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‘She’d just about slipped away’: The story of Madame Weigel, Australia’s forgotten woman

‘She’d just about slipped away’: The story of Madame Weigel, Australia’s forgotten woman

How does a a hit businesswoman who used to be a family title in Australia and Unusual Zealand for shut to a century just about bound from history’s expend? 

Polish dresses pattern designer Johanna Weigel started Madame Weigel’s pattern industry in Melbourne in 1878.

Early Newspaper

In its 90 years of operation, the industry printed 9,000 patterns, from excessive vogue designs to day after day dresses.

Photo of Madame Weigel clothing sketches

Madame Weigel dress produce drawings from author Veronica Lampkin’s e book Madame Weigel: The Woman Who Clothed the Colonies.(

Landline: Pip Courtney


“She equipped patterns for the final family staunch across the final lifecycle from infants to matrons, which used to be her timeframe for the outmoded woman who would often change into, and I quote, ”nice’. Her designs ranged from lingerie, millinery to outdoors dresses, sports clothing, nightwear, shoes, and slight slippers.”

In 1915 alone, 1 million Madame Weigel patterns had been offered.

The important thing to her success had been the an total bunch of shopkeepers for the length of rural Australia who acted as her brokers.

Photo of Madame Weigel's patterns

Madame Weigel’s patterns, exhibited in Beaudesert Cultural Centre.(

Landline: Pip Courtney


“Her attain went into the far extremes of every colony or say, veritably alongside the railway traces, once in a whereas alongside the roads, once in a whereas alongside the rivers, and often up, up the hover by the steamer, and it be wonderful just what number of businesses she had,” Dr Lampkin said.

Uncovering the mystery

Dr Lampkin’s fascination with the entrepreneur used to be sparked 14 years up to now after she purchased 22 outmoded paper patterns at a market stall.

“They delivery round 1904 and cease around the late ’20s, and I cannot allow you to know strategies delighted I used to be after I came across them because of this of they’re so powerful to acquire,” Dr Lampkin said.

Unprecedented about the gentle relics, the librarian wished to know extra about Johanna, nonetheless the woman in the assist of the tag-title proved an elusive field, with few inside vital substances on the final public chronicle and not a single verified photo.

Photo of Madame Weigel's vintage patterns.

One of Madame Weigel’s traditional patterns, exhibited in Beaudesert Cultural Centre.(

Landline: Pip Courtney


Dr Lampkin’s amateur sleuthing kick-started a few years of academic compare, ensuing in a PhD thesis and 4 books.

“When I started my doctorate in 2007, I purchased a actual sense that she’d just about slipped far from the historical expend, partly because of this of she didn’t hold any children and I feel partly because of this of she used to be a woman.”

Dr Lampkin hit compare gold at The Victorian Allege Library, which had a collection of “Weigel’s Journal of Vogue” from 1884 to 1950.

Photo Madame Weigel's journals

Madame Weigel’s journals, exhibited in Beaudesert Cultural Centre.(

Landline: Pip Courtney


A unhealthy between a newsletter and a magazine, every say of affairs of the monthly newsletter integrated as a lot as eight patterns, and girls folks across the country had been avid readers.

“It can presumably well be a pair of months before the put up would arrive, and there comes your Madame Weigel’s journal. Are you able to just imagine sitting by the lamplight when the children had been in bed and in actuality drooling over this e book and imagining how that (pattern) would possibly presumably well be utilised?” said Iris Skinner, a volunteer on the Templin Historical Village Museum in Templin, an hour and a half of south-west of Brisbane.

Madame Weigel’s patterns

After finding out Dr Lampkin’s e book, Mrs Skinner and fellow sewing guild individuals realised Templin’s traditional dresses and sewing collection held some very outmoded Madame Weigel patterns.

Photo of Madame Weigels patterns

Madame Weigel’s patterns on gift at Beaudesert Cultural Centre.(

Landline: Pip Courtney


Photo of sewing guild members sitching fabric.

Standard Thread Chapter of the Australian Stitching Guild, Templin Museum, Queensland.(

Landline: Curtis Rodda


“There had been 10 patterns and 10 of us in our sewing guild, and so we took one every to form them up, and that’s when we had issues,” laughed Iris Skinner.

Dr Lampkin encountered the identical issues.

“Many of her directions had been very transient whereas you purchased any in any appreciate, as there used to be a large assumption girls folks knew just what to attain.”

The gifted guild sewers struggled with the patterns nonetheless at closing cracked the cryptic notches and holes and produced dresses spanning 90 years of altering kinds and materials.

Their dresses had been not too long up to now exhibited in Beaudesert, alongside treasured dwelling-sewn traditional Weigel’s from the Templin Museum’s collection.

The level to used to be a large success, and Dr Lampkin’s books offered out.

Photo of Veronica Lampkin holding her book 'Madame Weigel'.

Creator Veronica Lampkin alongside with her e book Madame Weigel: The Woman Who Clothed the Australasian Colonies.(



“Other folks had been in quest of all three books, coming assist for additional, bringing assist one other particular person,” said Irene Girsch-Danby from the Scenic Rim Regional Council.

“It be not honest art in any manner, nonetheless it’s so grassroots, it be so accessible to all americans, and [visitor] numbers had been staggering: we had been overwhelmed.”

Sewer Jennifer Shead said it used to be famous for girls folks’s history to be suggested via the lens of dwelling dressmaking and domestic crafts.

“It used to be very labor, and I surely wouldn’t love to be a housewife a hundred years up to now, and in the occasion that they had been fortunate ample to hold a maid, [it was a] very powerful life for maids.”

Photo of Madame Weigel's patterns

Madame Weigel’s patterns featured in author Veronica Lampkin’s e book.(

Landline: Pip Courtney


Dr Lampkin has not stopped her compare and hopes increased consciousness about the groundbreaking entrepreneur can assist those with patterns or outmoded dresses to retain them.

Her ultimate hope is anyone has a photograph of the woman she’s spent 14 years attending to know.

“It be very sad that she become Madame Weigel the forgotten, nonetheless the collaboration with Templin has brought her alive every other time, and he or she’s surely neatly on her manner now to a revival.”

Look this story on ABC TV’s Landline at 12: 30pm on Sunday, or on ipeek

‘She’d just about slipped away’: The story of Madame Weigel, Australia’s forgotten woman