Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Don't Try This At Home

Last week I stayed the night at the house of my eldest daughter, Evie, who was married in April. See the story of the wedding at

While sleeping in her spare bedroom I noticed her wedding dress on the floor in its cover, still uncleaned from the  wedding. She hadn't got around to having it cleaned, and with a quote for $600 to clean it, I can understand her procrastination. This is the dress that was dragged about in the dirt, through the long grass and up onto boulders for the photos.

Here is the dress in mint condition: Just look at that train!

And a close up of the lace. Unfortunately, you can't see the occasional spangle of a discreet sequin in this shot, but it is really beautiful.

Here is the bride wearing the dress on the day:


It was full of grass seeds and clippings all tangled up in the lace, and was grey for the bottom six inches around the hem. I occupied myself pulling out the grass seeds while watching TV that evening, which took about two hours. I don't know whether you've ever seen the seeds of corkscrew grass, but I hadn't. Country Victorians will no doubt be very familiar with it, but it was new to me.

These annoying little seed tails do a great job of twisting themselves into the fur and fleece of animals and thus travelling around and spreading. They had also twisted themselves all through the lace of the dress.

What possessed me to offer to wash a $3000 dress in the bath? Evie said she was happy for me to try as she was only going to "archive" the dress anyway. So I took it home, and next morning it went into the bath tub. I sprayed a pre-wash laundry spray all around the hem, using 1 1/2 bottles on the hem of the full circle skirt and train. I estimate it to be  10-12 metres in length. I left it to soak for about 30 minutes, then added eucalyptus woolwash liquid and ran the bath. To my horror, the water immediately turned black from the dirt, so I pulled out the plug and kept sluicing all the water down the plughole till it ran clean. Then I gently rubbed between thumb and forefinger with a mild soap all around the hem and removed the dirt.

After two rinses in the bath and a gentle squeeze, I made a dash for the clothesline with a dripping dress over my shoulder. It took two of us to arrange it flat across the top of six lines of wire. Luckily, it a was a sunny, windy day. I brought it inside after dinner and left it to dry on the dining table.

By the next day the skirt was mostly dry so I decided to start ironing. This dress has six skirt layers - lace, satin, two layers of pleated and ruched net for body, 3 layers of tulle stitched together for a petticoat, plus, I now discovered, an inner skirt to protect the bride's legs from the scratchy tulle. This inner skirt was still muddy as I had overlooked it in the cramped conditions of the bathtub. My partner supported the dress behind me over my shoulder as I washed the inner skirt in the kitchen sink. Then back onto the table for a blow dry.

Here is the full circle of the skirt spread out across the table upside down so that I can pick out all the grass seeds I missed the first time in the underlayers. Getting them out from in between the stitched up layers of tulle was interesting. Note the bowl on the chair for the seeds once removed.

Here is a close up of the grass stuck between the layers of tulle:

Then time to get out the iron. What saved this dress is the fact that the fabric does not require ironing. The underlayers are deliberately crumpled to add body, and only the top lace layer around the hem where it had been rubbed to clean required careful pressing under a cloth.

And here it is, "come up beautiful", as I said to the bride.
Evie's father says I should go into business cleaning wedding gowns, and that at $600 each I would only need to clean three a week to stay in business. Yes, as long as I'm not sued for ruining them.  No thank you, one is enough.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Micro Beaded Beauty Update

Many thanks to Ann from Pickwick's Emporium on Etsy. Ann sells many vintage beaded purses in her shop.
Her opinion is that my purse is a French evening purse circa 1930s-1950s. She also comments that it's unusual to find these purses featuring blue, which is very attractive, and that the electric blue jewelled frame is stunning.
Well, there's progress!

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Vintage Micro Beauty

A few weeks ago I had a fabulous find when I bought this micro beaded purse at a local op shop (thrift store for some), for $8.00.

Clearly, it was my lucky day. Until this time, I knew virtually nothing about old beaded purses, and I have been rummaging around on the internet trying to find out something about my beauty.

This purse is beaded with the tiniest beads you can imagine. Each bead is approximately 1 mm long and 3/4 mm wide. The hole in the centre must be minute, but what about the needle used for it? And what about the eye of the needle, and how could anyone have threaded it? And what superfine but strong thread did they use? I still don't know the answers to any of these questions, sorry to disappoint.

Something else that puzzled me about the purse is that the beads appear to be made of a type of plastic, yet the purse clearly looks to date from a time before plastics were readily available. The "jewels" in the clasp are glass, but the beads are definitely not. The design makes me think Art Deco, but the purse doesn't look 1920s to me. The 20s purses are so distinctive, usually with beaded fringes, and usually made of glass beads. I thought it must be 30s, still Art Deco. However, my Vintage Fashion Consultant (Mother!) commented "Maybe even older." At first I was sceptical about this, but now I am thinking it's a strong possibility that this purse dates from the first two decades of the 20th century - 1900-1920. Maybe even Art Nouveau more than Art Deco??

Some internet research on early plastics and their uses confused me, but also surprised me in that I discovered that there were early forms of plastics around at this time. I knew about Bakelite and celluloid, but now I know about milk beads. Did you know that you can make plastic from milk? I even found a "recipe" for this casein plastic that an amateur can make at home. I don't know whether this plastic had any other uses other than for making beads.

Another thing that intrigues me about this purse is the tiny little chain strap. A modern woman would wonder what possible use it could be, but apparently one used to thread one's middle finger through the loop and dance, while your hand and gorgeous purse rested decoratively on the gentleman's shoulder. These purses are sometimes called Tango Purses. Ladies' also used to thread their gloves through the loop so they wouldn't lose them.

This purse was made in France, as stated on the tag on the silk lining. It's in good condition. There are five jewels missing from the clasp and the lining is soiled. There are a few dirty spots on the beads which look like someone's drink spilt. I am tempted to give them a gentle rub with a toothbrush and mild detergent, though my consultant has warned me not to.

Here are some other interesting purses I found on Pinterest:

Edwardian purse

Knitted Pie Crust Purse. Rare and in pristine condition, this one dating from the end of the 19th century is for sale for more than $10,000!
Read its interesting story:

1910 purse
This little beauty is simply described as an antique purse.
I have decided not to sell my purse. I have no idea where I would ever wear it, but it's so beautiful this bower bird is keeping it in her bower.
If you know the answer to any of my unanswered questions, or if you can make a guess about the era of my purse, please contact me.