Child's 1885 silk dress

Contributed by: Albury Library Museum

Pauline Ries, aged 4, wearing the dress in 1940. Front of dress Back of dress Bustle detail Lace detail Detail of damage and repair to the back neck area.
  • Australian dress register ID:

  • Owner:

    Albury Library Museum
  • Owner registration number:

  • Date range:

  • Place of origin:

    Albury, New South Wales, Australia
  • Gender:

    Female, Child
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Object information

Significance statement

This child's purple/blue silk dress features in a photograph of 4 year old Pauline Ries in 1940. The dress was donated to the Albury City Collection by Sister Clare Ries, among several other objects. It is not known who owned or wore this dress, possibly a member of the Ries and Dallinger families of Albury. Both of these families came to Albury with several other German families in the late 1850s. It has been suggested that it is a half-mourning dress, though there is no evidence, except the colour, to support this. Mourning dresses for such a young child were not commonly used, especially in rural areas. The dress is machine sewn and appears to be home made. A great deal of care has been taken with the original construction of the dress though later "mending" is very rough and could have been done by a child. The sleeves are trimmed with machine made lace and would have been the height of fashion for a young girl at the time.

Even though it is damaged, the aesthetic quality of the dress shows through. The princess line style of dress came to prominence in the 1880s with a less restrictive style and more sensible underwear for young girls. The front panel of this style of dress was ruched or smocked and was designed to hang loosely and allowed some freedom of movement. This style was favoured by the dress reformers of the day. However, by later in the 1880s the ruching was just for decoration and the lining of the dress was fitted, as with this dress. At this time, the bustle had a revival. As can be seen the bustle is formed by fabric bunched and folded at the back of the dress.

Though this dress is damaged and has been poorly repaired, it is remarkable that it has survived at all. Childrens clothing was, and still is, passed along to younger siblings and other family members and doesn't necessarily survive past a few cousins. We have to wonder why this dress was important enough to keep. It is not known why Pauline Ries is wearing the dress in the photograph in 1940 - did it have some particular significance for the family and why was this dress kept?

Author: Christine Edgar, 13 July 2012.


Child's machine sewn dress in purple/blue silk and is very fragile. It is designed to suit a four to five year old girl. It has a princess line bodice with a dropped waist and bustle at the back. The bodice is trimmed with green silk shot with red in a gathered section at the centre front and the neckline is bound in the same fabric. The sleeves are long with cuffs in the same fabric trim as the bodice and three wooden buttons are on each cuff. The buttons appear to have been painted a copper brown colour. Machine made Cluny lace edges each sleeve. The skirt has three wide tucks below the dropped waist and it is pleated at the hem end. The red/green trim is also on the skirt with a gathered section above the pleats and crenellated shaped trim in the same material above the gathered section. The back has seven wooden buttons (one missing) and eight button holes. The buttonholes are hand sewn. The pleats, tucks and trim carry over onto the back of the skirt. The back has a bustle formed by folding and bunching the fabric and is trimmed with the red/green fabric in a crenellated design. On the inside are fabric ties to shape the back of the skirt. One is broken. There is piping in the red/green fabric around the arm holes, the dropped waist line and the sleeve cuffs. The dress is lined.

History and Provenance

Births, deaths, marriages, children or family information

According to the donor the dress dates from 1885 and could have been worn by Eva or Frances Dallinger. Eva was born in 1879 and Frances in 1880 to Jacob Conrad Dallinger and his first wife Mary Carroll (d. 1892). They had eight children - Eva, Frances, George, Jacob, Conrad C, Henry P, Annie C, and Mary M. After Mary's death Jacob married Katherine Dick in 1892. They had six children - Frederick, Joseph, Robert, Albert, Rose C, and Mary.

How does this garment relate to the wider historical context?

The Dallinger and Ries families were well known (and still are) in the Albury area. They were among several German Catholic families who settled in the area in the 1850s. These families often intermarried and they have connections with other local descendants of German migrants such as Frauenfelder, Rau, Reis, Knobel, Reuss, Eberle, Eck and Pagenstecher.

It is not known why Pauline Ries was wearing the dress in 1940 and what significance it had for the family. Investigations have not, as yet, revealed the answer.

Where did this information come from?

The donor, Sister Clare Ries.

This garment has been exhibited

This dress was displayed at the Albury Library Museum in the 'Growth Rings: unearthing the Albury Botanic Gardens' exhibition from 22 November 2012 until 10 February 2013.

