Thursday, May 30, 2013

Coming Soon: Downton Abbey Costume Exhibition

Many thanks to Burnley and Trowbridge for the tip-off yesterday about this exciting upcoming exhibition!

Image linked from Winterthur's press release for the exhibition.

From March 1st, 2014 through January 4th, 2015, Winterthur will be staging an exhibition of 35 costumes from Downton Abbey!  According to the press release, the exhibit will also include "photographs and vignettes inspired by the fictional program and by real life at Winterthur."  Winterthur, a 175-room mansion, was completed in 1932 as the home of the Du Pont family and is the fifth-largest historic house in the country.  Now a museum of decorative arts, it features both its original period rooms and gallery space to display over 90,000 objects produced or used in the United States between 1690 and 1860.

I sense a road trip approaching... :-)

Sunday, May 26, 2013

"First Ladies: Influence and Image" on C-SPAN

C-SPAN is currently running a series which delves into the lives and legacies of our First Ladies, "First Ladies: Influence and Image", which explores the extraordinary women who have graced the White House.  I have been thoroughly enjoying this opportunity to learn more about some of these remarkable ladies, and have particularly appreciated being introduced to some whose names I am ashamed to say I barely recognized!  Each episode focuses on one or two of the First Ladies and features discussions with historians who share their knowledge and views.  The companion website for the series has a brief biographical sketch for each First Lady, as well as a collection of videos discussing various aspects of their lives.

This Monday night (May 27 at 9:00pm EST), the program will focus on Frances Cleveland and will feature historian Dr. Taylor Stoermer and author Annette Dunlap.  In preparation for the episode, C-SPAN has put together a little preview, tempting us with some of her fashions!  The First Ladies Collection at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History is 100 years old, as Lisa Kathleen Graddy, curator, explains in this short video.  Watch as she shows some of Mrs. Cleveland's sparkling fashions from the collection drawers:

In a post we did a few months back about this collection, and the wonderful opportunities to view pieces of the collection online, I noted how I particularly adored Mrs. Cleveland's gowns!  As a featured item on the companion site for the show, Ms. Graddy also shares a stunning bonnet.  Enjoy!

Saturday, May 25, 2013

"Threads of Feeling" Opening and Update

I was fortunate enough to find some time after work this evening to visit the new "Threads of Feeling" exhibit at the DeWitt Wallace Museum at Colonial Williamsburg, which formally opened today.  As I mentioned in my post from yesterday, we have both been looking forward to seeing these billet books for some time.  Learning all about the London Foundling Hospital over the past year or so has been a fascinating, albeit often sad, exploration into a part of the 18th century that I had not really considered much in the past.  That, combined with the chance to see how these textile tokens offer an unprecedented glimpse at some beautiful period fabrics, make this an extraordinary and very moving exhibit experience.

The exhibit provides some explanation as to how the hospital was founded and how children were chosen and then entered into the care of the hospital.  Connections are also made with several of 18th-century Williamsburg's well-known residents, including Thomas Everard, an orphan from the London Christ's Hospital, who later served as Williamsburg's mayor.  The billet books are laid out beautifully so that visitors can clearly see the text and accompanying textile token on each displayed page.  I was astonished to see how well-preserved the pages are, with the ink still stunningly clear and many of the fabrics so bright and vibrant.

This made it all too easy to imagine the scene as a baby was being brought in and his information documented with his token.  It is a truly special experience to be able to examine these pages so closely.  Gazing at the physical remains of these records only emphasized the reality of what each represents.  Standing in front of these precious pieces of fabric, so lovingly chosen, I couldn't help but tear up as I thought of the mothers and families who gave their children to the hospital.  How desperate they must have been to bring their child to a place where their future was still so uncertain.  Equally difficult was imagining the thoughts of the mothers as they chose which piece of fabric to leave with their baby.  So many pieces seem to have been chosen because they portray a message of where a baby came from, or because they suggest a hope for a better future.  Some have been cut into hearts and others inked with names.  It's heartbreaking to think about how these mothers might have felt as they prepared their babies to be separated from them, perhaps forever.

