Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Shifting Back to Shift Sleeves

Since I am cutting out two shifts today, a fine one to wear as Mrs Skinner, the other, a more utilitarian one, I figured we should take a look at how the lower sorts wore their shift sleeves during the early 1770's.  Since these folks weren't sitting for portraits with Mr Copley, let's look to the period prints for guidance. The examples I will show are from 1770-74, all from the Lewis Walpole collection.

This print of the girl with the candle shows a very similar shift sleeve treatment as Mrs Skinner's -- a small ruffle with the shift sleeve just past the elbow. And if you will humor me and allow me to go off on a tangent for a moment. Check out the pin keeping her handkerchief closed.  Cool detail huh?

Ok, back to shift sleeves. Take a look at the nosegay seller. I love using her as an example of a classic middlin' type. Check out her shift - again same treatment but displayed below a gown cuff.  So let's look at another, "The Enraged Macaroni" - same type of gown, this time no ruffle.

Let's look at one more -"Piety in Pattens" -- Little ruffle peeking out from a gown cuff

So, for my everyday shift, I will opt for the same sleeve treatment as Mrs. Skinner, though with probably not as fine a linen ruffle. But that's another post for another day.

Back to cutting out linen,
Mrs. S.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Getting Smart

  The role I play in the 1773 Muster Day and Garden Party is a tavern keeper who is contracted to cater this combined event. As I live in the province of New Hampshire and the event will take place in the province of Massachusetts Bay, I have several questions that need answers.

          Do I need a special license to provide strong drink at this event? What is the process for obtaining a license if I need to have one for the day? Is it my sole responsibility to maintain good order?  Does the host, Mr. Northbridge, hold the ultimate responsibility for the behavior of his guests?  Are there any special regulations about taverns or tavern activities on Muster Day? 

  Muster Days have been known to get out of hand. There seems to be a problem with the combination of men, strong drink and gun powder, especially if the men divide up and participate in a sham battle. Mr. Northbridge would not want the Garden Party disrupted by riotous behavior.

  While others have begun their sewing, I am searching for answers to my questions in the provincial laws of New Hampshire and Massachusetts Bay.  Luckily, most of the provincial laws were published in the 19th century and now have been digitized.  The guide to the New Hampshire Provincial Papers is in the UNH Library. You can link to the volume you want to read from there. The General Laws of Massachusetts Bay are here. These volumes not only codify the the rules and regulations for tavern keepers, the militia, etc; they set out the parameters of acceptable and expected behavior for the residents of the province.  These statutes will keep me mindful that the world we are presenting to the public next August is very different from the one we live in today.

Oh, another aspect I need to explore as I ground my role in 18th Century reality, is how His Excellency, Thomas Hutchinson, Esq., Governor of Massachusetts Bay at the time of our event,  came to be possibly the most hated man in the province.  I've put The Ordeal of Thomas Hutchinson by Bernard Bailyn on my reading list and selected parts of Hutchinson's diary.  

I'm going to be busy!

S. Glasse

A Yellow Gown At The Met

On our recent journey to New York, Mrs S. and I were lucky to see this portrait in person in the American Wing in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Another good choice for young matrons and maidens as well to look to for their own reproductions!  Wearing a simple taffeta gown, this portrait of Margaret Strahan, was painted in 1771.  Her yellow silk gown closes in front with a compere stomacher.  Pinked self fabric trim twists and turns up the robings of her gown, simple but effective, providing a textural and 3 dimensional appearance so important to 18th century gowns.   This is not an expensive fabric, this gown can be reasonably reproduced by any re-enactor or costumer.

This closeup of the compere shows the small self fabric covered buttons that appear to be functional, not decorative and the two rows of pleated trim on either side of the buttons.  Neither difficult to do or expensive, no additonal purchase for trim.

Simple sleeve flounces and we can see the edges are pinked.  Two flounces and whitework sleeve ruffles set off the yellow of the gown and yet are simple in their embroidery design, something more easily duplicated than a complex embroidery design like Dresden work. 

