August 5, 2015

A Month in the Life of a Wannabe Reenactor

Happy August, everyone!  If you were hoping for an update on sewing, or even perhaps my overdue July HSM challenge entry, I apologize as you'll have to wait until the next post...Tonight, I have a not-so-secret confession to make...there is nothing more that I want to be than a reenactor when I grow up!  There is just something so special about donning the clothing and living the past in the present that appeals to me.  Therefore, it only makes sense to work at a 19th century living history museum!

This summer is my second season as a historical interpreter at the Genesee Country Village!  Even though I am no longer an intern, I am still keeping plenty busy onsite learning, teaching and connecting with the public through the increased opportunities afforded as a full-time interpreter.  I absolutely love working the special event weekends and theme days.  Best of all, I can say that I've truly done some "growing up" through a few tough lessons - no workplace is perfect.  However, now, I am facing the challenges with more confidence in knowing that I have strengthened existing and forged new friendships with some really wonderful people.

Anyways, without the internship journal, I've missed recording and sharing my favorite memories from the museum.  So, tonight, I just thought it would be fun to catch up on some of the highlights from the past few weeks!

Starting with Civil War Weekend...Saturday, July 18th, shots rang out once again during Mumford's annual Civil War battle & encampment.  I was so happy to be asked to work the day - running around and helping wherever needed.  From reenactor registration, to soapy fun with the children's laundry station, to battlefield crowd control, it was definitely a long & fun day.  Topped only by the evening's ball, of course!  Ava was so very kind to lend me her pink-striped sheer gown - it was so ruffly and twirly and gorgeous that I felt oh so pretty!

Photograph courtesy of Pat Mead.

For the day, I sported my best working class impression!  I also learned to dress my hair differently and really like the result...

Hair shot!  Yes, that is all real...

A gathering before the ball.  It's the only picture I can find of Ava's pretty, pretty, dress.  It had tiers of ruffles along the skirt hem & open pagoda sleeves:

Photograph courtesy of facebook

Sunday, July 19th, was day two of Civil War weekend.  I had the chance to have my tintype taken with my museum "twin," Ariana, which was super exciting! 

For the day, I was the substitute at George Eastman's boyhood home, which is also now the home of the village quilters.  I have come to really enjoy interpreting in there, especially when I can send children on scavenger hunts.  I usually ask them to look for five items: a bathtub (in the kitchen), a picture of a little boy (a copy of an original daguerreotype of Eastman at age four), a chamber pot (with its matching applique quilt), and two pieces of "transformer" furniture (a rocker that also serves as a baby cradle & a side table that becomes a ladies' writing desk and seat).  Not only does this fun interpretive strategy capture the attention of all ages, but it also serves as an effective tool to launch into the greater stories of Eastman's biography, the building and its furnishings, as well as 19th century life in general.  

Eastman front parlor.

Eastman side bedroom with applique quilt top. 

In fact, I've been picking up quite a few extra days at Eastman over the past couple of weeks!  While, unfortunately, I'm not a quilter, I have been enjoying putting together several Berlin work pincushions as part of our crafts in the village program.  Judy, a fellow interpreter and friend, did all of the fabulous needle work, so all I had to do was ooh and ahh as I stitched them together and added the cording.  I learned how to make single and double colored cording, which is very similar to plying in spinning.  (Definitely an embellishment that would be fun to use on future projects!)

A few Berlin work pincushions!

Muslin backs with view of decorative cording.

I liked what Judy did so much that I asked her to teach me how to do Berlin work too.  Lucky for me, she obliged!  So, I went to the local(ish) second hand craft store and picked up some Aida cloth and crewel yarn:

And, after a couple of hours of stitching, here is my first attempt at Berlin work!  It's so much fun and even easier than counted cross stitch.  Judy showed me some clever tricks for avoiding making knots and keeping the back as neat as the front.  She's so sweet, and I definitely see more Berlin work in my future...

In the mean time, we interpreters celebrated our mid-year party, signifying the half-way mark of the season!  Already.  We could not believe it.  Despite being there just about every day, it seems like the season had just begun!  My museum friend, who I fondly call Lady Mary, and I brought a cake that nicely summed up what we're all about:

Museum interpreters...Valid Victorians since 1837!

A turtle rescue also happened.  My sister and I stumbled across the cutest, little painted turtle that needed to be rescued from our land of concrete and returned to a more hospitable long and prosper, little turtle!

