October 29, 2016

A Little Sacque for a Little Gent

"What good is the warmth of summer, 
without the cold of winter to give it sweetness." 
- John Steinbeck 

After a record-breaking heatwave of a summer, it feels more like winter than fall out there!  And with the colder weather, my thoughts turned to our youngest interpreter of the village...at 15 months and head-to-toe cuteness, I couldn't bear the thought of our favorite little gent being cold.  So, after talking with his lovely mommy, I set out to draft a mid-century sacque coat from his measurements.  

Sacque (noun) - an infant’s short jacket that fastens at the neck.

The little gent's favorite color is orange, so I did my best to include that in the design.  Made from a really nice, dark brown wool and the softest cotton flannel that I've ever felt, the sacque coat ties with a light orange, vintage ribbon remnant.  

Materials: dark brown wool, soft cotton flannel,
and a light orange, vintage ribbon remnant. 

Here are a few of the historical images that were used for inspiration: 

CDV of two Civil War children.
Photograph by Whipple.  Boston, MA.
(Image via: Ebay seller - Somewhere In Time)

CDV of a young boy, c.1860.  France.
(Image via: Past to Present)

Boy's jacket from Godey's Lady Book, c.1858
(Image via: World Turn'd Upside Down)

And our version: 


Inside.  (Yes, those plaids match perfectly!)


Detail shots:

For a while, I've been obsessed with children's clothing!  So thank you, Liz, for letting me experiment!  They're just so tiny, so cute...going into the project, at such a small scale, I thought children's clothing would be a breeze.  Well, I've discovered that they take just as much work as adult clothing, and can be just as fiddly to pattern.  Note to self, the mock up should not be skipped next time.  In cutting, I apparently was a little too eager with the scissors and made the armholes too small.  Hmm.  Next year, we'll have to try again!

The sacque was constructed in two pieces - an inner and outer shell -
so that any seams would be enclosed.  

Because of the scale, the coat is mostly hand stitched and entirely hand finished for historical use.  I did use a machine for the four interior seams and to baste the inner and outer shells along the outer edges, none of which are visible after completion.

I made 1/2" bias tape to enclose the raw edges.
Tiny whip stitches to make sure it stays in place.

Inside view.  I like playing with plaids!

Ribbon ties added at the neckline.
The neckband is an inch and 3/8ths, cut on the grain for stability. 

Both sleeves are also bound with 1/2" bias.

Finally, for the photo shoot, Teddy was more than happy to model: 

Teddy's a little shorter than the young gent...

Enjoy the new sacque coat, my little friend!

October 27, 2016

Whosits & Whatsits: Defining the Historical Interpreter

Who are we?  Just people wearing funny clothing?  
What are we?  A band of volunteers, school teachers, 
reenactors, history majors, or worse, know-it-alls?  
And why do this thing called "historical interpretation?"

For three years now, I’ve been employed at the Genesee Country Village & Museum as a historical interpreter.  When people ask about my work, their response is usually along the lines of “what language do you interpret?” or simply “so, you do what?”  That’s my clue to launch into the spiel.

Which leads to the question:  what is a historical interpreter?  How do we define our jobs?  What are the requirements of the position, and what qualities make for better interpreters?  As the introduction post to a collaboration series of historical interpretation hows, today I will be addressing these questions in hopes of providing clarification and inspiring interest in fellow historical enthusiasts to join in the fun.

The Whosits

First, defining the job - who we are and what we do.  A historical interpreter is simply that - a person who interacts with the public to make history understandable.  As if the people, places, objects and events of the past were foreign language that needed to be translated into a contemporary, understandable and engaging culture that matters to the audience.

Photograph courtesy of Judy J.

The Department of History at the Vancouver Campus of the University of British Colombia gives a fantastic job description: 
"Historical interpreters navigate the public through history: you are a guide who bridges the past with your audience as you take them through curated exhibitions, historical sites, and landscapes. It is a stimulating career choice for a historian as they get to share their knowledge directly with a diverse set of visitors, each of whom will react in their own ways to the historical narratives presented, and bring their own set of questions and ideas about what the history means to them. This means that the historical interpreter needs to be able to 'read' their audiences in order to present information that the audience can best relate to. Visitors can range from small children to foreign tourists to retirees, and often include people from varied economic, cultural, and regional backgrounds. Any interpretive tour, exhibit, or resources is intended to provoke a response from the audience, to stimulate their experience in a site-specific way relating to the past and the visitor’s own experiences of the present."  - Excerpt from the webpage "Historical Interpreters"  

I couldn't have said it better.  All I would add is that historical interpreters are often encouraged to work in other areas of museum programming, be it specialized trades, domestic arts, educational events, and/or off-site "move-able museum" presentations for local communities.  While we at the Genesee Country Village present primarily in third person, there are other sites and individuals that work in first person, portraying specific historical figures or recreating daily life in general roles.