This closeup of the pearl necklace shows us  six small pearl strands, with one giant strand of pearls, faux of course!  What a nice detail to incorporate into a necklace!   Faux pearls are a dime a dozen (literally) at rummage sales and yard sales, this would not cost a fortune to do.   If you look at the full portrait you can see the ribbon ties at the back of her neck securing the necklace.

 This last detail combines two elements.  First the gathered and pinked trim, gently flows up the robing.  Note that it does not match the pleated design on the compere, but the twisting on the robing is a nice balance to the geometric pleating on the compere.  This is also a good closeup of her neck thing.  It is obviously fine muslin or linen, with a series of box pleats providing the shaping as it goes around the neck.  It is not a handkerchief per se, but does the work of one, filling in the low neckline of the gown.  Could this be a tippet sighting?  Don't know! 

Please go to the museum site and look closely using the zoom feature.  Look especially at her hair ornaments, they almost look like enamel work to me.  Other opines welcome!

Mrs. Peabody

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Mrs. Hancock's Baby Cap

Mrs. Hancock -

I have been working on (or rather struggling with) creating an infant cap. Who knew such a simple project could be so tricky? For details click here.

Stay Dry - Stay Safe

Dearest Friends,

As we here in New England batten down the hatches and brace for a hurricane that will affect nearly all of the original colonies, we Crazy Concord Chicks hope all our readers in the path of the storm stay dry and safe.

Storms like this weren't formally tracked until sometime during the 19th century, though our 18th century forefathers did leave us diaries and newspaper accounts of significant storms. Since shipping was a major industry and it frequently involved the Caribbean, ship wrecks due to hurricanes were frequently reported since they affected the flow of trade.

 There are accounts of a really big storm kind of similar to the one we are about to encounter this weekend, referred to as the Newfoundland Storm of 1775. Our friend JL Bell writes in his blog, Boston 1775 about this particular storm -- and do make sure you read his subsequent post, "How some storms really did shape the Revolutionary War" for some interesting reading.

 In closing today's post, I've included an article from the Essex Journal from Newburyport, Massachusetts September 29, 1775 with a period account of the 1775 hurricane.
Stay safe--

 YH&OS, Mrs. S.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Your Underwear Is Showing!

Dearest Friends, 

When I was growing up, it was a social disgrace to let your bra straps show. I even sewed those little ribbons with the snaps into my sleeveless dresses to prevent that kind of fashion faux pas! Times change and fashion changes. And so it appears was the case in the 18th century with regards to shifts.
Detail from Smock Race by John Collet (Lewis Walpole Library)

Located next to your skin, and under your stays, by mere proximity alone, a shift is "underwear". so one would assume that this garment would only be seen hanging on the line after being laundered.  Not so - at least where the sleeve of the shift is concerned.  Underwear is worn as a fashion accessory!

Mrs Daniel Hubbard by Copley

In portraits, for a good part of the century, you frequently see a rather long shift sleeve sticking out below the outer gown sleeve, and often with an elaborate ruffle attached at the cuff of the shift. In the portrait at the left, you see an example from the 1760's showing a positively gorgeous ruffle and puffy shift sleeve displayed below the wide full cuff of her silk gown.  And there is no attempt to hide the lower part of the shift sleeve just above the ruffles.

Mrs. Ezekiel Goldthwait - Copley 1771

As the fashion changes from cuffs to tiers of sleeve ruffles and flounces, the now shorter shift sleeve is largely hidden making a super fancy shift sleeve ruffle superfluous. However, a peek of the shift sleeve does not morph into a "Glamour don't".  It's there and should the arm be in a position to show it, the wearer does not attempt to hide it.

 Thus is the case with my model Mrs. Skinner.

Mrs Skinner, shows off a diminutive shift ruffle, presumably of fine linen, attached to her shift cuff, which falls just beyond her elbow -- a detail to keep in mind when I measure for the length of the sleeves for my new shift. This is just the kind of detail we want to pay attention to when trying to assemble a really accurate look -- particularly connecting these details to time frame.   They seem, at first, incidental, but when put all together they truly help to create a much more accurate impression.

