Saturday, November 8, 2014

Museum Mystery Boxes: 1867 Black Silk Mourning Gown

This was the most stunning and surprising find of the antique goodies I found packed away inconspicuously in the Kearny Museum's attic. Right there, on the shelf, was an unassuming cardboard box with a piece of notebook paper taped to it reading:

CIRCA 1867

*begin heavy breathing*

In a mad rush of adrenaline I removed the box from its dark corner of the attic and brought it into the museum. To my utter surprise, I found this inside:

This nearly 150-year-old gem had been rolled up and stuffed into that cardboard box!

Note: If you own an antique garment and wish to store it, lay it flat on a clean cotton sheet or a large piece of acid-free tissue paper. Lay pieces of tissue paper or cotton inside the garment to help support its shape and reduce stress on fragile areas. Cover the garment with tissue paper and another cotton sheet. Gently roll the garment (folds create points of stress that, especially in silk textiles, accelerate deterioration) and store it in a flat, wide acid-free archival quality box. 
Very carefully, I unrolled the gown and to my complete bewilderment the silk was intact, without the shredding and tears that would result from the points of stress created by folding a silk textile this way. This silk was strong and stiff, and I imagine it must've made an amazing rustling sound as it moved.

This 1867 Mourning Gown is made from black watered silk taffeta. The skirt and bodice are flatlined in brown polished cotton.

The owner (presumably) of this gown attempted an alteration job that was never completed. She unpicked the stitches holding the bodice to the waistband and skirt to the waistband, and unpicked the stitches of the front darts. Altering dresses like these isn't unusual; the material was costly and mourning dresses were worn for a year. It was likely that she gained some weight and needed the dress several years after she first used it.

Incomprehensible numbers on a twill tape label stitched to the neckline of the gown
Here you can see the skirt and bodice removed from the front half of the 1" wide waistband
The watered silk taffeta bodice has 2 darts on each side of the center front placket.

The dress fastens in the front with 9 buttonholes and a row of hooks and eyes. Most of the black velvet covered buttons have been removed or lost, but a few remain and the velvet is very worn through.

The sleeves armscyes are piped. The sleeves are very wide, full and bell-shaped. They appear to be lined in ivory muslin or cotton and are lined in dark blue silk, which has begun to shatter and deteriorate, especially near the wrist. The sleeves are decorated at the wrist with 2 narrow strips of bias-cut watered silk; these strips are arranged in an arching shape above the wrist.

The dress is accompanied by a delicate lace collar that was pinned to the neckline; this is an incorrect archival practice which could leave holes in the silk. Ladies of the time would have sewn these interchangeable lace collars to their gowns with quick, long basting stitches to make removing and replacing them for wash easier.

The skirt is free from decoration except for a thickly piped hem. The stark decorations of this gown strongly indicate its status as a mourning gown: mourning etiquette required that dress trimmings were limited to fabric decoration during the first few months of mourning, known as "full mourning." Later, lighter colors and softer trimmings could be introduced.

This 1867 gown doesn't fit the mourning mold in several ways, however. Neither the dress or its sparse decorations are made of matte crepe material, but rather a shiny, eye-catching watered silk taffeta. I wonder if this dress was used as the woman's "Sunday best" after the period of mourning had ended...perhaps she was the widow of a Civil War soldier?

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Museum Mystery Boxes: 19th Century Drawers

Found among the treasures of the Kearny Museum's mystery boxes, these 19th century drawers were a pleasant surprise. There is a nightgown on display that matches the drawers, so they were likely once a set and perhaps the grape motif that decorates the embroidered trim signifies fertility, marriage, and union--making the nightgown and drawers part of a bride's wedding trousseau.

It was difficult to date the drawers; their long, straight, full legs lead me to believe that they are pre-Edwardian but as early as 1860. All seams have been made on a sewing machine and the lace is also machine-made. These are split-crotch drawers. They are gathered to a narrow waistband which fastens with an interesting purple button--it appears that the top layer of paint or lacquer or whatever has crumbled away.

These cotton drawers are decorate with 6 rows of 1/4 inch wide tucks and trimmed with 2 inch wide cotton scalloped lace that is machine-embroidered with a grape motif. I describe my process of patching a torn area of this lace here. These drawers are also decorated with an interesting vertical arrangement of 1 x 2 inch wide sections of floral-embroidered cotton and gathered lengths of cotton.

