July 31, 2014

Christmas in July

July 26, 2014 - My internship had me interpreting as a charity lady and sewing baby caps for the museum's new theme day: Christmas in July!  To interpret the role, I had to do a bit of research (history heavy post ahead)...

"A Family Separated by War" by Thomas Nash, Harper's Weekly, January 3, 1868

Background: Charity and American social welfare were not new concepts as the 19th century practices and philosophies were rooted in the English Poor Laws dating back to 1601.  In fact, religion greatly influenced such generosities as "saving souls" was considered a "moral duty."  This "duty" often fell to the relatives and neighbors of less fortunate families.  Then, it became an issue of the local community, often centered around a parish, and, in plenty of cases, social welfare became the duty of local officials.  This is when charitable organizations came to the scene: organized, voluntary, charitable groups were founded to address issues of the day such as pauperism, widows & orphans, epidemics, natural disasters, and immigrants.

Enter then the group that I represented: the Rochester Female Charitable Society.  Founded in February of 1822 at the home of Everard Peck, the group's main functions were to aid the sick & poor and establish a charity school, which served families too poor to pay city school fees.  Members of the charitable society were required to pay 25 cents per year for membership and contribute provisions, clothing and bedding collected from their communities.  These items then would be distributed by their system of "visitors" who brought the goods and money to the poor of each district.  In the beginning, the society served 15 districts, and, by 1872, the number had grown to 73 districts.  Eventually, the charitable society became more of a community chest, supplying the needs not met by the other agencies that had branched off from the original organization.

The Livingston-Backus House
(Image via: Wikimedia Commons)

Where I was: The Livingston-Backus House itself is named for two of its previous occupants - the Livingstons and the Backuses - and both families, interestingly, had connections with the Rochester Female Charitable Society.  Not only did Mrs. Livingston serve as the society's president in 1827, Mrs. Rebecca Backus, the wife of Doctor Backus (founding member of Rochester's first city hospital), played a leading role in various charitable organizations and assisted her husband in various public roles.  In fact, she was a civic leader in her own right as a founding member of the Rochester Female Charitable Society and elected president in 1833.

Entryway of the Livingston-Backus House
(via: https://flic.kr/p/9LvgVK)

All day I was stationed in the grand hallway of the house with a lovely, fellow interpreter.  More beautiful pictures of the Livingston-Backus House can be found here: http://backroadstraveller.blogspot.com/2014/01/the-livingston-backus-house.html.

So, besides the family connections to the Rochester Female Charitable Society, you may be asking why I was set up in Livingston-Backus House to sew baby caps?  And, what does this have to do with Christmas (in July)?  Well, the Ladies Hospital Relief Association held their first famous Christmas Bazaar in 1863 to aid the wounded, widows and orphans.  And, female charitable societies, like Rochester's, may have helped by contributing charity boxes - perhaps ones for new mothers, like the one I was putting together.  (In fact, I used a table and bench to display articles of children's clothes - shifts, petticoats, caps, dresses & pinafores - as examples of what might have been included in such charity boxes.)

 About the 1863 Christmas Bazaar: During Christmas week (December 14th to 22nd), the Ladies Hospital Relief Association collected more than 10,000 dollars through booths and other activities at their bazaar.  They then used their funds to send money and shipments of clothing and medical supplies to the U.S. sanitary commission for use in battle areas.  In fact, the ladies kept remarkably detailed records of the 1863 bazaar published in their report, which can be accessed here: http://www.libraryweb.org/~digitized/books/Report_of_the_Christmas_Bazaar.pdf

(Image & digital copy accessible here: http://www.libraryweb.org/~digitized/books/Report_of_the_Christmas_Bazaar.pdf)

Some of the features according to the report included vending booths (advertising just about everything and any professional service from china, glassware, clothing, fabric, jewelry, dry goods of all sorts, seeds, chemicals, photographs, lanterns, piano fortes, insurance & to doctors of all kinds), refreshment tables (staffed by young ladies wearing patriotic costumes), lunches and elegant dinners, side shows (featuring preserved mummies to live monkeys), an art gallery, "nationality" booths, and a "fairy land" selling all sorts of holiday gifts.