Mrs. Skinner's sleeve detail by Copley (1772)
Over the years I've become less hung up about the occasional bra strap offense, but I will gladly show off the lovely cuff and ruffle of my new shift's sleeves - but only when I bend my arm and my sleeve flounces fall away to expose it!  Underwear as a fashion statement - some things never change.

Yours truly,
Mrs. S.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Connecticut Historical Society

Just spent some time zooming through the Connecticut Historical Society and their new museum database online.  Found lots of shoes and a few things of note for the Concord Chicks, especially this lovely portrait for the young matrons. 

Jane Ellery, Connecticut Historical Society
Check out her lovely cap, simple gown and accessories.  A perfect color for many, this rosy peach would flatter most complexions.   The date on this portrait is 1772,  her gown has a stomacher front with only simple ruching as trim on the robings, double sleeve flounces and double sleeve ruffles.  Her hair is high, but simple in style, the cap coming to a point at center front is perfect for the high hair.  The cap is very do-able, will help someone if they want to try this cap.   A simple not expensive silk taffeta will work well to reproduce this type of dress.   Doesn't she look like Becky F.?

Mrs. Peabody

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Down Shift

Dearest Friends:

Diagram in hand, I head for the vault, yes, that super secret place where I keep my vintage linen stash.  I buy it whenever I find it and this particular bolt was a find! 10 yards of 18" wide, very white,  tightly woven linen from Ireland still on the bolt. My receipt is still attached -- ouch! I guess buying fabric is like childbirth, one develops a case of amnesia about the pain ;) But the Copp Family shift is worth it.

Cut off enough for the shift and throw in in a good hot wash. Iron while damp.  Linen is ready.  Now to find the huge spool of very fine wet spun linen thread I bought years ago on eBay and I'm good to go.

Mrs. S.

Location, Location, Location

What can be more lovely than the New England garden in August?  Every year the gardens of Mr. Northbridge (aka North Bridge Visitor's Center, MMNHP) are a feast for the senses.  This will be the location for part of our upcoming Muster Event & Garden Party.  The muster field is a short walk away.

A lovely path to take a stroll and perchance a photo op or two or three?

The proper location can make or break any occasion.   Away from 21st century intrusions, this garden will be a spectacular backdrop for our event.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Shifting Into First

Dearest Friends,

Time for a new shift! Following my theme of items with New England provenance, I need to find a NE shift. Extant 18th century shifts are like hen's teeth.  No surprise since they were subject to being boiled on a regular basis, subject to constant wear, bodily fluids and oils, and if there was anything left of them after years of service, they ended up with the rag man. However, a few examples do exist. One well known one is at the Smithsonian and I'm lucky enough to have the diagram that I will use for the construction of mine and luckier still that this example is from the Copps of Connecticut! To read more about this wonderful textile collection, you can download a pdf written by Grace Rogers Cooper in 1971 from the Smithsonian website.

Shiftless in MA,
Mrs. S

Monday, August 22, 2011

Ready, Set, Go


My fellow Crazy Chicks and Mr. Mann have all posted introductions on our group blog,  and we are ready to begin our year long research project of preparing ourselves and in some cases families for the c 1773 Concord Muster & Garden Party, summer of 2012.


In total 12 people will be posting on the same blog, working toward getting ready for the same event.  Each person brings their own unique perspective, experience and expertise to this crazy project.


 Let's get started!

Mrs. Peabody

Mrs. Winthrop Awakes!

The portrait of Mrs. Winthrop by John Copley was recently analyzed in our sister blog on July 31, 2011.  I found myself reading and rereading Hallie's post - as she mentioned, the painter has truly captured Mrs. Winthrop's poise and confidence as a women of means at age 46.

Her silk gown is gorgeous - yet a little understated - I cannot wait to pin down the exact color - in my online search the blue has ranged from deep true blue to greyish blue. Her gauze cap and ribbons, and lace-trimmed handkerchief and sleeve ruffles will require time to replicate, but I believe that I can come close.

