I’m in the process of photographing some of my swimwear for another project, and I found something interesting about this swim dress from the 1910s. The dress would have been worn with bloomers, which you can barely detect in my photo. The white trim at the hem is appliqued silk, as is the collar and the white piping. Even though this was made by the Yale Knitting Mills, the fabric is actually a fine woven wool.
What makes this interesting is that the seams were finished by an overlock stitch, a technique that is more associated with clothing made in the 1970s and later.
The overlock machine, or serger, was invented by Joseph Merrow in the 1880s, and it was manufactured by his company, the Merrow Machine Company. They have been making overlock machines ever since.
Even though the overlock machine has been around a long time, it was not until the 1970s that the use of it to finish seams became prevalent in the sewing industry. Before the 1970s seams were often pinked, or they might have been turned under and stitched like a little hem. Shirts and blouses often had flat-fell seams, and lingerie and blouses often had French seams.
Because overlocked seams are so seldom seen in older clothing, it can be confusing when you do see it. Years ago, when I was pretty new to buying old clothes, I found a really great sarong style Hawaiian print dress at a thrift store. It looked so much like a 1950s dress, but there was some serging in the construction and because I could remember when serged seams started appearing in clothes in the 1970s, I was really confused. But fortunately I did buy the dress and then did a little research and determined that the dress was from the 50s.
Since then I’ve seen lots of examples from the 1960s and earlier, but this 1910s swimdress is the earliest example I’ve ever seen. What is interesting is that swimwear seems to be one of the industries where the overlock was more commonly used. I’ve seen quite a few older swimsuits that have overlocked seams.
The Yale Knitting Mills were owned by brothers Isidore, Henry and Joseph Hirschmann, and was located at 512 Broadway in New York. They made wool bathing suits, sweaters and golf vests.
A sad note: Brother Joseph died at the age of 38 in 1916, as a result of “a complication of diseases.” Brother Henry evidently drowned himself a year later, leaving a wife and eight children. According to brother Isidore he had been suffering from melancholia for several months. The last mention I can find of the company is in 1922.
The bathing dress has buttons on the side front to make it easier to slip over the head.
Great detailing on the sleeves.