November 25, 2014

Moving Forward, Never Back

Anneliese here with your weekly, err monthly, internship report.  I sat down in front of the computer with the intention to write my last weekly internship report for MCC EBL101.  However, I just had to share the good news first...I am so excited to announce that I have been offered an internship extension until the next museum season!  I immediately and joyfully accepted!

October 30, 2014:  For the majority of my stay, I continued to make progress on the men’s wool vest, attempting the pocket welts.  So far, the welt and pocket lining are stitched to the front and cutting the pocket slit will be the next challenge.  I did, however, pick up a new tailoring skill known as prick stitching, which appears as a running stich from the outside and a whip stitch on the inside, and I can definitely see myself employing this technique to attach bodice linings in the future.

November 1, 2014:  The highly anticipated Domestic Skills Symposium!  The all-day conference at the museum had four fantastic speakers and an authentic, 19th century luncheon lined up.  I was asked to come in early, arriving a little before eight, and worked straight until six.  First thing in the morning, I jumped in to help with set up and was happy to do whatever was needed.  My time was divided between managing the village crafts table, selling various pottery, hand-dyed skeins, brooms and baskets, and helping with the cleanup.   I am so pleased that the museum’s first symposium was such a success!

Marisa made sure I had the chance to catch Susan Greene’s presentation, one of the major highlights and draw of the symposium.  Susan Green, a world renowned wealth of knowledge, has devoted her entire life to the study and collection of historical clothing.  It was such a privilege to hear her absolutely fascinating presentation, which discussed an important, unpublished history cut from her recent and life-long publication, Wearable Prints.

Hardcover addition of Susan Greene's Wearable Prints, 1760-1860,
History, Materials and Mechanics
available today on Amazon!

Her talk revolutionized my idea of pioneers and the role of calico and homespun, and I made sure to take copious amounts of notes...However, it was the very first thing that she said that stood out the most.  She stood up in front of the room and said that when researching, there are never any easy answers, and that it is practically impossible to be absolutely sure of a color by the dye (only a lab can confirm).  To hear such an expert in the field humbly say that she is still a learner was just the most inspiring, "wow" moment of the conference!

Calicos & Homespun

The term "calico" actually refers to all cotton cloth, even the prized white cottons which were India's major export.  And, the term "chintz," which refers to the colored patterns, may have originated from the Native American word "chittes."

Fabric was and still is to a certain extent telling of social class and means.  The wealthy liked to distinguish themselves with fine painted cloth from India, while the lower class "mean" people would have clothed themselves is the cheap, widespread block prints, as well as calicos and printed linens.  In fact, I was surprised at just how inexpensive these cotton prints would have been as the boom of industrialization flooded the market with yards of printed fabrics for mere cents.

That being said, the typical vision of hard-working pioneer women laboring over their spinning wheels and looms to cloth their families in "homespun" is a little known misnomer, probably resulting from the romanticism of pioneers.  Rather, most "homespun" was indeed handwoven, but in factories and sold to the masses.
The True Pioneers

The term "pioneer" refers to a hard life, where a person has to provide for all of their needs far from the comforts of civilization.

The Pioneer, a 1904 painting by Australian artist Frederick McCubbin

Pioneers did not stay poor long, as the idea is to settle in an unclaimed area to make a better life.  However, the idea that all pioneers wanted to be self-sufficient in everything is simply not true, and a product of romanticism.  They did not have to make every scrap of clothing, as there was cheap, ready-made clothing available from country stores that sold just about everything, even in the remotest of areas.  Investing in the time and labor intensive process of making cloth would have taken time better spent on other, more important jobs.  

There were plenty of reasons why pioneer women generally would not have woven their own cloth.  For starters, they would have had to be very dedicated, have all of the equipment and the working space.  And, it was a very inefficient process, especially when widespread, affordable cloth was available, taking away from more important work.  On the other hand, reasons why women could have chosen to weave their own cloth include to be self-sufficient, for patriotic reasons and, most importantly, as a means of extra income or trading purposes.  Finally, the other major reason, that still applies today, was simply for the love of threads!

If you're ever in upstate New York, make sure to visit the Susan Greene Collection at the Genesee Country Village and Museum.  With over 3000 articles of late 18th and 19th century clothing and accessories, and a focus on everyday clothing, the trip is definitely worth your wile!  And don't forget to get your copy of Susan Greene's Wearable Prints!

November 6, 2014:  At the beginning of the day, I picked up from where I left off last week on the men’s vest undertaking, and, by the end of the day, there was an end in sight for the pocket welts.  After struggling to figure out how to insert the pocket, hand stitching the pocket and overcasting the raw edges was a simple and straight forward task.  Merely reading and comprehending the directions seemed to take longer than the stitching itself.  It always amazes me how labor intensive a single article of clothing is, and that, despite the investment, the details of historical garments are just so exquisite.

November 7, 2014:  I spent a majority of the day again making progress on the wool vest.  After top stitching the last welt end, I took a moment to celebrate the finally completed pocket welts.  Cheryl made sure to tease me about that for the rest of the day, offering to keep me on for the next couple of years to stitch all of their pocket welts.

My first pocket welts - completed!

I was very happy to move onto attaching the front interfacing and preparing all of the edges for lining.  The newest skill I committed to memory was the catch or herringbone stitch.  During the last hour of the work day, we took a field trip to the local Chestnut Bay Quilting Fabric Store in Caledonia, which has an entire room full of high quality reproduction fabrics - make sure to add this stop to visit if you're ever in the area!  

November 13, 2014:  After a month-long hiatus from the Sophia Project, we pulled the wrapper out from storage and back into the costume shop.  Bevin tasked me with fixing the pocket side of the wrapper which hung unevenly and making piping for the armscyes, sleeves and neckline.  Using leftover fabric scraps, a ruler and my blue water soluble pencil (a handy tip I picked up from the village dressmaker), I marked the piping strips.  Finally, I ended up with a couple of yards each of one inch strips, standard for in-seam piping, and one and a half inch strips to allow for facing.  

Piping strips for Sophia.

During the afternoon, I pieced the fabric strips together.  I ironed a narrow edge along each strip before inserting the emerald green cotton yarn, which is serving as the piping cording.  Then, for the rest of my stay, I hand stitched rows of tiny running stitches snugly against the cords.  When I finished, I noticed that the piping barely stood out from the edge of the fabric, which I learned was characteristic of late 19th construction.

November 14, 2014:  I switched between working on the wrapper and on the wool vest.  To fix the one uneven side of the wrapper, I had to completely rip out the seam and the pocket.  The side is now basted and ready to be machine stitched back together next Thursday.  As for progress made on the vest, all of the front linings have been pinned and I am making headway on the stitching.  One vest front edge is completely lined and the other is nearly finished using the prick stitching technique for a quality appearance.

Towards the end of my stay, Bevin called and invited me along on the tour of the gallery and vault with another guest, the costumer for the movie being filmed at the museum.  The movie’s costumer, an NYU student, was very friendly and asked dozens of questions about the pieces in the Susan Greene Collection.  The collections curator, Peter Wisbey, let us study and ogle over the pieces on display and the rest of the collection housed in the vault for nearly two hours.  We had a marvelous time looking at everything from children’s clothing to dresses, bonnets and other delicate accessories from every decade – and I especially enjoyed seeing a student my own age so enthusiastic about historical clothing!

And there you have up: the final paper.  Full speed ahead!

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