November 4, 2014

Eager Beaver Intern

Guess who cast her ballot for the first time - hooray for civil liberties!  And now, what say you to another internship installment?  I think it's about time I catch up on and recap what I've been learning at the museum during the month of October...

October 9, 214:  I spent my day in the costume shop practicing hand sewn button holes, a skill I have been longing to learn for months.  I experimented with two different, period correct methods.  The first method (as illustrated in The Dressmaker's Guide) is the most common where the button hole is cut first and then secured; the second (as illustrated in the Past Patterns instructions)  includes stitching first and then cutting.  I found the first technique more agreeable and worked button holes into two linen petticoats and a pair of wool breeches.

I took a lengthy midday break for an appointment with Patricia Tice, the curator of the Susan Greene Historical Clothing Collection.  She was very generous with her time, allowing me to study three extant garments – a late 1860s wrapper, an 1875 wrapper and a late 1870s “house dress” – up close and personally.  Then, in her office, we looked at wrappers and morning dresses from other well-known online collections.  After nearly an hour of discussion, I thanked her profusely and left full of wrapper research inspiration!

Sophia's twin!  An 1865 wrapper featuring bow closures down the front opening
& a watteau pleat, from an Italian collection.  (Source:

Speaking of mid-19th century wrapper research, which I will be conducting plenty of for the research component of my final project, I came with plenty of questions and left with some very interesting information:

I've come across various terms that seem to be used synonymously with "wrapper" - dressing gown, morning dress, tea gown, etc. - do these terms refer to the same type of garment?  Interestingly, the only period term that we came up with documentation for is a "dressing gown," which seems to be synonymous with the later term, "wrapper."  Both morning dresses and tea gowns are more formal dress, which, in many cases, were meant to be seen by close guests.  Wrappers, however, according to Ms. Tice, seem to be a popular choice for maternity wear.  (Definitely something that intrigued me...)

How does one tell they are looking at a wrapper rather than say a fashionable dress?  Are there certain telltale characteristics of wrappers?  Wrappers were definitely constructed to follow the lines of fashion, as seen in the cut and trim.  However, unlike morning dresses which had boned bodices (much like the fashionable dresses), wrappers seem to be universally less structured.  Common among the examples we looked at were front openings, cut with little structure and lots of fullness, except for belts and drawstrings in the back, which made them the perfect choice for maternity wear.

What does it say about a lady if she owns a wrapper?  Is it a luxury or working garment?  Wrappers were a garment of the upper, middle class.  Seemingly a garment of luxury (as no working mother would want a train trailing in the back to trip on), materials also revealed information about class.  Cotton wrappers were probably worn by middle class ladies, while wrappers of more expensive silks were an upper class possession.

October 10, 2014:  The village dressmaker was scheduled to work Saturday, rather than Friday, this week.  So, unfortunately, instead of working with her today, I had the chance to interpret in the Dressmaker’s Shop.  The morning was quite chaotic as 400 plus energetic school children and homeschool groups were expected and the typically closed building was a very popular attraction.  Recalling what I could from the dressmaker’s presentation the last time I worked with her, I did my best to interpret the building and dressmaking profession.

As for sewing, I worked on gauging an under petticoat and whip stitching the yoke of a chemise.  In fact, working on these undergarments served as strong interpretive points which allowed me to discuss the layers that are creating my 1850s silhouette, the change in fashion throughout the 19th century, and how those changes are reflected in the clothing throughout the village.  I had an absolutely wonderful time conversing with the guests today about historical clothing and I really hope there will be similar opportunities in the future!

October 16, 2014:  Since the regular museum season is over for the year, costume returns have begun along with much-needed repairs.  In the morning,  I set to work on a recent arrival, a heavy wool over-shirt, in need of repair.  The amount of work and attention to authenticity that each piece of the collection requires continues to amaze me and, with each stitch, increases my appreciation for the costumers.  In the afternoon, Cheryl started me on a new project to chip away at while on break from Sophia.  Aside from small repairs, I have never had any practice on men’s clothing, so making an early 1800s wool vest will be a new experience.

October 17, 2014:  Since the village is closed except for special events, I will now be spending the second day of my internship also in the costuming shop.  To prepare for the upcoming domestic skills conference, Bevin has arranged a small Friday project.  I will be crafting together three swatch books, showcasing appropriate choices for reproduction cotton prints for each decade of the 19th century.  As Cheryl and Maria worked on their projects, I spent the entire day cutting out hundreds of three inch by three inch swatches from the reproduction fabrics with pinking sheers.  

October 23,2014:  I began my stay in the costume shop by helping Wilma set up racks and reorganize the interpreter’s costumes that have been returned.  Afterwards, I settled down at the cutting mat to continue working on the vest that I had started last week.  With all of the pieces finally cut out, I could begin assembling the vest.  Reading and, more importantly, understanding the directions are going to be the next challenges.  I did, however, successfully figure out diagonal basting and had fun attaching the canvas interfacing to the vest fronts.

Vest fabrics: blue & white wool blend for the front,
blue cotton for the lining, and copper polished cotton for the back.

October 24, 2014:  I continued to work on my new Friday project, assembling the hundreds of squares I cut out last week into swatch books.  The acid free method of attachment turned out to be stitching, so, I spent the rest of the day doing just that – carefully lining up each of the swatches onto a page to stitch, backstitch, stitch and repeat.  A tad tedious, definitely repetitive, but not a difficult process and, by the end of the day, I was on a roll.

Stack of fabric swatches for the next book &
one of my favorite pages from the swatch book.

I finished one entire swatch book and made decent progress on the second, which will be finished next Thursday in time for the museum's domestic symposium - which you all will be hearing about in the next internship update!

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