Sunday, March 31, 2013

Exploring the Collections of the Connecticut Historical Society

In early 2011, we visited the Connecticut Historical Society to see their exhibition, "Connecticut Needlework: Women, Art, and Family, 1740-1840."  The exhibit profiled the variety of needle crafts created by the women of early Connecticut, and included everything from crewel bed hangings to mourning art to embroidered shoes to samplers to a whitework gown to quilts and quilted petticoats (and much more besides).  Our post on the exhibit discusses in detail several of the items on display, and also links to the book/catalogue assembled for the exhibit, which is fantastic and an excellent investment to add to the library of any historical fashion or needle arts enthusiast.

For those of you who aren't familiar with CHS, the museum exclusively collects artifacts and antiques with a known New England provenance.  What is particularly unique about their holdings, however, is that most of their pieces can be even more specifically tied to Connecticut itself.  Because of this, the ladies of our reenacting unit have been very eager to study the eighteenth-century clothing and accessories in the collection to help us improve the regional details of our interpretation of our CT Revolutionary War ancestors.  In mid-January, our lovely Distaff Coordinator was able to arrange a private study session with CHS's costume and textiles curator, enabling a small group of us the privilege to handle and closely examine each and every one of the costume items in the museum's collection that is dated between 1750 and 1800. 

Although the photos we took during our study time are exclusively for private research purposes and thus cannot be shared here, thanks to CHS's fabulous and ever-expanding eMuseum, we can nonetheless give you a comprehensive overview of some of the fantastic items we were able to see!  First, we all drooled (almost literally) over five gowns, all dating to the second half of the eighteenth century.  All can be found in the online catalogue (direct links don't seem to work, I apologize!).  One of my favorites was a dark ground chintz with a red and pencil blue floral design (dated 1775-85; CHS acc. no. 1959.54.4), its skirt and the front of the center-closing bodice pieced to within an inch of its life.  The fabric is some of the most stunning cotton I've seen (so much prettier in person!), so light-weight and thin and fully retaining the crispness and subtle sheen that characterizes true eighteenth-century chintz.  It's actually a lot darker than it appears in the eMuseum photo below, being closer to black than the chocolate brown it seems to be here.

Brown chintz round gown, 1775-1785 (CHS acc. no. 1959.54.4) .
Photo linked from the CT Historical Society eMuseum.

Other highlights from the day included two sets of stays (one sized to a child of about age three), several calash bonnets, some stunning brocade shoes, the red quilted calamanco petticoat we had oogled in the earlier exhibit, and a couple of shortgowns, among other items.  We also examined some gentlemen's coats, waistcoats, and shirts.

The two jewels in the crown of the museum's eighteenth-century costume collection, however, are a rare CT loyalist military coat and a cloak owned by Deborah Champion.  The "Redcoat," worn by CT native Munson Hoyt when he served in a CT loyalist regiment during the Revolution, is one of only two examples of a "Redcoat" know to survive in this country (CHS acc. no. 1896.9.1).  Needless to say, we spent a good deal of time oogling it and taking note of all of its little details and secrets.

One of only two extant "Redcoats" (CHS acc. no. 1896.9.1).
Photo linked from the CT Historical Society's eMuseum.

The second undeniable treasure we had the privilege to study was Deborah Champion's cloak (CHS acc. no. 1981.37.1), its vivid cardinal red color still a vibrant reminder of the courageous woman who once wore it.  The cloak was gifted to the museum with family tradition suggesting it is the cloak worn on her famous ride across British lines to deliver dispatches to Washington in Boston in 1775.  This post reproduces a letter in which the 22-year-old young woman recounts her experience (complete with a description of her clothes, huzzah!) to a friend.  Most thrilling to me was the realization that this cloak's piecing and construction are remarkably similar to those seen on the cloak in Costume Close-up.  It's always neat when sources coincide like that!

Deborah Champion's cloak (CHS acc. no. 1981.37.1).
Photo linked from the CT Historical Society's eMuseum.

I strongly encourage you to take the time to look through all of the items showcased in CHS's eMuseum.  Their costume and textiles collection is quite large and comprehensive, but somehow it tends to get overlooked in the world of costuming sources, I assume just because the museum is comparatively on the smaller side when it comes to the more famous museums in the immediate area.  This is most unfortunate because it's a great resource and more than repays a visit if ever you're in the area.

We'd like to personally thank the curator of costumes and textiles, as well as the rest of the staff at CHS, for so generously accommodating our group and for sharing their collection with us in such a special way.  Our unit hosts a number of local school and educational programs, and being able to use this experience to reproduce and then share some of the uniquely CT clothing items that we saw will be a tremendously special addition to our discussions and our unit's Rev War interpretations.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Fashions from Godey's Lady's Book, June 1853

It's that time again!  We apologize for neglecting these montly postings for December, January, and February, but we haven't forgotten them and now they're back, just in time for springtime sewing projects!

As we mentioned in the first post in this series, we recently stumbled across a bound volume of Godey's Lady's Book from 1853. Once a month, I'll post the collection of fashion-related plates and articles that appeared in each monthly issue. You can find the previous months here.

