Tuesday, January 31, 2012

An Antique Edwardian Gown: Inside and Out

I originally bought this gown with the hopes that it was in good enough condition to wear. When it arrived, I was disappointed to find that it was much too fragile. The overdress is made of such a fine and delicate fabric that it has worn through in places and the coral body of the gown has a few rips as well. I very much wanted to clean and press this dress for photos but I'm too worried about destroying it, so please excuse the years of dirt and it's wrinkly state.

The silver lining in all this is that the dress is still incredibly useful for study.

I have many Victorian/Edwardian tailoring books, but nothing is quite like seeing the real thing. The construction of Edwardian era gowns has always been such a mystery to me. So many hooks and snaps and weights and layers and linings and blah blah blah. I have a few day dresses from the era, but I have never had the opportunity to see a more formal dress. Inspecting this gown has been fascinating.

To note, I am inferring that this dress is from around 1910, due to the style of the over dress and the shape of the train. If anyone has a better idea of year, please do share. The dress appears to be coral silk satin with an overdress of charcoal silk chiffon(?). The embroidery looks to be silk as well. Quite a lot of this dress (except the long seams perhaps) is hand stitched.

Loads and loads and loads of pictures ahead!

Note the interesting shape of the train.

Gilt rope bow detail.
Slightly tarnished with age.

Looking at the stitching, you
can see the net is hand embroidered.

Each of those bumps is a pocket in the tape that holds
a weight. I'm assuming a lead weight. It goes around the
circumference of the overdress

The split open side seam of the over dress
meets at the bottom...

...But is open on both sides of the
bodice like this.

Note the decorative little coral pieces attached to the
bodice. They are under the sheer layer.

You can see the three layers in the sleeve.
The middle layer is a gilt lace.

Looking through a hole in the underarm.

The seams in the sheer layers and lace are french seams.

Of the two gilt ropes, the lower rope is wrapped in the
overdress fabric.

There is a layer of the gilt lace across the bust.

Note the small stitches securing the
gilt lace to the white.

The collar is edged in satin and trimmed also with the gilt lace.

Back view!

To hold up the lace collar, there are five
thin "wavy"  wires.

One wire is enclosed in the seam.

The opaque cream ruffle is sandwiched in
between the outer bodice and a lining of
mesh. The ruffle is a stiff, starchy fabric.
Presumably to shape the outer bodice.

Millions of hook and eyes!
Ladies maid please!

The inner waistband, made of a sturdy tape.

Note the bone casing along the waistband.
There are five bones.

Note the hand over-casted selvedge.

See the skirt flipped up. Along the back half of the skirt
there are four one-inch diameter flat circular weights,
encased in fabric.

This casing is missing its weight.

The insides of the sleeves are finished in a french seam.


  1. Wow! You weren't kidding..."Ladies Maid, please!" Must have taken an hour to get dressed, and then think of all the other internal garments to put on first! Then of course, the hair to do, and decorate, and the putting on of the appropriate jewelry!!A life of leisure was needed, indeed!

  2. I want an O'Brien! Just not a nasty one lol.

    So we started watching the first season of Downton again last night and T was like, "why did they need so many staff just for one family?" Well, when every meal was like a formal production it was no wonder! I wish everyone still dressed for dinner like that!

  3. Thanks for this very in-depth look! Your pictures are invaluable and are just the kind of construction photos I am most interested in seeing. I love looking at those beautiful museum photos of Worth gowns, but nothing beats seeing how the gown is put together and all the hooks and eyes. Thank you thank you thank you!

  4. So happy to help!! Past sewing techniques are so foreign from how our clothes are made now. I wish everyone who has access to antique clothes would share them. Pictures of the insides, especially, are so valuable and hard to find. I will soon be sharing more from my collection. I'm always amazed how casually garments were sewn, unlike now, how every seam and stitch has to be hidden and look perfect. You learn to be a little less hard on your own stitching :)

  5. That was fabulous thank you for posting. Sorry I don't have any gilt laces :(

  6. Absolutely fascinating; thank you so much for this posting.

  7. Thanks indeed! A treasure of information in those photos and you are such a dear to share.

  8. To all: I am SO glad these pictures were of use to you all! So happy to share! Extensive construction pictures are difficult to find. I always find them very valuable. I'm honored to contribute!

  9. How much does this dress weigh?

    1. Do you know, everyday since you asked this I have been meaning to weigh the dress, and every time I go to grab it I get distracted! As soon as I get a chance I will do this! Haven't forgot ;)

  10. Thank you so much for this insight into this dress, it is very eye opening. And yes, Caroline I think you are right. I would need an O'Brien too!

  11. I too love seeing the "innards" of antique gowns since I try to make them but they seem so foreign sometimes, and pattern directions don't explain them properly.
    Do you know what the weights in it were used for? I couldn't figure that out.
    You've inspired me to photograph my tiny little antique 1870-80s bodice that I use for sewing education, and share that on my blog now.

  12. As I understand it, the weights help keep the dress hanging nicely. And can't wait to see pics of your bodice!

  13. Awww, what a disappointment that it's too fragile to wear, but then considering the types of fabrics they used then, they are quick to wear out. Even the turn of the century crazy quilts, with the silks and laces, are rare to find intact today.
    That was interesting to hear about the non-perfectionism in the stitching details because that lines up with what I've learned of 18th century as well. Sewing with historic technique is completely different from the modern mindset!
    I agree, I'm sure that is what the weights were for.
    I like the color combinations in that dress!

    1. I love the messy stitches in extant garments! I'm so fascinated by them!

      Yes, unfortunately the gauzy outer dress is shattering. When you pick up the fabric, it snows. I did get the chance to try it on however.

      I was at a workshop with Shelly Peters recently and I brought some antique clothes to share. Over an antique 1910's corset (so neat!) I tried on the coral dress so she could take some pictures of the fit.

      It was very interesting: at first we thought the dress was far too small for me, then I realized I was slumping forward a bit. After pulling the shoulders back and bust forward, the dress closed properly all the way up back and the front puffed out into the fashionable silhouette of that time. Very interesting experiment in posture.

  14. "skirt weights"...

    Okay, mind BLOWN.

  15. What a gorgeous find! Thank you so much for sharing the detailed photos. I am always amazed by the construction of these antique garments.