In this blog I have briefly documented the steps that curators and conservators took to produce a First World War replica ward dress.
This follows on from Part 1 which focused on the history of Sister Lummer’s dress, and the conservation challenges which led to making the replica.
There are many methods that proficient dress makers can use to reproduce original garments. One of the easiest but destructive methods is to unpick the garment and use it as the pattern. However, this isn’t suitable when working with a museum collection. A more ingenious and collection appropriate method of creating a sewing pattern is to use a piece of Mylar or plastic sheet, and to trace the parts of the dress with a thick marker.
With the dress laid out flat, Conservators Jennifer Brian and Bridie Kirkpatrick lay a piece of Mylar over the bodice and carefully traced its parts. They marked darts, buttons, seams and the start and end of gathers. We used the grain of the fabric and a tape measure to judge the width of the fabric, especially in gathered areas, at the waist and shoulders. With Sister Lummer’s bodice, it looked as though it was tapered, although a closer inspection showed that it was straight cut to the gathered waist.
The dress was traced in major sections: bodice front, bodice back, left sleeve, right sleeve, cuffs, collar, waistband, skirt front and skirt back. We also added the seam allowance at this stage. This Mylar copy became the master plan.
From the master plan we took tissue paper and traced the pieces from the master plan, adding the necessary information, measurements and instructions (‘cut two’). This was the sewing pattern.
Unlike commerical sewing patterns, we didn’t have any instructions to work from. We refered to the original dress for the answers and worked out the stages logically. To test the pattern, we made a calico version first. This gave a good indication of the accuracy of the pattern, so any last minute changes to the pattern could be made before cutting it out in the correct fabric.
Once the pattern was tested, we were able to confidently cut out the pieces in the correct fabric.
I traced the pattern pieces on the fabric and marked the start and end of gathers with a thick dot. Although this isn’t something I would usually do when sewing at home, I knew the marks would disappear into the sewed seam.
The calico was easy to sew with, but the grey fabric (poly-cotton blend) was slippery. I stay stitched along the neck and underarm; stay stitching is simply running a line of stitching along the fabric to prevent it from stretching. Then I sewed the gathers and used the measurements from the master plan to determine how thick they would be. The bodice was tackled first; the button band and collar attached. Then the sleeves and cuffs were carefully joined to the bodice.
Next the skirt pieces were sewn together, and gathers added at the waist to match the final measurements of the bodice. The skirt and bodice were then sewn together, and the waistband added over the top. It was pinned and hand tacked in place with red cotton before machine stitching.
The hem was left until the very end. Using a tape measure to determine the length of the skirt, it was pinned in place and then machine stitched. The buttons were added to the bodice and cuffs, and two press studs stitched into the centre front of the bodice to finish the dress.
To top off what has been a successful project, when I was searching our online collection database I found this image. Sister Rosalie Agnes Lummer is pictured first on the left in the second row. What is exciting about this photograph is that she may be wearing the very dress that we have just replicated.