Saturday, October 16, 2010

Governor Jonathan Trumbull Tercentennial Encampment & the Jonathan Trumbull Jr. House

The other weekend, we took a drive over to Lebanon, CT for the encampment celebrating Governor Jonathan Trumbull’s 300th birthday. The journey wasn’t very far, but not having been there before, we once again enlisted the assistance of my new GPS, Bernie. He behaved rather well for the most part, even when I defied some of his directions, insisting that I’ve lived in Connecticut longer and know the roads better than him. I let him scream “recalculating” until he calmed down and came around to my way of thinking. I hope we’ll be better friends someday.

Discussing the route home with Bernie.

The previous week had brought a rather hefty rain storm, so we were a bit worried that the event might be canceled or that the town green would be a mud pit. But Saturday brought sunny weather with a hint of autumn in the breeze. Upon arrival, we drove around the green once and attempted to find a parking space. After almost getting my car stuck in a grassy area, we found a safe parking space behind the First Congregational Church at the end of the green. We changed shoes, put on our hats, and filled our 18th century pockets with 21st century necessities before heading over to the camps. The Lebanon Towne Militia had their sign up at the first tent for regiment registrations and visitor information.

Next to this tent was a line of continental tents and on the opposite side of the green were the tents of the British regiments, with a few rows of sutlers in between.

A weaver in the Continental camp.

Dr. Jackson in the Continental camp.

On the British side: the 54th Regiment of Foot.

As we began taking a peek at what people were cooking and what crafts they were working on, we heard an amplified voice coming from farther down the green. We followed the crowd to where a small number of militia men were gathered on opposing sides. As they were setting up to fire, the man with the microphone explained the typical rules of battle, which we unfortunately could no longer hear once the action began. The little skirmish didn’t last very long, but provided a good example of what a larger battle might entail.  Below are a few pictures of the battle:

It was on this very town green where General Washington reviewed Lauzun's Legion, the French cavalry unit led my General Rochambeau. During this visit in 1781, it is believed that Washington stayed in the Jonathan Trumbull Jr. House. With military encampments and meetings, and as the home to many well-known Rev War supporters (Declaration signer William Williams lived here), Lebanon is now referred to as the "Heartbeat of the Revolution.” (If you are interested in Lebanon history, there is a very helpful list of resources on the town website.)

The Jonathan Trumbull Jr. House Museum

After the reenactment, we took a stroll through the sutler area and then walked down the street to the Jonathan Trumbull Jr. House Museum for a tour. Let me pause here for a brief overview of the Trumbulls of CT:

While giving tours at the Noah Webster House, I am often asked if he is related to Daniel Webster, or some other Webster. What I realized in Lebanon is that there is often similar confusion with the Trumbull family as well - but not a “how are they related?” type of confusion; it’s a “they have the SAME name!” confusion. So here’s a quick rundown of the Jonathan Trumbulls of Connecticut:

Governor Jonathan Trumbull

This is the Trumbull whose birthday was being celebrated. His father was a merchant who had moved to Lebanon a few years before Jonathan’s birth in 1710. After attending Harvard, Jonathan was needed back in CT to run the family business. He served in the CT House of Representatives and was elected as Deputy Governor in 1766 and as Governor in 1769. He retired in 1784 and died the next year. He had six children, including Joseph, Jonathan, and John. (I guess he was partial to “J” names, which I am as well!) His house still stands in Lebanon and is owned and operated by the Connecticut Daughters of the American Revolution. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to see his house on this trip, but hope to visit again soon.

Jonathan Trumbull Jr.

This Jonathan is the second son of the above mentioned Governor Trumbull. Jonathan Jr. was born in 1740 and, just as his father had done, attended Harvard before returning to assist with the family business. He served several posts during the Revolution, including that of military secretary to General George Washington, witnessing the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown. After serving as Speaker of the House of Representatives and as a U.S. Senator, Jonathan Jr. was elected as Governor of CT, a position he held until his death.

John Trumbull

He is the youngest child of the first Governor Trumbull and younger brother to Jonathan Jr. We know John Trumbull today as the “painter of the Revolution.” He attended Harvard as well, and then served in the Continental Army. Before resigning from the military, he served as the second personal aide to General Washington. In the following years, he traveled to London and Paris to study painting and began work on his many portraits and works depicting the fight for American independence that are so familiar to us today.

Back to our visit to Lebanon: Again, we were visiting the home of Jonathan Jr. We had a very lovely and informative tour of the home with only one other guest. Our guide was obviously well versed in the history of the family and the house and was enthusiastic in sharing her knowledge. The house was built in the 1760s and was remodeled by master joiner Isaac Fitch (another well-known Lebanon resident) soon after Jonathan’s marriage to Eunice Backus in 1777. Much of the detailed woodwork still remains intact in the house today.

The wood paneling in one of the front rooms showcases the surviving carvings of Isaac Fitch.

A close-up of Fitch's wood work.

The second parlor downstairs.

Similar to other surviving houses from that time period, it has seen many renovations and changes over the years. Some of the original aspects have been restored, but our guide was sure to point out where the changes were made.

A view of the kitchen from a corner which used to be a closet.  Also removed from this spot was a staircase, leading to the rooms above stairs.

Also, every room featured a poster board with pictures from the various restorations of each room. I found this to be extremely interesting and helpful in visualizing exactly how the house would have looked when the Trumbull family lived there. The house is beautifully furnished with antiques and reproductions and some portraits of the family as well.

Pictured from left to right are Jonathan Jr.'s wife, Eunice, and their daughters Faith, Harriet, and Maria.

This portrait hangs in an upstairs bedroom.  Painted by John Trumbull, this portrait features Jonathan Jr., Eunice, and their daughter Faith.

One of the bedrooms.

Living in Connecticut, I’ve always been aware of the Trumbull family, but I never realized how many contributions they each made to the freedom and betterment of our country. There are several books about the family and the town (many by town historian Alicia Wayland) and I am looking forward to reading further. We are also hoping to visit Lebanon again soon (although I believe most of the houses close for the winter season) to visit the other historic sites in town.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Huzzah! CW's "Costume Accessories: Head to Toe" Schedule Posted!

At long last, an update to our previous post!  This afternoon, Colonial Williamsburg posted the eagerly anticipated schedule and registration information for their upcoming symposium, "Costume Accessories: Head to Toe," which is being co-sponsored by the Costume Society of America!  The list of speakers is truly impressive, including Susan North from the V&A, Anne Bissonnette from University of Alberta, and Cynthia Cooper from the McCord Museum, along with CW's own Linda Baumgarten, Janea Whitacre, Mark Hutter, and D.A Saguto, among others.  The two and a half days of lectures will be followed by a day full of special optional workshops on everything from 18th century hair and beauty secrets (given by CW's Elizabeth Myers) to button-making (with the CW tailors) to behind-the-scenes tours of the new accessories exhibit at the DeWitt Wallace and a look at the CW conservation labs - and several more!

Governor's Palace bedchamer, Colonial Williamsburg, May 2007

Not wanting to miss out on any of these unique opportunities, Ashley and I both called immediately to register.  Ashley has opted out of the full symposium, choosing instead to take the button workshop (to enhance her newly-discovered button-making skills!) and then attend the academic conference, "A Reconstructed Visitable Past: Recreated Period Attire at Heritage Sites," which will close out the week and is more in line with her interests in living history museums.  I've decided to throw caution to the wind and go for broke (literally!) to attend both the symposium and the conference.  Who knows when or if such a fantastic opportunity will ever present itself again?  I've also registered for a couple of the tours and the silk muff workshop, which is being presented by the CW milliners.  We encourage anyone interested in attending to register with haste because enrollment in the workshops and tours is very limited and when I spoke to the woman this afternoon, she was already overwhelmed with phone calls and online registration requests!  If anyone plans to attend and would like to meet up, please do post a comment or send an email so we can say hello!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Threaded Bliss

A Blue Flowered Cotton Print Quarter-Back Gown 1770-1785, Reproduced from Janet Arnold

In front of the Jonathan Trumbull, Jr. House, Lebanon, CT

The pattern: Patterns of Fashion 1: 1660-1860, by Janet Arnold, pp. 37-39.  The same gown is sketched by Nancy Bradfield in Costume in Detail: 1730-1930, pp. 57-58.  The sleeve cuff details are copied from this Indian chintz caraco, dated 1770-1780, that I photographed (albeit it badly!) in the collection of the V&A back in 2006.  Incidentally, it's also featured in Fashion in Detail from the 17th and 18th Centuries, pg. 95, though I only just realized this a couple weeks ago!

