August 25, 2015

Entertaining in Style...1830s Style

Summer is winding down and it's just about time to hit the books again!  In fact, this past week at the museum we've had to say so long and farewell to all of the college students for the 2015 season.  There certainly will be a void without them around, especially without Mary, the crowned "games mistress" of Thomson's Tavern!  

In choosing our friends, we all hope to find people who assist and support in times of need, are faithful companions and keepers of secrets.  People you can laugh, cry, and be silly without fear.  People to share hopes and dreams; and, most of all, know your greatest flaws, but love you anyways.  For me, that's Mary, she's the definition of a best friend.  

Lady Mary looking out onto the rainy grounds of Hamilton.

This summer, it has been such a privilege to get to know Mary and, now, to call her a friend.  She's helped me all season, showing me the ropes at Thomson Tavern and with all of the 19th century children's games.  She knows the village like the back of her hand, and is a fantastic interpreter.  There is always something new to learn from her and never a dull moment when she's around!

Playing the hydrocrystalophone, or glass harmonica.

While my friend is now settled back in college, before she left, she gave us one last performance...1830s style!

Slack rope walking in style!

Mary is certainly a one-woman show (hence her title as "games mistress").  She can juggle, ride a unicycle, stilt in full 1830s costume - forwards, backwards, sideways, twirl, waltz and even climb stairs (you name it, she can do it, on stilts) - and now, slack rope walk.  So, for her final gathering (historical talk & demonstration) for the season on 19th century entertainers, it was only fitting that she sport the appropriate attire!

CDV of circus lady with a lion & tiger.
(Image via: ebay -

The outfit itself consisted of a puffed sleeve blouse, bodice, skirt and knee-length bloomers, topped with a large turban.  Mary worked with the costume department to research, design and construct her entertainer costume - all I was really responsible for was her blouse and showing it off to the world!  

Hiding in the shade of Thomson Tavern's trees.

In fact, the finished ensemble reminded me of the gymnastic dress...

Read this excerpt from The Vintage Traveler's fantastic article on the Evolution of the Gymsuit:
"The gymnastics movement began in Germany, and newly arrived immigrants started the first gyms in the USA.  These were primarily for men, but as early as the 1830 there are references to women doing gymnastic exercises.  By the 1860s it was being suggested that women wear a “gymnastic dress” while exercising...
The gymnastic dress was similar to the Amelia Bloomer costume.   It was made of a loose-fitting blouse, a fitted but loose waist, and a gathered skirt.  The dress was worn shorter than fashionable dress of the time, but usually about six inches or so from the floor[...]By 1865 the exercise dress was often bloomers attached to a blouse, with a shorter skirt that was worn over the bloomers" 

Godey's January, 1858 Gymnastic costume.
(Image via:

 Anyways, usually, I don't like to take commissions from, I fear sometimes, complicates matters and takes away from the joy of sewing.  However, when Mary, a bit concerned by the one week deadline, asked for a peasant blouse, I was happy to oblige:

I used an altered version of my fairy costume blouse pattern, adding more length and a drawstring rather than elastic at the neckline.  Six hours and a couple yards of cotton muslin later, we had a finished puffed sleeve blouse!

Front view.

Back view.

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention, take a look at those directional pleats on her skirt!  I was called in last minute to help attach all of the skirt material to the waistband, and spent a few hours in costuming chatting and pleating away.  Best of all, the pleats were all pinned evenly and facing the right direction the first time, which almost never happens, hah.  

More completed pictures of the entertainer & costume in action: 

The proud & pretty slack rope walker!


...and catching, success!

Thanks again, Mary, for posing & letting me share all of these wonderful pictures of you!  (And, of course, many thanks for allowing me to join in all of the fun!)  Study hard this semester - best wishes 'till next time!

No comments:

Post a Comment