The most difficult aspect of Mrs. Winthrop, I believe, will be her calm, secure, *dignified* bearing.  She is the daughter of an excellent family, and is the second wife of a member of one of Massachusetts Bay Founding Families.  I am intrigued to learn more about her...

Good Day to Miss Boylston

Good day. I'm Sue, and also Miss Boylston. I may or may not end up being Miss Boylston, but I may as well start that way while I figure out what I'm doing. I have no idea yet what that will be.
I'd like to put more time into researching the use of lace in the 18th century, but I've done enough research already to know what I need (or don't) for next year's event. Speaking of lace, Two Nerdy History Girls recently cited Joseph Wright of Derby's Portrait of Mrs. Andrew Lindington (c. 1761-63, Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1968-73-1) for its Roman pearls, but what I love about it is the fine quality of his rendering of her blonde lace mantle, which is so well executed that I could nearly take a pattern from it (definitely the simple fan-and-ground edging, and I could wing the rest of it…). (The Nerdy Girls give a higher resolution version than the Phila. Museum of Art website.) Perhaps someday I'll manage to produce a blonde mantle, but that's a project that would take me years to execute!
Your affectionate servant,
Miss Boylston

Friday, August 19, 2011

Introducing Mrs. Hancock and Miss Hancock

My journey as a Crazy Concord Chic will focus on creating multiple impressions for my soon-to-be toddler, one little Miss Hancock. I will chronicle crafting her entire look—shift, stays, gown with leading strings, frock, caps, a pudding cap, apron, pilchers, etc.—and include research about other 18th century children’s accessories like toys. 

Drawing from period sources (museum collections, paintings, antique dealers, etc.) and striving to work from items with New England provenances, I will sew everything by hand and will try to avoid using commercial patterns.

As a fairly novice sewer (I have been sewing for two years), this is very much a journey of exploration and a learning process. I have ripped apart or set aside many of the gowns I’ve made for myself as I have gained a deeper understanding of 18th century construction and sewing techniques. I’m sure that creating toddler clothing will be a similar learning experience.

I hope that my journey will inspire other parents who are passionate about living history to create period-correct impressions for their little ones—which could surely help inspire the next generation of living historians.

First project – a baby cap with antique lace.

Confessions of a retread

  I have a confession to make.... I am a retread.  I actively took part in re-enactments, living history days, workshops, e-groups, etc. for thirteen years and then took a four year sabbatical. Last summer I returned to the hobby and participated in two events at Hartwell Tavern. It was clear to me last fall that I had some catching up to do.

  My kit had be acceptable to good. I shed the mythical bodice during my first year in the living history community and had stays made. I had several gowns, coordinating petticoats, cloak, bonnet, appropriate size straw hat, 18th century shoes, mitts and eyeware. But when I came back into the hobby, the research rendered my kit out-of -date.  No one had said anything to me. I was not approached by the fashion police and hauled before a magistrate. I  knew that I needed to update my kit.

  I registered for a gown making workshop sponsored by the Hive. I'd made plenty of 18th century shirts, shifts, waistcoats, workman's coats and regimentals but I'd never made a gown. I also signed up for advanced tailoring workshop so that I'd learn the latest 'old' techniques to improve my skills. There was encouragement and help from each person that taught a class or evaluated the item I was working on.

 While freezing in the field opposite Hartwell Tavern last April, I asked a question about my "short cloak". The answer, which was given in a friendly manner and with an encoouraging smile, had me downloading an article about short cloaks and purchasing some new wool as soon as I got home and thawed out. But, until I asked, there was no critique. It was not until we struggled to fit the bodice of my second hand- made gown some months later, that I realized I needed a complete 18th century make-over, starting with new and better fitting stays. It may have been obvious to others that my kit had some serious problems but I was allowed to come to the realization on my own.  Once I voiced my need for new stays, there was agreement and support from the group.  The gown is on hold until the new stays are completed. I've bartered some wool from my stash for a new bonnet kit. I've ordered higher heeled shoes from Fugawee as my feet are too wide for my preferred shoes from Burnley and Trowbridge. When my new stays are ready, I'll ask some of my fellow "Crazy Concord Chicks" to evaluate the look. We'll see what can be re-worked and what needs to find a new home, even if that home is the dustbin. 