Construction Details: This gown is entirely hand-sewn using the period techniques and construction notes provided in Patterns of Fashion.  Though not nearly as detailed as Costume Close-up, Arnold's book provides enough information to garner a good idea of the assembly process for each garment.  Each piece of the bodice is lined in cream linen and finished separately; these pieces are then joined together using tiny whipstitches (over-handing) so that they lie flat when opened. 

The interior of the bodice, showing the individually finished pieces
whipstitched together to lie flat

The sleeves are also finished separately, and their bottom half backstitched from the inside before the top half is fitted while on the body and top-stitched to the shoulder strap from the outside.  The gown's skirts are folded over, pleated, and then stitched to the bottom of the bodice from the outside.  The excess fabric is left to hang loose on the inside to provide a bit of body to the pleats of the skirt.

The sleeve cuffs are separate pieces, tacked on at the bottom to the sleeve ends.  They are trimmed with self-fabric ruching (I used box-pleats on the sea-greaan gown, so I decided to depart from the "inspiration sleeve" and go with ruching for this gown instead) and shaped by drawing an indigo blue hand-braided cotton cord over a covered button. I was enthralled by this unique little feature when I saw it on a caraco in the V&A.  The caraco dates to the same period as the gown, so I decided it was acceptable to transpose onto my reproduction (that, and I just thought it was so pretty and since then I've been itching to use it on something!).

Sleeve detail of the India chintz caraco, 1770-1780
(photo taken from the V&A website listing)

Sleeve cuff detail, reproduced from the example above

The self-fabric ruched trim on the sleeve cuffs also appears on the neckline of the gown.  Many thanks to my costuming friend Laurie for sharing knowledge and inspirational photos to help create this embellishment!

Detail of the neckline trim and the front center closure, secured with straight pins

I also decided to line the bottom 9” of the gown skirts with china silk.  Because the skirts will often (if not always) be worn a la polonaise, the bottom of the skirt will show and this was the period solution both to making the visible bits of the gown pleasing to the eye and protecting the hem when it is worn down. This feature can be found on the gown on pages 36-7 of Patterns of Fashion 1, which dates to the same period.

The interior of the gown, showing the folded over tops of the
skirt panels, the cotton ties used to drape the skirts,
and the china silk hem facing

Although the original gown drew the skirts up into the "a la polonaise" draped fashion by drawing a looped cord from the inside to the outside and securing it on self-fabric-covered buttons, I opted for a slightly different technique.  Because the sweep of my skirts is only 81" (I had a very limited amount of fabric with which to work), instead of the 114" of the original, I copied the more subtle draping style used in the gown on pages 36-7, which has a sweep of 78".

The more modest draping of this skirt accommodates the
smaller width of fabric available in the skirt panels.  Compare this
style with the draping of the sea green gown, which makes use of a
wider sweep of skirts that is 126".  Both skirt widths and both
draping styles can be found in extant garments.

Back detail showing the covered buttons (here only decorative,
though the original used them to drape up the skirts)

The fabric: This is a discontinued and very hard to find print by Laura Ashley that a fellow costumer very generously helped me identify when I admired it so much on one of her own gowns.  It is 90% cotton/10% linen, and though slightly heavier than an 18th century clothing textile would have been, the monochrome indigo blue print is a very close approximation to the meandering floral-and-vines designs popular in the first half of the 1770s.  There is a swatch of a purple and white copper-plate linen print in Barbara Johnson's album (below, from page 14 of the album) that has a similar monochromatic floral/vine pattern.

A swatch of a copper-plate printed linen, dated 1771, from

The bodice is lined with a medium-weight cream linen and the hem faced with cream china silk.

In the photos, the gown is paired with a cobalt blue and white changeable silk taffeta petticoat. As Sally Queen's Textiles for Colonial Clothing notes, changeable silks were extremely popular throughout the 1770s.

Finishing the look: The gown is worn over a fine linen shift, half-boned Diderot stays, a bum pad (based on those depicted in Costume in Detail on page 43), and two linen petticoats.  

