutely necessary to the finish of a skirt, although it gives a pretty effect. It is made of taffeta or skirting silk, and is cut bias from five to eight inches wide. Both edges are then pinked, or they may be hemmed and a lace edge added. The latter is preferable as the pinking frays easily. Gather the ruffle, leave a little heading, and sew to the inside of the skirt even with the lower edge. Be careful when sewing not to catch through to the outside [of the skirt]."

Here is what The Young Ladies' Journal wrote in 1895 (I have lost the date):

"A silk frill or double ruche, of the same colour as the material, is a great improvement. This should be about 4½ to 5 inches wide and is sewn to the lining so that the edge lies just above the edge of the skirt."

I like the idea of a skirt ruffle, as adding a bit of swish to the skirt, and as a a barrier to getting the skirt involved with the shoes and the legs.

That's All For Skirt Stiffeners

Here we come to the end of our very long discussion of mid-1890s skirt stiffeners. I've found the process illuminating. I've not addressed it here, that I remember, anyhow, but musing about the language used in the magazines and books was as interesting as the directions and descriptions given. "Regulation" skirt silhouette, "sensible", "humps and bumps". Even the shift, in some magazines, from sharply rendered engravings to more watercolor-like, painterly illustrations. The manners, mores, and interests of the time jump out and live for me.

What's Next?

Well, the pandemic continues to spread, and here in the United States is reaching its tentacles ever deeper into our society. I am so covered up in to-dos and keeping the twins engaged over the summer that sewing would simply not happen unless I took time away from the more important things. Plus, by the time I've any leisure for myself alone, rather than family-oriented leisure, I'm too pooped to do anything but read. 

This summer, late 1860s and early 1870s Peterson's magazines have caught my fancy. Reading the sometimes sappy, often formulaic, sometimes original and really interesting stories, and the advice within them, and examining the plates and illustrations, has taken my mind far, far away. When I return, refreshed, there's a lot to muse about. I recognize how different the lives and mores and beliefs of the writers and target readers could be from ours -- and I could detail the race, class, and gender influences at length. What's stronger, though, is the pervasive sense in the magazine that time is short, life is always attended with times of weariness and sadness, even despair, and health and security are never assured and always at risk of fleeing. The responses, besides wearing layers of clothing and spending a good share of time nursing loved ones, are thrift, attending to responsibilities, reams of patience, and clinging to faith. All of this is pertinent at any time, but poignant right now.

    Sunday, May 03, 2020

    1895 Outfit: The Way They Moved: Mid-1890s Skirts in Videos and Photographs

    Scattered throughout this 1890s outfit series, we have looked at photographs of women taken in the 1890s; they are scattered in among the posts. Yet as we finish the set of posts about skirts, I want to examine how the skirts look when women are in motion or in unposed pictures. Moving pictures had just come out in the 1890s, and there are scenes with women walking and hopping and stepping around in them. We're fortunate that YouTube aficionadoes have taken some of the films and edited the choppiness and extra speed out of the clips to make them more naturalistic to watch.

    A film, titled 1890's: Rare Footage of Cities Around the World,put together by Dhruva Aliman Music, has a series of interesting scenes, and yes, those people on the start screen are riding a sort of rollercoaster! On the right a woman in cape and hat is riding with a boy. Here is the full film. You can watch it now, or take a look at the screen captures I've made from it to illustrate skirts in motion, and then come back to the film.

    So, first we have a crowd viewing a horse race. The horses are getting reading to run by, and I am guessing we're near the finish line. A lady runs into the scrum and hops and turns in excitement as the horses gallop nearer. Having been to many a Keeneland race, the urge to hop and wave one's arms during races is strong. Watch her skirt move, and note the undulations in back. Start around 4:05 minutes into the film.

    Second, a pair of well-dressed women cross a wide street in Berlin. Even as they cross, a carriage rolls past. Apparently crosswalks were not in use, because people are crossing streets at will in much of the film. The silk skirt of the woman nearest to the camera clearly shows how much flare the skirt has, and see how there appear to be those rounded organ or godet pleats at the back, and how the entire skirt undulates in motion in an expansive way. These are women of fashion. The scene is relatively long, about 5:14-5:19 in the film.

