Silk and Stich

This blue afternoon dress, circa 1880s, is one of the beautiful examples at the ‘Silk & Stitch’ exhibit at DeKalb HIstory Center. The dress is made from silk faille and glazed cotton lining, with embellishments of hand embroidery, hand-worked buttonholes, hand-stitched ruching, interfaced box pleats and decorative brass or bronze buttons. 

Silk peau de soie, lace, bias cut china silk chevrons, ruffles, leaf detail, hand-beaded glass seed beads, teardrop-shaped medallions, hand-embroidered satin stitched flowers. These are just a few of the embellishments seen on examples of women’s clothing and accessories at the Silk & Stitch Exhibit at DeKalb History Center.  

The exhibit covers a time period of 1870 through 1960, with examples from several different eras. There are examples from the post-Civil War era, including an 1880s ivory wedding gown.  A turn-of-the-century dress demonstrates the bustle and leg-of-mutton sleeve. Examples from the early 20th century represent the end of the Victorian Era, and the fact that more women were getting an education, and more were employed.

Examples from the 1920s include a pink shawl embellished with hand-knotted fringe, hand-embroidered satin stich and seed stitch and a hand-embroidered silk slip. A brown rayon crepe dress with a self-fabric belt and adorned with glass beads, rhinestones, faux pearls and bound buttonholes represents the 1930s. 

World War II had an influence on style, as rationing caused a shortage of fabric, and women’s clothing became more practical and comfortable. Women were encouraged to recycle and repurpose clothing. Hollywood also influenced fashion during this time. 

The Silk & Stich exhibit includes accessories, such as beaded handbags. Handbags were small, because only a few items were carried in them.  

The exhibit was put together by Rebecca Selem, the Exhibit and Communications director of DeKalb History Center. 

“We have a vast collection of textiles in our collection, so we decided it was time to put an exhibit together to show them off to the world,” Selem said. “It was difficult to come up with a common theme for the exhibit at first, but when Charity Armstead, textile consultant for Silk & Stitch, and I started going through the collection, we came upon clothing with magnificent embellishments and fabrics, and it became obvious.

“I am very grateful to have the opportunity to show these beautiful pieces to the public. Without the generosity of those who donated to this exhibit, these garments would still be tucked away in their boxes.”  

Two of the accessories, a white satin hat and blue beaded 1920s purse, are on loan from Kat Nager, the director of Atlanta Historic Dance. The dance group performed at the July 11th opening reception of Silk & Stitch.  

Other exhibits currently at DeKalb History Center include “Reclaimed by Nature: The Historic Davidson Quarries of Arabia Mountain,” “Decorative Arts from the Permanent Collection” and “Deep Roots in DeKalb: The Flat Rock Story of Resilience.” 

The exhibit can be viewed Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. There is no admission fee for the exhibit, however, donations are appreciated, and membership in the DeKalb Historical Society with its many benefits is encouraged.

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