Friday, August 23, 2013

For a Quiet Affair

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?

Entre deux.

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.

Sorry, Laura….

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.


  1. I have always found that "history" can be dull as dirt until there is a "relevance" to it - and having your ancestor involved in something makes that something "relevant."


    1. "Dull as dirt." I like that, Iggy. That's just about how I would put it, studying history in school.'s different.


  2. So intricate...I would think that would take forever to sew, but how pretty!

    1. Terri, I guess if you had the talent and knew exactly what to do (after lots of practice!) it wouldn't take so long. My friend actually sold the stuff she made during her summer breaks. She did custom work. She would have gone broke if it was something that would take forever :)

      I did find some great pics online when I searched for them the other day, by the way. Some people do such gorgeous work!

  3. I had no idea...I knew it was hand sewn but not the part about two fabrics! Thanks for sharing the knowledge!
    Mauve silk with canary gloves and hat..seems a bit wild..canary is a yellow color isn't it? I am trying to picture that in my minds eye:)

    1. Now that you mention it, yes, it could sound like a rather crazy color combination. The problem is: what did those terms mean back in 1907 as opposed to what we assume today?

      Of course, given the variation in reporting credibility of newspapers, let's assume they actually meant what they said. Even then, mauve can mean different colors to different people--and who knows, maybe "mauve silk" meant something different then than just "mauve" coloring on silk.

      I always took mauve to be just one shade to the purple side of dusty rose, but just in case I was wrong, I went and Googled the term and checked both the definitions and images. Try it for yourself and you'll see the wide variation that comes up.

      Then, I tried putting "mauve silk" in quotes to see what would come up in a search. Here's an example, which is not far from what I'd been thinking anyhow.

      Combine an example like that with the wide variation of colors that comes up when checking Google images for the color "canary." In my mind's eye, I had thought it was not the screaming-meemies yellow that come up in the search results, but more akin to the creamier, more sedate versions among the search results. And actually, included in the images was that of some baby canaries which did match that version of the color I had in mind.

      Of course, the Merriam Webster definition for "Canary yellow" didn't help: "a light to a moderate or vivid yellow."

      Okay...which one???

      Maybe that's why my eye sees such descriptions as "just words" when I read these Society page ramblings. Trying to put the words into pictures seems to bring up multiple which case, I'd check "all of the above" and move on.

  4. I love coming across wedding notices while researching ancestors. It really makes what would otherwise be just a date come alive. I enjoyed reading about Kathryn and Frederick's special day.

    Personally, I would think canary yellow was bold as opposed to soft, but it's interesting that the dictionary isn't more specific!

    1. Erin, when looking at those black and white (or sepia toned) photos of bygone eras, it's hard to imagine such a wild color combination as the one reported to be Catherine's choice! You are probably right, her canary yellow combo most likely was pretty bright.

      Perhaps it is the romantic in us, coming out in favoring these wedding notices. I noticed you've focused on a few wedding photos and moments in your own blog, too...


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