Avocado green silk ensemble

Contributed by: Temora Rural Museum

Bodice front view Avocado green silk ensemble - front view Avocado green silk ensemble - back view Avocado green  silk ensemble - side view Bodice back view Bodice interior view - showing whalebone stiffening, interior waistband and peplum Skirt front view - showing decorative frill of box pleating along the hem Skirt back view - showing peplum and 4 inverted knife pleats that fall into a short train Skirt inner lining - showing two pieces of material hand sewn to the inside of the skirt to hold the pleats in place Hidden pocket featured on the right hand side of skirt Small stains isolated to right sleeve of the bodice Small holes on the inner lining of the skirt Additional material has been used to repair the skirt hem Bodice close up - showing 4 of the 12 decorative buttons that have been unstitched and restitched to the edge of the bodice to allow for larger size Bodice close up - showing material that has been added to the side seam of the bodice using additional fabric to enlarge the bodice Heart-shaped hat with piping made from avocado green silk satin worn with the ensemble Brown silk, beaded bag worn with the ensemble
  • Australian dress register ID:

    464
  • Owner:

    Temora Rural Museum
  • Owner registration number:

    4648
  • Date range:

    1890
  • Place of origin:

    Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
  • Gender:

    Female
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Object information

Significance statement

This avocado green ensemble is a treasured heirloom of the Donaldson Family.  This garment was made for Isabella Donaldson (nee Leaf) to wear to her brother’s wedding in 1890.  The long leg-of-mutton sleeves and straight, full-length A-line skirt are indicative of women’s fashion throughout the 1890’s suggesting that Isabella Donaldson kept well-informed of the latest fashion trends given the dress’ manufacture for a wedding in February of 1890.  This garment is a fine example of the dressmaking service that was still utilised by clients able to afford a customised wardrobe or specially made garments for social occasions in the late 1800s.

The aesthetic significance of the garment can be attributed to the skilled seamstress responsible for the manufacture of the garment with uniform hand stitched buttonholes and a decorative hem featuring specially folded box pleats to create an effect whereby the juxtaposed silk grain appears a lighter shade of green than the bulk of the skirt. 

This ensemble has been cared for by three generations of Donaldson women, having been passed down to Olive Margaret Donaldson, Isabella’s daughter-in-law and Olive’s daughter Margaret Eisenhauer (nee Donaldson).  This has ensured the dress is in very good condition.  The alterations and repairs made to the dress over time using original fabric highlight the value placed on maintaining the condition of the garment by members of the Donaldson family throughout its 120 year history.

This ensemble is part of a larger collection of garments donated to the Temora Rural Museum which is significant for its interpretive capacity to document the fashion choices of a single family over three generations.  The collection reflects a family going through periods of wealth, and of drought, representing so much of the history of the Temora Shire district.

This garment is an important object to interpret women’s fashion in the late 19th century, the skills and expertise of the maker and the value placed on this garment as a family heirloom surviving three generations of Donaldson women.

Author: Vanessa Jacob, 5th June 2013.

Description

The avocado green ensemble is made from silk satin and consists of two pieces, the bodice and skirt.  The form-fitting bodice features a stand collar and is shaped with 9 internal bones and an interior waistband fastening at the front.  The bodice fastens along the centre front with a metal hook and sewn eye at the base of the stand collar along with 18 decorative metal buttons with hand sewn buttonholes.  The top 3 metal buttons are sewn to the bodice front, followed by 12 buttons sewn to the edge of the bodice and the bottom 3 sewn to the bodice front.  Long leg-of-mutton sleeves adorn the bodice with turn back cuffs.  A deep peplum with machine and hand stitched facings finishes the waistline and fastens at the centre front with a hook and eye. 

The straight, full length A-line skirt fastens with a placket at the centre back waist with 2 hand sewn hooks and eyes and is probably worn with a small pad at the back.  The skirt is fully lined with brown and grey sateen and a piece of material cut on the straight is attached to the inner lining of the skirt to secure 4 centre back inverted knife pleats that fall into a short train. The hem of the skirt features a 12 centimetre wide frill of box pleating.  The edge of each box pleat is folded down 3.5 centimetres from the top of the frill to create a decorative border.  This creates an effect whereby the juxtaposed silk grain appears a lighter shade of green than the bulk of the skirt.  A hidden pocket is featured on the right hand side of the skirt.  

