|Mourning dress probably worn by Amelia Hackney, part of the Australian Dress Register|
I've had a close inspection of an 1850s mourning gown worn by its maker, Amelia Hackney, in Sydney in the 1850s. I really must thank Lindie Ward, Curator at the Powerhouse Museum, for locating it for me. It is made of silk satin and is still in almost pristine condition, although is not on public display.
How do we know if a sewing machine was used?
The earliest sewing machines produced a chain stitch, and garments with this type of stitching are likely to date from the 1850s and 1860s. The lock stitch machine (where both sides of the stitching look similar) was also in use by the 1860s. Machines were also developed in this decade which could sew on braid, do chain stitch embroidery, and produce pleated trimmings, which are much in evidence on garments from the 1870s. If there is evidence of machine stitching in a garment which definitely dates from before the mid 1850s, it suggests a later alteration.
I've seen antique silk gowns from 1890 and early 1900 shattered and falling apart. Why is the silk used for this 1850s gown looking almost brand new?
Silk is naturally tough and hardwearing, so 18th century silks survived for decades, and can be found re-made into garments up to the 1890s. The chemical finishes applied to silks, especially lining silks, from the 1890s onwards, however, were very destructive, and caused the splitting and shattering of silk dresses and petticoats from 1890 – 1920 that presents such problems to museum staff today. Patterned silks, which dated quickly, have survived in museums in much greater quantity than plain silks, which could be recycled into children’s dresses, linings etc.