In terms of cleanliness, these drawers were in pretty bad shape. There were mysterious stains of nearly every shade of beige/brown splattered all over the drawers, and the entire garment had a dingy beige hue. Remember that this is the time before tampons...and I don't WANT to know what caused those stains (shiver!).

First, I soaked the drawers in cold water. After just a few minutes soaking, the water turned a very murky brown. Yuck! In total I gave the drawers 2 2-hour soaks and 1 4-hour soak; I wanted to let the water do as much of the work as possible before bringing in a light detergent.

Of course, just water isn't strong enough to dissolve all of those stains, but there is a noticeable improvement. Overall, the drawers are a lighter shade of beige, but still not white, like their matching nightgown. The darkest blotches have considerably lightened, too. On the left is the before, and to the right, after!

Have you ever encountered a nasty or mysterious stain on an antique garment?

Friday, August 29, 2014

Patching a Pair of 19th Century Drawers

These 19th century drawers were one of my Museum Mystery Box finds at the Kearny Museum. They are long and very full but straight-legged, which leads me to believe that they could be as early as the 1860's. There is a matching nightgown already on display, and these drawers will be added to that vignette.

First things first: the lace edging along the bottom of the legs, in a lovely grape motif, had an odd, squarish slice. It wasn't the kind of rip that occurs if the sturdy lace had caught on something; rather, it appeared that someone was trying to cut around a grape motif and didn't finish the job (thank goodness!). The cut lace was flopping down and had frayed badly over the years.

To remedy this, I decided to patch the cut using unbleached cotton muslin. Not only is unbleached cotton muslin an archival quality material, its texture and color is very similar to the beige cotton of the drawers. I made a little patch, securing the raw edges with blanket stitches. I pinned the patch to the lace and, using much care and very small stitches, sewed the lace down to the patch. By placing stitches very close to the floral, vine, and grape designs of the lace, I was able to camouflage the stitches in the design of the lace.

I'm very proud of the finished result. As you can see in the finished photos, including the first and last photo of this post (the leg of the drawers on the right side), the patch and tear are nearly invisible. On several occasions, I have attempted to show others the patch but am unable to find it after the first try!

My next post will discuss these drawers in greater detail, including their cleaning process.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Museum Mystery Boxes: 1920s Metallic Dancing Shoes

Picture this:

I walk into the Kearny Museum's attic (always very cautious because that place is so terrifying not even spiders want to live there), looking for somewhere to store a Scottish kilt that was recently donated. The shelving units have been newly labelled by the Museum Committee. Sports Memorabilia, Lighting, Local Artists, Faux Greenery, Victorian Dresses...Victorian Dresses??

And there on the "Victorian Dresses" shelving unit were indeed boxes labeled all sorts of crazy things like "Fur Capelet," "Chef's Hat and Utensils," and "Black Tafata[sic] Gown."

Uh-oh. I had never seen any of these boxes or their supposed treasures. At once I felt both ecstatic and panicked. What would I find in these mystery boxes?

I pulled out one of the smallest boxes and carefully opened the lid, revealing a jumble of hot-pink tulle (which would be a recurring theme for the rest of the mystery boxes), yellowed napkins and dirty plastic bags. More digging and...ooooh, shiny!

Well what do you know, crammed inside a sandwhich bread bag (also a recurring theme for the mystery boxes, including bags of buns) was a pair of glittering, silver metallic 1920s evening shoes!

They are accompanied by a faded display card, and were at one point in time displayed with the beaded 1920s dress. The 1920s dress was also donated by Mrs. William Schreiber.

Indeed, the strap has an interesting mechanism wherein a metal hook is latched over the buckle. This fastening technique is still in use and I own a pair of modern heels that fasten this way.

Unfortunately, the shoes are in very poor condition. They must have been truly loved because the heel cap has been worn all the way through to the nail! The sole is peeling back at the front and heel, and the metallic leather is flaking and cracked. There are several slices in the leather, the largest being on the inner left side of the right shoe. The rhinestoned buckles are also missing one or two stones, and the insoles have begun to detach.

