Family Heirlooms – The Wedding Dress

The wedding dress was originally made for my mother’s eldest sister in 1937. The seamstress is unknown, but is believed to have been a friend of the bride from her ‘dress-making’ days at Murwillumbah Technical College. Over the next eight years it was worn by three younger sisters, and a sister- in- law of the original bride. A total of five brides, my mother being the fifth.

The dress was made of magnolia bridal satin on princess lines, with a long fantail train, finished with scalloped and picoted edges. It had fagoting from the back-seam and several four-inch circular inserts of ivory Chantilly lace around the edge of the train.

At the neckline, was a small high collar of ivory Chantilly lace, edged with colour- matched Guipure lace.

Small satin covered buttons ran down the front of the dress, from collar to hemline.

Long sleeves, full and ruched at the shoulders, fitted from the elbow with an overlay of ivory Chantilly lace pointed at the wrist and edged with ivory Guipure lace.

A long ivory taffeta princess line petticoat went under the wedding dress, and had a dainty pattern of scattered small eyelets high over the bust line.

As I said my mother was the last bride to wear it, and as young children we remember it hanging in a calico bag in the back of our mother’s wardrobe. Occasionally after much ‘begging’ on my younger sister’s part, as well as my own, our mother would get it out, and we ‘oohed and aahed’ over it. Although we could run our little hands over its smooth soft surface, and trace out the fine lines on the lace, with tiny fingers, we were never permitted to wear it, nor take it out of its hanging place ourselves.

However, our mother ‘gave’ us several ball gowns she had made and worn before her marriage, which we loved and often ‘dressed-up’ in as young children.

In early 1960 I went off to ‘High School’, an educational opportunity neither of our parents were able to have, although they would have done very well. My early high school days meant a long daily ride on a bus, and in later years having to board away from home during the week and returning home only at week-ends and holidays.

In 1963 the place of employment of our father closed, which necessitated the family moving to a town some hundreds of kilometres away. I was still boarding away from home, and it was up to our mother to pack up the home ready for the move.

There was a delay in our ‘new’ home being made ready for the family, so our mother and younger members of the family went to live with our widowed grandmother, on the family farm.

Finally our family moved and we settled into our new life.

However about this time, the children of my parent’s older siblings, were contemplating marriage themselves, and every few months a ‘wedding invitation’ would arrive in our mail-box.

With all the talk of weddings, the conversation turned to our mother’s wedding dress in the calico bag at the back of her wardrobe. My sister (closest in age to myself) and I calculated it would have been ten years since we had last seen it, and our youngest sister,(many years younger than us), who had arrived during that time, professed she had never seen it, and didn’t know it existed.

All the laughter and gaiety came to a sudden stop, when we looked at our mother. Tears welling in her eyes, she said she didn’t know where it was. The first question, which broke from our shocked lips was, ‘What happened to it?’

Then through tears our mother admitted, somehow it had been ‘lost’ in the move. She didn’t know how, but it may have been mistakenly placed with a pile of belongings she felt she could not pack for the move and choose to burn, (although she always regretted doing this for the rest of her life.) These included many things we would be glad to call family heirlooms today, such as letters, keepsakes and mementoes of her life as well as ours.

After many tears that afternoon, the wedding dress was never mentioned again, although I know we all thought of it often, especially as our own weddings approached. This was out of respect and love for our mother, who felt such guilt over its disappearance. Although she was the last to wear it, she felt it belonged to the family, and would not have knowingly disposed of it.

Fast forward some forty years, and my siblings, myself, as well as our fifty first cousins, have married and raised families of their own.

Our parents, as well as most of our aunts and uncles have died.

I have spent more than forty years tracing our ancestors, with promises to write them all up in books some-day, and I have also dabbled in ‘scrapbooking’, making special albums for our grandchildren as well as for my siblings.

A few years ago I visited an aunt, one of my mother’s younger sisters, with whom I have always been very close. I was showing her the scrapbook I was putting together for one of my sisters. This included photos and the story of our parent’s ‘Wedding Day’. I recounted to her the sad story of the ‘missing wedding-dress’ and how guilty our mother felt about it being lost.

My aunt gave instructions for me to ‘pour the tea’, which had been put aside to ‘brew’ in the teapot, and she disappeared into her bedroom. She soon emerged with a crumbled calico bag and inside was ‘the wedding-dress’. She never knew my mother thought she had destroyed it.

It would appear my mother had returned it to the ‘family home’ when she was staying there between packing up and moving, and in all the rush and confusion had forgotten she had done so. When the old family home was broken up some eighteen years later, my mother wasn’t present, and didn’t know about the ‘rescuing’ of the wedding dress. How I wish I could have told her before she died.

For the last couple of years it has been one of our most cherished family heirlooms packed away in a cupboard.

Wedding Dress

Recently I brought it out, and a sister and I carefully mended, ironed and then displayed and photographed it, before packing it away carefully in archival tissue paper and box.

Wedding Dress 2

Next weekend we are having a ‘Cousin’s Day’ at Murwillumbah for all the descendants of my maternal grandparents, Arthur and Harriet May Baxter. For the occasion I have written a book, with lots of photographs, recounting the story of this couple and their children. Included in the book is the story of this wedding dress and the five brides who wore it.

Wedding Dress 3

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6 thoughts on “Family Heirlooms – The Wedding Dress

  1. Nola, you had me on the edge of my seat… and I have tears in my eyes at this wonderful story and that your family still has the dress. But oh your poor mother, how awful she must have felt.
    My mother’s wedding dress was borrowed from a friend, and at 20 when I was about to marry my aunt asked about it but it had been repurposed only a few months earlier as a deb dress… I would love to have worn it but not to be.
    20 years later I lent jewellery to a bride for her wedding day and later after we both went our separate ways from the connecting family I gave it to a common family member to be kept for the bride’s young daughter. I hope one day it means something for her to be able to wear it, wedding day or otherwise.

    • Thanks for your lovely comments. Family history is so much more than names, dates and places, but so many people never realize this, which is such a shame. There is a additional story of a gold broach which goes with this wedding dress which I will write about too. I hope you have written down the the story of your piece of jewellery, for future generations.

  2. I love the way you tell a story. It was very relatable and putting the photo at the end was a good touch. Do you really have 50 first cousins Nola?

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