Two Hide Strap Dress Top Delemma Resolved

Left Shoulder Laced tightly with Boot lacing
When I first started researching this dress long ago, I could tell something was amiss with the top of the dress when I received the photo on the right from the museum.

Tradition says the sleeves were always worn on the outside of the dress so they could be removed as the day warmed up and tasks for which bare arms were called for arose.

Right shoulder showing original Lacing holes
If the outfit was worn as displayed, you would first have to remove the entire dress before removing the sleeves. Also, the sleeves were highly decorated which would be senselessly  hidden by placing them under the bodice.

This did not hold with oral tradition. Many early authors observed that the sleeves were easily shrugged off when hard or dirty work was at hand that would damage or soil them. The way the dress was displayed in this photo by the museum did not agree with this oft repeated testimony.

Yoke showing the later notched out neckline
 When I finally examined the dress myself in person I could spot the problem of why the sleeves were placed on the inside of the dress right off.

The lacing was threaded and snugged up through the thickest part of the fold over creating a stiff lumpy mass of leather that the fitted sleeves would not cover without some discomfiture.

I could also see that it was not the original intended design because of the ill placed leather strap thongs where lacing once existed on the right shoulder. Originally he top of the dress was joined by lacing both sides of the shoulder as was evidenced by the holes left from the lacing in the welted flap.

In order to wear the dress properly, one would have originally laced at least a two inch gap between front and back piece. The the yoke of the dress would fall lower on the breast and not bunch at the shoulder and neckline. If worn as shown, the neck of the dress would literally saw you off at the neck line and the bulk of the two welted seams jutting off the shoulder would make wearing the sleeves on the outside impossible. Something had been done to seriously alter the original design of the dress.

Two inch shoulder welts in place, narrow welt at neckline
An alteration was made by taking the lacing off one shoulder and replacing it with two leather straps, tightening up the lacing on the other side so it did not cut the shoulder and then cutting out the neck larger by cutting down one inch through the fold over seam and then across to the other side of the neck, then stitching the two newly created raw neck edges together with running stitch and pinking the edge on both front and back.

This was a poor solution at best, the neck cut out was not deep enough to be effective and the resulting weakness of not having the re enforcement of the continuous welted seam joining the dress and flap caused the neck edge to bulge out and still cause irritation, (sweat stains in the adam's apple area tell the whole story of how this neck edge still abraded the throat, as well as an afterthought dart was cut and sewn perpendicular in the center of the neck hole in the front under the flap to try to reduce the resultant bulging).

I can't fault the original seamstress for this problem, she was obviously an expert and very meticulous in every detail of the garment and accessories, how this neck design problem came to be was probably a result of the person who later wore it and realized it wasn't comfortable enough for them, (especially when they used boot lacing to replace the original soft brain tan lacing), and then took it upon themselves to redesigned it. The original seamstress would have taken the garment apart and remade it correctly, rather than cut out the seam that re enforces the entire top of the dress yoke.

The decision that the remake was amateur was further enforced when I realized the lacing was at some time replaced with commercial boot lacing and not the soft brain tan lacing that would have been used in the first place.

I came to this conclusion after months of deliberation, (This being the sole reason for my not charging right into this project), I finally put myself in the shoes of the originator and realized that as talented as she was, she would never had made this amateur correction, she would have simply opened up the welt seam, add a wider welt and use it for the structure on which the lacing wends. That way the lacing would span perhaps half an inch and the integral structure of the garment would remain in place and at the same time making it more comfortable for the wearer, yet retaining the lacing design of the original.

It was difficult for me to make this decision, after all, I was departing from the original design. But when design weakness so obviously shows itself, one can't in good conscience repeat the purposely and ignorantly created flaw.

I know the creator would have corrected it herself had she been given the opportunity to do so. Perhaps the dress was gifted, or passed on to a younger relative who through time made the horrific adjustments of adding leather boot lace and adding leather thongs through innocent ignorance.

The garment shows the dress was well worn, perhaps by two or three generations in succession and the needed talents of sewing were found wanting in later generations. We will probably never know the real story and I can't entirely fault their ignorance because at least they had the wherewithal to passed the garment on so that today I stand am able dumbfounded before it. I am eternally grateful to them for keeping it safe in any form for me to study and try to humbly reproduce.

The thought of extending the welts to two inches on both the front and the back flap on which to tie the lacing does a couple of good things for this dress.

First, the lacing gap is only a half inch wide and so does not dig into the shoulder and negates any future digging in or sagging, (or replacement with boot lacing).

Second, the bulk of the welted seam drops lower across the front of the breast, allowing the sleeved coat to ride naturally on the shoulders and not get lumped up on the thickness of the triple leather seam.

Third, the welt is a single layer that drapes across and down over the tip of the shoulder smoothly,  creating a soft capping, whereas the triple bulk of the fold over jutted angrily off the point of the shoulder a poked out at an alarming angle making the sleeves impossible to wear on the outside of the garment. (This explains why the museum placed the sleeves improperly on the inside of the dress instead of outside where they would normally be).

Taking liberties with design is not something that I do lightly, it took me months to allow myself to go forward with my decision to change an obviously flawed part of an almost perfect garment.

Now that I have done this, I take all blame and any complaints that I have somehow made this garment less faithful to the original, but I know in my heart that now that I have done it, the original seamstress is smiling down on me from somewhere that I did my best to remake the dress in her image of beauty and serviceability. And the sleeves now fit smoothly over the dress where they belong.

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