• 'Crisp Frills Give a Touch of Sophistication', The Queenslander, 1936
  • Mark Neighbour, child's dress with frill, 2013

Mark Neighbour and John Oxley Library

In this feature, a selection of guest contributors respond to an image or material artefact (typically a garment or accessory), that represents Queensland fashion. Each item is specifically chosen by The Fashion Archives in collaboration with collections and with a particular contemporary practitioner in mind. As a result, each Remember of Revive is a bespoke response and can take many formats and styles.

What drew you to this sewing article from a 1936 issue of The Queenslander, a weekly summary edition of the Brisbane Courier (now Courier Mail) running from 1866-1939, found in the John Oxley Library collection?

Mark Neighbour: Different from the other images which were generally for finished dresses, this little article was about how you could be creative and use a pattern you already had. I liked the idea that the home sewer could take on a design role in the choice of the trim and that it would have been an economical solution to putting together a new outfit. I am always attracted to pictures that show construction as well and wanted to try my hand at physically putting it together.

You decided to make this into a child’s dress – what informed this decision?

My first reaction to the technique was that it would be much more applicable to a child’s dress. The pleated trimming represents a very 1930s aesthetic in women’s clothes – much the same as the suggestion that the dress is made in organdy – but seemed to me a little twee to be adapted into a modern woman’s dress style. For a child I thought it would be quite chic.

You responded to a design idea that the author assumed would be adapted from something existing in the dressmaker’s pattern repertoire. Without being provided with a pattern, and only rudimentary illustrations, how did you approach the process and what challenges did you meet?

I had access to a child’s dressmaker’s dummy – the one the dress is photographed on – and took measurements directly off it. I drafted a pattern block from these measurements and fitted a toile onto the dummy to finesse the fit before adapting it to create the final design. This is the same dressmaker’s method practised now as it would have been then. It is a lengthy initial process, but a rewarding one. A little miscalculation of the armhole fit in my draft was resolved during this process, so when it came to patternmaking the dress, all was well.

In regard to construction, the illustration of the trim going from the jabot into the neckline is ambiguous to say the least. I couldn’t keep the trim as a continuous piece and had to cut it in two, using the addition of the separate tab front to make it work. I’m not sure how the readers would have dealt with this point, but I have a feeling that –as naturally resourceful as dressmakers are – they would have risen to the challenge.

My only other issue was the top-stitching of the arced seam that sweeps up from the hem to the buttoned tab. The bulk that goes into the seam from the pockets and the tab means the seam wants to sit in two directions along its length. I resolved this by snipping the seam; thus allowing it to sit as it wants.

This is one of the most challenging aspects of dressmaking: that an endless stream of decisions effecting every aspect of the garment has to be made along the way and it is only if the wearer and their admirer are oblivious to them all that the garment is a success.

What materials did you decide to use and why?

I chose a fabric I already owned; a remnant of lovely pure linen in a minty colour which reminded me of enamelled kitchen canisters popular during the 1930s. The trim is an ivory silk chiffon which I gathered using a gathering foot on the machine for consistency. A separate attachment I have which has been around since the 1910s and which is supposedly capable of pleating fabric to make a trim similar to the one used in the article didn’t work at all for me so had to be abandoned. I like the final gathered trim. The unpressed chiffon has a slight plumpness to it which is very pretty.

How does your work sit in response to the original?

The original design’s waist seam appeared too grown-up for a child’s dress, so I removed it to create a much more relaxed and playful A-line style adding in additional fullness for a gentle swing. The original fabric suggestion of organdy – like cotton organza – for the dress and the trimming would have been much more subtle than the contrasting fabrics I chose to use. Hence I thought it would have been too overwhelming to use it on the sleeves, hem and pockets, so I left it at extending it to the hemline. With the removal of the waist seam, this also answered my question as to where/how to finish the trim. Removing the original sleeve also gives it a fresher, more modern look.

The choice of linen isn’t really much more practical than that of the original organdy – being just as crushable – but it does forsake the need for a complementary slip and I think it exudes an easy 1930s elegance. Linen is also perfect for a hot summer’s day in Queensland. The covered buttons give a dainty period finish and while perhaps not very authentic, I snuck in an inseam pocket to keep treasures in: something a child of any period would appreciate.

Mark Neighbour, child's dress with frill, 2013
Mark Neighbour, child's dress with frill, 2013
Mark's sketch and pattern pieces
Mark's sketch and pattern pieces
Mark's toile for the dress
Mark's toile for the dress
Detail of jabot and fastening
Detail of jabot and fastening
Detail of bust frill
Detail of bust frill
Side profile of child's dress
Side profile of child's dress

Published in , on October 22, 2013.