Wedding dress with petticoat and veil, Irish crochet lace, linen / cotton / slipper satin / nylon tulle / plastic, maker unknown, lace made Ireland, 1890-1940, dress and petticoat worn by Norma Spencer, Australia, 1943, wedding outfit with veil worn by Elizabeth Spencer, Australia, 1984
The lace for this wedding dress was made possibly in Ireland, from cotton worked in Irish crochet dating from 1890-1940. It was sent to Australia in four pieces including the skirt with train, bodice and sleeves. The original owner of the lace is unknown although eventually, the lace pieces were donated to the Red Cross Society as a prize in a raffle. Already married, the winner of the raffle had no use for the lace and decided to sell the pieces.
The lace pieces came to the attention of Miss Norma Millard through a friend of her mother's. Preparing for her own wedding, Norma had already selected the material for her wedding dress but was so taken by the lace that her mother arranged for an appraisal at David Jones and subsequently purchased the pieces. Retaining the original design, the wedding dress was made up by a local seamstress with only minimal alteration to the sleeves and neckline. Mrs Spencer recalls that it was difficult for the seamstress to assemble the pieces into a dress.
Who the dress was originally intended for and what circumstances contributed to the pieces becoming a prize in a Red Cross Society Raffle is subject to conjecture. However, it was the early 1940s and World War ll was impacting the lives of many worldwide.
In 1942, Prime Minister John Curtin issued personal identity cards and rationing regulations relating to food and clothing were introduced. Disruptions to everyday activities were felt by many Australians as the effects of austerity measures and conscription began to affect life on the home front. Considering the high casualty and mortality rates of World War ll, it is possible that the hopes and dreams of a young girl were shattered by the vagaries of war.
In addition to illustrating the skill of Irish lacemakers from the 1890s to 1940, this wedding dress is significant as a beautiful example of a traditional wedding gown contemporary to the 1940s. However, the question of why the gown was never made up and worn by the original bride-to-be adds an extra layer of meaning when considered in context of the 1940s and subsequent social implications resulting from this turbulent period in Australia's history.
Reference: Lewis, Robert. The Home Front - World War 2, www.anzacday.org.au, 2001, viewed September 2010
This wedding dress is made from cotton worked in Irish crochet by an unknown maker dating from 1890 to 1940.
The lace for this wedding dress was probably made in Ireland prior to being sent to Australia in four pieces. Comprising the skirt with train, bodice and sleeves, the pieces were eventually assembled into a wedding dress by a local seamstress. Slight modifications to the original design included a high rounded neckline altered to a lower square with dip to a point at centre and the long sleeves were shortened to half length. Mrs Spencer recalls the style of the gown to be contemporary to the times.
Developed in Ireland during the potato famine in the mid 1840s, Irish crochet is generally worked with a thin-hooked steel crochet hook and is worked by assembling various motifs such as flowers, scrolls, leaves and other shapes joining them with a chain stitch, mesh or with bars. The interesting texture and whimsical designs characteristic of Irish crochet was a winning combination worldwide. Irish crochet continues to be a popular lacemaking technique today.
Kurella, Elizabeth. Guide to lace and linens, Antique Trader Books, USA, 1998, p.158-159
The lace for this wedding dress was made overseas from Irish crochet lace dating from 1890-1940 and was sent to Australia, possibly from Ireland, in four pieces. Comprising the skirt with train, bodice and sleeves, the pieces were never made up for the original owner who was unknown to the donor, Mrs Norma Spencer.
Mrs Spencer recalls the circumstances that lead to her possession of the lace pieces: '...The lace was at a later time given to the Red Cross Society to be raffled. I had already chosen the material I wanted for my wedding gown, but a friend of my mother, who was working for the Red Cross, told my mother about the lace, and how beautiful it was and that the woman who had won it in the raffle was already married and wished to sell it. My mother agreed that it was very beautiful, had it valued by David Jones and bought it for me...'
The wedding dress was worn by Miss Norma Millard on the occasion of her wedding to John Spencer on 21 September 1943, at St Phillip's Church, Church Hill, Sydney.
Norma wore the sleeves of the dress pushed up at the shoulder which was very fashionable in 1943. Subsequently in 1984, the dress was worn by Norma's daughter, Elizabeth Spencer, who wore the sleeves differently - a reflection of fashion style of 1984. She also wore a more contemporary veil made from nylon tulle.