Senior year of high school, after costuming for various school and community productions since the seventh grade, I knew that sewing costumes was in my future. So, that February, I approached the coordinator of interpretive programs, Bevin Lynn, a nationally-recognized period seamstress, at our local treasure, the Genesee Country Village & Museum, a 19th century living history museum, about an avenue to explore my passions. When offered the chance to intern with her and Cheryl Sundlof, the talented head costumer of the village, I immediately and joyfully accepted.
Since the beginning of the internship in June, I have spent months onsite at the museum increasing my appreciation for the past, present and future of handcrafting through every opportunity afforded. The experience I am most proud of was completing the Sophia Project, a nearly year-long reproduction of an original 1870s wrapper, featuring over 625 plus inches of hand-stitched bias trim along the body and tape on the bow edges. Other experiences include everything from working on repairs, smaller sewing projects and an entirely hand-stitched men’s 1810s waistcoat in the costume shop, to hands-on exploration of historic fiber trades (flax processing, dying, spinning, weaving, dressmaking, quilting) with village craftspeople, and to my final project of designing and creating the fairy costumes for the newest children’s summer camp in August. All in all, the breadth and depth of the experiences have been incredible, and have truly modeled me into a better student, seamstress and professional.
Complete Listing of Internship Posts
- The Sophia Project - July 3rd - 24th, introducing the Sophia Project!
On the Reproduction of an 1870s Wrapper: I began the Sophia Project familiar with the basics of sewing, and received both a wider range of skills and a better understanding of dress construction. Throughout the project, I have indeed benefited from Bevin’s & Cheryl's patience and advice, allowing me to set the pace of my work and ask for guidance when needed. I believe the key to successfully recreating period clothing is an understanding and appreciation of both the methods employed and the reasons for their use. Now when I look at pictures of historical clothing, the period techniques have become much more apparent, and I am hoping to take a step further towards recreate these costumes.
- Busy as a Bee Interning - July 4th - 17th, first "experience days" with some information on 19th century dying & flax processing.
On Village Experience Days: The most valuable experience that I received during the internship could not be taught in a classroom or in the costume shop. Rather, it required me to don the period clothing and place myself into the living history as a participant. The opportunities to partake arose from the Experience Days that Bevin and Deanna Berkemeier, the coordinator of the village crafts program, arranged. Almost immediately, I discovered that flexibility was a universal quality required to succeed at the museum. Whether I was an extra set of hands during a season event or paired with a village craftsperson to gain hands-on experience with 19th century fiber-related practices, I learned so much and appreciated every minute of interning and interpreting history.
- Christmas in July - July 26th, history heavy post relating to the newest theme day, Christmas in July, and my role for the day.
- In Pieces - July 31st - August 2nd, a quick update on the Sophia Project.
- Toe to Line - July 30th - August 15th, more interning with a focus on 19th century spinning and weaving.
- Spinning on the Great Wheel - August 21st - 23rd, not every weekly internship update will be as interesting as this one: giant dormouse tails, and great wheels, and fashionable Victorians, oh my!
- Playing Catch-up - August 28th - September 12th, combination of Sophia Project progress, costume shop sewing & village experience days.
- Pokeberries & Pumpkins - September 18th - October 5th, main focus is on 19th century dyeing during the agricultural festival.
- Eager Beaver Intern - October 9th - 24th, more costume shop fun and some of my research on wrappers.
On Working in the Costume Shop: Spending Thursdays and Fridays in the costume shop has become a much-welcomed, weekly routine of hard yet rewarding work. When not making progress on the Sophia Project, I gained valuable sewing experience working on a wide variety of assignments from simple repairs, to an entirely hand-stitched men’s 1810s waistcoat, swatch books, which showcased appropriate prints for each decade of the 19th century, and even a larger-than-life dormouse tail for the Alice in Wonderland Tea Party. Through the opportunities afforded to me during the past year, I saw drastic improvements in my hand sewing skills, and further refinement as I continued to stitch under the supervision of Cheryl Sundlof, the head costumer of the village. Cheryl not only has mastered the art of historical costuming, but has a gift for drawing attention to both the humor and the common sense solution in every situation. Thus, I am so thankful to her for welcoming me into her shop and teaching me the tips and tricks of the trade.
