Recently a lovely lady brought us this silk gown – Violet, the original wearer wore it on her first date with her future husband in 1929. Over the intervening years, it was kept safe with other sartorial treasures like her wedding dress, shoes and stockings and the gown she wore when her son was married in the ’50s.
It’s always so special when you have the stories behind clothes and wherever possible, I like to be able to hand them on with the clothing, to their new homes.
Violet’s beautiful gown, like many of that era, was made of delicate fabrics and it was never expected that over eighty years later we’d still want these fashions! I’m pleased to report that with patience and skill, they can be restored.
This once grand gown looks rather shabby at the moment (apologies for the out of focus photo) but still full of potential. Let me take you through our plans – this is how the gown looks in the original, unrestored state before any work has been done. I haven’t even pressed it because I don’t want to damage it further.
The main part of the gown is a soft blue silk charmeuse, still in very good and mostly strong condition which is great news: as long as the fabric is strong, there is always something that you can do.
You can see that there was an insert into the top of the bodice and under the arms – remnants of chain stitch embroidery show where it sat originally, but the delicate silk chiffon has almost all rotted away.
Thankfully silk chiffon is still a popular modern fabric and it will be easy to obtain a similar colour, or could be dyed to match the original. The sheer effect could also be reproduced using a silk organza, which is more robust.
Here’s a better shot of the bodice, where you can see the ghost of the insert -it’s quite beautiful despite it’s unwearability.
Here, on the left side, the sheer panel descends all the way to the hips, where a silk ribbon gathers the panels together. The inside portion of the skirt at this point is a heavy silver metallic fabric – you can just see it there on the right side of the split.
The skirt is open on this side from the hips to the floor, suggesting that perhaps it’s an overdress? At the very least, a petticoat would need to be worn underneath to preserve one’s modesty – this is a very revealing dress without the proper undergarments, and far too racy for a first date.
On the right side, you can see how that large sheer panel shows off the curve of the young lady’s back – I’m sure it wasn’t too sheer though, you probably just saw the afore-mentioned petticoat, something like this one.
Isn’t that embroidery stunning? Chain stitch combined with lots of large sequins, probably made of gelatine and looking almost like fish scales – the colours so vibrant, perfect for a young lady set to impress (and I’m sure she did).
So after replacing the missing panels, we’ll ensure the sequins and embroidery are secure and re-apply the detailing on the new panel too. There may be some rips in the seams: this dress is likely to be sewn using cotton or silk, so we’ll use the same material in the closest colour possible (most modern threads are polyester, nice and strong but not authentic for this era).
You may have noticed a gouge in the skirt in the first pic, near the hem: this dress is very long, even for a ’20s dress and so we’ll probably sacrifice some of the length and shorten the hem. This will only minimally affect the sequinned design and the skirt will still be long enough for the era.
An alternative would be to patch it, but it’s in a noticeable spot and we’d have trouble matching the fabric without dyeing, although some fabric could be taken from the side gathered portion – diminishing that aspect but preserving the length.
More of the fabulous detailing: a stylised floral design with sequins in assorted shapes – and a huge stylised bird! You can see that hem gouge at the bottom.
I’m delighted to inform you that we can now offer this service to you for your vintage and antique treasures. Perhaps you’d like some assistance with preparing a family heirloom for your wedding, or an ancient christening gown that needs freshening up and rejuvenation for a new family member?
Bring us your favourite things and we can advise on the work involved and give an estimate of the cost involved. Repairs and alterations also available.
2017 UPDATE: we’re currently quite busy with projects so not taking on any more restorations at the moment but this should change once we’ve caught up.