I apologize in advance for the quality of the images. Although I have a scanner, I've discovered that there's no way I can preserve the integrity of the already fragile binding of the book and lay it flat. That means photos are the only options, and even those are difficult to achieve because of the tightly bound pages. I've done my best to ensure that everything is as clear and visible and undistorted as possible, but if there's something you really can't read or see and would like to have clarified, just let me know and I'll see what more I can do. I've set the images up so that if you click on them, they'll link you to their flickr page, where you'll be able to enlarge them all considerably and thus more easily read each one. Enjoy!

Godey's Lady's Book, June 1853 2

Fig. 1st. - Morning-dress of pink barege, under a slip of white embroidered jaconet cambric, made short, to display the scallops.  Pink girdle, fastened by a small gold clasp.  Garden hat of white chip, with rose-colored ribbons, and a knot of blush roses and foliage each side the face.

Fig. 2nd. - Walking-dress of pale green silk, barred with a raised satin stripe.  The skirt in four flounces, set on with a cord, and edged with wide, shallow scallops, trimmed with close double fringe.  The waist short and slightly full, a style revived the present summer.  Sleeves open, demi-long; deep collar.  Cottage bonnet of white split straw, with wreaths of green leaves.

Godey's Lady's Book, June 1853 3
Embroidered skirt, to be paired with the cambric basque that follows.

Godey's Lady's Book, June 1853 4
Cambric basque or sacque; cape and canezou.

Godey's Lady's Book, June 1853 5
On broiderie anglaise.

Godey's Lady's Book, June 1853 6
Two caps, one a sontag cap of lace and ribbon, and the other
an evening cap of lace with a Marie Stuart front.

Godey's Lady's Book, June 1853 7
Children's fashions for June.

Godey's Lady's Book, June 1853 1
Crochet elastic braces, detailed in the pattern that begins in
the image above and continues onto the two pages below.

Godey's Lady's Book, June 1853 9

Godey's Lady's Book, June 1853 10

If you'd like to use or re-post or share these images, you're certainly welcome to do so. The only thing we ask is that credit is given where due: please provide a link back to this blog with the re-posted picture. Thanks!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Catching Up: An Embarrassment of Riches, with Many Thanks for Three Blog Awards!

We're so behind with blogging, and this is yet another long-delayed post that's been sitting in the drafts folder waiting to be posted for months!  Back in September, Emily of My Vintage Visions nominated us for the "Versatile Blogger" award; in October, Laurie at Teacups among the Fabric honored us with the same award.  Thank you both so much, ladies!

A couple of months ago, Quinn at A Quintessential Clothes Pen nominated us for the "One Lovely Blog" Award.  We're so touched, and thank you prodigiously for the compliment!  Then, just yesterday, Deborah at surprised us with the "Very Inspiring Blogger Award"!  This has (finally!) motivated us to move that "Versatile Blogger" acknowledgement we started after receiving Emily and Laurie's nominations from the "drafts" pile to the posted one, and we figured it would be perfectly appropriate to combine our thanks for all three awards into a single post, since their criteria for acceptance are so very similar!

The criteria for accepting "The Versatile Blogger" award is as follows:
     - thank the person (in this case people!) who nominated you and provide a link back to her (their!) blog(s);
     - paste the award on your blog;
     - share seven things about yourself; and
     - nominate fifteen other blogs.

The criteria for accepting the "One Lovely Blog Award" is:
     - thank the person who nominated you;
     - add the "One Lovely Blog Award" image to your post;
     - share seven things about yourself;
     - pass the award on to seven nominees;
     - include this set of rules; and
     - inform your nominees by posting a comment on their blogs.

The criteria for accepting the "Very Inspiring Blogger Award" includes:
     - displaying the award and linking back to the person who nominated you;
     - stating seven facts about yourself;
     - nominating fifteen bloggers for the award; and
     - notifying the winners.

So here goes!  Fulfilling the requirements of all three awards at once, here are seven random things about us!
     1) Colonial American and Revolutionary War history is a passion of both of ours, unquestionably our "first love" when it comes to historical periods (okay, so that's not too random a fact to share, since you've probably already assumed that much by now!).
     2) We blame the American Girls Collection for our mutual obsession with history.  Felicity was my first (and favorite) doll; I got her when I was 9 and it took me an entire year to save up to buy her.  Ashley's favorite was Kirsten.  She loved her doll so much that her head and two other appendages fell off.
     3) We both share a prodigious affection for all things Peter Rabbit.  It's safer not to ask how many stuffed Peters we have between us.
     4) Mac and cheese is Ashley's favorite food; mine is Thanksgiving (yes, that's a single food).
     5)  When we were younger, we had a Pickwick Society (a la Little Women) in our basement with a couple of friends.  We wore our dad's old suits and ties, made up "Pickwick Portfolio" newspapers, and wrote and acted out plays based on our favorite books.  Can you guess which of us was which March sister?  ;-)
     6) Between the two of us, we play eight musical instruments.
     7) Growing up, our dress-up box consisted of one old pink prom dress covered in tulle, a few of our grandmothers' old skirts, our mother's discarded nightgowns, and a big box of reject curtains, table linens, and bedsheets.  Needless to say, this encouraged much creatively on our part, and we figured out how to create fashions for every character we ever wanted to become, from Laura Ingalls to Anne of Green Gables to Dr. Quinn to Elizabeth Bennett.  This goes a long way towards explaining why we indulge so seriously in recreating period fashion now; the only difference is that dress-up just got a little more expensive as we got older.  ;-)

The next requirement for accepting these three awards is to select additional blogs to pass each on to.  In this case, we've decided to combine the stipulations for all three awards and list fifteen total. 

