1861: A Going-Away Dress By Linda Learn INTRODUCTION BY JOAN KIPLINGER Introducing Linda Learn, guest columnist this month, while Joan is working on a project. If the name rings a bell, Linda was a contributor to the Profiles in Collecting March/April column. To repeat her bio in her own inimitable style — she a fabriholic, re-enactor consultant, costumer, fabric store owner and an inveterate teacher of everything from art to nuclear, biological and chemical warfare for all ages. If you are in the Tunhannock PA [Scranton] area, look her up.
Now on to a costumer’s plight. According to the records at the Wyoming County Historical Society, this bodice and skirt was the “going-away” outfit of Angie Keeney after she married John Gilbert Woodhouse at the Skinners Eddy Methodist Church on the 30th of January, 1861. This is a wonderful example of fashion elements of that time. The “stacked” box pleats of the skirt designed to go over a crinoline or several petticotes and the pink taffeta silk box pleated ruffles on the inside edge of the pagoda sleeves are all perfect examples! A set of undersleeves and a chemisette with collar would have been worn under the bodice.
The face fabric is a woven plaid of white, gray and mossy green/gold. It is a fine evenweave silk with luster and a crisp hand. The silk is in excellent condition except for several small tears in the skirt which look to have been caused by catching on something. The bodice is constructed with dropped shoulders, with the shoulder seams riding to the back of the shoulder, curved (fake) back seams from the mid back armseye to the waist, and straight underarm seams. All are common to bodice construction of the time.
The pagoda sleeve is set into the armseye with bias self-piping in the seam. Two rows of puffed fabric on the bicept area are made by gathering the top edge, middle and bottom edge of a rectangular piece of the face fabric, going with the grain, and setting it onto the sleeve upper to match the plaid direction in the rest of the sleeve.
The neck of the bodice is piped with bias face fabric and the bottom is also edged with bias face fabric. The fake curved back seams are topstitched with black thread that shows on the outside and on the lining. The bodice is completely lined with a tan/brown, tightly woven cotton, Hidden “pockets” are sewn in the lining fabric at the six darts in the bodice front, for stays that keep the fabric from bunching around the chest and waist area. The stays can’t be seen but they feel like ¼” steel boning.
The sleeves are interlined, probably with the same cotton as the bodice, and lined with pink silk taffeta. On one sleeve the pink silk is slightly larger than the face fabric and a thin edge of pink shows from the right side of the sleeve. There is a box pleated ruffle of the same pink taffeta around the inside edge of each sleeve.
The medallion trims on the sleeves and the bodice front are made of moss green machine-made lace, pleated into a circle to resemble a flower, with a wooden button covered in moss green silk and that covered in a net of needle lace. They are spaced about 6″ apart around the edge of the sleeves, and two are at the bottom half of the bodice front opening. They are sewn on with basting stitches. Brown jacquard silk ribbon bows with double loops are sewn at the top of the sleeve openings.
The same moss green lace that was used for the medallions, appears to have been sewn to the waist of the bodice at one time but only a few shreds remain. There is an overlap of the right side over the left. A large hook at the bottom of the bodice opening fastens to a thread bar. A large hook and one small one at the top of the bodice opening have no matching “eyes”. These may have been used to secure the chemisette or the blousette worn under the bodice. The skirt is the same circumference at the top as at the bottom. The length has been adjusted by folding the top edge before setting on the waistband.
The skirt top has been pleated into “stacked (4 times) box pleats”.
The waist band is of two different pieces of wool. It may have been redone or expanded at a later date as it doesn’t seem to fit the bodice waist well. The waistband has 2 smaller flattened wire hooks and eyes and one larger hook and eye for fastenings. This picture shows the skirt opening and the folded over and pleated skirt top with a tiny bit of waist band showing.
The skirt is fully lined with a very lightweight glazed evenweave cotton that is light brown. The lining was sewn together separate from the face fabric and then joined. The only seam that shows “raw edges” is the seam that has the skirt opening and that fabric is sewn together. You can see in the picture to the right of the skirt opening, that a piece of the silk has been cut from the folded over top.
I think this is the piece that was used in a repair on the front of the skirt (not shown). There is a pocket hidden behind one of the pleats. It is made of bodice lining fabric. There is a strip of blue silk on the pocket inside .from the pleat edge about 1 ½” into the pocket. This isn’t necessary for the construction of the pocket. The bottom of the skirt is edged/protected with a brown wool braid folded over the edge and stitched in place.
The braid is worn through and even missing in some spots and in good shape at other spots. Braid like this was meant to take wear instead of the skirt edge. All the stitching on this outfit is done by hand. There are no raw seams showing in the construction.
Only the folded top edge of the skirt, which has been folded at the waist to adjust the length of the hem, has any unbound or “raw edges” showing and they show no signs of raveling. This outfit was meticulously sewn with tiny stitches. It is one of the few in our locale that remain from this era: a beautiful example of a dressmaker’s skill.
The arbitrary cut-off date for this Vintage Fabric column is 1960. To stay within the scope of this timeframe, reference materials published up to that date are the prime source of information to more accurately capture actual thoughts of the time.
Joan Kiplinger is an antique doll costumer and vintage fabric addict who learned to sew on her grandmother’s treadle and has been peddling fabrications ever since.