Knitting Patterns by Lyndell

Halter Neck Dress for Neo Blythes - here
Design your own Dress for Neo Blythes - here
Gum-Nut Hat for Neo Blythes - here

Who? What? eh?

This is the blog of a constant crafter - a 'showcase' for some of the things I make, some hints for crafting & recylcing - lots of photos and some words. I hope it will inspire.
Please Note: all photos are Copyright.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Forensic Analysis of a 1920s Flapper Dress

I've been doing a lot of mending lately - but sometimes I am given something to mend and it is just impossible - the garment is past it - gone - dead - beyond mending.   So this post comes with a warning - if the sight of a deceased garment is offensive to you, please leave now.  However, if you would know something of a genuine 1920s flapper dress then you are welcome to stay while I examine this fragmentary frock.

Here it is spread out as best I could - every time I touched the fabric it tore under my fingers.

And the colour shows quite orange in that photo and quite apricot in some of the others.  I think originally it was a peachy apricot colour, I suspect it has darkened / gone orangish with age.  Obviously this poor thing was very poorly stored and silk crepe chiffon is a fragile fabric.

Please - if you are lucky enough to own a 1920s frock do NOT store it hung up as the weight of the beading destroys them.  If you own a dress with sequins - anything earlier than the 1960s - NEVER get it wet - early sequins were made of gelatine & gelatine dissolves in water.  Now I put a very late date on the use of gelatine sequins because my mum made me a costume in 1969 with black sequins on it and those sequins went to goo when put in water - gelatine!  They were probably very old stock but dressmakers are hoarders.

Well - back to this dress - no sequins on this one.  But what we see in the photo above is a square skirt with (in the middle) a small portion of the bodice.  The square skirt, when worn, would've hung in points - this uneven hem indicates that it dates from the late 1920s.

Some detail of the beading and gold-thread embroidery.  The design is sort-of Art Deco.  Many of these dresses were made (or at least beaded) in France / Paris and it is said that most of this work was done by Russian refugees from the 1917 revolution.  To me, some elements of this design (& on other 1920s frocks I've examined) are similar to designs on Eastern Orthodox Icons. 

In the centre of the intersecting circles there are 'wheels' worked in metal (gold?) wrapped thread.  All the beads are glass and there are 2 types.   Clear glass short bugle beads that were silvered inside  - 'silver lined'  (like the clouds!)  now mostly tarnished and showing dark in the photos.  And lovely milky glass short bugle beads - I'm not sure if they make beads like this now - they are white glass and the tube is not round but a hexagon / octogon - they have flat sides and thus reflect more light.  I've also seen milky glass beads with micro-grooves on the surface - they were not so twinkly.
A corner
Most 1920s flapper frocks were tambour beaded - here is a YouTube clip that shows you how this is done.  And a lovely movie to watch (they show tambour being worked and people diving under the table / frame to see the right side) is "A Common Thread"  the original title is "Brodeuses" (2004).

Some things to mention about tambour work:
  • it is done up-side down with the wrong side facing the embroiderer
  • that wrong side has a distinctive chain stitch - and if you pull a thread a whole row of beads will unravel
  • stretching the fine fabric onto the tambour frame (drum tight - tambour is French for drum) and punching the fine tambour hook through the fabric probably damages a fragile silk - not noticible in the short-term of course but in the long term ...
 Here we see the wrong side of the beading - note the chain stitch.  Also the gold thread embroidery and the hand-stitched hem.   A lot of woman-hours went into making these dresses.

Love the beads along the hem-line but I wonder it they snagged the wearer's stockings?

Something else to note about 1920s beaded "flapper" dresses is that they were meant to be danced in.

With this dress the square skirt would've hung from a very low 'waist' - it would've swung and moved quite nicely during a tango with all the weight of those glass beads.

And in this last photo you can see what remains of the bodice - and a double row of the silvered beads where bodice met skirt.

Seems that the bodice was quite heavily beaded - I think that row of circles in bunches is going up the side of the bodice - presume it was the same on the other side.  The back was usually beaded just as much as the front - remember - they were made for the dance-floor.


  1. Wow, what a lovely dress. It is sad to see it in this state.

  2. Very sad I agree - though I have seen worse!

  3. Very interesting post!! I didnt know it wasn't good to hang beaded dresses up.

  4. Glad you enjoyed it - yes, the weight of the beads is too heavy for the fabric... store flat & with archival (acid free) tissue paper.

    yours, Lyndell