Returning to my task for the day - hand-sewing baby caps like the ones that charitable societies would have included in charity boxes, loaned out to new mothers and their infants.  I scaled the patterns for my infant caps from original plates found in the Lady's Economical Assistant, an 1808 guide to cutting women's, children's & men's clothing.  (Note: plates are comparable to the pattern by Kannik's Korner - Infant's Clothing, Second half of the 18th century.) Good for both domestic and charitable uses, the book includes advice on maintaining a box of linen to lend to "lying-in" or newly-mothered women.  According to the book, a proper charity box, which would be lent for a month after childbirth (plus a week extra for cleaning) should include the following clothing (cut with the "most strict economy," of course):
  • For infants: 4 shirts, 4 caps, 2 frocks, 2 bed gowns, 2 flannel blankets, 2 pairs of stays and flannel coats, 2 rollers, 2 upper petticoats & 24 napkins
  • For the "lying-in" woman: 1 bedgown, 2 calico night gowns, 2 skirts & a pair of sheets

Comparable to the list found in the Lady's Economical Assistant, the 1838 Workwoman's Guide also provides directions for these charitable boxes:
  • For infants: 3 shirts, 3 caps, 1 flannel cap, 3 night gowns, 2 flannel gowns, 12 napkins, 1 flannel band, 2 soft towels
  • For the mother: 2 shifts, 2 night jackets, 2 caps, 1 flannel petticoat, 1 flannel gown or shawl, a pair of sheet & a roll of flannel 

Pattern to scale (note: "fold edge" should be 6.5" & rounded bottom edge should be 6")

None of my scaled patterns from the Lady's Economical Assistant scanned well, but above is an example of one that made the most adorable, simple, tiny-tiny newborn cap.  Quick & simple directions: flat fell seam A and B to opposite A and B, gather and stitch caul into A to C, narrow hem face edge, stitch casing and run a drawstring through the bottom.  And, there, you should have your tiny infant cap!

Unfortunately, with all of the excitement of interpreting, I didn't have a chance to take pictures of my creations.  However, here are some pretty amazing baby caps:

19th century infant's cap MFA
(via: http://www.mfa.org/collections/object/infants-cap-46102)

Hand-embroidered infant's bonnet, c.1800-1820

Whitework Embroidery Baby Cap c.1820

Whitework Embroidery Baby Bonnet c.1830

19th century infant's cap MFA
(via: http://www.mfa.org/collections/object/infants-cap-46102)

Helpful links referenced:

July 29, 2014

Busy as a Bee Interning

When I'm not in costuming working on the Sophia Project, I am around the village getting valuable, hands-on experience!  As part of my internship, I am paired with different village crafts-people learning about how "they" did it (dyeing, weaving, spinning, dressmaking, quilting, etc.) in the 19th century.  Seriously the coolest things I've ever done!  

July 4, 2014 – My first official day in the village shadowing and helping my mentor during the Independence Day festivities.  Not only did we run the 19th century games (pea shooting contests, egg tosses and sack races), we helped this year's maidens prepare for the 1826 4th of July ceremony and witnessed the anvil shooting.  In fact, if you're interested, you can view the Genesee Country Museum's photo set from Independence Day, including a great picture of this year's maidens - my fellow historical interpreters, here: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10152574069801000.1073741847.93582675999&type=1 

Feeling like a Jane Austen heroine :)

I wore a lovely, borrowed 1810s dress over a chemise, 1850s corset and newly completed bodiced petticoat safety pinned to me (I realized when I tried it on that morning that it was way too big, however, pictures of the redone strapped petticoat to come soon!)  

Having a good hair day, though my hair was covered all day by a lovely corded sunbonnet.

Finally, this entry would not be complete without some Austen humor: 

(via: http://missnostalgic.wordpress.com/2010/12/31/friday-favorites-4/)

July 12, 2014 – My first day paired with a village crafts-person, Mr. Tyler (who I later found out is the linen expert), for dyeing wool at Keiffer (one of the early, 1820s homes in the village).  What an amazing, informative experience!  The morning brought making and tending to the three fires (in 80 degree weather) and boiling the dyes - Brazilwood & Fustic.  Then the rest of the afternoon brought more fire tending, dyeing and then cleaning up.  Mr. Tyler was experimenting with the dyes and mordants (substances used to set the dye colors on fabric) to produce as many different shades as possible - in all, I think we had six or seven.  Some of the treatments included using an iron mordant bath to darken the color and using vinegar or ammonia to change the pH of the wool.  I really enjoyed learning about and experiencing the entire 19th century dyeing process - and, hopefully, I'll have the chance to do something like this again!

