De Bortoli cream silk 1920s wedding dress

Contributed by: De Bortoli Family

Giuseppina and Vittorio De Bortoli's wedding picture, 1929. Front showing shaped sash and floating side panel
Photographer Gordon McCaw Front showing bow and ties
Photographer Gordon McCaw Back view showing floating panel
Photographer Gordon McCaw Front skirt showing lace, fringing and floating panel
Photographer Gordon McCaw Back skirt view showing lace and fringing
Photographer Gordon McCaw Back view with lace insert on sleeve
Photographer Gordon McCaw Giuseppina and Vittorio De Bortoli pictured at their 50th wedding anniversary celebrations. The sleeves on the wedding dress have been removed. Giuseppina De Bortoli pictured at her 50th wedding anniversary celebrations.  The sleeves on the wedding dress have been removed. Giuseppina De Bortoli's wedding dress, restored for the De Bortoli Wines 75th anniversary celebrations. Dressed for an occasion.  Giuseppina and Flo with winery workers.  Vittorio in the car - 1930s Giuseppina and her daughter Flo. Vittorio waiting for Giuseppina to mark off the barrels as they are loaded onto the De Bortoli Wines truck. Grape picking in the 1930s Emeri De Bortoli (left) and Eola Cummins (right) with the restored dress at the De Bortoli Wines 75th Anniversary celebrations.
  • Australian dress register ID:

  • Owner:

    De Bortoli Family
  • Date range:

    1928 - 1929
  • Place of origin:

    Lyon, France
  • Gender:

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Object information

Significance statement

This cream silk wedding dress was worn by Giuseppina (Pineta) Bisa for her marriage to Vittorio De Bortoli in 1929 at Bilbul, near Griffith, New South Wales.

The dress was purchased from a French catalogue when Giuseppina was working as a maid for a wealthy family in Lyon in France, saving for her fare to Australia. After the wedding, Giuseppina altered the dress so it could be worn for evening occasions. She removed the sleeves and lace fringing, storing these pieces. Celebrating their 50th Wedding anniversary, Giuseppina again wore her wedding dress, parading it during the celebration. Some years later a local Griffith dress designer re-attached the sleeves and lace fringing, returning the dress to its former design. The dress is in excellent condition and is a beautiful example of French fashion from the 1920s.

Giuseppina and Vittorio had three children, Flo, Deen and Eola. Their family formed the progressive and successful winery, known today as De Bortoli Wines. It is over 82 years since the first wine was produced and the families and the winery continue to grow, with new export markets and an ever-increasing crush.

Author: Emeri De Bortoli and Heather Waide, 8th October 2010.


This Wedding dress is made of cream coloured soft shiny silk. It has a similar appearance to Jap silk but is softer.

It is a loose fitting hipster design from the 1920s. It has a round neck and long sleeves with a shaped lace insert at the wrist. The neck and sleeve edges are finished with narrow seam binding.

The skirt is straight cut and gathered softly at the hipline.

A bias cut sash of the silk joins at the hipline.

The sash slopes downwards towards the right hand side, becoming wider. It falls into a draped piece reaching to below the hemline, almost like a partial floating overskirt.

This piece hangs freely in soft folds.

A lace panel which becomes fringing joins at the hip, underneath the sash and falls to below the silk hemline.

The lace pattern ends in a triangular design and the fringing flows from this.

The top half of the fringing has been anchored together evenly at intervals with satin stitching holding the strands together in an alternating pattern. This resembles the appearance of 'smocking'.

The lower 370 mm of the fringing hangs freely to below the hemline of the silk skirt. Hemline is below the knee.

The edge of the sash/drape has narrow binding to match the sleeve ends and neck edge.

On the left hand side of the dress there is a softly falling bow, gathered where it joins the hipline.

The bow has two ties of different lengths with long fringing attached.

The fringing falls to below the hemline.