Back to the museum events with the second annual Christmas in July theme day held on Saturday, July 25th!  It was my regularly scheduled day in the Foster-Tufts House with three exciting activities scheduled: a make-your-own sweet bag station, me (supposedly) making pin cushions as Christmas gifts, and dyeing with onion skins in the backyard.

Yours truly working on Berlin work pincushions at Foster.
Photo credit: Sarah Ledke
(via: facebook)

Because the sweet bag activity was such a hit with visitors, the pin cushion making turned into a static exhibit of my in-progress projects and sewing supplies! 

Photo credit: Ruby Foote
(via: facebook)

The sweet bag activity was based of an original "receipt" or recipe that was published in the May 1864 issue of Godey's Lady's Book.  It called for an ounce each of whole cloves, cinnamon and lemon peel, two ounces of lavender, and a pinch of oris root.  The ingredients were then "bruised" or mixed using a mortar and pestle, wrapped up in the center of a Christmas fabric square and tied off with a pretty ribbon.

Whole & crushed oris root with lavender oil -
to serve as an activator and fixative for the sweet-selling scents.  

Cloves, lemon peel, cinnamon & lavender.

Overall, it was a very successful (and busy) day with plenty of takers for the sweet bag activity!  I enjoyed working with all of the children and adults, especially my most memorable guest of the day - the sweetest blind child with several other disabilities - interpreting and helping him with the activity was such a humbling experience.  

Photo credit: Ruby Foote
(via: facebook)

Speaking of Foster and regular interpretation days, it has been such a pleasure to interpret in there as the home of the spinners.  While I am unable to demonstrate spinning, I have been able to put to use what I learned during the "experience days" of my internship by talking in depth with visitors about flax and wool processing.  And now, with the wedding display, I am having so much fun talking about 1830s fashion inside and out! 

Did you know that it was Queen Victoria who popularized "white" as the color of choice for wedding gowns?  Otherwise, a bride's gown was historically a best dress in a more practical color.

More close-ups of the wedding gown display: 

The Timely Tresses bonnet I wear quite often in Foster.

Look at those gorgeous, intricate details on the silk stockings & petticoat!

Beautiful, hand-stitched long stays!  In fact, I will be making a pair of my own later this month - much more on this fun to come!

Corded, long stays - front.

Corded, long stays - back.

And finally, this past weekend was the annual Laura Ingalls Wilder Weekend!  Saturday, August 1st, I had the opportunity to be Freda's dyeing assistant -   whoohoo!  It meant a very busy day of work, but I had a splendid time experiencing 19th century dyeing again and studying with such a fiber expert.  The dyes of the day included cochineal for a deep purple and indigo for both blues as well as an over-dyed, forest green.

First, the wool squares (for rug hooking) and yarns had to be prepared for dye in mordants.  The "dingy" colored skeins were simmered in a chrome mordant:

Some of the skeins were dyed with cochineal for a deep purple.  Interestingly, the dye bath required about an ounce and a half of cochineal to be extracted.  

Dyeing with indigo, as I found out, is a multi-dip process.  The yarn sat in the dye for about 20 minutes, and then it was removed to drip dry before re-soaking in order to deepen the color.  Care was taken to avoid too much oxygen exposure as the yarn appeared green in the dye pot and "magically" oxidized in the open air to turn blue.

Green or blue?

Tropical indigo leaves are collected and fermented.  Then, pressed into a solid "cake," the leaves can be used as a permanent "dye."  We also over-dyed the yarn previously colored with onion skins (produces a yellow) with indigo to create a dark forest green.

The day's dye results!

Sunday, august 2nd, Ariana and I ran the children's games all day, which included plenty of sack races, both egg and pig bladder (water balloon) tosses & tug-of-wars against people.  Exhausting, but the children were great.  Though, the best memories were made at the end of the day when we were up to our usual antics...double egg tosses?  Yes! Perhaps even triple and quadruple pig bladder tosses?  Certainly.  And, a classic - water balloon tossing, duel style.  What a rewarding end to a long day!

Sunset in the village.

Wow!  Sometimes I am just amazed by how much can be done within just a few weeks...See what fun interpreters at the Genesee Country Village have?  If you're ever in the area, make sure to come visit us!  And, feel free to shout "hi" if you see me around the village!

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