Photograph courtesy of Judy J.

Again, to quote from the Department of History at the Vancouver Campus of the University of British Colombia:
"Jobs in historical interpretation may include working in museums, historic buildings, corporations, parks, library exhibitions, and public attractions. Some interpreters are self-employed, making a living giving historic walking tours of towns and cities during the tourist season, holidays, or even year-round. The tours might be about the local social life and culture, or about the history of war, crime, or hauntings. Historical interpretation provides an opportunity to match a passion (for example with wilderness areas or wildlife) with history and public presentation. Positions vary from seasonal (summer work during tourist seasons) to full-time (museums or indoor historic sites)."  - Excerpt from "Historical Interpreters"  
So, as you can see, the possibilities are endless!  All it takes is an interest to explore, lots of research and enthusiasm...and, well, what else you might ask?  Let's move onto the requirements for historical interpreters.

The Whatsits 

Next, determining the requirements of the job.  Are we all history, education and museum studies majors?  Well, no.  While a lot of the successful interpreters that I've encountered have degrees in the fields, several times over at the undergraduate and graduate levels for many, the position is open to a variety of educational experiences.  While each site will certainly look for its own set of requirements, the common denominators seem to be a passion for history and public presentation, and a lifelong commitment to learning and all areas of education.

On Study.com, a website devoted to career and college searches, listed under the Historical Interpreter Job Requirements are the following:  

"Employers generally don't require historical interpreters to have a specific background or degree. They look for candidates who have the ability to conduct research, demonstrate good communication skills and perform a part believably. Most interpreters get on-the-job training. A background in history can be helpful. Some interpreters hold degrees in history, museum studies or education[...]
"In order to perform a character's role convincingly, historical interpreters must conduct extensive research into a specific time period. Their specializations vary; for example, a battle reenactor needs to be well-acquainted with historic battlefields and techniques. Historical interpreters do not require a formal education."  - Excerpt from the article "Historical Interpreter: Job Description, Duties and Requirements

I should mention that while it is true that historical interpreters come from a range of educational experiences, (I am thinking of seasonal interpretation positions here), most full-time museum positions require specific undergraduate and graduate degrees.  And, those who have chosen to pursue a career or those in the midst of post-secondary educations, such as myself, often enter seeking essential, experienced-based learning experiences and apprenticeships not found in a classroom.

Photograph courtesy of Judy J.

Regardless of degrees, the unwritten expectations of all historic interpreters are vast.  As teachers to diverse populations in open, outdoor classrooms, if you will, learning reading your audience and their subtle clues, speaking clearly and answering questions concisely, while narrating an exciting tale of a meaningful, connectable history is essential to successful interpretation.  Do you have what it takes?

The Whysits 

Our last section here will examine the whys of historical interpretation - why do we do what we do?  Let's take a look at the qualities that make for successful public interactions and the skills necessary to develop for successful historical interpretation.  Hopefully these will provide insight into the types of people attracted to the field and perhaps even help you to decide if historical interpretation is right for you. 

Photograph courtesy of Judy J.

Before delving into my list, here's what an expert has to say:  Lee Wright of The History List lists "six critical skills" in his fantastic 2013 article, "Getting a Job as an Interpreter at a Historic Site: What to Include on Your Resume and Why."

Lee Wright's "six critical skills" include:
  1. Having an interest in history
  2. Dealing with children
  3. Communicating to the public 
  4. Customer service & hospitality 
  5. Dealing with pressure 
  6. Experience handling money
* I recommend reading Wright's entire article, especially if you're currently (or will be in the future) searching for a job in historical interpretation.

Now, for my list, which is by no means all-inclusive, of the necessary qualities and unwritten requirements of successful historical interpreters:  

Attitude is everything.  

Winston Churchill once defined attitude as that "little thing that makes a big difference."  This certainly holds true for historical interpretation.  Being enthusiastic, friendly, professional, personable, and approachable, each and every day, is important.  Your interactions with visitors depend on your desire to learn and teach about a collective past.

Photograph courtesy of Judy J.

Communication is paramount. 

Great public speaking skills only go as far as your willingness to listen and want to engage with others.  Learn to be fully present and listen in conversation.  Learn all that you can from others and learn to take constructive criticism to improve your interpretations.

Photograph courtesy of Rhonda B.

Patience is equally important.  

You will need to tolerate a lot.  Have patience with visitors of all age, and extend that courtesy to fellow employees.  Show patience with being asked the same question for the umpteenth time, and with people who may not be familiar with museum etiquette.  Make all questions, no matter how silly sounding, welcome.