    I apologize for the red horizontal lines in the screen captures. They mark the progress of the video and I didn't know how to keep them from showing.

    Further on, another lady in silk feeds the pigeons in the Plaza San Marco, in Venice (9:08-9:17), while another group of women walk by in the background. Again, we see amplitude, but the skirt looks wide at the base in the front as well as along the side, as her movement washes the side panels towards the front. She is wearing a gown that appears, after you have looked at it a while, to have a faux bolero with lapels and epaulettes that extend down the back in panels, as so many did. And her hat! Flowers standing straight up to the side, and veiling beguilingly draped and puffed all over the top of the hat. Delicious.

    Can we talk hats a moment? This film is full of them. Detour, detour!

    Here, cyclists in sporty clothing -- catch the rep tie -- and hats, mostly with round brims, ride en masse in what appears to be a parade. Several riders appear below. The first rider's triple plume, set jauntily to the side of her stiff hat, are pretty striking. This shot is about 2:54 minutes into the film. I learned that apparently it's from 1899, but I see no sign of pouching in anyone's bodice. Skirts are narrower, though.

    Phooey, I couldn't screen capture the women in wonderful hats from Milan between 5:24-5:36, as people walked by near an omnibus stand, but you should have a look! The trim on their gowns is arresting, too.

    There is an unusually good view at the back of a lady's hat from about 5:57-6:18. Apparently the clip is from 1898, but the hat is definitely of a shape and type common to the decade. The lady, who comes in to sit down away from the camera after skating, is wearing a light spotted veil that is attached to the crown of the dark hat and appears to be tied up in the back. The hat seems to have barred feathers standing stiffly upwards at the front. Are they turkey feathers? Her skating companion, guiding her to a seat, undramatically tips his hat as he turns around and skates away. She then appears to talk to a young boy, or at least he skates closer to her and talks. He may be gawping at the camera. Look at the shot below, and then go look at the film, so that everything makes more sense.

    What doesn't make sense to me is skating a veil. It would be minimally warmer, and snow and ice are already white and glaring: why add spots to your vision, I ask? Perhaps it keeps her hair in place, and veils any discomposure during skating.

    And then, THE hat. The one I would like to make for this outfit. Of course, the lady of Plaza San Marco is wearing a rather dressy outfit, but somehow I ought to be able to riff off of the idea for a similar, if quieter hat. Here is the front.

    1890's: Rare Footage of Cities Around the World
    Now, the side and back. It is not a round hat, because it doesn't come to the back of her head where her highish hair bun sits, but just might a folded-up back edge. I have just the straw hat to modify for such a creation.

    Okay, we really must focus on skirt movement again. I have another video for you, titled "1895-1897: A Visual Tour of France". This one is by Guy Jones.

    The following image is hard to read until you know what you're looking at. A very large group of people are disembarking from a river boat on the Seine, near a bridge. I wonder if there has been some sort of party, as everyone is well dressed and the men seem to be wearing boaters. In the screen capture below a man has just disembarked, and is looking towards a well-dressed lady a bit behind him. Her skirt is sweeping as she turns from the gangway to the pavement. Note the number of rounded ripples in her skirt. The scene occurs between about 0:19-0:29. Also have a look at another lady wearing a hat with veil, between 0:25-0:27. She very briefly lifts her skirt with a gloved hand for a step, drops it, and strides away. She doesn't take small, mincing steps. She really moves.

    Next, a view of the Place Des Cordeliers, in Lyon, a street scene with what look like trolley tracks down the center. A woman, leaning somewhat forward, hurries across the street. She appears to lift her skirt to move more quickly at one point. The fabric flows and bunches around her. It has plenty of flare at the base, but the fabric has no shine and seems to drape and move more like wool than a stiff silk. She does not take especially small steps, either. In this screen capture, her forward foot is out enough that you can see her shoe or boot; she may be lifting her skirt with her left hand. This scene occurs between about 0:54-1:02 in the film. There is a tantalizing glimpse of skirt attached to an omnibus: did she step aboard?

    A few seconds later a woman walks by. She is an even smaller figure, so there is even less detail, but the muted shapes are still instructive. She appears between about 1:20-1:26 in the film.

    Her skirt amplifies as one foot steps forward and the other is behind her.

    then undulates close to her in between steps.

