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Scrappy Sprouts: Antique Wool Baby Dress

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This early Scrappy Sprouts moment was an inspiration for our Scrappy Sprouts blog!  It was fascinating taking a closer look at this little antique wool baby dress.  Do you keep family heirlooms like this, too?  Have you ever let your children wear them?
Time stood still for a few precious moments when my baby tried on an outfit once worn by one of her great-grandparents.  The tiny wool flannel dress appears to be about the size that an 18-month old toddler would wear, so it was a bit small for her.    I wish I had thought to try it on her last year.  Because in the early 20th century, both baby girls and boys were dressed like this, I’m not entirely sure if this was worn by the great-grandmother or great-grandfather on my mother’s side of the family.
The wool is cream or ecru colored.  The bodice is sewn in white cotton muslin, accented by mother of pearl buttons and pintucks on the back.  The pintucked areas on the front include insets of eyelet lace interspersed with extra hand-stitched flowers.  The coordinating muslin capelet has a similar scalloped edge as the hem of the dress. Both pieces are trimmed in woolen crewel- work. An inch and a half above the bottom edge of the skirt are two parallel 1/8-inch wide tucks that appear to be there for decorative purposes. Above them is one bigger tuck that is 1/2-inch wide. This seems to be a clever way to incorporate an inch of growing room into the design, because of the limitation of the finished scalloped edge.

I admire the time that someone took to compete all of the crewelwork flowers, leaves and stems on both pieces.  I find it hard to believe that someone would have stitched the scalloped edges by hand, although I think they may have.  I wonder if perhaps the capelet was purchased from a store, while the dress was completed by hand to coordinate with it.  Or was the skirt of the dress stitched from a piece of wool that already had the finished edge?

The interior tells more about how this dress was made.  The seam attaching the skirt and bodice seems to have been hand-basted with wide stitches before being sewn in place.  The seam leaves a raw edge that does not appear to have been finished.  There is so much tiny stitching detail on this dress, including the  finely turned under and stitched neck and armhole edges, surely the main construction was done by machine.
Both of the skirt’s side seams are sewn with a quarter-inch wide brown selvedge.  I measure from seam to seam, and find that each piece of fabric used to make this skirt is just under 22 inches wide.  That’s a few inches narrower than our standard fabric widths today.  These side seams were stitched first, before the bottom edge was completed.  So, it’s likely that the same person made the complete dress, including the bottom embroidery.
As I look at the little dress now back on a hanger, I notice a few tiny holes and weak places in the fabric.  It makes me sad, and I wonder if we stressed the fabric too much.  It’s still in pretty good shape for a garment that’s a hundred years old.  I’m glad we tried it on just this once.

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One Response to Scrappy Sprouts: Antique Wool Baby Dress

  1. Siobhan January 26, 2011 at 5:59 pm #

    What a treasure! Thanks for sharing this.

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