Our nominees for five blogs that are particularly noteworthy for their stupendous displays of versatility in terms of both subject matter and their authors' talents, and thus are highly deserving of the "Versatile Blogger Award" are (in no particular order):
     1) History Myths Debunked (the range of topics and depth of knowledge is prodigiously impressive here);
     2) Adventures of a Costumer (although this blog also most certainly qualifies for the Lovely" award as well, we're choosing to put it here to recognize Miss Lindsey's incredible talent in costuming across an impressive variety of eras and events);
     3) The Story of a Seamstress (this blog, too, could easily fall into the second category as well, but its author's talents are so versatile and wide-ranging in both the projects she creates and the topics she chooses to blog about, that it only seems appropriate to distinguish her here!).
     4) American Duchess (whose range of interests, post topics, and costuming projects is amazingly versatile; she never ceases to surprise with her newest, exciting venture!);
     5) The World Turn'd Upside Down (a tremendous range of knowledge here, on all sorts of intriguing tidbits to do with history and reenacting).

Our nominees for the "One Lovely Blog Award" continue our list with four additional admirable and quite lovely blogs, including (in no particular order):
     6) My Vintage Visions (for continuing to share her exciting and ever-growing vintage clothing and pattern collection, and for some truly lovely vintage and historical fashion sewing projects and tips);
     7) All the Pretty Dresses (I think the name pretty much underlines the loveliness of this blog!);
     8) Diary of a Mantua Maker (always something lovely and drool-worthy to sigh over here);
     9) Born in 1808 (loads of period images and interesting discussions);
     10) Frolicking Frocks (stunning creations, oh so lovely!).

We would like to offer the "Very Inspiring Blogger Award" to the following bloggers who continue to inspire us with their unfailing passion for all that they do, with thanks for sharing your journeys as a way to encourage others (again, in no particular order):
     11) Teacups in the Garden (inspiring not only for her costuming adventures, but also for her fascinating insights in teaching, particularly when it comes to history);
     12) The Couture Courtesan (who never ceases to inspire with every project she sets her hands to);
     13) Festive Attyre (inspiring costuming projects across three centuries with loads of gorgeous pictures and helpful tutorials);
     14) A Fractured Fairytale (for creating some lovely and (awe-)inspiring historical costumes);
     15) Natalie Garbett's blog (we never tire of looking at the incredible reproduction work Natalie produces!).

Thank you again to both My Vintage Visions and Teacups among the Fabric for honoring us with the "Versatile Blogger" award, to The Quintessential Clothes Pen for sending us the "One Lovely Blog Award," and to Geneology Lady for sharing the "Very Inspiring Blogger Award"!  We're so, so chuffed!  :-)

And while we're on the subject of awards, just one final random bit of news: our Rev War unit awarded me with the "Distaff of the Year" award at our annual meeting a few months ago!  I'm so chuffed and humbled to recognized in such a way.  :-)  And now the pressure is on to live up to it...hence the serious throwing-of-self into learning how to cook properly lately...!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

A Glimpse into the Creation of a True "Reproduction" Gown

A screencap from the vodcast, to lure you into watching it!
Captured from "A Dress in a Day" on

Yesterday, Colonial Williamsburg posted a new vodcast, "A Dress in a Day," which offers a fascinating glimpse into the work performed by the mantua-makers and milliners of the past.  The video - the first in a two-part series - profiles the reproduction of an original gown from CW's collection using only the materials, techniques, and time span historically appropriate to the moment of the gown's creation.  As I'm sure many of you will recognize, this gown is one of the several featured in Costume Close-up.

The original gown being reproduced in the vodcast,
dated to the late 1770s or early 1780s (CW acc. no. 1983-233).

Interviews with CW's costume and textiles curator and the skilled members of the Margaret Hunter Shop address numerous details of the gown's production - and reproduction! - process, from the width of the original silk to how integral that width was to the gown's construction.  The working conditions and experiences of the tradeswomen who created garments like these are also discussed, as is the delight their twenty-first-century counterparts took in capturing them all over again.

Keep an eye out for the concluding part next month to see how the gown turns out!

(PS - SPOILER ALERT! - If you can't wait another month to see the finished product, the Margaret Hunter Shop's facebook page has posted "behind the scenes" photos of the filming of the vodcast, which include the finished gown.)