Last week Mr D & I went down to Nelson to celebrate Thanksgiving with his parents (who have adopted it since I moved to NZ, to help me feel at home, because it’s my favourite holiday, and because they are lovely).
It’s always wonderful to go down to Nelson, but it was particularly good to get away after the upset in Wellington after the earthquakes. Ironically, we were going closer to the epicenter, but Nelson has had much less damage than Wellington (they say 11% of the city centre is shut down). Being there felt like escaping, and just helped reset my equilibrium.
My wonderful mother-in-law helped with the escape feel by taking my antique shopping – where I promptly found the most exciting thing I’ve ever found at an op-shop.
I was digging through a chest of fabric (nothing interesting) when I noticed something that looked a bit like a fashion plate in a cabinet next to me.
Curious, I pulled it out. It was a pretty 1920s dress, with some odd notes. And then I realised there was a stack of pattern papers next to it.
Could it be…!?!
A quick check of the pattern tissues suggested they did indeed belong to the dress. How fabulous! I mean, it was for a teenager, but 1920s patterns are hard to come by in NZ.
And then I noticed something far, far more fabulous than a 1920s pattern – as exciting as that is. Fabric. 1920s fabric. And…it looked just like the fabric in the design sketch!
Could it be…!?!
It’s a full 1920s dress kit – the sewing pattern, fabric, and trimmings to make a complete frock!
Dress kits were quite popular in the teens and ’20s. They were more economical than a ready-made or seamstress-made dress, but allowed the home dressmaker to have the look of a designer dress, with matching notions and embellished fabric, with features (like the embroidered hem) that would be nearly impossible to replicate at home.
I’ve read about them in period sources, but have never seen one before. Most were, of course, made up, and other were broken into their individual parts.
Find one is SO exciting! It’s a fabulous piece of fashion and sewing history, and of social history.
The fabric is a very lightweight cotton, with a slightly open weave. It’s not nearly as soft as a voile, but might soften with washing.
The embroidery and ribbon are almost certainly rayon (viscose). The embroidery in machine done.
I haven’t managed to find out a great deal about the kit, but I have ascertained that it was made by the Swiss embroidery firm Sonderegger & Co (this guy’s family’s business), which published a notification that it would be doing business in Auckland, NZ, in August 1926, though it had been taking pre-sales since at least January.
This exactly matches the kit, which I would date to 26-28. Sonderegger & Co also utilised travelling saleswomen, but cease selling in NZ in 1933, probably due to the global economic downturn after 1929. The kit may also have been purchased overseas and brought back to NZ, immediately, or at a later date.
So, the obvious question is, am I going to make it up?
Probably not the fabric, but I definitely intend to make up the pattern in a modern fabric, to see what it looks like! That way I can see what the dress would look like, while keeping the kit intact.