This exhibit shares a poignant part of history and I hope that many of you have the opportunity to share in this experience as well.  If you are unable to make it to Williamsburg (or while you are waiting!), be sure to visit, where you can view a gorgeous online exhibition.

Friday, May 24, 2013

"Threads of Feeling" is almost here!

Many of us are anxiously awaiting the opening of the "Threads of Feeling" exhibit tomorrow, May 25th, at the DeWitt Wallace Museum of Colonial Williamsburg.  The exhibit will run for a full year and will be the only presentation offered in the US.  This remarkable display, curated and organized by John Styles and The Foundling Museum, brings to life the stories of mothers and children separated by circumstance in 18th century London.  When mothers brought their babies to the London Foundling Hospital, they were asked to leave behind a token: a scrap of fabric, a ribbon, a button, anything to distinguish one child from the next.  Each token was carefully preserved with a description of what the child wore upon entering the hospital, to assist in a reunion if the mother should ever return.  These records were collected into billet books and maintained so meticulously over the years, so that we can now witness a glimpse into the lives of these young children hundreds of years ago.

These tokens also offer us a valuable glimpse at some of the everyday textiles of 18th century England, and their examples are much more colorful and varied than many had expected they might be.  When "Threads of Feeling" opened in the UK in 2010, London Printworks reproduced a length of fabric based on one of the tokens from baby Florella.  The fabric was used to construct a bedgown as part of the exhibit in London, yet another unique and remarkable way the exhibit sought to make these "lost" lives from the past live again.

Colonial Williamsburg will be hosting a number of other events in conjunction with the exhibit.  Historian and curator of the exhibit, John Styles, will be presenting a lecture on Tuesday, May 28 at 5:30pm.  Tickets are required for the lecture and may be purchased online.  Another exciting event will be a symposium (which I've already registered for!) coming up this October in Williamsburg.

There have been glimpses of the progress of the upcoming exhibit from various sources, only adding to our anticipation to finally see these remarkable pieces of history.  The ladies of the Margaret Hunter Shop, for instance, helped to construct clothing for mannequins featured in the exhibit, and they shared on their facebook page some photos from the installation in the exhibit space.  One of the gowns has been made with a digitally reproduced fabric from a 1740s/1750s gown in the CW collection.

Also, when the billet books arrived last week and were installed in the exhibit, The Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg shared some photos on its facebook page as well.

Billet books from the Foundling Hospital being installed at
the DeWitt Wallace Museum of Colonial Williamsburg.
Photo linked from the Art Museums of CW facebook page.

An article from WY Daily today gives us some additional views of billet books on display!

If you're interested in learning more, Linda Baumgarten, curator of textiles and costumes at Colonial Williamsburg, recently spoke to WY Daily to explain how some of the babies were chosen to enter the Foundling Hospital.  John Styles was interviewed for a Colonial Williamsburg podcast, in which he describes how the London Foundling Hospital came into being and how the tokens were used in the process of admitting babies.

Burnley & Trowbridge has shared some of their photos of the original exhibit on their facebook page.  Angela was also kind enough to share some stories and photos of their research with us during one of our recent workshops, making us even more eager for the arrival of the exhibit here!  There have been a few books published to accompany the exhibits at the Foundling Museum, and all may be found for sale through B&T.

Stay tuned for more!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Your Chance to Discover CT History with CT Open House Day 2013 on June 8th!

On Saturday, June 8th, the state of Connecticut will celebrate its ninth annual CT Open House Day.  This once-a-year event, sponsored by the CT Office of Tourism, encourages CT residents and visitors to discover the many historical and cultural treasures of the state with free or discounted admission offers, giveaways, and special exhibits and events.  This year, the list of participating museums, sites, and organizations is bigger and better than ever!  Some of the many featured special opportunities include:

- free admission to the Jonathan Trumbull, Jr. House Museum, which hosted us for a fashion program last summer, and which we visited for the first time back in 2010;

- special children's activities at the Noah Webster House and West Hartford Historical Society, home of one of Ashley's favorite 18th-century CT residents;

- half price admission to the Webb-Deane-Stevens Musuem, which we first experienced a couple of years ago, and which sponsors our Rev War regiment's annual Memorial Day program;

- free admission to the Connecticut Historical Society, whose extensive collections and impressive exhibits seek to narrate CT life throughout the centuries (we've given glimpses of just a small sample of what they have to offer here and here);

- and dozens and dozens more!