Research is required.  

If you don’t know it, don’t say it, simple.  Have a good understanding of history, especially the specific sites, exhibits and roles you interpret.  But most importantly, have a eagerness to learn more.

Wear it right and you do it right. 

Much like actors depend on their costumes to "get into character," historical interpreters and visitors alike have the same need to be fully immersed in the time.  While there are modern and monetary limitations to historical accuracy, have a willingness and desire to make improvements when possible.

Photograph credit: Stephen S.

Sweat in the heat, freeze in the cold & above all, be prepared.

As an interpreter, you must be prepared for all types of weather from extreme heat and humidity, to freezing cold temperatures, ice and snow, and any other type of precipitation.  Also, an ability to work for long hours with large quantities of visitors, sometimes without breaks, is a must.  The work can be very active, with lots of bending, lifting and carrying.


Be flexible, period.  

You must, and I repeat must, be able to work with all ages, cultures and conditions with respect.  The job is equally challenging and rewarding.  An open mind and ability to roll with the punches is just as important as knowing your stuff.

Photograph courtesy of Judy J.

Master the Art of Multitasking. 

Your interpretation and attention to visitors clearly comes first, but often, your demonstrations need equal attention, especially when fires, animals or other dangerous tools of the trade are involved.  Caring for your building and customer service can sometimes seemingly require a balancing act.

Photo credit: Ruby Foote, GCV&M's photographer.
Photograph courtesy of Judy J.

Have fun.  Be happy.


Smile, even on the bad days.  Laugh, because it's infectious.  Show that you're enjoying yourself and your work, and your visitors will follow suit.

Photograph courtesy of Judy J.

Love every minute of it. 

Winston Churchill also said that "we make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give."  I'm not complaining, but will state that the job simply does not pay enough for all that you will be expected to do, on and off the clock.  Rather, we do all that we do because we love it.  If you don't, it won't be fun.  But if you do, it will be so worth it.

Questions & Comments?

Are you interested in becoming a historical interpreter, or are you already a historical interpreter, and if so, with which site(s)?  (High fives to my fellow GCV interpreters!)  Feel free to share your experience(s) below.  What skills do you find most important on the job, or what advice would you offer to those interested in the field?

Finally, what types of historical interpretation topics would you like to see addressed in the future?  (View our page here: Historical Interpretation How Tos)

Photograph courtesy of Judy J.


October 21, 2016

Changes & Updates to the Blog

My dear readers,

"Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort..."
- Theodore Roosevelt

Photograph & effects courtesy of Stephen S.

An explanation for my recent absence from blogging:  I was frustrated, considering terminating my blog.  As some of you may already know from Facebook (or have experienced when trying to view my blog posts), a few weeks ago every, single picture - from my banner, to the blog background, to three years worth of posts - disappeared.  Through some glitch between Blogger, Picasa and Google Photos, over two thousand pictures were deleted.  

I was devastated.  While it's only a blog and does not truly matter in the grand scheme of things, to me, it has become so much more.  Like a journal or diary, this is my go to place to document all things sewing, to talk about my passions and jobs (be it historical or theatrical), and to express myself.  So, I couldn't bring myself to delete or leave this blog, or even to start another...instead, I am using this as an opportunity to restore and reorganize The Young Sewphisticate!

Photograph courtesy of Stephen S.

Current Goals

My main, eventual goal is to have every picture replaced by the new year.  It won't be easy finding all 2000+ pictures, but I will be trying my best to restore the majority of them.  (12 posts down, 114 more to go...)

Another goal is to continue publishing new content, despite the restoration of old posts.  My sewing lately has taken a different direction, and I have several projects that are waiting in the queue...Aiming for a four-posts-a-month minimum sounds reasonable. 

Newest Updates

In the meantime, these are the updates you'll find around here:

How do you like our new blog layout?  This includes a new background, sidebar organization, and font/color scheme. 

Check out all of our updated pages:

A new page!  Now you can easily access all of our past photo shoots and their construction posts in one location, here: Our Photo Shoots  - This page is to serve as a gallery with links to our past photo shoots.  Maria, the sister and photographer extraordinaire, and I team up to document my completed sewing projects.  While I design and construct each outfit, Maria works her magic with the camera - and, I am so happy to share her results!

Long-Term & Future Plans

In addition to continual blogging about sewing, theatre and the Genesee Country Village, I am planing to extend the content directions to include extant garment studies and more about historical interpretation.  Stay tuned...

Please let me know if there is anything else we can do to improve your visit here at The Young Sewphisticate.

As always, thank you for reading & your continued support!

*Special thanks and all photo credit to Stephen S. for the impromptu sewing photo shoot at the Altay General Store

October 15, 2016

Pumpkins, Pokeberries and Poison, Oh My!