History and Provenance

As there were few opportunities in Italy, Giuseppina De Bortoli nee Bisa, the owner of this dress, followed her older sister to France in the 1920s. There she worked as a maid for a wealthy family in Lyon. She stayed with this family and saved for three years in order to be reunited with her brothers and childhood sweetheart, Vittorio De Bortoli in Australia. They had grown up together in the neighbouring villages of Castelcucco and Monfumo in northern Italy.

Vittorio De Bortoli had left war-ravaged Italy in 1924 seeking a better future. He came from a family where there were too many sons, too many mouths to feed and not enough land. The family farm had been divided many times until there was none left to divide. Vittorio chose to leave on the first boat - any boat, knowing surely there was a better future elsewhere.

He arrived in Melbourne, then travelled to the new Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area to seek farm work. He made his first home underneath a rain-water tank. The tank was supported by a tall flimsy wooden structure and he used hessian bags and tin to construct a basic dwelling. He soon had a flourishing vegetable garden planted with seeds brought from Italy, and able to make a meal of anything, he was never hungry again. The vegetables were used to barter for things he needed and together with labouring work enabled him to save enough for a deposit on a farm. With the rich soil and the abundant water, Vittorio began to feel as though he had found the 'lucky country'.

Births, deaths, marriages, children or family information

Giuseppina Bisa married Vittorio De Bortoli in 1929.

They had three children, Flo, Deen and Eola.

Flo De Bortoli married Silvio Panazzolo

Deen De Bortoli married Emeri Cunial

Eola De Bortoli married Ian Cummins

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

After their marriage in 1929, Vittorio encouraged Giuseppina to learn English with the local schoolmaster at the Bilbul school. She learnt quickly, and the new language, combined with her excellent French, enabled her to assist not only their family and growing wine business but also new Italian immigrants. There were no facilities for learning English in the early days of immigration and so many of the women led lonely and isolated lives, struggling to learn the language. With little English, even visiting a doctor became a great challenge. At school, immigrant children often commenced with no English, in classes of up to 50 children.

Vittorio and Giuseppina's care extended beyond their immediate family circle. Newly arrived Italians often came by train with only a small cardboard suitcase and the name of someone they knew. The local taxi driver would bring them from the railway station to the De Bortoli farm, where they were greeted with familiar food, wine and language they understood. Vittorio knew what it was to arrive alone in this isolated new settlement with no English skills.

How does this garment relate to the wider historical context?

This wedding dress travelled with Giuseppina Bisa from the lush countryside of France, where she had known hard work but great material comfort, to the arid dustbowl that was the Riverina at that time. That it exists at all reveals much about the woman who married her childhood sweetheart in 1929. It symbolizes many of the qualities that she brought to her new life - hope, determination, spirit and refinement. Qualities which were to contribute powerfully to the future success of her family and their business. This is the dress of a woman who had travelled; whose rich experiences had educated her and opened her mind to possibilities - a woman with dreams for her family's future, and the strength and determination to bring them to fulfilment. As such, the wedding dress is still cherished today, as it must have been from Giuseppina's first arrival - a rare and beautiful symbol of civilization and possibility.

Giuseppina's husband Vittorio, missed the dry European style table wines he had known and loved in Italy. With the ideal climatic conditions, a canny business sense told him there would be a market for this type of wine in Australia. Giuseppina helped Vittorio improve the quality of their wine by ordering and translating French winemaking textbooks and so their combined skills helped the winery prosper.

When the De Bortoli family started producing and selling wine, Giuseppina became a business woman. Her skills, combined with Vittorio's vision, work ethic and ability to grow produce, ensured the success of their business.

The poverty and hunger were left behind but never forgotton.

World War II caused the family much hardship with severe restrictions on wine quantities and the confiscation of their equipment. After the war, the winery expanded with a new sense of purpose and Vittorio purchased a shop in Sydney to help market their wines. Vittorio's wish was for wine to be accessible and enjoyed by all and so educating people became part of their life.

This heritage continues today with the De Bortoli family - the unofficial family motto being 'Good food, Good wine and Good friends'.