If you're in CT or within easy driving distance, please do consider visiting some of participating sites at CT Open House Day 2013 and experience some of the special things our lovely little state has to offer!  There's so much to see and I still can't decide where I want to go first...:-)

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The First Oval Office: Beginnings

The First Oval Office
Stitchers reconstructing George Washington's tent.
Opening day at Colonial Williamsburg, 18 April 2013.

The Secretary's Office at Colonial Williamsburg opened yesterday for visitors to join in the excitement of witnessing the reconstruction of George Washington's marquee.  A talented group of historians and tradespeople have been meticulously researching the construction of the tent in which Washington slept and worked during his campaigns during the American Revolution.  A joint project between Colonial Williamsburg and the Museum of the American Revolution, the reconstruction project will take place over the course of the summer.  In 2016, the tent will be installed at the new Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia.

The First Oval Office
A 1/6 scale model of George Washington's tent.

You can follow the project via The First Oval Office facebook page.  There is also a CW webcam where you can watch the stitchers working live, Saturday-Wednesday from 9:00am-5:00pm.  The Museum of the American Revolution website also features a blog following the progress of the project. For additional information, here is a link to the CW press release regarding this exciting new project.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Coming Soon: "Courage, New Hampshire" TV Series

On Memorial Day Monday (May 27th), the INSP cable network will be premiering a four-part, four-hour independent drama series about the years leading up to the American Revolution.  Courage, New Hampshire recounts the stories of the citizens of a small, rural New England town on the eve of the War.  Beginning in 1770, it traces both the political and the very personal ways in which the colonists reacted to the events that lead to the fight for American independence.  According to the production company's website, this is only the first in a multiple-"season" series; each subsequent four-part "season" will focus on another year of the 1770s, eventually culminating in the experiences of the war years themselves.

Production still linked from the Courage, New Hampshire website.

We've both been eagerly anticipating seeing this series ever since news about its development first trickled out a couple of years ago.  We were thus delighted to hear several months ago that it had been picked up for a tv broadcast.  Original historical dramas are way too few and far between these days! 

Production still linked from the Courage, New Hampshire website.

From everything we've read and the clips we've seen thus far, the production values for this series seem to be particularly high, which is fantastic to hear for a historical drama whose success depends so much on its accuracy.  The series is filmed at Riley's Farm, a living history site in CA.  Lauren at American Duchess has interviewed the costume designer, Mary Johns, and I was so impressed to hear the tremendous efforts to which she has gone to attempt to preserve accuracy in the costuming, using only natural-fiber textiles and researching styles and accessories to try to retain the historical integrity of the clothing, even in the face of the necessary artistic demands of narrative and character development.  And I also thought it was pretty cool that Mary's wardrobe team includes three people - herself and her two sisters  :-)

Production still linked from the Courage, New Hampshire website.

Check INSP's website for broadcast specifics and the promotional trailer.  We can't wait to see this!  If you're too anxious to wait until Memorial Day, all four episodes of the series can be viewed online here.

Friday, May 10, 2013

An Evening of English Country Dancing: "Mr. Isaac's Maggot"

Our English country dance group held its final dance of the season a couple of weeks ago.  This "last hurrah" before we resume in the fall is traditionally our "Drancy Fess Ball"; see this earlier post from a couple of years ago for the origins and full explanation of the phrase.  This year's theme of "mythical beasts" was a repeat of last year's but nonetheless still succeeded in eliciting some intriguing and very clever interpretations!  Period dress is also (thankfully!) an option for this event, and since I've been so busy with work lately, I didn't have the time or energy to get too creative and just opted to dress for the 18th century instead.  All together, we looked quite an eclectic bunch, but it was a very fun evening and a lovely farewell until we meet again in September.

