December, 6, 2011

Recreating Marilla Daniels’ Dress

After I received the ORCA grant it was time to create my project—a recreation of a nineteenth-century dress of Utah pioneer Marilla Lucretia Johnson Miller Daniels.

I wanted to show the structural underclothing and the dress at the same time so people could see the structure and layers of clothing, but only partial accuracy was possible for me. I looked for pattern companies dedicated to historical reproductions. I also got ideas from actual pieces of nineteenth-century clothing from BYU’s historical clothing storage. Every piece came from a different source. One item I drafted myself (the drawers— I even hand-stitched them, but that took more than fourteen hours). I used unbleached muslin so these under layers of clothing will last a long time.

I wanted the dress to be more authentic than the under clothes. Silk taffeta was the most commonly used fabric for these types of dresses. However, 100 percent silk taffeta is stiff and crunchy, and it would have deteriorated quickly. (Modern taffeta is made of mixed fibers.) Marilla was part of the pioneers’ silk-making endeavor, in which the Saints raised their own silk worms and wove their own fabrics from them. Marilla most likely made her dress from scratch, growing the worms, weaving the fabric, and constructing the dress, so I found a business in Thailand that makes hand-woven, 100 percent silk fabric and used that to make this dress.

Marilla put a lot of effort into looking her best. This is evident in the design details included in her outfit, like the diamond smocking on the bodice and the pleating down the front of the skirt. Her great-great niece Marilyn Daniels says that Marilla loved fashion and would make most of her own clothes, which was very common, and even expected in the nineteenth century. In our era, industry and ready-made clothes save us a lot of time that we can use to further our education and serve others. Do you know where your clothes come from before they get to the department store? Do you notice the detailed designs in your clothes? Have you ever made any items of clothing yourself? How did they turn out and how much time did you spend on the project?

Drop by the basement rotunda area of the Education in Zion Gallery in the JFSB before December 15th to see the exhibit. Remember to take a close look at the details on the dress and in her picture.

Melissa DeGuire, Theater Arts Major