  So while the others look for the perfect fabric or learn a new skill to make a desired item, my personal journey to the 1773 Muster Day-Garden Party begins with a total re-assessment of my 18th century kit.... everything.  Some things will stay and others will join the things that already have been recycled.

 My usual posts to this blog will be about the research on the fare and material culture for the Garden Party- Muster Day.  I'll be trying recipes.... maybe even giving them a test drive at Sunday afternoon Hive sessions for something new, and keeping you informed of the results.  From time to time though, I will continue to make "confessions".   Know anyone who needs striped stockings?

S. Glasse

Welcome Mrs. Cook

Well, I started this project as Mrs. Copley, but thought I'd do a bit of ancestor honoring and change the name to Mrs. Cook, the maiden name of my maternal grandmother.  And it's a good English name to boot!  I've decided Mrs. Cook will be of the middling sort, which is a bit better than the scruffy camp-follower/Loyalist refugee I normally portray.  This will also mean a bit of research into things I normally don't pay as much attention to and maybe even a foray into some silk.  Being a horse owner, I may have to investigate riding habits a bit.  Right now I am on the fence about that.  Yes, that was a very bad pun indeed.

Another interesting twist on this project is that I'm not only sewing for myself but also for my two daughters, who will be ages 11 and 8 by next summer.  They will both still be in back-closing gowns, as they are now.    The older daughter now also wants a pair of partially or lightly boned stays, so we may be making them as well.  And I think it's high time both of them get serious about their sewing.  We'll see how that works out.


Thursday, August 18, 2011

"Shifting" Gears

My Dear Friends
The most challenging element of re-creating Mrs. Skinner's look will be to find an appropriate fabric that doesn't cost a king's ransom.  And being a frugal Yankee,  I will not be content unless I score a real bargain, so unfortunately that will take some time and a little luck.

So meanwhile, what is a crazy Concord chick to do?  Why, invent a ridiculously complex project, of course! So here it is.  I'm aiming to create the look from the inside out, starting with a new shift, focusing on recreating items that are quintessentially New England, to include: reproducing a pair of stays from a local collection, an crewel worked under petticoat from a NE collection, finishing my quilted p-coat which is based on a NE artifact at the MFA, an embroidered apron from CT, and taking a stab at that magnificent cap perched upon Mrs. Skinner's poof. Not to mention scouring the universe for the perfect fabric for Mrs. Skinner's gown.

OK? Ready, Set. SEW!!!!

Yours in craziness,
Mrs. S

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Mr. Mann: On Matters Pertaining to Breeches

Getting Breeched, or Introductions

"In making mee there is no gaine but one,
Which is for labour and for woorkmanship;
Except some time a peece of cloth come home,
As yf that by mischaunce the shere did slip."
                -Francis Thynne, 1592

We are none of us born with shears in our hands, so when it comes to recreating eighteenth century clothing, it must be a process of continual discovery and improvement.  Interpretation and scholarship never stand still and neither should the living historian.  Contemplating period portraiture and dissecting original clothing (mentally, that is) has consumed far more of my waking hours than I care to admit.  But careful study is just the beginning of any quest to capture the “look” of a period.  Equally important are the months or years spent experimenting.  How does a coat hang if the skirts fall at a certain angle, or if the waist’s nipped in to a certain degree?  Making and unmaking, redrafting and discarding- it all gets us closer to achieving the look and feel of eighteenth century American clothing.