  1. Place of origin:

    Albury, New South Wales, Australia

  2. Owned by:

    It is not known who owned this dress, though it was possibly owned by Frances Dallinger. An almost identical dress was worn by Eva Dallinger and this dress is still in the possession of family members. It dates from 1885 and it was connected to the Dallinger and Ries families of Albury.

    "The dress was made from the wedding dress of Mary Anne Dallinger (nee Carroll) who married Jacob Dallinger 14 May 1878. The dress was made for Eva Dallinger. Mary died when Eva was 12 yeas old. Eva's daughter also wore the dress as a small child".

  3. Worn by:

    Later information provided by a relative of the donor suggests that it was owned by Frances Dallinger.

  4. Place:

    Albury, New South Wales

  5. Made for:

    Frances Dallinger.

Trimmings / Decoration

Cluny Lace is a bobbin lace of simple geometric design incorporating circles, diamond blocks or squares of half stitch and rosettes of wheat ear arranged like spokes in a wheel. The geometric design is undulating in the trail (a path that the design travels along).

This form of lace is said to be based on 16th century Genoese laces preserved at the Musee de Cluny in Paris. It re emerged in the second half of the nineteenth century in both France and England.

Originally Cluny lace was made of strong linen or cotton thread and it was produced for clothing and trimming household items. Today Cluny lace is made by machine using different weight threads.

The lace on the child's dress is machine made Cluny of fine cotton ecru thread.

It is an edging lace approx 5cm in width with scalloped edge and picots (a short loop used to enrich the outline). The trail is best described as double curving railway tracks. The in fills of the trail are wheat ears and bar supports.


Red/green shot silk piping around the top of the sleeves, cuffs, and dropped waist.


Machine made Cluny lace of fine cotton ecru thread. The lace has a scalloped edge.


Three wide tucks run horizontally around the skirt below the waistline.

Fibre / Weave

Blue/purple silk fabric to the body of the dress. The pleated and gathered front panel, the ruched skirt panel, cuffs, piping and crenellations on the skirt are in green silk shot with red.

The dress is lined with cotton and linen fabrics.

A shot fabric is a textile in which the warp and weft are of different colours, producing variations in tone owing to the reflection of light. The different colours are most apparent in folds or drapes or when the textile is viewed from different angles in which one element predominates the other.

  1. Natural dye
  2. Synthetic dye


The dress is machine sewn with hand made buttonholes.


There is evidence of alterations to the dress with the lining showing two sets of darts in two different thread colours.

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


  1. Bias
  2. Straight


The back has seven wooden buttons (one missing) and eight hand made button holes. Three wooden buttons are on each cuff. The buttons appear to have been painted a copper brown colour.

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

Stiffening / Lining / Padding

The dress is lined with cotton and linen fabrics.


dress lace
Neck 295 mm
Chest 560 mm
Cuff 50 mm
Hem circumference 1210 mm
Front neck to hem 635 mm
Back neck to hem 685 mm
Sleeve length 340 mm
Neck to sleeve head 90 mm
Convert to inches

Dress Themes

It has been suggested that this is a child's half mourning dress, but there is no definite evidence of this. Staff at the Powerhouse Museum were consulted and their conclusion was that it is not a mourning dress due to the amount of embellisment on the dress. The addition of the green/red shot silk to the piping and pleating on the front of the dress would also add weight to the argument that it is not a mourning dress. It is only the purple/blue colour that would suggest it is for mourning. Mourning dresses for such a young child were not commonly used, especially in rural areas.

Additional material

Articles, publications, diagrams and receipts descriptions

The dress forms part of the AlburyCity costume collection.

Other related objects

Sister Clare Ries also donated to the Albury Regional Museum in the 1990s a photograph of her sister, Pauline Ries, wearing this dress in 1940; a handkerchief used by her mother, Rose, on her wedding day in 1932; a souvenir pillow sham from Egypt; a child's dress, child's nightdress and child's combinations from 1907; sporting ribbons belonging to her father, Jack Ries, relating to the Albury Gun Club and the Albury Amateur Cycle Club, 1930-1940 and a photgraph of Jack Ries in 1937.


Evidence of repairs

In generally poor condition. The fabric trim around the neckline is very frayed with losses of fabric. Some of the purple/blue silk is split in places on the bodice, shoulder and skirt. The edges of the skirt tucks have split on the fold lines. The lace on the sleeve cuffs is a coffee brown colour, possibly the original colour. The top button hole on the back has torn through and there is one missing button. The back of the dress near the neck area is damaged and has fabric losses. The area has been very badly repaired and the thread does not match the fabric.


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


  1. Brittle
  2. Frayed
  3. Crease
  4. Holes
  5. Torn
  6. Worn
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