This year, I attempted my first video recording of a dance and thought it might be fun to share the results!  It isn't by any means a high-quality video; I just rested the camera on top of a spare piano and pressed record and let it go until it stopped itself.  But what it lacks in visual appeal, it more than compensates for in capturing the gorgeous sounds of our very own live band, with whom we have the pleasure and true honor of dancing every week.

This is "Mr Isaac's Maggot," one of my favorites.  It's a duple-minor longways dance, first published in Playford's English Dancing Master in 1695.  Mr. Isaac was one of the premier dancing masters of the latter half of the seventeenth century, earning widespread fame and respect as instructor to Queen Anne and the English court.  The "maggot" referred to in the title is not a creepy-crawly larva, but rather a whim or flight of fancy.  Instructions for this dance, as well as the tune notation, can be readily found online, or in The Playford Ball (which I highly recommed!).

Extra credit to anyone who can identify which film(s) have featured this particular dance!

I wore my (still new-ish) cotton print gown that I started at the B&T workshop last November and finished in January.  This is the third time I've worn it, and I still haven't managed to get any pictures!  This is what happens when your photographer moves seven states away.  :-(  You can catch a couple of glimpses of the finished product here and there in the video, but nothing too exciting.  I promise photos and a decent write-up in Threaded Bliss very, very soon!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

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

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, July 1853 1

Fig. 1st. - Dress of queen's brocade, the pattern being a rich grouping of natural flowers, wrought with a lifelike richness of imitation.  The shade is the favorite lemon color, which admits only of blue in trimming and decoration.  The richness of the silk requires little additional ornament, the stomacher of blue ribbon knots, which extends around the opening of the basque and is repeated on the sleeves, being all.  A headdress of the same, in close rosettes, and a suit of Honiton or Mechlin lace in frills, completes the costume.

Fig. 2nd. - Evening-dress, very simply and girlish, a lace robe over a delicate rose-colored silk slip; the skirt of the robe is edged with shallow scallops, and confined at the waist by a sash tied in front.  The slightly pointed berthe of the corsage is edged with two rows of narrow lace, the same running around the neck and sleeves.  Bracelets of coral, carved in imitation of roses; a band and knot of rich rose-colored ribbon confines a bouquet of blush roses to the left.  The hair is arranged very simply, waved over the forehead, and gathered into a mass of braids behind, where it is upheld by pins, no comb being visible.

Godey's Lady's Book, July 1853 2
Four muslin chemisettes.

Godey's Lady's Book, July 1853 3
An invalid's cap; a dress cap for dinner or
evening; muslin undersleeves.

Godey's Lady's Book, July 1853 4
Crochet vase to cover a flower pot.

Godey's Lady's Book, July 1853 5
Continuation of the vase pattern; two patterns for embroidery.

Godey's Lady's Book, July 1853 6
Patterns for an infant's cap; netting pattern.

Godey's Lady's Book, July 1853 7
Diagram for boy's dress.

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!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Spring Continues in Williamsburg!

Colonial Williamsburg Gardens
St. George Tucker House, Colonial Williamsburg, April 2013

Colonial Williamsburg Gardens
St. George Tucker House, Colonial Williamsburg, April 2013
Colonial Williamsburg Gardens
Garden of tulips, Colonial Williamsburg, April 2013 
Colonial Williamsburg Gardens
Garden of tulips, Colonial Williamsburg, April 2013

Colonial Williamsburg Gardens
Garden of tulips, Colonial Williamsburg, April 2013

Colonial Williamsburg Gardens
Tulips for sale near Bruton Parish Church, Colonial Williamsburg, April 2013

Colonial Williamsburg
Colonial Williamsburg, April 2013.
 For additional spring scenes, visit our spring Flickr set!