Saturday, March 19, 2011

Colonial Williamsburg & Buttons Workshop

While Rebecca was busy enjoying the symposium of prettiness early this week, I tried to get as much CW fun into my schedule as I could fit!

Saturday was a long drive, but with very little traffic we made good time.  We took the opportunity to sleep in a bit on Sunday and to walk around the historic area.  It was a bit windy, but the weather was absolutely gorgeous compared to the weather we left back in New England.  We stopped by the Margaret Hunter shop where Mr. Hutter was busy shining his buttons and working on a new riding habit for the symposium.  We found some time to chat and look around the shop before heading over to the DeWitt Wallace to pick up our registration packets and to take a walk through the accessories exhibit.  That evening, Rebecca headed to the opening events of the symposium and I found a pleasant bench (running into a friend on the way) to work on some sewing and to enjoy the last of the warm sun.

Strolling with Mr. M.

On Monday, my Mum and I visited some CW buildings to see what might be new around town.  We were rather shocked at the new look of the middle upstairs room of the Governor’s Palace.  For as long as I have been visiting CW, the walls of this room have been covered with a very unique and beautiful leather covering.  It added a certain elegance to the room.  The walls are now plain white, which actually made the room feel smaller and definitely took away any “wow factor” to the room.  One of the interpreters told us that the leather covering was in disrepair and was too difficult to maintain.  Also, while they have recently been making other changes to the Palace to bring the decorations specifically into the time of Lord Dunmore’s residence, they don’t believe that the leather covering would have been there at the time.  I was told by one interpreter that the walls will remain white, while another interpreter said that there were plans to recover the walls in a new paper.  These comments were not from anyone charged with studying or interpreting the building itself, so these descriptions may not be entirely true and there may be other plans for the room.  Sometimes it is sad to see objects or an interpretation change that we have become used to.  But at the same time, it is always exciting to see research and perceptions change in front of our eyes.

Room in the Governor's Palace with leather wall covering.
Summer 2010

The same wall as seen March 2011 with bare walls.

Monday was also the first day of this season’s Revolutionary City events at CW.  We stood with some friends as we watched Lafayette deliver his speech, which was followed by some examples of music and theater.  We then witnessed the scene of Mrs. Washington visiting the Capitol and aiding a Rev War veteran, which was also a repeat from past seasons.  The events ended with a presentation by George Washington in front of Raleigh Tavern.

Ron Carnegie as George Washington

Tuesday morning I braved the chilly, cloudy weather to listen to Mr. Jefferson behind the Governor’s Palace gardens.  As always, it was a pleasure to hear Mr. Jefferson and to witness his interaction with the audience.  After a brief walk through the gardens I met back up with my family and we all went out to lunch with a friend.  It was great to catch up and to share stories.  Afterwards, Rebecca headed back to the symposium and Mum and I hid from the chill by visiting some more CW sites.

Bill Barker as Mr. Jefferson in the Governor's Palace gardens.

Finally, the day of workshops arrived on Wednesday!  CW tailors Mark Hutter and Neal Hurst began by giving us a brief overview of a few of the different types of buttons and how they may have been used in the late 17th and 18th centuries.  We dove right into making a thread button using linen thread.  Thread buttons were typical on linen garments (linens usually referring to underclothes).  Because these buttons were pure thread, the garments were easy to launder with the buttons still attached.  I needed to restart this button several times before I had a solid starting point, but my stitches were horrendous after that and I had a very sad looking, unfinished button to show.  But I learned a new technique and hope to try this one again with my handy instructions nearby.  Our instructors were also sure to remind us that button making was not a technique that every tailor would have perfected.  Tailors, as well as most housewives, probably knew how to make simple buttons, but they were actually widely produced and available for sale by the 18th century.  A set of “coat buttons” or “weskit buttons” could readily be purchased to finish a garment.

After our attempts at this thread button, we were instructed in the making of a button which Mr. Hurst has researched and examined to recover its construction.  These buttons are covered with fabric and then embellished by interweaving threads.  Getting the threads to make the proper design was the most difficult part, and I have to admit that I didn’t quite manage to master one of these by the end of the class either, but thoroughly enjoyed learning this new technique.  I can’t wait to try this one again too!

Examples of the "Neal Thomas Hurst buttons" on a pair of breeches from the Margaret Hunter shop.

One of the final buttons we learned was the death head.  (I wrote about my attempts at this button in an earlier post.)  Mr. Hutter did an excellent job of explaining the construction of these buttons as he offered us a wonderful demonstration.  His method was slightly different than that of Mr. Fuss.  I actually had success with this one, probably because I already had some practice with it.  At the end of the class Mr. Hutter also briefly demonstrated how to make a multi-colored death head, which I am looking forward to trying at some point.  I also watched as he demonstrated construction of a late 17th century globular button, which made a very neat looking round button.  Thank you to both of our instructors for a fun and very informative class!

Examples of death head buttons on the waistcoat of a new women's riding habit, featured
in Tuesday's fashion show as part of the symposium.

Rebecca and I both spent the second part of the week engaged in the Thursday-Friday conference entitled “A Reconstructed Visitable Past,” which focused on the use of costumes in museums.  It was a very enlightening two days which I am looking forward to sharing with you all shortly – so stay tuned!


lahbluebonnet said...

What fun to take a button class with them. I've done the thread and death head button. In fact the tailor gave me more tips after looking at my work on Sun. I'd love to learn that criss-cross thread over fabric covered button! How cool to see a demo on the multi-colored death head! Fun, fun, fun!

Ashley said...

It was a lot of fun! I'll be sure to share pictures next time I give them a try.