The dyeing set-up with fustic on the left & brazilwood on the right.

Brazilwood and fustic (along with logwood) are all traditional 19th century dyes extracted from the wood of tropical trees.  Brazilwood (also used for violin bows) produces bright and beautiful reds, but is temporary and fades when exposed to too much light; Fustic produces light to golden yellows.  Great information on the use and origin of these natural, tropical dyes can be found here: http://www.wildcolours.co.uk/html/tropical_dyes.html

Wool dyed with Brazilwood
(via: http://www.wildcolours.co.uk/html/brazilwood_extract.html)

Wool dyed with Fustic
(via: http://www.wildcolours.co.uk/html/fustic.html)
For dyeing that day, I wore my newly completed short gown and hand-quilted sunbonnet (more pictures of both to come), as well as a borrowed linen skirt and apron. 

Giggling at the rather anachronistic car in the background :)

July 17, 2014 - A fun, action-packed day on the early 19th-century farm and threshing-barn with two Matts & a Cassie!  In the morning, I learned all about the wool (from shearing to carding), linen (from growing flax to linen) and failed U.S. silk processes and their tools – and even got a tour of all the village’s animals.

Best of all, I had the chance to try my hand at transforming retted (or rotted) flax into usable fibers!  Part of that process includes breaking the retted stocks to free the linen fibers inside with a breaking machine (like the German-style flax break pictured below).  Next, using a scutching board and knife, more pieces of the unusable stocks are separated and scraped away from the flax.  Finally, the flax fibers are pulled through various sized hetchels (boards with large, evenly-spaced nails) to detangle them and get them ready to be spun.  A fantastic, illustrated explanation of the entire flax to linen process can be found here: http://www.ulsterlinen.com/flax.htm

An illustration of a German-style flax break, just like the one I used.
(via: http://flaxforsale.com/html/flax_process.html)

Throughout the afternoon, I helped the other three reap & bundle a field of barley the 19th-century way into sheaves (large bundles) and shocks (made of a group of at least eight standing sheaves).  What back-breaking work that was - sure gives me a whole new appreciation for farmers!  But, for being such a city kid, it was a fun experience for one afternoon! 

Our afternoon's work.

Helpful links referenced:

July 28, 2014

The Sophia Project

Tonight, I introduce to you: The Sophia Project

Shattered Silk & Lace
Otherwise known as the major project of my costume internship.  One day a week I will be in costuming with my fabulous mentor & the head costumer of the village working on my dress, fondly named Sophia.  In fact, I was introduced to the 1870s wrapper midyear when I interviewed and learned that it was a donation to the museum that was too fragile to be included in the Susan Greene Collection - thus it became my project.  I will be taking the wrapper apart, patterning it and reproducing it for the historical interpreters in the 1870s buildings.

What is a wrapper?  In this context, a wrapper (also known as a tea gown) is a semi-fitted or loose dressing gown that women would often wear in the morning or evening over their undergarments (which will be great for the 1870s interpreters  in the village that are unable to wear corsets).  While wrappers often followed the details of fashionable dresses, they tended to be made from more durable fabrics - printed cotton for summer and wool for winter.  For more information on wrappers, make sure to check out The Dreamstress' wonderful article on tea gowns.  Also, the FIDM Museum blog has post on a beautiful 1863 wrapper complete with plenty of information on the function and wear of wrappers.

July 3, 2014: The first day of working with the wrapper.  I sketched Sophia from every angle, inside and out, and took measurements on just about everything!  The following are just a few examples of my sketching studies:

Front & Side Sketches

Back & Sleeve Sketches

Details of the Front

Details of the Back

July 10, 2014:  I spent the morning again studying Sophia.  I then took around 100 pictures (using an iphone, no flash) of just about everything, inside and out!

Sophia from the outside:

Front and center: notice the lace collar, teal silk & bow trims.