Accompanying the silk ensemble is a heart-shaped hat with piping made from avocado green silk satin and trimmed with flowers and a large, brown feather.  A brown silk, beaded bag with a tortoise shell link chain handle and opening is also worn with the ensemble.

History and Provenance

George Alexander Donaldson and Isabella Donaldson (nee Leaf) grew up in Tatura before moving to Temora to establish a farm after 1909. 

George Andrew Leaf Donaldson and his wife Olive Margaret Donaldson (nee Dolphin) assumed management of the farm in Temora after George Alexander’s passing in 1931.  Prior to her marriage, Olive assisted her father, John Crighton Dolphin at his drapery in Brunswick, Victoria. 

The Donaldson’s maintained a connection with their family heritage in Tatura, Victoria, highlighted through the avocado green ensemble’s exhibition in a fashion parade in the region in 1990.

Births, deaths, marriages, children or family information

“Granny Donaldson”: Isabella Donaldson (nee Leaf)

George Alexander Donaldson b. March 1858 in Mulgrave, VIC, d. December 1931 in Temora, NSW married (in 1887 in Melbourne, VIC) Isabella Leaf b. June 1860 in Ararat, VIC, d. December 1954 in Newtown, NSW.

George Andrew Leaf Donaldson b. October 1890 in Merrigum, VIC, d. 19 October 1969 in Temora, NSW married Olive Margaret Donaldson (nee Dolphin) b. February 1893 in Fitzroy, VIC, d. November 1988 in Temora, NSW.

Margaret Eisenhauer (nee Donaldson) b. 1925 and resides in Temora, NSW with her husband Jack Eisenhauer.

Do you have any stories or community information associated with this?

Members of the Donaldson family have treasured this garment since its manufacture in 1890. The garment was originally made for Isabella Donaldson (nee Leaf) to be worn to her brother William Leaf’s marriage to Elizabeth Stanger on the 26th February 1890. Close inspection of the garment reveals that the side seams of the bodice were unstitched and additional pieces of fabric were inserted to expand the girth of the bodice. Isabella Donaldson first wore this dress prior to having children and this is clearly evident from the small waistline of the bodice and skirt.  It is possible that the alterations to the bodice were made after 1890 to accommodate her natural change in shape after giving birth to children. The fact that the alterations have been made using identical fabric highlights the common practice at the time of keeping extra material of specially made garments in order to repair or alter the garment. Therefore whilst the garment was made for a special occasion, it is clear that Isabella intended to continue wearing the garment for other occasions, however treasured the piece given the time spent to repair and maintain the garment’s very good condition. 

After 1909, Isabella and her husband George Alexander Donaldson moved to the Temora Shire and established a farm in the Combaning District where George worked as a grazier for the rest of his life. The farming estate was passed down to his sons William Leaf Donaldson and George Andrew Leaf Donaldson in February 1932. George Andrew Leaf Donaldson moved to Temora with his wife Olive Margaret Donaldson (nee Dolphin) where they settled and spent the remainder of their lives. Olive Margaret Donaldson was a skilled seamstress and it is possible that she was given the ensemble from her mother-in-law due to Olive’s passion for apparel. It is clear that Olive also cherished and cared for the garment. 

The ensemble was then passed down to Olive’s daughter Margaret Eisenhauer (nee Donaldson) who still lives in the Temora district today. Margaret Eisenhauer has dedicated a significant portion of her life to voluntary work in the local community. As a member of the Red Cross Society, she exhibited the ensemble in a Red Cross Melbourne Cup Bridal Parade held in Temora in 1975. Notably, Margaret was presented with Vision Australia’s first 50 Years of Volunteer Service badge in June 2007.

How does this garment relate to the wider historical context?

