Elsie Della-Gana was born 1923 in Portsmouth. She describes in her interview her childhood as the youngest of six and seeing her elder sister make clothes at home. Elsie’s school sewing lessons produced ‘ghastly’ dresses, but at 15, in her first job as a cashier at a ladies’ tailor in the city shortly before the Second World War, she developed her life-long taste for good fabrics and fashionable, well-cut suits and dresses. Post-war shortages meant she had to wait two years for her first sewing machine. Despite the austerity of those days she conjured a stylish wedding for herself in 1947. She loved the glamour of Dior’s New Look. Thereafter she enjoyed a long period of making fashionable clothes for herself and her family. Her skills passed to her daughter and grand-daughter.
First extract 46s
Elsie describes the dress shown in the photograph
“my sister made that dress for me and that was when I was about sixteen or seventeen, that was on the beach at Bournemouth as I remember but that dress was in a sort of heather shade, it was a pretty dress and it was a heather material, woollen, very, lovely woollen material in a heather shade and she put…can’t see it there actually but she put little buttons, little buttons down there and they were in a lovely striped taffeta, ah, that’s right, striped cuffs and like a puffed sleeve, I used to love that dress, I wore that dress a lot, you know.”
Second extract 1m 4s
Elsie Della-Gana speaks about getting her first sewing machine in 1949 and the long post-war waiting period for it.
“…my fiancé he said ‘Well, I’d like to buy you a nice sewing machine’, and we went into Singers sewing shop in North End in Portsmouth, and they said, ‘Well, we don’t have any new ones but we have a waiting list and we’ll put you on the list.’ So my name was put on the list, well, two years went by and I was going to have my daughter and I said ‘Well, I must get a sewing machine’, because I wanted to make all the little nighties and everything, and we used a material called Viyella material - you’ve heard of Viyella material? - and to buy a second hand machine it was more expensive than buying a new one then, during that period, and so we went in to Singers shop and we said ‘Is there any chance of us getting a new machine?’, and we’d put our name down on the list two years previous and they said ‘Oh, yes, your name is just coming up to the top’.”
Elsie Della-Gana enjoying an ice cream on the beach in Bournemouth c. 1940. She is wearing a much-loved dress made for her by her sister and described in her first extract.