Where did this information come from?

A published book on the De Bortoli family called 'Celebrazione! 75 years of eating and drinking with the De Bortoli family' by Michael Harden.

Conversations with Mrs. Emeri De Bortoli


This garment has been exhibited

March 2003: The dress was exhibited on the occasion of the 75th Anniversary party, celebrating seventy five years since Vittorio and Giuseppina De Bortoli's first vintage.

The dress was restored for this occasion by Ross Weymouth, well known local and Australian dress designer. It was beautifully displayed on a model with the original head piece, silk stockings and garters all in excellent condition and treasured by the family.

  1. Place of origin:

    Lyon, France

  2. Owned by:

    Giuseppina De Bortoli nee Bisa. The dress was purchased from a mail order catalogue in France while Giuseppina was working as a maid.

  3. Worn by:

    The dress was worn by Giuseppina Bisa for her marriage to Vittorio De Bortoli.

  4. Occasion(s):

    Wedding, balls and formal occasions.

    Fiftieth wedding celebration of Giuseppina and Vittorio De Bortoli

  5. Place:

    Bilbul, NSW. Wedding reception was held at the winery.

    Formal occasions in the Griffith district.

Trimmings / Decoration

Machine made cream coloured lace on sleeve ends.

Lace on the skirt ends in a triangular pattern then flows into fringing. Fringing is held together at intervals with satin stitching then falls freely.

Bow ties have fringing, hanging to below the skirt hemline

Narrow bias seam binding finishes neck edge, sleeve edges and sash edging.


Shaped panel on sleeve ends. Lace and fringing panel on skirt.

Fibre / Weave

The dress is made of cream coloured silk, soft and shiny with a slight pattern.

It is a lighter weave than satin, possibly a type of Jap silk.

A cream coloured panel of silk chiffon attaches to the top of the lace on the skirt. This is to replace lace that is missing.

The hip sash covers the chiffon.

The lace and fringing is very soft and shiny, possibly a rayon.

  1. Natural dye
  2. Synthetic dye


The dress is well made with machine and hand stitching. The french seams on the bodice, sleeves and skirt are machine stitched.

The darts on the sleeves and sash are machine stitched with a tied knot at the end.

The neck, sleeve and sash binding has been machine stitched and hand finished.

The bodice seam allowance fabric has been used to enclose and neaten the hip join. The fabric has been turned over and hand stitched to enclose the raw edges.

The armhole seams have been machine stitched and the seam allowance enclosed in hand stitched bias.

The bow has been made double, like a long sash, (1020 mm in length) wider in the middle(150 mm), tapering to pointy ends and less width on the ties (110 mm). The fabric is bias cut with the fringing attached at the ends.

It has been machine stitched and turned, enclosing seams, leaving a small unstitched opening hidden underneath the folded bow.

An extra piece of fabric has been added in the making of the bow, stitched diagonally and cleverly camouflaged in the folding of the bow and ties.

The sash (bow) has been folded double more than half-way and a gathering thread stitched across it, 180 mm from the fold.

The gathering has pulled the folded sash in to 450 mm in width and it has been hand stitched to the hip join.

The hip sash and overskirt have been cut from one piece of fabric, shaped in a half circle with the straight part of the circle (bias) fitting around the body and five different length darts fanning out, to create the hip shaping.

This half circle could have been designed while on a model - with the fabric shaping cut downwards to create the sash, leaving the remainder of the fabric free and falling softly in folds, hanging below the skirt hem. It is the same front and back and leaves a bridge of fabric 210mm wide over the side seam, so it is seen equally front and back.

The skirt hem has been machine stitched then turned and hand stitched in place.


no label


Sleeves and lace fringing removed. Bodice underarm seam run in to stop armhole gaping. When restored, underarm seam was let out again and sleeves re-inserted. Marks remain from unpicking. Small section of lace from under sash was missing. Silk chiffon substituted for missing section.

