The sleeves and gathers of this little dress have been altered from their original appearance, but its charm is undiminished. The cheerful turquoise blue wool blend is set off by multicolored floral embroidery at the edges of both sleeves and skirt. The embroidery resembles Berlin work, or what we would now call needlepoint, except that it is embroidered on the wool instead of a canvas grid.
The bodice and skirt of this dress are actually constructed of one piece, with gathers at the waist creating the effect of two separate pieces. At some point the waist gathers have been either deliberately let out or have come undone, resulting in an uneven appearance. Woven tapes inside the dress stabilize the gathers at both the waist and the front of the neckline.
While they’re not visible in this photograph, the garment features two-tiered sleeves, echoing a style popular in adult women’s dresses of the 1840s. The longer sleeve pieces originally may have been connected to the shorter sleeves. Conceivably, the sleeves were detached and stitched in as needed, allowing the dress to be worn both in warm and cold weather. Children’s clothes were frequently reused by younger siblings, so the sleeves might be attached, detached and reattached several times throughout the lifetime of the garment.
Volume 145, Number 3, May/June 2011, Page 7
Photography by Mark Gulezian