    While there are plenty of folds in her skirt, it doesn't sweep as widely or maintain amplitude like others in the films.

    Next are people leaving the Saint Perpetua Church in Nimes, around 2:30 minutes into the film.

    Look at this shot, and then go play the sequence several times, watching women descend the stairs. Notice how they grasp their skirts, and notice the movements the fabrics make.

    Here is a shot from a lovely little scene of a group of people arriving in front of a house in Hampstead Village, a London suburb. I don't know the background of the scene, but it's delightful to watch. At six seconds in, a lady shakes hands with an arriving gentleman. She is wearing a jacket, and her skirt has less amplitude, it being spring of 1896. Don't you think she is wearing a bit of a bustle pad? Soon after a teenage girl arrives on a bicycle and hops off, a lady runs up with her dog, then more people arrive on horses. It really is fun to watch.

    March 8, 1896 - Group arrives in Hampstead Village, London

    Let's look at some photos, too.

    If you recall a flurry of internet articles that appeared about him around 2018, Karl Stormer of Norway used a tiny spy camera to take pictures of people he met in the street. He photographed during the 1890s, and though many of them are just after 1895, when sleeves went limp, and skirts did too, swishing and catching at women's legs, a few are really helpful in showing how people moved right in the middle of the decade. The entire photo set is hosted at the Norsk Folkemuseum.

    Here are Thora Christoffersen and Raghild walking in a park. Their dresses stand out a bit around them and are smooth in front. It's warm out and I believe their bodices/shirtwaists are of cotton.


    In this photo that Mr. Stormer didn't identify, the lady, wearing a veil over her hat, also wears a stiff skirt. Look at her grasping the side of her skirt, bringing it forward, to help herself move more easily.


    In another wintertime photo, the young lady on the left may be wearing wool. Do you see the brush braid at the skirt base, and do you see the perfect curve that it makes over the street? I do believe there is a stiffener in there, especially as a portion of fabric above the hem dips backwards towards her body.

    I believe Mr. Stormer met this group of happy people while on a walk in the countryside. He knew them, for the record includes their names. Note the sturdy belt the central lady is wearing, with what may be a watch chain nearby, her tie, and the flare of her handsome matte skirt, which is probably wool.


    Another fun photo. Women look in a shop window, as does another lady down the street. Note how voluminous their skirts are, and how there are rounded flutes ian the back. Do you see Mr. Stormer's shadow at the bottom of the photo?


    I can't help it, it's back to hats. A gaggle of unnamed girls struck Mr. Stormer, and he photographed the group such that you can see details on their hats. I find the jagged, up-and-down movement of the brims and the brush-like aigrettes interesting. Aside from being useful for understanding hat construction, they rather echo the stance of the tree branches behind them.


    We will end with Miss Jotta Pedersen, in her pretty summer outfit. Her hat is straw, unlined underneath, rimmed with what seems to be very scantly gathered lace, and above that puffs of veil. Surely there is a standing plume, too. I like the crossed folds on her bodice, and she is wearing gloves. She is such a cheerful being...

    There we have it, a tour of flowing, undulating loveliness.  May it help you understand how women moved in their skirts, and how different styles of skirts looked when worn. Please remember that most of the pictures and films are taken in northern Europe, where the climate is cooler, so we see few really summery dresses, and all of the skirts are street wear or for daytime, not evening. Perhaps I will be able to remedy both of those lacking situations at some point.

    In Other News

    I was going to write about the virus. Sometimes it seems important to write this experience down. Sometimes I want to talk about my town -- a city, really, but not on the scale of big places -- and how coronavirus has struck here, and how we have stayed "Healthy at Home" as the governor named it, so that the virus hasn't taken hold in the way it has so many places. Blessed be. And how a quarter of working people in our state are collecting, or trying to collect, unemployment because they've been furloughed, or laid off, or fired, or because their business has gone under. And how no one really knows what happens next, or if we will, by accident or by our actions or by our inactions, bring more death and misery here.

    I wrote last evening, paragraphs worth, and I struggled over them, only as bedtime approached, to delete the whole thing, start again, and then shut down the computer to leave it all behind for reading with the boys and then going to sleep while the curtains swayed in the breeze from the window. It was actually warm enough to leave it cracked open, all night. Why should I write, when no matter who reads this will have been affected by coronavirus, in ways tragic or financial, or niggling. We all are accumulating our stories, and we don't know if this will be a short story, or an episodic one, or a novel, The Novel Coronavirus, in Too Many Acts. Already terabites have been written or spoken or filmed about it.

