A lot of people when sharing their introduction to sewing, they mention their mother, or perhaps their grandmother. I did not grow up in a sewing household. My mother can’t sew, and neither can my closest grandmother (my grandmother on my father’s side knits, and she taught me that skill despite me being left-handed and very hard to teach, bless her). No, my passion for sewing is buried deep in my genes.
My sewing gene came from my great-grandmother, Eira. She lived in a small Welsh village and subsequently was the seamstress that everyone went to for births, weddings and funerals. It was a tough job, and she was the main breadwinner of the household as my great-grandfather worked in the mines and became sick and unable to work quite young in life. My grandfather has memories of her working well into the night to get thing completed for a tight deadline. He also remembers one of his jobs being crawling across the floor with a magnet to collect all of the errant pins!
Now, the title of this post may have been a little deceiving. It’s not my great-grandmother’s wedding dress that I’m examining, it’s a wedding dress that my great-grandmother made for a relative, Menna. I recently came into possession of it after the she passed away and my relatives thought of me, which means more to me than they can possibly imagine. Although my tastes skew a little older now, in my late teens I was really into the 50s and having a personal connection to the item makes it that bit more special.
It came in this really cute box; I’m not sure if this was what my great-grandmother gave her, or whether she purchased this herself to keep her wedding dress in, but isn’t it darling?
Fortunately, I know the exact date that this wedding dress was made as I know that she married in 1965. I’m familiar with the period but not wedding dresses at the time, so from my slightly ignorant perspective, it’s a very unique dress. There is both an under and overdress and I wasn’t quite sure how it went together before I tried it on. Luckily, I could fit into it (although the bride was a little taller than me)!
Despite looking very unusual in the box, it gives such a chic shape when worn and I have to wonder if this was common, whether this was my great-grandmother’s or the bride’s idea, if they got the inspiration from a magazine or the tv. Anyone into either wedding dresses or the 1960s please do share your insights.
The inside of a garment is far more interesting than the outside, in my opinion, and I especially love looking at the interior of older garments to see the techniques that were used, either to feel reassured in your technique or to find a completely new way of doing things. Seeing a garment close-up also makes it feel so much more achievable, in a sense. You can see the skill, but you can also see the wobbly stitches, the things patched together and marks where things didn’t quite go right. If you ever need to make something historical, I thoroughly recommend raiding the archive of a museum to see examples of garments from the time. It can be rather reassuring; there’s an example in the Salisbury Museum of a dress where the maker traced out her embroidery pattern on the neck but didn’t quite curl it enough so you can still see the pen marks of the old lines she drew. However, it can also be depressing; every Georgian dress I’ve seen has been made of incredibly lightweight fabric that we simply don’t produce any more. How are we supposed to reproduce things if we don’t have the same quality of fabric that they had back then?
Anyway, rant over. Let’s have a look at that dress!
The underdress feels like it’s made of some kind of polyester satin. The zip is inserted very neatly in the way commercial sewing patterns tell you to do, with an overlap and diagonal stitch at the bottom to seal it in. It also has a hook and loop at the top just in case the zipper decides to misbehave.
There is a facing at the very top, presumably to finish the neckline and armhole neatly rather than for any other purpose.
The darts at the front are a interesting as they’ve been cut into. I have seen this occasionally, but it makes sense if you really want the darts to lie flat. Although this fabric wouldn’t fray all that much, it’s been roughly stitched just to keep the fabric from coming apart at the stitching lines.
The hem is all hand-stitched with a very neat herringbone.
The seam allowance has been zig-zagged (no overlocker here!).
There is also a vent at the very bottom of the skirt. The sides are stitched down by hand and then there is a separate panel stitched above to fill in the gap.
I find it interesting that she took the time to do this– the vent was right at the bottom of the dress and there was also an overdress covering it. But obviously she had been taught that there were certain ways of doing these things and that’s how this was done!
The overdress is made from this gorgeous shiny, embroidered fabric. It looks a bit dull in these photos, but when I took photos of it on in my little photo studio it really shone!
I’m guessing that the label stitched in came with the fabric– I do the same thing when my fabric comes with a label, so that’s cute!
All the way from Paris, ooooh!
The construction of this dress is really fascinating (to me, anyway) as there’s no obvious front/back opening. Instead, it opens at both the shoulders and sides to allow the bride enough wiggle room to slip in.
The shoulders have a popper and two hooks: all of the loops have been done by hand (I wonder if you could buy hooks just on their own back then– I wonder if you still can, I should do more hand sewn loops).
This is a trend throughout the whole ensemble, all of the loops have been done by hand against metal hooks.
The sides also close with a mixture of poppers and hooks. These side seams have just been finished with a zig-zag stitch, which makes me wonder whether this was done afterwards, possibly because it was a little too difficult to get into?
The sleeve is very prettily pointed at the end, with a tiny placket so you can get your hand through and a hook to fasten it afterwards.
The skirt has a very long train that has been bagged out, but the hem has been done separately by hand (this time a slip stitch– presumably it won’t catch on things as easily and also looks neater just in case the train flips up).
There’s also a little loop at the hem. I couldn’t find anywhere to attach it to on the overdress or underdress, so I assume that it would be a loop for the thumb if the bride wanted to dance or simply have it out of the way.
So that’s the wedding dress made by my great-grandmother! What a wonderful little piece of history to own; I already have a piece of quilting that she was working on before she died that I want to display when I have a place of my own (🤞), but I really wanted to own something a piece of clothing that she’d made. I feel very close to my great-grandmother, despite her passing away when I was too little to comprehend. Our love of sewing unites us, and also our inability to cook, if my grandfather’s stories are to be trusted!
Do you have any seamstresses in your family history? Do you own any of their stuff? Please do let me know, I love hearing about those kinds of things!
Until next time,