The shoes were stored and likely displayed without the necessary support. The lack of foot-shaped support to hold out the shoe possibly led to the irreparable splits in the leather. I will be making muslin-shaped "feet" stuffed with polyfill to support the shoe and its straps. The shoes will then be displayed alongside the beaded 1920s dress in its glass case.

Stay tuned for dozens of more Museum goodies, including an 1867 mourning dress, an enormous tatted lace collar, children's button-up boots, a fur capelet, a fur muff of exaggerated Edwardian proportions, 19th century drawers, a taxidermied bird, an unusual piece of embroidery, beaded gloves, and much more!

Also, the inexplicable and widespread use of bread bags and hot pink tulle for storing antique pieces will be explored.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Edwardian Petticoat with Cluny Lace

This Edwardian petticoat, c. 1900-1909, was tucked away in a box in the Kearny History Museum's storage. It has since been wrapped in layers of acid-free tissue paper and stored in an archival quality box.

This petticoat is made of a fine yet sturdy cotton, which may have originally been a truer, brighter white. Its volume is achieved through shaped panels, or gores, and a large, gathered ruffle along the bottom of the skirt. The side seams of the petticoat are constructed with the flat-felled method for strength and durability.

The petticoat has one row of fine, [presumably] cluny lace insertion, and a matching, wide band of cluny lace trim. Both the insertion and the trim appear to have been applied to the petticoat by hand.

The ruffle has three lines of gathering stitches to create fullness. The entire petticoat, except for the decoration, appears to be machine-sewn.

There is an additional, shorter ruffle on the inside of the bottom ruffle which adds even more shape to the petticoat. This ruffle appears to have been gathered with two lines of machine stitching.

I apologize if any of the pictures make the details of this garment blurry. Photographing white on white can be rather challenging! If you would like me to re-photograph specific areas of this petticoat, please don't hesitate to let me know!

The petticoat has a large tear along the back, just under the placket. I wonder if the wearer tore this while walking, or if an inconsiderate perambulator stepped on her skirts!

The back panels of the petticoat are very tightly gathered with cartridge pleats to the waistband. The waistband is narrow, and remnants of a cord/drawstring closure exist.


Waist: approximately 26 "
Width of Hem: approximately 95.5 "

Note: All measurements are approximate; I didn't have a table or tape measure large enough to spread the whole petticoat flat and measure it. Please feel free to let me know if you would like more detailed measurements.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Completed 1870s Bustle

I began the bustle in September of 2012, and worked on it on and off throughout the past few months, finally finishing it in February. It is made in an unbleached muslin from Truly Victorian Petticoat with Wire Bustle 101. I made the ruffled overlay because the bustle will be used in my next mount at the Kearny History Museum: an 1870's olive green silk gown! The ruffled overlay will help support the heavy weight of the gown, of which the bodice back and skirt back are cut all in one piece.

I loved the pattern: the paper was thick and it was easy to fold back the sizes I didn't need. The bustle went together less than smoothly though...bottom line, don't tackle a new pattern with boning when exhausted!

It started going downhill with the boning. I sewed the horizontal casings to the wrong side, causing great frustration when it was time to apply the arched bone.

Then, with the ruffled overlay, I cut the ruffles all the same width...and sewed them on...then D'OH spent hours unpicking stitches. Finally I got the ruffles right, but realized that my overlay had one less layer of ruffles than it was supposed to. By that time I didn't want to take everything apart again, and left it. Then, I was possessed to unpick the waistband and sandwich the overlay between the waistband....what? For the sake of sanity, don't sew when tired! Because of silly mistakes, I used up 3 spools of thread: first white, then beige, then darker beige!

Side Back
My biggest error was in sewing the overlay to the waistband. I now realize that it should've been sewn above the first bone. I'm not concerned about the short overlay, however, because I can supplement the shortage of ruffles with netting and more muslin when I'm mounting the gown.

There is no waistband fastening as the bustle will be sewn to the dress form, preventing points of stress between the silk gown and the hook.

Ack! Another whicker dress form! This gown already has a dress form being carved for it.
This is my first time using a cover photo for a post. What do you think?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Blog Update

The About the Museum page has finally been updated!

I hope the page is an informative and entertaining read!