    Still. The urge is there, to paint my own small vignettes of life since the virus came.

    Harbingers came towards the end of January, at work. I became busy providing information to colleagues who needed it.

    I have been home since March 7, March 6 having been the last time we were out -- to a bookstore, and for dinner. That day the governor announced the state's first case. The dinner was just a little tinged with unease, because a couple several feet away were coughing at times. We did not get up and move. Why? I called the gym, too, explained I wouldn't be visiting for the time being, postponed doctor's appointments, and the family settled in. None of us complained, thankfully; the kidney transplant means my ability to fight infections is limited, and my husband is 60, and we have older parents nearby with whom we're close. The decision was made in a minute, without fuss, and celebrated with that last outing.

    It was about a week later that the state started shutting down. The school system phoned and texted and emailed, and then there was no school. The boys had a few assignments, but in the main they played.

    We number among those who can work at home, which sometimes makes me feel badly, because so many people must keep going to jobs. For a while, when the parks were still open, I would take the boys after my work ended for the day and we'd run around during the March warm spell, before the chill came again and prolonged the pear and cherry blossoms and the tulips and hyacinths in a natural refrigerator. We made our own disc golf equipment of frisbee ring and sticks, because we didn't want to touch the metal disc golf posts for fear they'd be contaminated. There were people all around us, fishing in the lake, children paddling their hands in an inlet stream where there are snails and minnows and tiny clams, pushing strollers on the paved parts, and all playing an intricate dance of polite "hello, how are you?" while stepping aside many feet, to increase distance without being uncivilized about it.

    Then the parks closed. My husband thought he'd have to travel for work, and for the first time a literal shock of fear ran through all of me. It starts near your heart and leaves your fingertips and sometimes your vision wavers. Travel by plane? When the virus was spreading in Washington state and New York? He would have no choice. I didn't want to nag; he wanted to underplay risk; neither of us were happy, and we danced the let's not talk about it but I hope it works out dance. It's a dangerous one.

    Then the company cancelled all travel. Then everything shut down. The university sent everyone home. Businesses closed unless they could offer curbside or contactless service. We started picking up our groceries, once weekly, this way. Toilet paper was in short supply; we began to run low and I laid plans for backup materials that wouldn't affect the sewers. We found some, sold roll by roll, and our little hardware store down the road, and picked it up curbside from a lady in a mask. Each time my husband, masked, left the house to get them or to pick up medications, my tummy would contract slightly. Those pains have faded a bit, but I am still rubbing every object that enters our house in disinfectant, including the mail. As immunocompromised as I am, even small risks loom large, if only in perception.

    What I have noticed most is the quiet. We live in an older neighborhood about a mile downtown, and near the university. Normally we're treated to the sounds of traffic, and the big chillers and air cleaners that control the air in the big university buildings and the hospitals.

    Now the cars are mostly gone, the chillers often silent, and what we hear instead is people chatting, a toddler squealing next door in the middle of his play - no more daycare - bicycles. Dogs. Birds. And for a while what seemed to be more airlifts into the hospitals, as patients are brought from  Eastern Kentucky. The sounds are human scaled now, in this most human of times.

    It is not all bad. Scary, yes. Worrisome as we worry over relatives and friends and our community and planet? Yes. But not evrty iota bad.

    Bless you all.

    Wednesday, April 29, 2020

    The 23rd Psalm, Sung

    Some rainy, or stormy, or sad or suffering days, this is especially good to hear.

    Whatever your beliefs, may the singing of "The Lord Is My Shepherd", Psalm 23, bring you a measure of peace, even if for a little while.

    As sung at our church, not too very long ago, and posted by our organist, although there is no organ here, only human voices, lifted up.

    Tuesday, April 14, 2020

    A 1910s Dress from My Collection...With a Secret

    Leimomi Oakes of The Dreamstress has been on a roll lately with posts about the 1910s. In her latest on the era, she invited us to peruse a 1915 catalog and to pick a favorite frock on offer. I thoroughly enjoyed playing along, and fell for a blue silk faille with a bolero.

