The Skirt Exterior
This is the fun part… Since the skirt is asymmetrical with overlapping pieces and numerous interconnected layers, I will go clockwise around the skirt with the descriptions/explanations.
The base skirt is gold/tan cotton, the top of which can be seen at the waist. The base skirt is gathered into the waistband and sewn by hand.
The olive apron is sewed to the base skirt on a diagonal. At first I thought this may have been a repair for a ripping apron, but that is not the case as the top of the apron is the edge of the fabric and could not have continued.
The apron is pleated into the side, which I shall show later. I am shamefully responsible for the spot o the lower middle apron, when I dropped some food on it as a girl. I have made no attempt to clean it, but am looking into some methods.
The gold tassels are made of silk, and sew to the bottom of three gold silk strips. The strips are back with olive silk and hand basted to the skirt. The skirt has a series of verticle pleats between the gold strips.
The entire hem is covered in three rows of very tight pleating.
To the left is the apron draping I was talking about. The Apron is cut like a long scarf, where it’s sewn to the base skirt in the front on the diagonal. It is gathered on the side, and the gathers are covered in jet and glass bead work.
The gathering is sewn to a side/back panel, which is edged in gold silk rope. So, the scarf-like apron holds it is place. More on this later.
To the left is a shot of the back of the skirt showing the beadwork. There is another panel, also edged in gold silk braid show here. It is basted down close to the beadwork. In the beadwork photo, you can see the gold braid in the upper left hand corner. You can also see how the apron-scarf overlaps the panel.
To the right is a shot of the bottom of the scarf-apron, which overlaps the largest back panel, and is gathered and billowed near the hem. The bottom is edged in the gold silk. In the photo, you can see where the panel ends on the right hand side and gives way to the 2 rows of pleating. You can also see the gold braid along the bottom, and the gold silk that trims the end of the apron-scarf.
Confused? I made a drawing. If you look closely, you will see that the scarf-like apron, the right back panel (panel #1) and left back panel (panel #2) are all basted together under the beading, and at the bottom gathering of the scarf-like apron (lower right corner of the drawing). It was indeed meant to be worn with a bustle, because without a bustle, the basting locations don’t work. But it was not meant to be worn with a bustle the size of what I made.
Onto the left side…
The left side is much simpler than the right. The apron is gathered underneath the back left panel, which itself is gathered over the location. The back left panel then straightens out and is trimmed with gold braid.
As I mentioned before, the pleating at the hem goes all the way around the bottom, even when it is covered up by the two back panels.
The Underside & Lost Train
The olive silk never touches the waistband. All pieces are sewn onto the base fabric. Under the apron, panels of olive silk and the gold strips with the tassels are sewn to the base fabric about 8 inches below the waist. The distance between the olive front panels and where the apron is sewn varies because the apron is sewn on a diagonal.
The Bustle area has rigging: two strips of black cotton tape. Loose threads on the base fabric (the gold fabric in the pictures) suggest that the base fabric was once basted at points to the rigging. It was NOT basted to the olive silk panels, probably because the stitching would be visible since the panels are not lined and there would be nothing by visible fabric to grab on to.
Do you see the white porcelein buttons? There are five: three on the base fabric, and two on the olive silk. The fabric underneath them is gathered, probably to strengthen the fabric to hold the weight of whatever the buttons were buttoning. What do I think they were for? A detachable train. Where is it now? It very likely no longer exists.
My guess is that the train would have had the 3 layers of pleats that we see on the bottom of the hem. The idea of it having a train makes the design make much more sense. The back panels are remarkably flimsy, being unlined, and merely interfaced with mitering. It seems remarkably insubstantial compared to the busy front, and this was a time period in which the fashion was to have your back be far more complex than your front. If the back panels and so forth were just the covering to hide the train attachment mechanism, then it makes sense. It explains why the back panels are only basted together and not basted towards the front of the skirt. If a train were to be attached, it would need the extra room to spread out. Another possibility is that the two side panels were basted together as they are later, perhaps after the train was ruined.
If I were to sew a train for this gown, I would interface the top with some stiff fabric, and then button the train right side of the fabric to right side of the other fabric, so the buttons would never be seen.
Under the pleating, the hem is trimmed with a stiff fabric. I believe it is a heavy, dense wool. There is no lining to the dress, which is not surprising. The base fabric of the gown performs the same function.
In all of my searching, so far, I have yet to find another skirt quite like this one, which is more than baffling. The front is typical, but the arrangements of the overlaying back panels, the sweeping scarf-like apron, and the possibility of a train are mysterious indeed.
If any of my readers have any more information on this dress, its function, or its construction, I would very, very much appreciate it if you could comment. Thank you!
To part, I will throw in a couple of photos of the bodice and skirt together: