The Yellow Dress

When fragments of yellow silk were found at Old Government House, the National Trust and NIDA collaborated to solve the mystery of the yellow dress.

Believed to have been donated to the National Trust in the 1970s, the pieces of yellow silk damask were discovered in a storage bag at Old Government House. The fragments were oddly shaped, with some sewn into a belt and child-sized bodice. The luxuriousness of the fabric suggested it was from the 18th century, however little was known about its history.

A team from the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA) investigated the dress;  third-year BFA Costume students, Lucy Francis and Jasmin Gray, led by expert dress historian and curator Hilary Davidson.

Through a careful process of piecing the fragments together, the NIDA team discovered that the dress had been cut and resewn four times over its lifetime.

The NIDA team created two dresses to best illustrate its past: a cotton-sateen replica of the 1740 version; and a remake of the original silk into the 1770 version of the dress. Supporting undergarments including a shift, paniers, stays and corset were also created.

The provenance of the yellow silk remains a mystery, however NIDA narrowed down the pattern to the 1740s or 50s and believes it closely resembles the work of English textile designer Anna Maria Garthwaite.

Learn more about the reconstruction of the Yellow Dress.

The National Trust would like to thank the Copland Foundation for funding this conservation project. Special thanks also to Eleanor Keene, Thelma Scanes and Lindie Ward who assisted with the project, Suzanne Osmond, and NIDA course coordinators, Annette Ribbons and Corinne Heskett.