    Afterwards, I remembered that there's a teens dress in my collection of antique clothing. So thought to share it, because it's a duck of a dress, and would be a joy to kick up the heels in.

    Here it is, in all its raw natural-color silk glory.

    Don't know why, but it reminds me of the crabapple tree just in front of our house, which bloomed this past week into a mass of white, fluffy, bee-attracting, softly scented flowers.

    Not that there is anything specifically delicate about this dress. The silk noil is very, very nubby and thick and durable, the threads robust and the weave tight, though it still drapes rather than stands crisply. The cotton lace, mostly Cluny, is what people of the day would have called coarse, because the threads are much thicker than the superfine threads commonly used in Valenciennes and other popular laces.

    Neither is the pattern particularly feminine, if you ignore the lace. The applied belt with its sharply pointed end almost feels military, as does the bit of front gathering just above the belt, and of course the sailor collar is a direct reference to naval uniforms. The dress falls to about mid-shin or a little lower, so it's far easier to walk briskly about in than earlier gowns. When I bought it years ago, it fit -- just -- and I remembered the length pretty clearly.

    The dress lacks any identification or label on it, and compared to some of the Edwardian and teens garments in my stash, is, shall we say, less carefully made than some. Lots of seams are left unfinished,  and while the sewing is fairly good, especially on the facings, a few of the seams wander a bit -- although sewing straight through that nubby silk would have been no picnic. There is some handwork in the dress: the trim is sewn on by hand, and the edging hand-whipped to the trim.

    Bodice Front

    Here are bodice details.

    The buttons have discolored much more than the dress has, although if you look at the gathered portion of the bodice, you can see that a bit of the silk is quite a dirty brown, and there's a brown stain on the inside of the front placket. The dress was cleaned before I had it: it has none of the odor so many antique clothes acquire, of dust, of brittle fibers, or of mildew.

    Here's a detail of one of the yummy buttons.

    The front is missing at least two buttons. All of them are -- or were -- for show, for the dress used to close with hooks and eyes or with snaps. They are gone except for a hook near the bottom of the front opening, and a hook and two bars at the belt. If you look closely at the right side of the dress at the level of the left's side top button, you can see where a hook or snap used to reside. I have located other, less noticeable, threads down the front to the level of the lowest button that show where the bars or snaps used to be.

    The closure is strengthened with a facing to each side. The facing is cut on the bias and started as multiple pieces: I found a seam and you can see it in the photo below near my finger.

    The front closure does not go all the way to the dress hem, but stops around the thighs, so you must step into it. The photo below shows the placket base. Do notice that the opening becomes a seam all the way to the dress hem, and it incorporates a very wide vertical tuck that has been pressed firmly flat. The lower trim, near the hem of the dress, goes right over this tuck. Interesting...

    Bodice Back and Sides

    The back of the bodice is below.

    Isn't that Cluny lace wonderful? Like the silk noil fabric, it's bold. The collar is carefully shaped. Do you see how it widens just a bit as it comes up to the shoulders? That thick border is integral to the lace, too. Neither was the collar assembled from lengths of Cluny, and made into a collar with mitered corners. Nope. That's one piece, except for the edging with bobbles. The edging is indeed made of a separate lace, and is whipped to the main piece. The bobble trim is itself rather delicate, and it has ripped in a few places.

    Here below is a spot on one of the sleeves where the edging has come loose, so you can really see what it looks like alone.

    The back of the bodice is designed with two almost vertical tucks running from neckline to waist that have been sewn down, as if felled. They draw the eye up and down and balance the horizontal lines of the collar, belt, and skirt trim.

    The shoulder edges of the bodice are dominated by large vertical tucks, then called bretelles, that I recognize as common elements in late Edwardian and teens dress. You can find oodles of examples in Frances Grimble's The Edwardian Modiste. The tucks broaden the shoulder line, making the waist appear of course smaller. In this dress, it is only when the collar is lifted that you really see how broad the shoulders have been made to look; the collar tends to soften things.

    Below I have folded up the collar to reveal the bretelles from the side.

    At first I thought that the bodice front was just two pieces, but it isn't: there is a side piece basically the width of the armscye underneath the Armscye. You don't notice it because of the bretelles.