On the Costume Shop Team: Almost instantly, from the start of my experience in the costume shop, I bonded with Cheryl, Wilma Herma, the assistant costumer, and Maria Ernest, the volunteer costumer. Together, the three have created a positive and productive environment, and have certainly let me know that they are available to offer clarification and guidance when needed. It was an absolute pleasure and privilege to intern with them as they have proven to be among the most professional, inviting and dedicated of people that I have encountered at the museum. Few have the skills and willingness to invest in the overwhelming amount of labor, care and attention to authenticity that each piece of the costume shop collection receives; and, I found that with each stitch, my admiration and appreciation for the costume team has only increased.
- Moving Forward, Never Back - October 30th - November 14th, costume shop news and a summary of Susan Greene's fabulous presentation from the museum's Domestic Skills Conference.
- Preparing for the Holidays - November 22nd, last "experience day" recapping both the event and the new apron I made for the occasion.
- A Wrapper Named Sophia - November through the end of December, contains pictures, inside and out, of the completed, untrimmed wrapper.
- The Trimming of a Wrapper - January through February, as the title suggests, all about trimming the 1870s wrapper reproduction. Yards and yards and yards of silk bias trim ahead!
- Fabric Haul & Internship Update - Costuming needs and wants for the 2015 museum season as well as an update detailing what March entailed internship-wise.
Personal Reflection on Museum Costuming: Just as costumes assist actors in assuming their characters, period appropriate clothing is a major component to the museum’s authenticity and a draw for visitors and employees alike. Through dressing in the clothing that I made for myself, I not only received a richer experience, but directly reflected the new skills I learned during the internship. All of the practice in the shop has left me much more willing to pick up the needle for the sake of better quality and authenticity, as seen in additions to my early 1800s and 1850s wardrobes. In fact, I find great pleasure in applying these newfound tips and tricks to college portfolio bound projects, and have an increased desire for more exposure through the continuation of my consuming internship, college and beyond.
- DIY Fairy Tutu Tutorial - May project, details the creation of tutus for the museum's fairy camp and includes do-it-yourself instructions for creating your own fairy tutu.
- DIY Forest Tunic Tutorial - May project, details the creation of tunics for the museum's newest summer camp, as well as do-it-yourself instructions for creating your own forest tunic.
- Making of a Fairy Queen (Part I) - April through June project, a step-by-step look into the making of the fairy queen's costume
- Making of a Fairy Queen (Part II) - Mid-June, a continuation of the step-by-step look at the construction, along with photographs of the completed, grand fairy queen costume.
|Origional wrapper (left), Reproduction wrapper (right).|
I started my costuming internship with an open mind and only a basic understanding of 19th century fashion. I finished with an enhanced knowledge for the vastness of the field of historical clothing and a firm belief that this continued experience is the right direction for my future. Access to the breadth and depth of hands-on opportunities afforded to me allowed for valuable lessons unattainable in a traditional classroom, and certainly, more than can possibly be expressed within any page limit. Throughout the experience, I expected to gain more sewing skills and a better understanding of the 19th century processes for producing cloth and dressmaking. These expectations were far surpassed, as each experience shaped me into a better student, historical interpreter and professional.
Consequently, I have nothing but the utmost appreciation for the labor of collective ancestry, as well as a deepened desire to discover all that I can about the past, present and future of costume. Just as I had wished, I received confirmation from the internship experiences that I am clearly pursuing my passions and aspirations, which I fully intend to support with a college education. While either working at a living history museum, or stitching in a costume shop would be my first choice for a career, I can also see myself teaching costume history and construction at a university and designing for historically accurate endeavors. Regardless of the path my future career takes, someday, I hope to be as gracious and knowledgeable as those I encountered and interacted with at the Genesee Country Village and Museum.