The style of this elegant garment reflects the new development in Western fashion in the 1890s where emphasis on the exaggerated bustle was replaced with emphasis on the shoulders and garment sleeves.  Skirts were characteristically worn in a full-length, simple A-line.  This garment depicts the typical fashion witnessed throughout the following few years of the decade.  The fact that this garment was made for a wedding at the beginning of 1890 suggests that Isabella Donaldson kept informed with the latest fashion trends.  Furthermore, the manufacture of the garment especially for Isabella Donaldson also highlights the wealth of the family at the time.  The garment is also an example of the dressmaking service that was still utilised by clients able to afford a customised wardrobe or specially made garments for social occasions in the late 1800s.

This garment is part of a significant addition to the Textile Department at the Temora Rural Museum in the form of the ‘Donaldson Collection’, comprising garments representing three generations over a period of 130 years.  The Donaldson’s are a long-standing family in Temora and this collection reflects a family going through periods of wealth, and of drought, representing so much of the history of the district as a strong agricultural community rich with heritage and resources. 

Where did this information come from?

Information about the Donaldson family was obtained from the following sources:

'Donaldson File' - Temora Family History Group

Oral communication with Gay McGeorge - Past Curator at the Temora Rural Museum responsible for accessioning the Donaldson Collection in 2012. 

Excerpts from a talk given by Textile Curator Gay McGeorge on 10th March 2012 (Temora Rural Museum's 39th Annual Live Exhibition Day).

Further Donaldson family tree and wedding date information accessed from www.ancestry.com.au 

This garment has been exhibited

Various fashion parades – Melbourne Cup Bridal Parade 1975 and Fashion Parade in Tatura in 1990.

Temora Rural Museum 39th Exhibition Day – 10th March 2012 at Morangarell Church.

This garment is part of a significant addition to the Textile Department at the Temora Rural Museum in the form of the ‘Donaldson Collection’, comprising garments representing three generations over a period of 130 years.

  1. Place of origin:

    Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

  2. Owned by:

    According to the family provenance, this ensemble originally belonged to Isabella Donaldson (nee Leaf). The garment was passed down to her daughter-in-law Olive Donaldson and subsequently Olive's daughter Margaret Eisenhauer (nee Donaldson).  Margaret Eisenhauer donated the garment as part of a larger Donaldson Collection featuring items of dress from a single family spanning three generations to the Temora Rural Museum in 2012.

  3. Worn by:

    Isabella Donaldson (nee Leaf)

    Margaret Eisenhauer (nee Donaldson)

  4. Occasion(s):

    Isabella Donaldson's brother's wedding, 1890.

    Red Cross Melbourne Cup Bridal Parade, 1975.

    Tatura Fashion Parade, 1990.

  5. Place:

    Melbourne, Victoria.

    Temora, New South Wales.

    Tatura, Victoria.

  6. Made by:

    The maker of this garment is unknown, however it is known that Isabella Donaldson sought the assistance of a dressmaker in Melbourne to customise a dress to wear to her brother's wedding in 1890.

  7. Made for:

    Isabella Donaldson to wear to her brother's wedding in Melbourne, Victoria on the 26th February 1890.

Trimmings / Decoration

A deep peplum finishes the bodice waistline.

Four inverted knife pleats that fall into a short train feature at the centre back of the skirt.

The hem of the skirt features a 12 centimetre wide frill of box pleating.  The edge of each box pleat is folded down 3.5 centimetres from the top of the frill to create a decorative border.  This creates an effect whereby the juxtaposed silk grain appears a lighter shade of green than the bulk of the skirt.

Piping

Featured around the edges of the green silk satin hat accompanying the ensemble.

Fibre / Weave

Avocado green silk satin.

  1. Natural dye
  2. Synthetic dye

Manufacture

Bodice:

Majority of the bodice is machine sewn.

The 18 button holes down the centre front are hand sewn.

The peplum features machine and hand stitched facings.

A hand stitched piece of tape is located at the centre back of the collar to keep the collar in shape when placed on a coat hanger.

Additional inserts to the side seams are hand sewn.

Skirt:

The placket is hand sewn.

The seams have been finished with hand sewing to prevent seams from fraying.

