Have you ever, as a parent of a young child, read aloud the stories from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s series on her memories of pioneer America? As our family came upon segments in the Little House books containing the tedious detail about some of the women’s dresses, my eyes often glazed over. I hadn’t the faintest clue what some of those fancy stitches referred to.
Perhaps if I had paid better attention then, I’d know now what all the specifics mean when I read bridal gown descriptions from century-old society pages.
Fortunately, it sounds like John Kelly Stevens’ daughter had simple-yet-elegant taste. For the description of her gown, there was only one sewing term that could give a person pause to ponder: entre deux. And even then, I already knew what the term meant—for which I’m thankful, since a token glance around Wikipedia failed to yield the answer I was seeking.
Do you know what entre deux is?
If it weren’t for an acquaintance of mine—a science teacher in the public schools in my area—I would never have known. Turns out, this no-nonsense woman also happened to have an unusual hobby: she knows how to sew. Not only does she sew, but she turns out the kind of intricate stuff that would fetch a pretty penny to help her span those long summer vacations. The tedium of the handiwork she does would have me running, screaming, in the opposite direction, but she has the patience required for such fine work.
What does she sew?
If you take that term and look it up on Wikipedia, you will most likely get definitions having nothing whatsoever to do with its application, as far as a skilled seamstress would be concerned—and seamstress, by the way, was how Catherine Stevens employed herself in Fort Wayne before her marriage to Frederick Stahl.
The French term “entre deux” literally means “between two,” which is why it is employed by the French in describing specific geographic locations, or even time periods, such as that between the two World Wars.
But in the case of Catherine’s bridal gown, we are seeking the description of specific stitches used. As my seamstress-during-summer-break friend put it, the technique involves making regular, precisely-formed, tiny tucks of fabric, such as might be seen now in christening gowns or nightgowns made of delicate cotton and lace. The entre deux (“between two”) of lace would mean the main material of the dress was joined with insets of lace through this stitching technique, as you can see by this sample shown here.
Now that I know someone who actually has mastered this technique—and now that I’ve found Catherine’s own occupation listed as seamstress, too—those previously-boring dress details from the costumes of a prior century seem to come alive in my mind much more than when I was droning through a read-aloud session of Little House on the Prairie.
From The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette on Wednesday morning, August 21, 1907, the description of the upcoming marriage of Catherine Stevens and Frederick J. Stahl from page 7:
The marriage of Miss Kathryn L. Stevens, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. J. Kelly Stevens, and Mr. Frederick J. Stahl will take place this morning at 9 o'clock at the Cathedral, Father Roche celebrating nuptial mass in the presence of friends and relatives of the young people. In accordance with the wishes of the bride, the wedding will be a very quiet affair followed by a wedding breakfast to the immediate relatives at the home of Mrs. P. H. Phillips, 1919 Hoagland avenue. Mr. and Mrs. Jack Ryan will be the only attendants. The bride, who is a young woman of great beauty and charm, will be gowned in mauve silk with entre deux of lace, and will carry an arm bouquet of ferns. She will wear hat and gloves of canary color. The matron of honor will wear a creation of cream silk net, over pink, and will have gloves and hat of pink with a bouquet of pink asters. The young people, who are very popular and have a wide circle of friends in Fort Wayne, will receive them at their new home on Jefferson and Fairfield avenues. Mr. Stahl is connected with the Pennsylvania shops and is much liked on account of his genial nature.