Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Found in a Bag - the 1920's Dress

As many of you already know, my mother was an antique dealer - her specialty happened to be vintage clothing and she was a master at restoring difficult pieces. Those great items though that she found beyond repair were always saved hoarded to be later used to help in the restoration of something else. Some pieces ended up as parasol covers, beaded purse linings, or period correct doll clothes.
Others were forgotten about and tucked away in every spare corner and cranny she could find in the antique house she owned - also slowly being restored. When she passed away, my sister and I went through many boxes, and sometimes, rather than digging through the contents of an entire box, I would follow a hunch and decide to give an entire box a new home in my sewing room hoard, sight unseen.
It has felt special, opening these boxes over 2 years after her passing, and feeling close to her again.
My most recent excavation brought to light a dusty Dollar General bag with what I can only describe as the pleasing weight and bounce of silk inside.
I decided to photograph the bag as I dumped its contents on my sewing table, and what follows is my experience of said bag. I though you might like discovering the "Dress in a bag" as much as I did.

Everything first appeared as scraps of fabric that all complimented each other nicely. And then I started to notice little things like square silk hem weights, rosettes, and a scrap of lace.

The contents had bits of thread and fluff and I haven't edited any of that out, so please forgive the bits of dirt, table scratches etc.

The bright pink silk looked to be more 1950's and didn't quite seem to belong.
A random lost black feather, likely from one of Mama's dozens of Edwardian hats, and four small, homeless beads had also made their way into the mix.

While unfolding the green silk (georgette, methinks?) two very large watered silk rosettes fell out.

Followed by more rosettes of another sort...

Some of the green silk looked like a skirt flounce with a lovely rolled hem stitched in what looks like gold metallic thread.

This was followed by an obvious blouse/ bodice with long sleeves that finished in tied cuffs.

A 1920's dress was clearly coming into view.
Instead of darts at the bodice, there are three small pin tucks at the shoulder.

This sad little under-arm would be why the dress would have been beyond restoring in Mama's eyes, but it still merited a place in the hoard.

This bit of silk was soon followed by another, though there's a good chance this piece is rayon. Once smoothed out and weighted, it became a slip.

A slip like this is incredibly easy to make - for ideas, see this pattern.

The skirt flounce in question would have been sewn to the waist of this slip, you can even see where it was cut away from it at the waist. The blouse top was worn over the slip as a separate piece.

I had wondered if it was homemade until I opened the slip a bit more and found a size label.

And then I simply had to put it together, just a bit, to get the full picture of who this little dress used to be.
I wasn't entirely sure if this soft rose colored silk had anything to do with the dress, or if it simply fit in with whatever mental fabric scrap filing system existed in my mother's very unusual mind.
It is one of many, many things I would like to ask her if I could have just one last chat on her front porch over a glass of iced tea.

Here is a bit of my reconstruction...

The back of the blouse top proved to be the origin of the scrap of lace. It was an inset, with its green silk edging still present.

A similar blouse top and dress can be made using this pattern.

Some of this can still be repurposed by a brave and clever soul...

How about you? What is the best thing you've ever found in a humble bag or box? I would love to hear your stories!


  1. Lovely story. Carrier bags can often reveal the most magic contents. I know of one museum that had a 3/4 length beaded 30s coat brought in in a plastic bag. A friend found a fabulous 40s wedding dress rolled up in a carrier bag in the back of a wardrobe and I have uncovered pieces of old lace and beaded dress trims that my mother kept. Like you, I would love to ask her about them. Your photos are very clear and I do like the way you photographed the whole process. Sometimes seeing items before they are restored or pressed or made to look 100% is more interesting.

    1. At an estate sale, I was on my way out, not having found anything I wanted, when I saw a medium sized box on the floor kicked out of the way. "$5" it said on the side. I could see some really nice pieces of old lace wrinkled and bunched into balls. Without hesitation I bought it (they almost changed their minds) and took it home to find probably 50 pieces or more not just of laces, but finished products. There were about dozen what I call bridal hankies, small squares of sheer linen surrounded by huge expanses of delicate laces, some embroidered, and easily going back to the 1870s or before. There were early 1900s lace baby bonnets, a silk shawl with long silk knotted fringe, and lots of early collars and chemisettes. I'll never find anything like it again, I'm sure.

    2. What a wonderful find, Randi, thanks for sharing! We should all be so lucky...

    3. Ladyscribe, I agree, I'd rather see them au naturel as well. I really don't want to launder or iron the pieces, they are simply too fragile!

  2. Found in the bottom of my Grandmother's knitting basket, one of her 1920's beaded flapper dresses.

  3. What a find, thank you for showing us. I guess the dress is almost smoldering to pieces. When my beloved granny died, my mother gave away all her Christmas decor to my aunt. To the day I still don't know why and have never forgiven her, because she knew very well that I adore Christmas and vintage things. But I was given a box, and inside that box was some lovely glass Christmas ornaments which my grandparents had bought in Canada long time ago when visiting her sister. It was like granny wanted to give them to me, I still love them on my tree 22 years after. Have a lovely day. :)

  4. Amazing!!! Such a great find! Wouldn't it be great to see a reproduction of this dress?