Monday, October 8, 2018

Great-Great-Grandma's Dress

My great-great-grandmother Ida was born in 1850 and died in 1931. My grandmother would have been almost 18 when her grandmother died. She never told me any stories about visiting her big house in Delaware, but my aunt remembers hearing about it. It was on the Delaware River, near Philadelphia. My grandmother and her siblings would take the train with their mother from south Georgia. My mother remembers playing dress-up in Ida's wedding dress in the 1950s. At some point the dress was given to our cousin Ellie who just sent it back, September 2018.
Anna Wilson Mason 1877

I don't have a photo of my great-great-grandmother Ida in her wedding dress, but I do have a photo of another great-great-grandmother, Anna, in her wedding dress in 1877. This woman would have been a contemporary of Ida's. Her son James and Ida's daughter Rosalie married sometime between 1898 and 1913. 1898 is when Rosalie was in her mother's second wedding and 1913 is when my grandmother was born.

Ida's best friend was named Rosalie Butcher. Her sister Laura was married to a natural gas tycoon named Addicks. Ida got married to a man named Wilson. She named her first daughter for her best friend Rosalie. When Laura died, the tycoon Addicks married her sister, Rosalie, Ida's best friend. But Rosalie suspected her husband and Ida were having an affair so she divorced Addicks. And sure enough Ida married him next. Way too much drama for me. I'm not sure at what point in the proceedings Ida's husband died. There was a 12 year gap where she was just a widow.

I thought the dress was from Ida's second wedding to J. Edward Addicks in 1898, which I can read about on Wikipedia, but upon examination I see that the name written inside the shoes is Miss Carr. She was already Mrs. Wilson when she married Mr. Addicks, as evidenced by the New York Times wedding announcement. Ellie speculates maybe Ida wore this dress for both weddings. I don't know about that. It was probably close to 20 years between them. Surely the style changed. But it was customary in those days to not have a dedicated wedding dress. Even Queen Victoria repurposed her wedding dress into a ball gown. Most women just wore their very best dress to their wedding. This dress is indeed totally over the top. I can see how Ida might want to wear it again.

I can't read the document showing the date Ida married Joseph Bernard Wilson to see the earlier possible date for this dress being made. It was easy enough to find a picture of the marriage record online, but I'm too poor to shell out $9 to to get a look at it bigger than a thumbnail. Times have changed. I don't have a lot of money to throw around. My ancestors had money, oh yeah. According to the website of the people who currently own the ancestral home, Anna's husband, A. Heywood Mason, was worth 2 million dollars in 1890. This was at a time when the entire federal budget was 384 million dollars. I'm not bragging, I'm frankly disgusted by that. As bad as the sociopolitical situation is these days I just have to shrug at the question "Where did we go wrong?!" The very beginning? Anna's husband got his money the same way rich people do it today — from his father. James S. Mason immigrated from England in 1830 and built a factory making ink and shoe polish. He had 200 employees at a steam powered factory in Philadelphia at the peak production of James S. Mason & Co. I expect the CEO got rich and the workers didn't, same as today.

Anyway, judging by Ida's dress, she was pretty well taken care of too. She seems to have marched right into the tailor on her very narrow feet and said, "I'll take the works."

A few years after Anna and A. Heywood Mason got married they came down to the piney woods in a horse drawn coach with their wee baby James. They stayed in an opulent hotel for the winter. They went hunting and had a big time socializing with other rich folks. They liked it so much in South Georgia they bought land for all their hunting needs, complete with a big Gone With The Wind looking plantation house. (This all happened after the civil war. There were freed slaves to take care of the house and land but the Masons paid them and taught them to read and whatnot.) When I was a little girl my aunt and uncle lived there. It was right through the woods and I used to visit them. I took tennis lessons on their tennis court and my cousin Sherry taught me how to ride a horse (I didn't go nuts over either of those activities, preferring to read and make things.). My aunt and uncle sold the big house when I was in college. But my grandmother's descendants retain the part of the land that she inherited. This is where I live in my tiny house.

When it comes to heirlooms my grandmother was just not set up to conserve textiles. She was terrible at taking care of anything that wasn't improved by setting it on fire. She was an early proponent of prescribed burning for these forests. Our woods are a beautiful example of a diverse native ecosystem. But that enormous oriental rug in her old house where my aunt lives now, it is in a sad state. It would probably be worth a lot if it hadn't been in an unairconditioned house in the South for the last 130 years. Linen tablecloths and dresses are equally degraded. Some of the furniture is still around, but honestly most of it is pretty ugly. Victorian taste was grotesque.

I feel like the design of this dress has value for costume purposes even if it is so damaged as to not be usable as a garment. I can measure and document it and take a lot of photos. Somebody could refer to this information to create a replica as a period costume. If you have a membership to you can find out exactly what year Ida Carr got married the first time and pinpoint when this was the height of fashion in the Philadelphia area.