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


The bodice, skirt and sleeves have been cut on the straight grain.

The hip sash and partial overskirt have been cut on the bias.

The bow and ties are cut on the bias.

The seam binding on the neck, sleeves and extended sash are bias cut.

  1. Bias
  2. Straight


There are no openings or fastenings on this dress.

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

Stiffening / Lining / Padding

This is a very soft fluid garment and there is no stiffening, lining or padding.


Neck 550 mm
Chest 900 mm
Hip 850 mm
Cuff 180 mm
Hem circumference 1420 mm
Front neck to hem 950 mm
Front waist to hem 650 mm
Back neck to hem 1000 mm
Back waist to hem 650 mm
Sleeve length 600 mm
Neck to sleeve head 750 mm
Cross back 330 mm
Underarm to underarm 425 mm
Convert to inches

Skirt length is 585 mm

Dress Themes

This silk Wedding dress is similar to many styles from the 1920s. French dress designer, Madeleinne Vionnet used soft flowing fabrics, bias cut, uneven hemlines, lace and fringing. These features enhanced the beauty of the female form, flowing with the movement of the wearer. This dress has many of those features.

The dress was altered and worn for evening wear.

It has since been restored to its original design.

Additional material

Articles, publications, diagrams and receipts descriptions

Friday, March 21, 2003. Local Griffith newspaper 'Area News' published a separate pull-out article on the Celebration of the 75th Anniversary of De Bortoli Wines 1928 - 2003, detailing the history of De Bortoli Wines.

Other related objects

Working as a maid during the day, Giuseppina would meet with the other maids in the evening and they would sew together. She made many garments for her trousseau during this time, including nightwear and underclothes. These garments have been hand and machine stitched with decorative embroidery including Giuseppina's initials. They are part of this well cared for collection.

For many years Giuseppina corresponded with her former employer in Lyon and the letters in French from 'Madame' (as she was addressed) survive also as part of this collection.

Items in the collection:

Cream silk wedding stockings.

Curved floral wedding head-dress.

Two pale blue and pink wedding garters. 

Vittorio De Bortoli's white wedding bow tie.

Two pairs of white cotton bloomers. Long, straight legged with hand worked broderie anglaise and cut work on the hem. Machine and hand stitching. No side seams. Remaining seams are French seams. Both sides have a placket opening 260 mm long. Back band is gathered with two hand stitched buttonholes near the centre back and tape attached for fitting. Hand embroidered 'GB' on front, top.

Apricot coloured short panties. A band of floral fabric on the top. Button closure. These have been made smaller with a tuck stitched from side to side.

Seven white cotton nighties, machine and hand stitched. The nighties feature different stitchery, including French seams, hand embroidered designs, scalloped satin stitch, pulled thread embroidery and embroidered initials 'GB'. One nightie has crocheted inserts.

One white cotton nightie has a stamped label across the hemline. 'Printemps 1865 facade Paris'.

One apricot coloured taffeta slip, A-line. Extra fabric has been added for width at the hemline. Hand stitched cream lace decorates the hem and a narrower version on the bodice. The lace is cream but has pale variegated decorative overstitching. The delicate colours blend from peach, pale mauve, blue and green.

A white christening drape. Embroidered red pattern follows the shape. Embroidered christian symbol on the front.

A white linen handkerchief with 'G' embroidered in the corner.

Letters written in French from Giuseppina's former employer in France.

Brooch - 90 mm long, curved leaf shape. 26 diamond like stones follow the curve. This was worn on the bow on the left hand side of the dress.

Wedding dress decoration worn on the shoulder. Green leaf with large pearls in wax or paste forming a 'spray'.


The dress is in excellent condition.

Evidence of repairs

Sleeves were re-attached. Some seam unpicking marks remain on the silk as the bodice underarm seam was run in when the sleeves were removed.

A section of the skirt lace is missing. On restoration, cream silk chiffon was substituted and this is hidden beneath the sash and allows the fringing to hang below the hem as it was originally.


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