Sunday, 4 December 2011

New project: restoring a 1920s beaded dress

During a recent visit to my lovely in-laws, my mother in law mentioned that she still had an original 1920s beaded dress that had belonged to her grandmother that I could have, since she knew I loved vintage clothes. Given that my wedding ring originally belonged to the same grandmother and I am somewhat sentimental, getting to wear this dress is a particularly lovely though.

We did however have to venture into their attic in an attempt to find it (always a somewhat nervouse enterprise in case the ancient dress has somehow got damp or moth ridden and turns out to be no ruined!). After much clambering around and rifling around old boxes and suitcases in the attic with flashlights, it started to look like our search was in vain - could it possibly have been thrown out by accident! Oh Noes!

Luckily my mother-in-law then remembered that she's never put it in the attic in the first place - it was in fact carefully wrapped in the bottom of a draw in the main part of the house, and didn't even have that usual mothball scent of old clothes not worn for a long time and indeed smells quite delightful.

However, it does need some restoration, so this is my new project:

This picture is how it looked as found.

It has been used for fancy dress in decades past (something that has probably stopped many beautiful old clothes from being thrown away, so we should be grateful for it), which means that it had been shortened, and there were rusty staples in it in places where tin foil had been attached for some reason. The beading itself has also come away in several places.

Luckily the shortening only involved a wide hem being added and the shoulders sewn up, so this was easy to fix. The staples also came away with relative ease and left minimal marking.

However fixing the beading will be more challenging. First I need to firmly fix back in place the beading that is still there but loose (which is why I still haven't tried the dress on for fear of loosing more of them - so I have no idea whether it will even fit when I'm finished!). Then I need to decide whether to try to recreate the beading that is missing. The original pattern of the beading can still be clearly seen in the marks that it left in the cloth. However replacing the missing beads presents several challenges. Firstly - finding beads similar enough to the originals. They are a silver/grey shade, which I think I should be able to find, but the difference between old and new (gven they will be made using different techniques) may be too obvious. Secondly, are my sewing skills up to it? I have a little practice at attaching beading from when I made my replica 1920s dress and also from a couple of other projects, but to be honest I found it tricky to do and I'm not sure it's up to the standard of 1920's dressmakers!

So all in all, there's a risk that I could put a lot of effort into trying to recreate how it looked when new without it actually working. So the question is - should I try it, or should I leave it and be content with a dress where some of the beading is missing - and will it show too much for the dress to be wearable?

I will post more pictures as the project progresses and hopefully eventually how it looks on! The colour is so beautiful, I can't wait til I can finally wear it out!