An historic house
Miegunyah House is located in the Brisbane suburb of Bowen Hills, and is preserved as a rare example of 1880s residential architecture. Miegunyah is open to the public as a museum, and is also the home of the Queensland Women's Historical Association (QWHA), who purchased the home in the 1960s. The QWHA were driving forces behind the restoration of the home to its original state, and opened it to the public in 1968. Over the years this restoration has continued, along with the concerted collecting of domestic objects, furniture and garments. Miegunyah's garment collection is an impressive showcase of clothing from the late 18th century through to the mid-to-late 20th century, and has largely come from donations from women associated with the QWHA. The House regularly hosts exhibitions and displays pertaining to the collection, as well as public events.
The Fashion Archives worked closely with the passionate volunteers at Miegunyah to unearth some of their finest and most historically significant garments. The following five pieces are a tiny snapshot of the many treasures Miegunyah holds.
A young pioneer
This christening gown and slippers belonged to Patrick Leslie, born in Scotland in 1815. Leslie came to Australia in 1835. His family were the first farmers on the Darling Downs, with Patrick credited as an explorer and pioneer in this area. In 1845, Patrick built a four room cottage in Brisbane that became Newstead House, a stone's throw from Miegunyah.
The surviving christening gown is made from white cotton with extensive surface embroidery. The slippers feature elaborate colourful butterflies stitched on to the vamp.
These garments are part of a larger collection donated to Miegunyah in 1964 by a descendant of the Leslie family, Mrs. Arbuthnot-Leslie. Their significance to Queensland's White Settler history make them a key part of the Miegunyah collection, where a larger archive on the Leslie family is held. These pieces were also worn by Patrick's younger brothers Walter and George.
Fit for a Queen
As with many surviving garments, this dress retains none of its original provenance. Clothing by its nature is fragile, and fashion is constantly changing. The collection, conservation, and exhibition of fashionable garments is a relatively recent phenomenon, largely taking place in the last quarter of the 20th century, and exploding in growth and popularity in the 21st century. Much of Miegunyah's clothing collection was donated in the 1960s with a view to preserving women's history, and this piece likely came in to the collection at that time. These years saw the highest quantity and quality of garments enter the collection.
The gown is made of silk and features intricate and colourful floral embroidery. It is a highly detailed and decorative gown that can be dated to the late 1700s, making it one of the oldest pieces in the Miegunyah collection. Due to its age and volatility, this garment is in permanent storage. We were fortunate to be able to photograph it under special conditions.
Wearing the news of the day
This unusual item is part of an outfit - a skirt and top - that is printed with newsprint from the 1906 Mount Morgan Chronicle. Mount Morgan is a town located in Central Queensland that was founded in 1882, primarily as a gold-mining centre.
This garment may have been worn as an item of fancy dress, or as an elaborate form of advertising for the newspaper. Despite its age, the garment remains in good condition, and the newsprint can easily be read. Pictorial advertisements for products and services are clearly legible. While digital prints are ubiquitous today, the fabric for this garment would have been put directly through the Chronicle's printing press to achieve this effect.
The outfit was originally worn by Edna Seabrook. Edna's sister, Gladys, donated the garment to a QWHA member, who in turn donated it to the Miegunyah collection. Jenny Steadman, Vice President of the QWHA, states, "we know from newspapers of the time that the Seabrook sisters often participated in fancy dress parties when they were young and it is possible it was created for this purpose."
The jazz age in Queensland
This colourful velvet coat stood out among the racks of garments in the Miegunyah collection store. Even at close to a century old, its colours remain blindingly brilliant and well preserved.
When the QWHA took over Miegunyah in the 1960s, the association put a call-out to its members and their networks to donate garments to their fledgling collection. The resulting items formed the backbone of their present-day clothing archive. Many of the women who donated had a number of pieces dating from the 1920s through to the 1950s, and as a result these decades are particularly well represented.
This spectacular opera coat is an early example of a garment made from burnout velvet, a type of fabric developed in the 1920s that uses a technique known as Devoré (a French term meaning 'devoured'). This technique exploits the qualities of silk and viscose blends of velvet. To achieve the 'burnout' effect, a chemical gel (containing sodium hydrogen sulphate) is applied directly to the fabric in patterns. This process dissolves the cellulose viscose fibres, while the silk fibres where the gel was applied remain, thus producing a 'burnout' pattern. The silk fibres are not altered by the chemical treatment due to the fact that they are made of protein rather than cellulose. Typically the gel was applied by printing or by hand painting directly on the velvet.
This black woollen swimsuit from around 1930 is typical of the styles that swimwear leaders Jantzen produced during this era. The graphics on the original box, along with the signature 'diving girl' Jantzen logo, help to date this garment. The Jantzen company has been based in Oregon, Portland, since its establishment in 1910. The company still produces swimsuits, and is now owned by international clothing company Perry Ellis International.
This swimsuit was purchased at Allan and Stark Department Store on Queen Street, Brisbane, by Gertrude Richardson. Allan and Stark later moved to the first drive-in shopping mall in Queensland, Chermside Shopping Centre.
Born in 1903, Gertrude Richardson moved from Gympie to Brisbane in 1914. At the age of sixteen, she enrolled in a correspondence course with the Associated School of Dressmaking (Sydney). A number of Gertrude's examination papers are held in the Miegunyah collection and reveal that Gertrude's marks were never less than 90%. One of her answers reads: "Question: Why do you consider it valuable to learn dressmaking as a profession? She replied: More money can be made by sewing than almost any other profession open to women." (Quoted in Diana Hacker's book, The Matildas, 2010, p. 108). Little information survives about where Gertrude worked after this time.
In the early 1990s a significant number of Gertrude's garments and associated records were donated to Miegunyah by her niece, Jeannette Nurser.
Published in Issue 3, on September 24, 2013.