The wrapper opens center front with a small overlap, it closes with hooks & thread loops.

Center back: notice the carefully folded silk trim & watteau pleat.

One of my favorite features of Sophia is her watteau pleat - a style consisting of one or two box pleats, which is commonly found on the back of 18th century sack-back gowns and late 19th century tea gowns.  

Showing off Sophia's watteau pleat & the curved seams underneath.

Close up of sleeve & bow.

Sophia on the inside: 

Notice the remains of a printed cotton lining (which was most likely removed for another project) along each of the seams and where the silk trim is stitched on the outside.  The sleeves are lined with a shattered, copper-colored, polished cotton.

Discoloration on the outside and polished cotton lining along the inside indicate that the teal silk trim had once been sewn along the entire skirt.  Also notice the remains of an 11" polished cotton pocket!

Showing off Sophia's tattered hem facing(s) of polished cotton & printed quilting-weight cotton
(I can see why the owner had cut out the lining - what beautiful, striped fabric!)

July 18, 2014 – In the morning I had the chance to examine Sophia's fabric contents with a microscope used by the curators.  Sophia is most likely a wool and cotton blend of some sort (perhaps blended with silk?)  We also had fun looking at her lace collar, silk trim, the work table and even my hair!  I spent the rest of the day dismantling Sophia stitch by stitch - and, yes, somehow I managed to take off that silk trim in one piece.

Fabric fibers under a microscope.
(image via: http://o.quizlet.com/i/gmlHN2TsUSY_MZhE3wsTjw.jpg)

July 24, 2014 –  Took most of the day, but I finally finished dismantling Sophia!  What a time-consuming process that was - though I know that, for sure, whoever made the wrapper intended it to last because every seam seemed to be triple stitched (featured a combination of machine and hand stitching).  Again, like the other past few days, I wrapped up my time in the shop helping with other projects (mostly hand-sewing hems).  Well, 'till next time!

Helpful links referenced: 

July 27, 2014


"You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You're on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who'll decide where to go..." 
~ Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You'll Go!

Greetings & Salutations!  

My name is Anneliese.

I blogged throughout junior and senior year, documenting my every day experiences as a high school student and costuming experiments.  I was certain that theatrical costume design would be in my future, and it may still be, but for sure I am hoping to combine my two passions - history & its clothing - into a career.  Currently a costume intern and seasonal historical interpreter, I am transitioning forward with this blog as my new sewing journal.  

At least for the next year, I will be further exploring my passions as the costuming intern at the Genesee Country Villiage & Museum, a 19th-century living history museum and local treasure, before jumping into full-time college.  There, I am constantly improving my sewing skills and increasing my appreciation for the past, present & future of handcrafting.  I have so many fond childhood memories at this museum, and, now, having the chance to learn from the best at my favorite place, is such a blessing.  Each day, I am learning so much and loving every minute of interning & interpreting history!

Happy Victorians!
(Image via: http://photos4.meetupstatic.com/photos/event/8/2/2/e/highres_20013326.jpeg)

Why blog?  For me, connecting with and following other bloggers is an amazing source of inspiration!  I have a deep appreciation for the talents of others and I hope that someday my historical costumes will be half as beautiful as theirs' are.

What will you find here?  For sure I plan to share my costume plans, progresses, successes and failures.  Sewing to me is a journey, and with each project, I am continuing to grow as a seamstress.

I will be documenting my internship dress project (much more on this to come!) and updating with what I am experiencing out in the village.  (One day every week I am in costuming working on my dress project, the other day I am around the village learning about 19th century crafts - dyeing, spinning, weaving, interpreting, etc.)

Hands-on experience with the 19th century dyeing process -
Fustic (dyes a golden yellow) on the left & Brazilwood (dyes a bright red) on the right. 

I will also be keeping a record of my personal sewing projects - mostly historical and theatrical, but occasionally modern - as well as including past projects to share my progress and growth.  I am very excited for where these ambitious ideas will take me - future comments, suggestions and/or follows are always greatly appreciated on this adventure!

Thank you for stopping by, 

"Oh the places you'll go! There is fun to be done! There are points to be scored. There are games to be won. And the magical things you can do with that ball will make you the winning-est winner of all.” 
~ Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You’ll Go!