Girl’s Day Out

On Sunday, Lily and I joined Sarah M, Elle, Debra and Ellen at the museum to see the Unveiled exhibition of wedding dresses from the Victoria and Albert museum. Some of the highlights included Dita Von Teese’s purple wedding dress designed by Vivienne Westwood, and Gwen Stefani’s dress designed by John Galliano.

But for me though, the highlight was the dress known as the May Primrose dress, made in 1885 by court dressmakers, Gladman and Womack.


I’m a bit of a fan of the 1880s, partly because I like the look, but also because it was such an exciting time historically, smack bang at the height of the industrial revolution, and bursting with optimism about technology, science and modernity. I’ve spent a bit of time researching old pattern making and sewing techniques from the era, including visiting the WA museum archives to get up close and personal with a jacket they have in storage. (Such a bummer, I can’t publish the photos I took – it is an AMAZING jacket)

So, to see the Real Deal was so special. There is so much detail in the dress, and a lot of it can be the starting point for detail on a modern garment. The lace is stunning, but it’s just frills, and the richness depends on the quality of the lace. The draped pearls and tassels are gorgeous, but I am a bit too clumsy to have bits that dangle and get caught in things. And I love all the drapery – it’s enormously difficult to get draped skirts to look like the folds just landed there by chance – but with my hips, it’s not a look I’m going to try anytime soon. So, I looked a bit lower. The pleats around the hem, in fact. They look like little evenly spaced petals, but they are simply groups of three knife pleats attached about 1/3rd from the top, with the top edge folded down and caught onto the frill. Somewhere on my computer is a PDF book from the 1880s, downloaded from, which shows how to make these sort of frills, but I’m not near my computer now, so I grabbed a paper napkin and tried out some pleating until I got something that looked right.


I’m making a simple dress at the moment for a class, I think I might see if a row of these petals can land somewhere on it.

There’s an article about the conservation of this dress on the V and A website. It’s quite interesting – apparently they dismantle the entire dress for cleaning,

I’m going to visit the museum again, hopefully with a bit more time and a bit of research under my belt.

Thanks to Ellen for the heads up on the V and A website.


2 responses to “Girl’s Day Out

  1. I didn’t notice this until after I’d written the post, but the dress of 5 years earlier, by Charles Frederick Worth,(who invented the modern designer system), was worn by the daughter of Isaac Merritt Singer. Yes, THAT Mr Singer, who although he didn’t actually invent the sewing machine, certainly got them into the most homes.

  2. Just saw this too! Highlights for me were Ditta’s dress and also the Charles James number – that was a feat of garment engineering!

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