A replica in the making

Our latest exhibition, ‘A Victorian Silhouette’, features original 19th century garments and accessories alongside reproductions created by Sovereign Hill’s Costume Department.

Production Assistant Megan Anderson writes about the process of creating a replica prototype (toile) using an original 1840s dress from the Gold Museum collection.

Megan Anderson (left) and Production Assistant Naomi Holden (right) carefully inspect the original 1840s dress (Photography: Chris Faithill)

Megan Anderson (left) and Production Assistant Naomi Holden (right) carefully inspect the original 1840s dress (Photography: Chris Faithill)

The starting point in creating a replica is to study the existing garment as closely as possible. We were lucky enough to explore and measure every part of the original dress to assist in the process.

We began by looking at the fabric it is constructed from – simple polished cotton. In the 19th century, this fabric was commonly seen as lining for the inside of a garment. Museum collections often carry the finest examples of 19th century clothing, the garments that may have been special and therefore worn less often. This dress is an example of everyday wear; with elements that suggest it was worn by a working woman.

Working woman's day dress, circa 1840s (Gold Museum collection, 80.1294)

Working woman’s day dress, circa 1840s (Gold Museum collection, 80.1294)

The cloth is roughly woven with several flaws in the weave, which indicate that it was purchased inexpensively. The dull fawn colour typically seen on the inside of a garment is void of any pattern or print. The only decoration present on this garment is the lace around the neckline, which also suggests this dress needed to be practical and economical.

The fabric alone provides a clue as to who may have owned or worn this garment. Although kept in excellent condition, there are other indicators that suggest it belonged to a working woman.

It has been crudely constructed (either in haste or by an inexperienced hand), with all stitching carried out by hand and roughly altered for the final wearer. These poor alterations suggest that the dress may not have been made specifically for a specific person but modified to achieve a better fit.

Whilst drafting a pattern for the replica toile, it also became clear that the creator of the original dress was either inexperienced or constrained by time. Many of the measurements were not equal on both sides of the pattern where it should be mirrored. Everything about it is unrefined and simple.

Megan Anderson constructs a pattern for the reproduction dress (Photography: Chris Faithill)

Megan Anderson constructs a pattern for the reproduction dress (Photography: Chris Faithill)

While creating the replica, it became evident that implementing historical techniques would be necessary in order to achieve the desired outcome. The most relevant of these is gauging, which produces a superior micro pleat at the top of the skirt. The effect of gauging versus gathering for instance is precise evenly spaced pleating which was common during the 19th century.

Naomi in the process of constructing the replica dress ((Photography: Chris Faithill)

Naomi in the process of constructing the replica dress (Photography: Chris Faithill)

Skirts may have up to three rows of a gauging stitch. The original dress and replica only have one row, this again may demonstrate that time and economy were essential in the construction of the original garment.

See the finished replica dress in A Victorian Silhouette, open until 4 November.

Written by Megan Anderson, Production Assistant, Sovereign Hill Costume Department

 

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