Alice Creswick’s Day Dress

60 Objects Costume Collection
The discovery of grass seeds in the hem of Alice Creswick's day dress led to an interesting story.

Alice Creswick

Alice Creswick lived in The Hawthorns, the oldest house in the eponymous Melbourne suburb, and whose garden once swept down to the scrub along  the Yarra River.  A vibrant, active, and well-travelled woman, Alice was immortalised by writer Martin Boyd in his 1937 book The Picnic.  Just like ‘Aunt Albania’ in the novel, Alice ‘expected other people to be as hospitable as herself … wherever she arrived there seemed immediately to be an influx of enjoyment. Young people crowded around her …’

The Seeds

During a routine review of the dress’ condition, plant matter was found entangled in the fibres of the frayed and tattered hem. The hem also appeared to have soil staining along the edges.  The curator was intrigued by the discovery, and a conservator was employed to gently remove the burrs and hooked seeds which were inventoried and sent to Melbourne’s Herbarium for identification.  Most are European introduced grasses, and one may be an Australian Alpine grass, but the specimen is too badly deteriorated for proper identification.

Mrs. Eeles of Collins Street

Mrs. Eeles traded as a society dressmaker for over 30 years. A family story claims that she dressed Dame Nellie Melba and the two fought over fittings. As a young girl, Kate Eeles trained in Sloane St. London. After her retirement, she denied she could sew, having reached the highest of success.  She regularly travelled to Paris and London to bring the latest fashions back to Melbourne.  The address printed on the  label of this dress  was Mrs. Eeles’ first premises.  In 1888, she relocated to Grosvenor Chambers, famous for housing  the studios of artists Tom Roberts and Emanuel Phillips Fox.

The Dress

Mrs. Eeles made Alice Creswick’s dress out of a very fine and light soft spotted silk. The pattern is dyed and gives the appearance of a night sky. The interior is lined with polished cotton, helping the wearer to remain fresh, and sleeve protectors were once filled with scented herbs.

'When she was a girl they used to have lovely picnics to Heidelberg (Victoria) and to Fern Tree Gully ... They adventured into the delicious coolness of the fern gullies, where clear brown streams gurgled, and the air was aromatic with sassafras leaves ...' The Picnic, Martin Boyd

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