Friday, October 29, 2010

The Mrs. W. H. Wyman Collection

The Bodice of a 19th Century Christening Gown

Lynda this is for you.

Here is a little treat for those who love heritage textiles, the remains of a Christening Gown. The bodice of the gown, is part of a collection of baby clothes belonging to the late Mrs. W.H. Wyman.

The bodice, is made from white cotton lawn, embroidered with white cotton thread.

This photo shows where the once long skirt was cut off, by someone who understood what a treasure it was, and the days and days of work, that would have gone into making it.

The bodice has been repaired many times, here under the arm you can see where it has been darned, to hold the worn fabric, and strengthen it, so that it could be worn by one more descendant of the family, to one more Christening.

There is a repair under the other arm too.

Look at those divine little sleeves, with their delicate hand embroidered frills of cotton lawn. All the embroidery on this bodice was done by hand, the frills are made of strips of the cotton lawn, the holes formed with a stiletto, and then sewn around with buttonhole stitch, the scalloped edges embroidered with the scalloped pattern, and then cut to the scalloped shape. I would love to iron this garment and then photograph it again, as it would look so much better if it had been ironed. However for something this old, I would advise talking to a textile conservator before putting an iron anywhere near it, as it is approximately 150 years old.

Look at that detail. The front of the bodice is worked with rows of piping cord sewn into folds of fabric, and rows of embroidery running down the front panel.

I think the embroidery is Mountmellick work, popular from the 1850's through to the 1880's. The style was started in surprise, surprise, my cherished darlings, Mountmellick, a small town in Ireland. In the 18th century it was a thriving industrial town, with cotton thread and fabric manufacturers. The cotton industry was huge in Britain at this time, and used imported cotton to weave fabric and make thread.

The style of Mountmellick embroidery was started in the 1820's by Mrs. Johanna Carter, a member of the Quaker movement, who decided to help local people through their difficult times by providing work for local distressed gentlewomen. It became a cottage industry, as the stitches were easy to learn, and the textile working tools needed, accessible to most women. Mountmellick work is always worked in white cotton thread on white cotton fabric, with large simple stitches, and is quick and easy to do. This is a wonderful example of it, and was worked by a skilled needlewoman.

The back of the bodice.

It closes simply at the back, with two tiny covered buttons, and two drawstring cords, one on the neck and one on the waist. The gown is completely hand stitched, and finely done.

Look how beautifully the ends of the drawstring housing are finished, with a delicate blanket stitch.

There is so much wonderful detail in this little remnant, even the drawstring cords were made by hand, especially for the gown. Aren't they wonderful?

There are repairs on the back of the bodice, more areas of darning.

The darning repairs are little works of art in their own right, really aren't they.

Just had to show another shot of the sleeves, this is from the back.

You can see how tiny these buttonholes are beside my fingertips, and the delicate little buttonhole stitches used to finish them.

This is a little treasure, an absolute delight. And a wonderful family record, wouldn't it be nice to have an accompanying list of the name and date of every baby that was christened in it.


  1. That's amazing what you have researched and put together on this treasure. Thank you so much for doing this. So you have put this one as 19th C - some of the other pieces in the collection are 18th C aye? which would make them more like 300 years old. With a bit of research I could probably get a list of those who were possibly christened in it. That is a good idea. I love how you bring our attention to the small details of this piece. It is so easy to just take for granted the detailed skilled work that went into older fabric work because of the mass produced, machine made clothes that we are saturated with nowadays. But its the scale of the work in this piece - its just so tiny. They must have had such good eyesight in those days and probably had to do a lot of the work in bright daylight I reckon. The stitches are so tiny and perfect. I wonder what their thoughts were about as they worked. I know when look back on handwork or knitting I have done in the past I can sometimes remember some of the things I was thinking about as I worked.Its like they were made in another world.

  2. What a wonderful comment Lynda, I love what you said about what were they thinking when they were working on it. And its true, this little bodice was made in another world, another time, another way of thinking, when women had very different expectations about there lives. Yes I think this one is 19th century, but some of the others are definitely earlier. I want to contact someone who has done a lot of research on clothing from the 1700's in NZ museums, so that I can also let you know how rare they are. I am looking forward to blogging about them, cos they are really special.

  3. WOW imagine the energy and love that exists within that thing... It must have so much of the family within it!
    That may sound silly but... It makes sense to me haha Imagine being a decendant of that family a few generations from now, discovering it for the first time and realizing its significance, feeling the spirits of all your ancestors in the young and purest for while seeing the love and attention that's gone into making it...

    I'm really starting to get why you get so excited about this kinda stuff mum :P

  4. in their youngest and purest forms***

  5. Yeah its cool, the power of the object, and the stories an object carries in its form and wear and tear. Its wonderful stuff thats for sure.

  6. Sooooo adorable! I can't believe the skirt was just hacked off though!

    And thanks for the introduction to Mountmellick work - I'd never heard of it!

  7. Thank you for sharing! I just got my first book about Mountmellick Embroidery and and was looking for more information. All this tiny stitches! It feels like a lot of love was stitched into this garment. You made me smile as if I'm a small kitten on a sunny windowsill.