Friday, August 7, 2015

If the dress fits . . .

I've been cleaning through my vintage clothes and I came across this dress that I made for a contest in the early 1990's.  The Martha Pullen Company held a contest for heirloom sewn by machine garments.  Heirloom sewing is that style of sewing that you see in those lovely white lacy Victorian garments of the past and it was done by hand.  Rows and rows of French cotton lace and ruched fabric strips stitched together are very typical of this style of sewing along with details like pin tucks and hand embroidery.  To make it more complicated, the lace and fabric strips are typically joined together with entredeux which is a tiny strip about 1/8 inch wide (sometimes less) that looks like faggotting.  These rows are typically hand whipstitched together.  It includes tiny hand rolled and stitched hems.  However when sewing by machine, one must use very tiny zig zag stitches that fall in the little holes in the lace and make tiny rolled hems with the machine to replicate the hand stitches.  It takes some practice, but I enjoyed this type of vintage styling and made a number of dresses for Emily when she was little.

My inspiration for this dress was a single piece of 14 inch wide Swiss embroidered cotton lace that dates to around 1900.  My brother, the antiques dealer, had gifted me with a Hefty garbage bag full of old store stock French Val and Swiss embroidered laces from that time period.  I lovingly restored all of them and I've enjoyed using them over the years.  This one piece though was simply spectacular. The lace, while white, did not match the stark bleached white imported Swiss batiste that I bought so I had to tea dye that then lightly bleach out the dye until I got the right color.   I don't like to wear pure white so I chose a cream color Swiss batiste to use as an under layer.  The sleeves were kept sheer, using only the white batiste.

The dress had some spots on it so I spent a day carefully removing them and gave it a light hand wash.

I've always treasured this frock.  It was a lot of work.

Front and back views:

Closer views of the bodice.  The wide lace inset at the center front, dropped waist and cuff was also vintage.  The insertion lace with the ribbon and the edging on the collar and cuffs was new.

Hand pulled thread and shadow embroidery done with silk floss.

Collar detail--The front and back are white batiste, the pointed shoulder piece is the cream colored batiste.

Cuff detail

Detail of cuff showing the tiny stitches connecting the different rows of lace.

Detail of sleeve seam showing the entredeux used to connect the sleeves to the body of the dress.

Inside of bodice showing entredeux seam and French seam.

Waist inset

The gorgeous piece of lace that inspired the dress.  

Skirt details

Knotted ribbon rosette--I loved making these.  Ems wore them in her hair all the time as a little girl.

I dressed up a straw hat to wear with this dress which I really liked at the time.  I'm thinking that I should remove the ribbon trim and make a cloche styled or Edwardian type hat and put the ribbon on it.  I have to figure out the period I want.

I wore this with white leather flats.  Now I have the perfect shoes--Seabury Edwardian pumps by the American Duchess with clocked Edwardian silk stockings!

I'll have to keep this frock handy to wear to one of my teas or other functions.  It's just too pretty to sit in the closet!