I’m lucky to know a host of talented tailors who have turned out some splendid suits.  All of them will admit (if only to themselves) that there are certain garments they dislike making. Personally, I find breeches to be the most annoying garment foisted on man by Fashion.  But because they were the most common nether garments worn by Anglo-American men for more than 150 years, I have no choice but to suppress my loathing and press on.  Whence springs this dislike you ask?  It has something to do with the geometry of the thing that drives me mad.  First, you must get the inseam and outseam length exact or else the knee bands ride up your kneecaps when you sit.  (I suppose it is some consolation to know that actual period tailors found this challenging as well- even fashion-conscious George Washington repeatedly cautioned his tailor to make his breeches “longer than the Measure sent last.”)  If the seat doesn’t have enough ease, producing the characteristic “derriere pouch,” everything is apt to tear away when you bend over.  Most annoying of all is figuring the stride of the “fork” (what we moderns vulgarly call the crotch).  Allow too much stride here and you get an uncomfortable wad of fabric where none should be, but allow too little and you will inevitably suffer a spectacular blowout at an inopportune moment.  This unpleasantness is compounded by the fact that by the 1770s, the fashionable world expected a man’s breeches to fit like a second skin.  Making a garment tight through the knee and thigh, but loose in the seat and crotch can drive one to distraction.
The beau ideal of the well-breeched gentleman:  His Excellency George Washington looking relaxed at Princeton.  Note the almost wrinkleless expanse of thigh.

Ease in the seat- unsightly, yes, but entirely necessary.  Red woolen breeches from the MET, ca. 1775 (accession no. C.I.39.13.240). The buttons and adjustment strap on the waistband are later additions.
Enter the subject of our story.  There is one obvious way to ameliorate these difficulties- make your breeches out of something stretchy!  Tailors and their clients hit on this idea early on, and the result was breeches made of knit fabric.  Wrought of worsted wool or silk, knit breeches solved many of the agonies of breeches making and wearing.  It was easy to make them cling to the leg, and the seat and fork were not endangered by one’s morning calisthenics (or horseback riding, or snipe shooting, or tree felling, or whatever appropriately manly activity you might engage in).

So, considering my past failures with breeches made of inflexible broadcloth, I’ve decided to make a pair of knit breeches, which with luck I’ll be showing off to good effect at the Concord Garden Party.  Over the coming weeks, I’ll be talking about the history and form of knit breeches, exploring modern fabric choices, agonizing over their construction and reporting on their performance in the field. In the end I hope we’ll all be a bit more educated and maybe even edified!  After all, if clothes make the man, then the tailor should be a prime candidate for deification.  Perhaps we’d do well to leave it to the poor Scottish tailor in Thomas Carlyle’s Sartor Resartus:

"[T]turning the corner of a lane, in the Scottish Town of Edinburgh, I came upon a Signpost, whereon stood written that such and such a one was 'Breeches-Maker to his Majesty;' and stood painted the Effigies of a Pair of Leather Breeches, and between the knees these memorable words, Sic Itur Ad Astra [thus you shall go to the stars]. Was not this the martyr prison-speech of a Tailor sighing indeed in bonds, yet sighing towards deliverance, and prophetically appealing to a better day? A day of justice, when the worth of Breeches would be revealed to man, and the Scissors become forever venerable.”

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Younger Set: Miss Wendy Till She Finds a Name

Wendy here--
I need a name, so I looked up Concord births from the early 1750s (I'll be 20 when we have our party, so I need a woman who was roughly 20 in 1773). I've narrowed it down to four names that I feel I wouldn't object to (I really didn't want to go by the name Hephzibah, for example...).
Now I'm deciding between Lydia Ball, daughter of Samuel and Percis Ball, born November 20, 1751, Rebekah Meriam, daughter of Josiah and Hannah Meriam, born September 12, 1751, Elisabeth Wheeler, daughter of Ezra and Rebekah Wheeler, born March 15, 1752, and Hannah Wesson, daughter of Stephen Wesson Junior and his wife Lydia, born June 2, 1752.
The next step is to look up the Balls, the Meriams, the Wheelers, and the Wessons. I want to know their economic statuses, where they lived, that kind of thing. Since I already have the fabric I want to use, I need one of them to be able to wear it.

The Younger Set: Miss Kristin

Hi, I'm a Sewing and Reenacting Newbie, taking part in this massive project to further my education and knowledge of the 18th century (specifically, the American Revolutionary War).

