Friday, December 20, 2013

Visiting With Elizabeth Bull's Wedding Dress, c. 1731-1735

“Tradition in the family states that he attended divine worship at Trinity Church, and there saw, for the first time, Miss Elizabeth Bull. He [Reverend Price] was so much pleased with her beauty that he gave up his intention of returning to England, sought her acquaintance, and during the year 1735 she became his wife.”
           -Annals of King’s Chapel.

When Miss Elizabeth Bull (b. 23 February 1716) began work on the dress that she would ultimately wear for her marriage to Reverend Roger Price, she was a teenager, probably about 15 years old. She most likely had not yet met, and was certainly not betrothed to, her future groom. According to The Bostonian Society (TBS), the caretakers of this rare pre-Revolutionary garment: "Miss Bull began designing, sewing, and embroidering her own China silk wedding gown while in school, a project undertaken by young women to practice and perfect the advanced needle arts. She had already been working on the gown for several years when, in 1734, she met Reverend Roger Price at Trinity Church. The gown was still not completed when Miss Bull wore it to their wedding the following year."

Viewing the "practice bodice" worked by Elizabeth Bull, perhaps as a prelude to her wedding dress, was an unexpected treat. Apparently never completed or worn, it is in excellent condition and the colors are still vibrant. My photos do not capture the texture & nuance of the piece, but hope they convey a glimpse of the beauty. This garment has long been one of my personal favorites, in part because of the many family stories the alterations reveal. Many will likely remain mysteries, even once the conservation of the dress is complete. The skilled work is being carried out by textile conservator, Kathryn Tarleton. (

Visiting at least a portion of the dress as it was intended – before the style driven alterations during the 19th century – provided a special opportunity to experience a 1730s garment. Embroidered bold, bright floral patterns, laid out asymmetrically, dominate the “practice bodice” currently on view at TBS. The twisting tendrils, over-sized motives and powerful palette are associated with the Rococo in textiles, furniture  and wall coverings and hangings.

Above, details, hand embroidered floral details, silk thread on silk.  Note the hand drawn pattern, completed either by the young Miss Bull or an experienced family member or instructor to guide her embroidery.

The Bostonian Society/Old State House has undertaken major conservation of this significant gown and will be posting new information as it becomes available.

Kimberly Alexander, Ph.D.
University of New Hampshire
Durham, NH. USA


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