Whether I want to believe it or not, last weekend marked the end of the 2016 open museum season.  Of course we'll all be back for special and seasonal programming on the weekends, but, for most part, my time travels are to be packed up and stored 'till next time, next year.  It makes one misty-eyed...especially when you spend every waking moment there, be it in person, or in spirit as you stitch and research to improve your interpretation.
Alas, all good things must come to an end.

Dyeing with Pokeberries

Pulling the pokeberry-dyed yarn out of the pumpkin!
Photograph courtesy of Judy J.

Lucky for me, the last weekend ended on a high note.  Saturday, I had the chance to return to Kieffer after a couple week hiatus.  Throughout the summer, the interpretation there focuses on midwifery and fiber arts (dyeing, tape loom weaving and spinning on a great wheel); and, having been relatively recently introduced to Culpeper's Complete Herbal, I do hope that there will be more adventures at Kieffer to come.  This time, I had the chance to interpret the annual attraction of the poisonous pokeberries in the pumpkin!

Photograph courtesy of Judy J.

It really was a lot of fun, and not just because there was poison and pumpkins involved, though it is almost the Halloween season...In the morning, I assembled a small display of a few of the red and purple yarns that were dyed this year (mainly cochineal, logwood, madder root and Brazilwood), the jar of cochineal beetles (and a lump of indigo), and the pumpkin, of course!  Throw in a toasty fire, a few candles and some mischief with a fellow interpreter, and you have the makings for a fantastic day.

My dye table display including a range of reds and purples
(dyed with cochineal, logwood, madder root and Brazilwood),
a jar of cochineal beetles (and an indigo lump),
and the pokeberry dye in the pumpkin!

And that it was!  The visitors, including a few girl scout troops, just could not be beat as they were all very curious and eagerly engaged.  I spoke all day about the 19th century dye process, specifically about dyeing (or shall I say staining, because it's fugitive) with pokeberries.  (I've written about dyeing with pokeberries before in Pokeberries & Pumpkins, a post from 2014, and check out Deanna Berkemeier's (GCV&M's lead interpreter of domestic skills) article: It is the pokeberry time of year!)  Also in my presentations, I spoke about our village's dye program (giving a nod to my past internship and our upcoming Domestic Symposium) and several other dyes our ancestors used to produce brilliant reds and purples.

A Night at Hosmer's Inn

The dressmaker & a new friend keeping me company at Hosmer's Inn.
Seriously one of my favorite buildings to work in this season,
as I not only had fun with the guests playing Mrs. Hosmer,
but was permitted to host daily teas for visiting interpreters!

That night, we had the second to last Hosmer dinner of the season.  Following such a great day, it's hard to believe that it could get any better.  But, that dinner was honestly the best dinner experiences of the season.  I not only had the chance to give the first person, upstairs-downstairs tour of Hosmer's Inn, but the village tour as well.  (A note to the ladies that night - I did my best to keep both tours to an hour each, but you ladies know how much I love to talk history ;)  I think the village tour was only an hour and a half at Hamilton and Livingston-Backus...haha)

Anyways, the entire group of guests were just so wonderful.  For most of them, this was the first time they had ever visited, and some of them came from quite a few states away to attend.  (Maryland, Ohio...)  No matter what we did, they were jovial, willing to play along and impressed with their experience.  I will miss hostessing or tour guiding for the dinners in the off season.  This year, both roles came so naturally, no doubt thanks to my friends that make up the Hosmer team and all of the research I've been doing this season.

One Last Time

My view from behind the confectionery counter.

Columbus Day, our official closing day for the regular museum season, meant one last day in the shop for me.  We did well at the confectionery - the apple and pear hand pies, teacakes, gingerbreads with caramel icing and lemon 1-2-3-4 cakes practically flew off the shelf.  Baking all of the goods is a labor of love, and I was fortunate to play a small role behind the confectionery counter this season.

Before we wrapped this past weekend up, my partner-in-crime and I had to have one last adventure of the season...which may or may not have included Hamilton's hydrocrystalophone, pranking a few fellow interpreters, chocolate, a short road trip...but we'll never tell!

Thank you for letting me be a part of your summer adventures, Judy!

Another season has come and gone...but the memories last forever.

If only I could don the clothing and interpret history for the rest of my life.  Every time a visitor comments on how enthusiastic, or how well-read, or how they can tell that I am in the right job, I take it to heart.  I feel a passion for interpreting the past like no other, and I've come to love the Genesee Country Village like nothing else.

Photograph courtesy of Stephen S.

All that's left to say now is a thank you for all of the good times, 
& 'till we meet again in the 2017 season.