Two pieces of material cut on the straight have been hand sewn to the inside of the skirt to hold the pleats in place.

A hidden pocket is featured on the right hand side of the skirt.

Alterations

12 of the decorative metal buttons fastening the bodice appear to have been unstitched and restitched to the edge of the bodice to allow for larger size.

Material has been added to the side seams of the bodice using additional fabric to enlarge the bodice. 

It is possible that these hand sewn alterations to the bodice were made to accommodate Isabella's natural change in shape after giving birth to children.  The fact that the alterations have been made with additional, but identical fabric shows that Isabella intended on wearing the garment on more than one occasion and anticipated the need to make alterations and repairs as she purchased additional fabric for that purpose at the time of manufacture.

Additional material has also been used to repair two sections of the skirt hem.  It is likely that these pieces were used to repair damage caused from shoe heels given their location at the back of the hem.

  1. Hand sewn
  2. Machine sewn
  3. Knitted
  4. Other

Cut

The bodice is cut on the straight.

The peplum is cut on the bias.

The bodice features curved leg-of-mutton sleeves.

The skirt is cut on the straight.

  1. Bias
  2. Straight

Fastenings

Bodice fastenings:

Centre front fastens with 18 decorative metal buttons.

Stand collar fastens with one metal hook and sewn eye.

Skirt fastenings:

2x hand sewn metal hooks and metal eyes secure the waist of the skirt.  

  1. Hook and eye
  2. Lacing
  3. Buttons
  4. Zip
  5. Drawstring

Stiffening / Lining / Padding

The bodice and skirt are fully lined. 

The bodice is stiffened with 9 whalebone strips.

The bodice features stiffened, shaped cuffs.

Measurements

bodice skirt
Girth
Neck 365 mm
Chest 840 mm
Waist 545 mm 593 mm
Hip 1080 mm
Cuff 190 mm
Hem circumference 3200 mm
Vertical
Front neck to hem 597 mm
Front waist to hem 187 mm 975 mm
Back neck to hem 600 mm
Back waist to hem 208 mm 1060 mm
Sleeve length 680 mm
Outside leg 1005 mm
Horizontal
Neck to sleeve head 130 mm
Cross back 280 mm
Underarm to underarm 365 mm
Convert to inches

Peplum hem circumference - 1927mm

One hidden pocket in skirt on RHS - 205mm x 280mm with a 135mm pocket opening.

Dress Themes

This dress was made especially for Isabella Donaldson to wear to her brother's wedding in Melbourne, Victoria on the 26th February 1890.

Additional material

Other related objects

Accompanying the silk ensemble is a heart-shaped hat with piping made from avocado green silk satin and trimmed with flowers and a large, brown feather.  A brown silk, beaded bag with a tortoise shell link chain handle and opening is also worn with the ensemble.

This garment is part of a significant addition to the Textile Department at the Temora Rural Museum in the form of the ‘Donaldson Collection’, comprising garments representing three generations over a period of 130 years.  Other items in the collection include a wool cloak trimmed with velvet and heavy cording brought out from England in 1850, a 1918 white muslin embroidered blouse, a 1910 green pin-stripe cook's dress, a 1940's floral crepe-de-chîne frock and Margaret Donaldson's own Debutante Gown which was made out of white mosquito netting because of coupons during the wartime rationing and shortage of materials.  This collection reflects a family going through periods of wealth, and of drought, representing so much of the history of the district.

Condition

This garment is in very good condition given its 19th century manufacture and continued use for special occasions in the 20th century.  

The colour of the garment has been well preserved and remains consistent across the bodice and skirt.

Very faint stitch marks are evident on the bodice front where the 12 buttons have been moved from the front to the edge of the bodice.

Small holes to the inner lining of the skirt are present.

Six small circular stains are evident on the right sleeve of the bodice. 

Evidence of repairs

Two areas of the skirt hem have been conserved.  Additional material has been used to repair two sections of the skirt hem.  It is likely that these pieces were used to repair damage caused from shoe heels given their location on the back of the hem.

State

  1. Excellent
  2. Good
  3. Fair
  4. Poor

Damage

  1. Holes
  2. Stained

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