The 1900 Violet Dress Restoration Project

Restoring a gown from scratch requires careful planning, knowledge of patterning, and several breathing masks…because those early silk dyes are deadly. I’m looking forward to wearing this soon, and I just restored another velvet chapeau that matches this violet shade! I got this bodice and skirt from an auction with a pinned note of provenance. It belonged to ‘Grace Jennings’ who apparently wore it to a Luisa Downing’s wedding sometime in the late 1890s. This dress is not repairable, so I’m slowly patterning and re-making it. Thank you, Grace! Your dress has a loving home.

Soutache and Chenille Embroidery closeup. The lace false front will be lightened, it’s obvious it was white when it was made.

The hat is pictured backwards just to show how perfectly the flowers harmonize! How sweet to think that two ladies’ Sunday Best will be re-used to make a new ensemble.
Yes, I’m a sentimental sap.

I’m inspired by all this handwork. The borders blend into the garment with a random series of french knots. For some reason, the embroidered part isn’t shattering. Maybe it’s because it’s backed with linen and a cotton batiste. The chenille ‘stamens’ are a mauve silk plush. So 3-D!

I still can’t believe that hat matches so well, I’ve had it for two years and never wear it. It needs a gentle steaming and cleaning.

The label…

This was the note that was pinned to the bodice interior, it’s identified as once being owned by a ‘Grace M. Jennings’ and ‘worn to ‘Luisa Downing’s wedding’. I love this sentimental touch.

I think the belt was an afterthought cut from some scrap fabric. Too much machine topstitching compared to the couture techniques on the garment!

See that pile of violet silk shreds in the box on the right? That’s the skirt. I’l have one chance to pattern it, because it’s disintegrating as I type.

 

31 bones present in under the bodice and the bodice alone and five in the collar. That’s a lot of stays! And to examine closer…

The first snip is always the hardest. No going back now!

Removing the boning today, thirty seven stays in all. Each one is hand stitched into a silk tube, all seam allowances are finished with bias silk by hand. Saying a little prayer of appreciation to the designer’s details before I remake this bodice!

I always cross my fingers and say a little prayer when I have to take apart an original chapeau to restore it. Going to give that lace a little soak before I sew it back on.

Lace and silk tulle lining removed. There are three different kinds of wire used here and three different threads. I tied a black ribbon to the lace cover so I could easily match it back up.

Sigh. See that tiny understitching? They hold a tiny wire and I get to undo each one individually. Too late to turn back!

Removed all the lace from the front plastron so it can be cleaned. Look at her collar and how it dips in the center front…she had a short neck just like me but was still a slave to fashion!

Lace and silk tulle lining removed. There are three different kinds of wire used here and three different threads. I tied a black ribbon to the lace cover so I could easily match it back up.

Lace is restored to oyster white, the shade it was in 1900. Turns out there were lace appliques that the milliner layered to create “pockets” that perfectly fit over the undulating wire curves. That’s the original label next to it.

Here’s the sad shattered skirt. I get one chance to draft a pattern from this and every time it’s moved, it throws old fabric dust particles in the air. Yes, I’m wearing a mask.

This is an atypical hem for this era, it’s all self-fabric and completely hand-sewn. It’s also the only part of the skirt that has remained intact. In a future post, we’ll have more about the restoration and how we put this design to work for us as recreated fashion. Stay tuned!

Leave a Reply