I'm not a blogging newbie, nor a newbie to history. I have my own 18th century blog chronicling my first gown, and I'm an emerging museum professional, nearly complete with the Tufts University Museum Studies certificate program. History museums are my thing, as is designing exhibits. I'm a graphic designer by trade, and that allows me to have one hand in the non-profit world, and the other in the for-profit world.

My focus for now is panned out to the max. I love material culture, so I plan on blogging about that, as well as showing the costuming, history, and blogging community what it's like to be a neophyte again (and maybe over your head just a wee bit). Expect posts on what a newbie may need, a reading list/library of books, inspiration posts, and just general discoveries. As we get closer to this part-ay, the focus will become smaller, and I hope to venture into a bit of primary source research for a persona. And, of course, the entire process of making a gown. Oh yes, the good stuff.

I hope to inspire other newbies to take the leap into handsewing, reenacting, and history. I plan on absorbing all the knowledge I can from the people I'm working with. And I am counting on you--yes, you!--to come along for the ride!

- S.R.N. (aka Miss Kristin)

Mrs. Miles an Introduction

Good Day! I am researching Mrs Ruth Barrett Miles, wife of Captain Charles Miles, both of Concord. I have portrayed Mrs Miles before, but I need more information about the family. I may, yet, change my mind about who I am.

I want a woman who married in the 1750s, and has 4-6 children, aged perhaps 6 (no younger!) to 20 or so, in the 1770s. I think being a mother with my oldest children in the their early twenties or late teens will match me the best! I expect her to have been born in the 1730s, of course, to make this work. I'm finding some, in addition to Ruth Miles, I really like Thankful Sarah Balcom, unless she is Sarah Thankful Balcom. I need to find a stronger source for her! But, I love her name!

I am making a list of potential women, with as much information about them as I can find online. Next week I will go to the special collections at the Concord Library. The next step after that may be the MA archives. We will see! I'm mainly looking for wealth information, to try to judge who might have a silk gown and who perhaps has a printed cotton, as their best.

Mrs. Derby Sets Her Goals


My name is Emily, and I will be dressing the occasional living history character I play for my job as a professional historian in Salem.  Mrs Derby, the former Elizabeth Crowninshield, was the wife of a rising young merchant named Elias Hasket Derby.  Hasket was the son of the wealthiest merchant in 1760s Salem, and in the 1770s was a junior partner in the firm, and gaining his own wealth through trade and privateering. Therefore, Mrs. Derby had easy access to, and could afford a wide range of fabrics on the higher end of the scale.

Mrs. Derby has a formal gown for assemblies and other evening gatherings, and a nice wool damask gown that is very suitable for morning household management and perhaps meeting with those of a lower class, but she needs a silk gown for her afternoon calls, a more informal meal, and serving tea.  I have a great desire for a pink silk english gown, a la Mrs. Hancock:

So, here are my goals: to find the perfect pink silk satin for my dress, although I may end up settling for taffety, and to learn tambour sufficiently to make one of those amazing aprons!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Mrs. Glasse Writes a Letter

Dear Mr. Northbridge,

       It is with humility that I accept your offer to cater the Garden Party at your home in Concord. It was kind of you to remember the events that I catered for the Governors Wentworth here in Portsmouth with such regard, not only for the fare provided but for the ability to create an elegant atmosphere while remaining within the proscibed budget.
       It is my understanding from your letter that in addition to the Garden Party, a militia muster will be taking place in your fields. Further, the men from the militia company, along with their wives and possibly their children will be invited to partake of afternoon refreshment.

      Careful consideration must be given in all aspects of planning such an event. There will be militiamen from  sixteen to sixty years of age of all social levels, many of whom are not acquainted with refinement of any sort.  Yet, you have mentioned that your cousin, Mrs. Peabody of Salem, and other ladies of refined taste will be in attendance along with families from the town. Yes, indeed, Mr. Northbridge, very careful planning will be key to the success of your event. It is no wonder that the keepers of the best taverns in Boston were unwilling to undertake the event and that you found the local keepers unequal to the task.