    The bodice is gathered, as in the front, into the belt, saving the areas where the tucks appear.

    Look at how far back the shoulder seam is set!

    A peep inside the front of the bodice, below. You can see the facing, with a final little fold on the inside to neaten the edge. The strong facing also, I think, makes sure that the opening is less likely to billow or gap than it might if not reinforced.

    Around the tight neckline curve, small tucks were taken in the facing, as you can see below where I have turned the neckline partly inside out.

    Another peep inside, below, shows us how the bodice and skirt were seamed together. As I have found in a few other garments of the Edwardian and teens period, the waist can be a mess. In this case they were sewn right sides together and the allowances left unfinished. Now you can really tell just how large the threads are that make up the silk noil fashion fabric.

    The join is covered on the exterior by the belt. In other dresses I recall and have a record of (I have given away much of my collection), there is an interior belt of very strong cotton or linen tape, and the bodice and skirt are mounted to that rather than to each other, and the belt often has a fastener to set it closely to the body. Dressmaking manuals emphasize their use, too. That makes sense with the soft, thin silks and muslins of the Edwardian years, and the early teens, but this fabric doesn't need it, or for some other reason it wasn't used.


    How about the sleeves? The armscye is set at the edge of the shoulder. The sleeve is made of two pieces, with the bottom seam under the arm and the top seam towards the back of the top of the arm. The insides of these seams are unfinished. The top seam includes a small vertical tuck, along which the sleeve buttons are arranged.

    Here's one side.

    The other, alas, is missing two of its buttons.

    You can see how the sleeve top is gently eased into the armscye,  covered by the shoulder bretelle.

    Poor lone button...

    The inside of the armscye is -- for once -- neatly finished with binding.

    Another sleeve glamour shot:


    The skirt -- well, the skirt hides a secret.

    The skirt is made of four panels, right and left front and right and left back, with seams at center front, center back and at the middle of each side.

    The cut is dominated by a large horizontal tuck just below the top-level trim.

    The front seam, below the placket opening, continues as a vertical tuck too, and it's rather wide.

    If you look closely, you will see that the trim is +folded+ into that tuck with the rest of the fabric, not placed over it. If you're extra eagle-eyed, you'll see a bent pin hiding next to the tuck in amongst the trim. Its head is stuck beneath the trim, and it's good and stuck, too.

    Now, if we peek once more inside the dress from the place opening, and look to the side seam, we see a wide seam allowance near the waist. Whee-oo!

    There is no wide side seam allowance near the hem, though.

    The hem itself? It's very wide. Here I've turned up the bottom of the skirt inside out and rested it on the dress' shoulder.

    You've probably guessed the secret the dress is hiding: it used to be both fuller, including near the waist, and longer, too.

    This dress was remade.

    When do you suppose it was renovated to its present look? I am guessing around 1914...but, what do you think?

    So What Did the Dress Look Like Before Its Remaking?

    I rambled through a whole slew of images from around 1910 and decided that this dress most likely may have had the vee opening, but that a guimpe or chemisette was worn underneath it. It may have been high-necked, or it might not. There may have been more buttons down the front, but the sailor collar and trims were already on the dress, because the trim near the hem has been turned in with the tuck rather than laid over it, as it would have been if the trim had been added.

    Here are two dresses, circa 1910-1912, that bear some similarities to our dress. There is the coarse lace, the bobble trim, the high waistline, the lack of a high neckline, and the above-the-elbow sleeves, although the line is narrower than our dress originally sported.

    The photo, from the  Glamourdaze blog post titled "1910 – Paris Summer Fashions – amusing review" is identified as taken by Seeberger Freres.

    No, the lady on the right is not wearing a face mask; she's hiding her face with her program. How living with the fear of coronavirus changes what our eyes first glimpse!

    Now, from the McCall's Magazine, January 1910, a fashion plate, with the bretelle'd waists (bodices), and high necked chemisettes under dresses.

    ABE Books, McCall's Magazine, January 1910, Jim Hodgson Books. 

    Now I will carefully fold the dress and lay it back in its bin to await another day and another examination. I was rather hoping to take a pattern from it, but seeing that it's rather a Frankendress, well, I won't, unless someone asks me to at some point.

    Hoping that you enjoyed the tour!