I’m working on a very interesting, and challenging, new project.
This is Emily’s dress:
It was made for Emily Jane Whitley, the daughter of a wealthy Auckland storekeeper, between 1902 and 1904. Emily wore it to balls and parties on Auckland’s social scene in the years before her marriage to a Manuwatu farmer, Percy Mildon, in 1905.
We even have a photograph of Emily in her dress:
It’s a fascinating dress because we know its history, and can make a reasonable guess at how it was made. The Whitley store sold fabric, and probably had an attached sewing workshop, so it is very likely that the dress fabric came from the family store, and was made up by the store seamstress.
So what’s my project? Well, I’m attempting to recreate not just Emily’s dress, but the whole process of making Emily’s dress.
I’m using my 1903 peddle sewing machine, a late 19th century guide to dressmaking, and a period pattern available in a NZ magazine. I’m even wearing a corset and the type of outfit a dressmaker would have worn at the turn of the century for some of the sewing. As much as I can, I’m going to be the unknown seamstress who made Emily’s dress.
Emily’s dress is now in the collection of Te Manawa Arts and Cultural Centre, the Palmerston North regional museum, near her husbands farm. Te Manawa has very kindly let me investigate the dress and make a full pattern from it.
You can read more about the dress here.