Working on a 1905 Bodice

After working all summer at The Shelton House in Waynesville, NC, I was pretty much finished with mending, cleaning, and cataloguing the historic clothing collection there. But one job I had left for last, because I knew it was going to take some time. The house collection has a wonderful circa 1905 bodice and skirt. For years the dress has been displayed in a sitting position with a wool cape over it, which I suppose is what has saved it. The skirt is in very good condition, but after I removed the cape, I saw why it had been covered.

The lace on the ivory yoke was almost completely detached. The base of the lace was a sheer silk, and just the tiniest movement made the thing shed tiny bits of silk. It was time to take action.

Not only were the little lace squiggles coming loose, the silk beneath it was shattering. Badly.

So I was encountering not one problem, but two. I knew that the first thing I was going to have to do was put a new silk backing under both layers.

I had a good quality silk of almost the exact color, so I went with that. The first step was to baste the new silk behind the old shattered silk.

My plan was to leave the shattered silk in place. I wanted to anchor the loose threads to the new silk using tiny stitches. After working on a small section I came to the realization that I was in over my head. Not only that, even though I am a careful and neat stitcher, it just looked awful.

A hard decision had to be made. I really strive when making repairs to items in my collection to never do anything that can’t be undone. That includes cutting away bits that are not attractive. But the hard truth was that this dress could either be subjected to hundreds of hours of stitching with an unpleasing result, or the shattered bits could be trimmed away. We chose to trim the worst of the damaged places, but to leave the intact silk.

Here’s the yoke after the lace was attached and the shattered silk bits removed. If your eyes are good, you can detect a slight difference in color. The old silk is mainly on the left, and the new is on the right.

Before starting the repairs I took dozens of photos, and I also photographed each stage of the work. The collar had to be removed, as well as this little placket at one shoulder. The photos were a tremendous help when time came to reconstruct the bodice.

The plan had been for me to mount the bodice on a dress form so you all could see how great it now looks, but common sense took over. The less this piece is manipulated, the better. It is still quite fragile, though the black silk has survived better than the ivory. I am hoping it can now be mounted on an appropriate dress form at the museum.

The Shelton House collection dates back to 1980, and as in many small museums, recordkeeping was irregular. This dress was most likely donated to the museum years ago, but searches of the files that do exist have not turned up any information at all. That’s a real shame, because the dress is so nice – well made of quality materials.

And now it’s on to the next project, the replacement of a yoke in a 1920s dress. Hopefully I can apply what I have learned from this one.


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13 responses to “Working on a 1905 Bodice

  1. Marcia

    What a beautiful piece! It’s so interesting to see the amount of detail that went into these garments. And you did an amazing job – that took guts. Thanks for sharing!


  2. Excellent restoration. So interesting to read of your thoughts and decision making. Not an easy process but the lacework is now saved for a few more generations!



    “Busy hands are happy hands”?!?!! I only hope your time and expertise is acknowledged and appreciated. Just beautiful!


  4. Archivist with a needle!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Saw your comment somewhere (ig maybe?) about getting snow… sounded like you got more than we’ve seen up here! Hope all’s melted, as ours has.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Laura Mary Lake

    Such hard work! Good for you. Perhaps when it is displayed again, it will jog some memories? You never know.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. This is a lot of work, but so worth it! 👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼


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