I'm curious about the technology they could have used to make this dress. I looked on the ISMACS site (sewing machine collectors) for what sort of industrial sewing machines they had available then. Singer introduced a vast selection of industrial sewing machines in the 1890s. But if this dress was for a wedding 15 or more years before that there would have been a much reduced set of machinery to make it. The tailors would have been limited to a few kinds of chain stitch or lock stitch machine driven by hand crank. I think the treadle came along around 1880. This dress may even pre-date that innovation.

Singer Ruffler hadn't been invented yet when this dress was made. All these ruffles were made by hand

This is the 24-7 crimper. It didn't have a needle, it just folded and pressed the fabric. Would have made those 1/4" hems go faster for sure.
I don't think the crimper with the treadle was invented yet when this dress was made.

Question: am I wrong to call it a dress if it's a skirt and jacket? What would Ida call this? An outfit? An ensemble? I will now start referring to it more specifically by the separate parts.

The Jacket

I can't get over the color of this outfit. It's basically like if an old sepia tone black and white photo was actually a color photo and everybody was just dressed in shades of beige and gray in the 1800s. Since when do taupe and gray go together? Maybe not since 1900. 

The jacket of this dress weighs 12 1/2 ounces. It has stiff interfacing in the bottom half of the sleeves but the rest of the jacket is quite soft. The bodice is a taupe silk low luster satin with silk faille or taffeta sleeves and embellishments. I'm not sure what to call the fabric. The grayish stuff is quite stiff where the taupe is soft, like the silk blouses I used to wear to work when I had a job. Is it peau de soie? It's very pretty material especially on the back where it is less damaged. For 53 detailed photos with measurements go to the Google Photos album.

The jacket from the front had these inward facing ruffles and I'm not sure what they were meant to do.

Ida was all about how she looked from behind

The Petticoat

The petticoat would fit me if I removed all my internal organs below my lungs and put on a corset. It's got a 23" waist. The length comes to the top of my ankle in front. There is a train in the petticoat. I can't tell if its got room for a bustle. It's quite heavily gathered up. There are ribbons inside it that I guess were meant to be tied together to bustle it up if you didn't want the train dragging.
Front Length: 39"
Back Length: 61"
Ruffle: 16 1/2" with 4" hem and 1/4" turned under. Would have started out as a 21" wide fabric strip 225" long. (18 feet 9 inches)
At the top of the ruffle where it is gathered is 138" (11 feet 6 inches) 
The front gore of the petticoat is 22 1/2" at the bottom and 6" gathered at the waist. I don't know if it started out a rectangle or not. I wonder if the ruffle is made from the full width of whatever fabric they made this out of? The gores on either side are steeply angled down and are 11" along the bottom seam at the ruffle.  More photos on Google
Petticoat with a long train

The Skirt

The skirt and petticoat together weigh 6.2 pounds. The skirt alone is 4.2 pounds. Link to more photos and opportunity to comment on each.
Ida had her a pocket for her HP15C. (Not really. Those came out in 1982, not 1882. Sorry, Ida.)
The length of the front of the skirt is 40 1/2". It would come about 1/2" off the floor if I put it on. This is me standing on tiptoe to estimate 1 1/4" heels. I expect with petticoats and a bustle and possibly a hoop holding it out, Ida was probably a little shorter than me. Probably about my mom's height around 5'4". (I have a 32" inseam. Average to above average for modern times. 100 years ago that would have been unusual.)

The front of the skirt is made of 3 gores.  At the waist they measure 
| 5" |    7"    | 5"|
and they are perfectly flat, no gathers. I don't know what happens when you bunch up all that petticoat under there though.

At 22"  down from the waist there is another triangular gore sewn between the middle and side gores. It measures 5" across the hem. The total width at the hem is like this
|         18         |    5    |              23 1/2              |     5     |          18         |

It is hard to get a picture of this skirt all at once. 

There are 4 ruffles arranged on the front of the skirt from about the tip of the jacket to just below the knee. They have a bit of a V shape to them. They are made of bias cut strips of silk taffeta with a doubled 1/4" hem folded to the front. They are hand gathered and hand attached to the skirt. The ruffles are topped with bias cut banding with more of that 1/4" folded hem. Some of this has a mesh backing.

The bottom front business is a 15 1/2" wide bias cut silk band with a 1" hem on the bottom and a 2" piece sewn on the top so these weird pleats can be turned down. Basically each pleat takes 11 1/2" of fabric and turns it into 2 1/2". This happens five times across the front of the skirt. It's simply a device to put more fabric in this garment.

I have this image in my head of a young woman and her maid going into a tailor's shop carrying three bolts of fabric each. They drop them on the counter and the lady says, "I've just come from a trip to France where I purchased enough fabric to make new draperies for the entire new wing. But I've changed my mind and I would like all of it made into just one dress."