     I have set aside 10 days in in late July and early August to oversee the preparation for the event, but can be flexible with the days as you require. It is my understanding that you are providing a staff of workers to carry out my directions, however, with your kind permission, I may bring one or two people who have experience working under my direction at events of this nature to insure an effortless presentation.  I will bring some of the delicacies available here in Portsmouth to aid in elevating the fare to the level of refinement you desire.

     A small  ledger has been set aside to keep a strict account of all expenditures. I will consult you or your designee on a regular basis and submit bills on the schedule you have set. Your prompt attention to them will be most gratefully acknowledged.

    If you have further instruction for me, please contact me at your earliest convenience by post or packet.  I remain,

your most humble and obedient servant,

Mistress Sarah Glasse, prop.
Brown Dog Tavern,
Portsmouth, New Hampshire



Mrs. Revere Joins The Party

This being my first blogging experience, I think I should begin by introducing myself. My name is Victoria, or Vicky.
After first working as an interpreter at a 17th century living history museum, I advanced to the 18th century in 2002. I came into the hobby by myself, (a single teenager) but ended up meeting my husband through it. I joined because of a love of history and an interest in the everyday lives of people who came before us. Researching everyday people in a time before video and photography is like being a detective. Trying to learn about women in a patriarchal society only increases the challenge. Piecing together even small parts of a whole adds an immense richness to our understanding. By continually learning and asking questions we can all help each other to be better living historians. Sharing the new understandings we gather and altering what we once thought based on new understandings are crucial to us all improving! Phew! I got carried away there- my point is that we all learn from each other and in turn, teach each other new things. (Did I mention I'm a teacher?)
This is why I'm happy to share the process of my inspiration and research and hope that I can answer any questions along the way.
I have evolved into the type or living historian (reenactor) who likes to "rough it" i.e. we do not own a tent, just a lot of blankets. Again this goes back to my everyday person interest. I do like dressing up- don't get me wrong that's why I enjoy the Ladies of Refined Taste! But for my first project on this blog I am opting for a middle class gown with some extraordinary everyday fabric...

A Letter: August 15, 1772

My Dear Mrs. Skinner, 
I hope this finds you well and not suffering too much from the summer heat.  It has been quite humid here in Salem and at times quite unbearable with unhealthy vapors from the sea air.  It is my understanding that you will be attending the garden party in Concord next summer.  My dear cousin, Mr. Northbridge was visiting and told me the news.  So much to prepare, he is so lucky to have Mrs. S. Glasse as cook, she is a marvel and economical in her use as well.  We will have much to do making sure the young ladies are properly attired and I will of course be shopping for fabric soon.  A year sounds like a long time, but we know how quickly time passes.  

Kind Regards,
Mrs. Peabody

Mrs. Skinner

Mrs. Skinner has always been one of my favorite 18th century portraits.  Thank you Mr Copley for your wonderful attention to detail -- you've given me a lot to work with.   This will give me a chance to reproduce a gown I've always wanted to make.  Of yeah, and another reason to make a new shift (other than most of mine are in pretty rough shape). So we embark on another clothing journey, better start saving up for that silk!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Muster Day!

The Muster Field & the Gardens of the North Bridge Visitor Center at Minute Man National Historical Park will come alive as the local residents assemble for a Muster Day.  Planned for the summer of 2012, this event will allow us to portray several levels of society in pre-war New England as they don their best to attend an important public gathering.

We've created this blog to show how we are preparing for this event, the clothing, the food, the entertainments, etc.  Follow along as we select the elements of the clothing we intend to wear, our research, the shopping for fabrics and trims, sewing our garments, styling our hair, assembling our accessories and accouterments, as well as a look into the selection other items of 18th century material culture that we will require for this event.

Click on any of our characters to see how each of us is progressing (or not).  We've selected the names of prominent Bostonians as inspiration, though as we pursue our research, we'll likely be adopting specific Concordians to portray.

We welcome you to join in the conversation, share your thoughts, ideas, ask questions, and, of course, tell how you are getting your kit together for this event!