Bum pad, from a pattern I drafted based on examples given in
Costume in Detail.  This helps give a fashionable late-70s and early-80s
shape to the draped "a la polonaise" skirts.

Pairing the gown with a silk petticoat creates an upper-middling class impression for this gown (though it could also be worn with either a cotton or linen one to make it a slightly less formal and less costly outfit suitable for a marginally lower social station, as this type of simple, single-color print would not have been particularly pricey by the mid-70s).  In keeping with the upper-middling persona, I've accessorized it with a single-strand pearl necklace tied with a silk ribbon, a pair of pearl drop silver earrings by Janice Erickson Smith, and a straw hat embellished with lots of silk satin ribbon.  A fine linen lawn handkerchief fills in the low, wide neckline.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Threaded Bliss

A Sea-Green English Back Gown (Robe a l'Anglaise), 1770-1775

Thomas Jefferson at Merchants Square, Williamsburg

This is one of my favorite efforts.  Of course, that’s partially (largely!) due to the fact that Mark Hutter, the tailor at CW, gave the entire ensemble, from the gown cut and draping to the fabric choice, a thumbs up for accuracy after close inspection when Ashley wore it in there one afternoon back in July.  The only mistake I made (which he pointed out, and which I had noticed as soon as she got dressed that morning), was that I had made the waist ever-so-slightly too long.  This is the result of finishing it at 2 in the morning in the hotel room, without getting her to try it on over all the period underthings, so I wasn’t too surprised.  Thankfully it’s an easy fix, though, which I’ll get around to…one of these days!

The pattern: Draped by me. The sleeve shape is taken from the Janet Arnold polonaise pattern on pg. 39 of Patterns of Fashion 1.

The back of the gown, taken in front of the
Jonathan Trumbull, Jr. House in Lebanon, CT

Construction details: This gown is entirely hand-sewn using period construction techniques.  First, I draped the back into "en fourreau" pleats, which extend from the shoulders down through the length of the skirt, and top-stitched the pleats to the back bodice lining.

Detail of the back en fourreau pleats

Then I fitted the front/side bodice pieces, turned the edges under, and top-stitched them down as a lapped seam to the back piece; the front/side lining pieces were then inserted in a similar way and whipstitched into place on the inside. 

Interior of the bodice, showing the linen lining whipstitched into place

The neckline and front edges of the bodice were then turned in towards each other and finished using “le point a rabattre sous la main,” which both finishes the edges and secures the lining to the fashion fabric at the same time. 

The skirt was pleated and sewn from the outside to the bottom of the bodice’s outer fabric (turned under), and the lining then turned under and whipstitched to cover the edges of the top of the skirt.  The box-pleated trim is based on that seen on a gown in Costume Close-up (pp. 24-8), and is secured with tiny spaced backstitches.

Detail of box-pleated trim around the neckline

Detail of box-pleated trim around sleeve end

To give it some weight and make the hem more aesthetically pleasing when it is worn a la polonaise, the bottom 9” of the gown skirt is lined with cream china silk.  The bodice closes in front with straight pins.

The inside of the gown, showing the linen bodice lining,
the cotton tape ties used to polonaise the skirts,
and the china silk hem facing

The fabric: The gown was made using a light-weight sea green cotton. The color is appropriate for a cotton or silk textile of the period, since these fibers took to certain colored dyes more easily than either wool or linen.

Finishing the look: The gown and petticoat are made to be worn over a small oval hoop like the one below, reproduced by the CW CDC, based on one in the collection of Colonial Williamsburg. 

Small hoops, reproduced by the CW CDC.  The original is in the CW collection.

The outer garments are worn over a white linen shift, fully boned stays, the hoop, and two linen petticoats to give the skirts more volume and prevent the ridges from the hoops from showing through.  A white cotton lawn handkerchief is worn to fill in the low, wide neckline.  To complete an upper-middling class look, Ashley wears this accessorized with pearl drop earrings by Janice Erickson Smith of Historic Delights and a triple-strand necklace Ashley made of tiny round pearls, knotted on silk thread and tied with a silk ribbon.

In front of the Jonathan Trumbull, Jr. House in Lebanon, CT

Under the Redcoat 2010, Williamsburg

Under the Redcoat 2010, Williamsburg

The front bedchamber of the Jonathan Trumbull, Jr. House, Lebanon, CT