Exterior of Nancy Nicholas Hall in the evening, with lamps and windows glowing.
News & Events

Textile Tuesday: Roaring 20s Beaded Dress

Dress, North America, 1920-1929, embroidery, tambour work, 40 x 23 in.

Allison Gorniakis graduating this week from the Textile and Fashion Design program in the School of Human Ecology.

For this week’s Textile Tuesday, graduating senior Allison Gorniak takes a fresh approach to a silk “flapper” dress, using creative writing to imagine the meaning of this dress to its wearer. This reflection on history and memory as sparked by a piece of clothing seems an appropriate way to mark Graduation Week!

A teal flapper dress from the 1920s with dense embroidery of flowers, butterflies, and birds that are beaded in silver, white, gold, green, and blue, is a delicate piece that is beginning to break along its gridded bead lines. It held much significance in its time, and still does today.

Textile Tuesday Beaded Dress from 20s

The year was 1920. She was a dancer. This was her favorite dress. A dress with life, textures, beads. A dress that gave her the strength of a grid, the freedom of flowers and the inspiration of blossoming cherry trees. She loved the deep teal background. It reminded her of water in an ocean. Water topped with shining silver, sparkling white, glistening gold, soft green, and vibrant blue. She loved the dense differences of all of the beads, and how they were stitched in fields of movement. The fabric was light as air, held together bead after bead. She loved how the butterflies soared, filled with a story. She loved the beauty of the birds, each with their own song.

Now she looksback on this time. In this dress, this history, she sees the edges tearing away like a memory. She sees the grid is breaking, losing its strength. This fragile painting of stitches and beads. Nothing lasts. That was a different lifetime.A time that roared, when they wanted to break grids, to create a new life. She remembers her bobbed hair, and the feeling of power that comes with taking risks. She can still hear the jazz music playing in the background as she starts to sway her hips.

Textile Tuesday Beaded Dress from 20s

The confidence she had while just a teenager was so much fun, gave so much liberation! Liberation that we still need today, in order to break grids that confine people. Confidence that we still need today, until we are all one. Nothing lasts, but we still need this to last. We need to break grids, take risks.

All this from a dress. Fashion has influence. A constant reminder that change is always happening. You can’t put a standard on a dress. You can’t ignore its significance. The significance of a teal flapper dress, a colored bead, a single stitch. It has a history. History tellsa story. A teal flapper dress from the roaring 1920s is a story that means so much.

More information.

#TextileTuesday is a yearlong series celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection.

HLATC 50th anniversary logo

  In 2019, the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Human Ecology launched a yearlong anniversary celebration of the Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection. Over the past half century, the collection has grown from an original 4,000-piece gift to more than 13,000 objects that have inspired and informed thousands of students, researchers, historians, and textile aficionados. The 50-year celebration began on January 27, 2019, with the opening of new Lynn Mecklenburg Textile Gallery, a space dedicated to year-round displays of the collections. Activities continue into 2019 with a calendar of public exhibitions, symposia, lectures, and public workshops.