Costume; Clothing; Main garments; Dresses
1863. Two-piece dress of cream cotton mull printed with paisley and floral motifs, constructed with a fan-front bodice opening in front and a separate floor-length three-tiered skirt.
The fabric is a cream cotton mull, very fine, printed with turkey red, purple, brown, and green with small paisleys and flowers scattered over all and with large paisley and floral motifs printed in wide bands along the weft. These bands are used on the dress as border elements, but are not printed as borders along the selvedges. There are also narrow bands of quatrefoils alternating red and purple, with flowers, printed with the same colors as used on the rest of the garment.
The bodice is lined in the torso with white cotton to provide support for the delicate sheer mull fashion fabric, but has a wide scooped neckline. The lining has three fitted pieces: two front panels shaped with two boned darts on each side, and one back panel with a center back stay of whalebone. It closes at center front with hooks and eyes. The mull layer has three panels: one each in front, and one center-back panel. Each front panel is pleated to the entire length of its shoulder seam. A diagonal line of running stitches secures the close fit of each front panel from the front of the arm to the waist, and all the fullness from the shoulder pleats drapes over the bust creating a V shape before being gathered toward center front with four rows of horizontal stitches, fan-front style. The fabric is smooth at the sides and in back at the shoulders, and is gathered to center back at the waist by three horizontal gathering stitches placed between two curved running stitch lines at side back. The waistline is evenly round at the natural level. A 3.8 cm / 1.5 in. wide waistband has been added, covering the bottom rows of gathering stitches at the waist.
The shoulders are dropped. A two-tier ruched puff holds the fabric snugly against the upper arm, and beneath this a section of the wide band motif is gathered to make a draped pagoda sleeve wide at the hem.
The skirt is evenly gathered into a plain cotton waistband. Three tiers of ruffles or flounces made with the wide band motifs cover the majority of the skirt. These flounces are constructed out of 47 cm / 18.5 in. wide panels sewn selvedge to selvedge. The two top flounces are 30.2 cm / 11.875 in. deep while the bottom flounce is 27.9 cm / 11 in. deep. After the top row, the fabric to which the flounces are sewn is plain unprinted cotton mull. While the skirt has the same length front and back, a tuck has been taken up at center front to shorten the skirt by 7 cm / 2.75 in. to make walking easier.
There is piping at the top of each skirt flounce, and at the scyes, bottom of the sleeve puff, and along the shoulder seams. The narrow band quatrefoil motif fabric is used as trim for the waistband and neckline; at the waistband it is edged top and bottom with piping, and at the neckline it is lightly pleated to fit the curve of the neck and its edges are stitched to make a scalloped finish. Hand-sewn.
Bust: 85.1 cm / 33.5 in.
Waist: 58.4 cm / 23 in.
Sleeve: 41.9 cm / 16.5 in.
Shoulder seam: 15.2 cm / 6 in.
Hem: 316.2 cm / 124.5 in.
Skirt length: 109.2 cm / 43 in.
Gift of Fred Ordway. This dress was inherited by Caroline Mellen Craig (1861-1931) of Durham, New Hampshire, daughter of Rebecca King Mellen (1835-1919) and John Mellen (1829-1870?), and granddaughter of Mehitabel Sheafe Ffrost Mellen (1799-1879), of Durham’s prominent Ffrost family. Rebecca Mellen wore the dress at beginning of the Siege of Charleston Harbor, South Carolina, which took place from August 17, 1863 - September 7, 1863. Rebecca was 28 at the time, and mother to Lucy Mellen Caple (1857-1913) and Caroline. John Mellen’s death date is not known, but by the 1870 census, three of their six children were living with an aunt and uncle in Massachusetts while Rebecca and the other three children lived with John’s parents in Durham. Their last child, William, was born later that year, possibly posthumously. Rebecca married John’s brother Henry in 1879 in Durham, and the 1880 census lists seven young people ranging in age from 10 (William) to 23 (Lucy) identified as nieces and nephews of the head of household. Rebecca and Henry had no children together, and by the time of Rebecca’s death in 1919, only Caroline and her brother Calvert (1864-1945) were still alive.
University of New Hampshire Library
Astrida Schaeffer, photographer/curator
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Dresses, 1863, Charleston, South Carolina, United States, Two-piece dresses, Cotton mull, Cream (color), Printed, Paisley motifs, Floral motifs, Quatrefoils, Turkey red (color), Purple (color), Brown (color), Green (color), Fan-front bodice, Front-opening, White cotton lining, Wide neckline, Scooped neckline, Boned darts, Dropped shoulders, Ruched puffs, Pleats, Scalloping, Pagoda sleeves, Whalebone stay, Hooks and eyes, Floor-length skirt, Tiers (rows), Flounces, Natural waistline, Waistband, Piping, Ordway (donor)