The bias cut is no joke. They must have just converted several bolts of taffeta into one long 12" strip and then they cut that down into all the other trim profiles. I looked up how wide fabric was in the 1870s. Standard looms seemed to be turning out fabric a yard wide, so only 36".

The front design goes like this. # is a gather and * is a bow.
# * # * # * # * #
I undid one of the gathers and measured 18" from the side seam to the first bow.
18" x 5 = 90" for the band across the front before it's gathered up. After it's gathered and sewn on it comes to 44". That's a 15 1/2" strip too, not just 12". That's two yards of fabric just to make that decoration. Not counting the bows.

There are two side panels to describe before I even get to the back. After the band on the front there is a 9 1/2" wide at the bottom and 2 3/4" at the top panel. It is framed out on the back side with two lines of this tape with a folded double 1/4" hem, invisibly stitched from the back. This makes it stiff. I think that's why they keep doing this. These panels are attached on top of the side gores.

But wait! There's more! The side panels are backed up with another 2" bias cut ruffle and filled in with 5 bows. On each side. For crying out loud already!

Now, on to the back. There are 5 gores on the back of the skirt. The back is so heavily gathered at the waist that they didn't even try to make it flat. They just sewed through the pleats and lined them up against the small of Ida's back like a folded fan. It must not have been very comfortable. It wouldn't matter if it looked funny as the tail of the jacket would have mostly covered it up.

In fact they seemed utterly unconcerned about what went on at the top of the skirt. The edge of the waistband isn't even finished. There's no sign of a buttonhole. I wonder if the waistband was replaced later. This seems likely. For an event Ida would probably have her lady's maid sew her into it and then cut the stitches at the end of the night.

Flipping the skirt inside out I will measure the gores in the back. The whole thing is backed up with muslin same as the jacket. It's not really lining, just interfacing.

Gathered up at the waist there are 5 gores in back. The measurements all gathered up are
|2"|2"|  4"  |2"|2"|

Measuring along the stitching line for the first ruffle:
Ah screw it, I'm going to need a diagram. I hope this gets bigger if you click on it. It will in Google Photos, go there if you want to zoom 

The center back has a clear oval area like a little shelf to show off the ruffles of the swallow-tailed jacket. There may have been a bustle under this business. From the center back waist to the first ruffle on the back is 15". These ruffles are 5 1/2" wide. They are hand gathered seemingly at the same time as the raw edge at the top is folded under. When they are attached to the skirt the raw edge is hidden under the ruffle. The top seam isn't very neat though. It's just all wadded up and tacked on. The hem is still that 1/4" doubled hem folded to the front and blind stitched from behind. But the ruffles are sewn through the taffeta and muslin interfacing in one motion it seems.

The ruffles down the back are 4" apart at the edges and 4 1/2" apart in the middle.  There are 10 ruffles sewn on in an oval. The total length of the back of the skirt (measured on the inside) is 60".

There is a 5 1/2" wide box pleat sewn into the bottom back of the lining of the skirt on top of an interesting polished cotton layer. I feel like this must be to protect the fabric from moisture on the ground?

The very edge of the dress is bound in a sturdy tape. This goes around the silk taffeta, the muslin interfacing, and the polished cotton. But not the box pleat. That's added on after.

14 total bows on the skirt. 3 on the jacket, 1 on the hat, and 2 on the shoes. The two on the sleeves are my favorites. They are special both tails coming from the same side.
Back side of one of the 20 decorative bows in this ensemble

The bows on the sleeve are different. The tails aim back toward the elbows.

The Shoes

Here's the shoes that go with the dress. Heel height is 1 1/4". For more photos and descriptions go to the online album

The Hat

I can't figure out how this hat is supposed to go. It has some wire in it to hold it in a sort of crescent shape. There is way too much silk all bunched up on one side. I don't understand why the last ruffle has the raw edge sort of hanging out. And why did they use brown thread to do all these gathers? Maybe there was a veil added to the top of the hat for the wedding, similar to the photo of Anna above.

**** Update Oct 22 *****
I sent a link to the photos of this dress to Angela Clayton, a YouTuber who sews a lot of frilly dresses and period costumes. (Website/YouTube) This is how I was aware this is a thing that people do, which is why I documented this dress in the first place. She thinks this dress is from the early 1870s, so definitely Ida's first wedding, not the second one. She said it is definitely useful to see pictures of the inside of it and the details of how it was sewn since fashion plates and museum photos don't let you see that stuff.

She also thinks that the material looks like faille, not taffeta. And she called that mess at the back waist "cartridge pleats." That is the perfect term and I'm glad to know it. 

Angela sent me some really interesting links to similar dresses as fashion plates and one from the Philadelphia Museum.

Thank you, Angela! I didn't even know about fashion plates before. But I was sort of picturing Ida's dress drawn this way instead of thrown over a wicker chair. I still can't believe people wore this stuff. Those bustles are ridiculous looking. I don't understand the point of that AT ALL. It looks like a pantomime horse under a tablecloth.

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