Saturday, April 23, 2016

Be the Change you Want!

There has been a lot of discussion lately on social media regarding parity for women at reenactment events.  Here's my two pence for what it's worth.

Set Realistic Goals
Ladies -  you are never going to have complete parity at a Rev War encampment.  It's not about you - it's about the battle, the uniforms, the cannons and the muskets.  If historical accuracy is your goal, most of you shouldn't even be there, let alone be cooking for the masses, having teas, and sitting around in nice gowns under a dining fly.  This is not to say that you can't do something else while you are there.  There are lots of opportunities to do great impressions - laundress, petty sulter, etc.. However, not everyone wants to do these, nor should they.  So what is a girl to do?

Set up your own area --  Demonstrations, children's activities, etc.  Or get out of camp all together and set up shop at a local historical house for the day.  Most places would love to have you and you'll be a star in more ways than one.
Mount Vernon - Post War Event

Experiment with your real 18th century role
Let's face it, women were second class citizens in the 18th century.  Why not experiment with this reality.  Spend your weekend being subservient.  Instead of saying hi to your friend the officer, curtsy at his passing and acknowledge him as sir.  Try being a servant.  Lots of teaching moments for sure - for others and yourself.

Be a Leader
Volunteer to join an event organizing committee.  Talk is cheap, but those who actually roll up their sleeves and do the work are the real heroes.  If you want increased visibility for what you are doing, get involved.  Most organizers are thrilled to have help and appreciate offers of additional programs -- if you propose something well thought out and appropriate, I guarantee you'll never be turned down.

Market Faire MMNHP

String your own ropeline
My last post that advised women to leave the ropeline was, by some, misconstrued.  My point was to know that there are other options.  Interpreting as a guide can be an awesome experience for visitor, interpreter, as well as the site.  Sometimes that's all a woman or non-musket firing man can offer at an event.  Example - Lexington Green on Patriots Day.  However, at large events take your interpretation past the ropelines.  Offer a camp tour, better yet, do a camp tour from the vantage point of a camp follower.  Even just the act of getting dressed can provide a great half hour of education. (A great way to justify the making of a new shift and/or handsewn stays!)

Be Creative
Here's an example.  Except for the a very small number of women, the Boston Massacre is a man's event.  What self respecting woman would be hanging around with a mob during a tumultuous March evening?  The stars of the evening are the mob, the 29th, the Old State House, and the Sentry Box. When women volunteer for this event, save for a few speaking parts, your role will be an that of an interpreter.  But like most ropeline gigs, there is lots of time before and after an event to do something amazing.  As I've already mentioned, few sites will turn down a well planned and executed program. 

Challenge Event Minute Man NHP
Be the Show
The civilian events that Hive puts on are an offshoot of those that pioneers like Barbara DeLorey planned in the early 2000's with her women's group.  She recognized that there were lots of untapped opportunities for interpretation.  These ranged from themed reenactments with first-person scenarios to demonstration and teaching events.  We at the Hive have continued that tradition and will continue to do so in the future.  We have been fortunate to have sites like Minute Man National Historical Park as a venue for many of these programs, which speaks to the importance of great partners.  It's exciting to see other sites climb on board.  Newport Historical, for example, set the bar pretty high at last year's Stamp Act event.  Not only was it a well planned event, the site made the reeanctors feel welcome and valued -- which was a stark contrast to a certain other maritime event that happened earlier that summer.

Effigies at the Stamp Act Event Newport 2015
 Do it Well!
Whatever you do, do it well.  Do your homework, bring your documentation, deliver on what you promise.  Don't wait around for something to happen, make it happen.  Be warned, however, it's hard work.

You can't change history,  our roles were what they were. But that shouldn't limit you from doing great living history.   Remember, as a friend of mine once said, "Men need a cast of thousands to do a military event.  You ladies are lucky, put two of you in an historical setting and you have a great event!"
Finally have fun - after all this is a hobby.

Sandy S. having fun at Longfellow House - Cambridge, MA 2015

Monday, April 18, 2016

Battle Road -- Beyond the Rope Line

Ladies – Its time to get off the sidelines!
Along the rope line at Tower Park
(thanks to my friends in this picture for agreeing to share this image)

2016’s MMNHP’s Battle Road Saturday’s Events are over.  A sunny, yet cool and breezy day brought out hundreds of visitors.  For the Hivesters at Hartwell it meant a steady stream of guests that started to arrive in droves even before we had officially set up for the day.  There was other activity on the road, specifically the Tough Ruckers who were pushing though their individual marathons in fatigues and combat boots laden with backpacks not to mention the memories that 26.2 miles of walking would give them time to honor, savor, try to forget or all of the above.  I meant to ask them if during their journey they ever heard the ghosts of April 19th  urging them forward.

Since the “tactical demonstrations” have moved up to Parker’s Revenge, Hartwell has become an oasis of living history without the pressure and highly orchestrated activities of a battle reenactment.  The quilting frame was set-up for those who needed some meditative stitch therapy. No matter how many stitches per inch you achieve, in a half an hour your blood pressure is lowered by 10 points.  There were lots of sewing projects that were seeing steady progress without the distractions that happen at home – like cats sitting on your project or the Internet beckoning.  Lunch was a cornucopia of amazing period foods, some of which were the successful results of the Preserving the Harvest event of the previous season.  The less than successful outcomes also had their place - but as teaching moments. 

Things quieted down when many of the tourists were attracted by the clarion call of musket fire.  It is at this time when some of the best tourist interactions occur. Often these are the visitors who truly come to learn and linger to hear their thoughtful questions answered.

So after a good night’s sleep and now that the rest of the props and clothing from Saturday’s event have been put away, I’ve had time to do my AAR, which generally is just batted around between a few close friends.  But this time I’m going public because I’m kind of frustrated.  Because once again, the majority of women participating at this event are on the sidelines or in this case the rope lines.

Been there done that.  Yes, you are doing a valuable service as guide and interpreter and the Park Service and the Tower Park organizers rely on the help. And believe me, I'm not disparaging the role of guide and interpreter. But the actual battle is less an hour – what about the rest of the day? Ladies, once again, like every other event of the season, the guys are the show and you are taking a supporting role when you could be spending your day as the main event!

Battle Road is unique as it is really a collection of event and venues.  There is something for everyone.  But the more I think about it, the ladies (and the guys who don’t want to spend their day burning powder) could do some amazing living history but are once again are focusing their day around an hour on the rope line.  But here's the thing - organizers are going to keep doing what they are doing unless you ask for change. The guys make sure their battle happens - maybe it's time to make sure you have other options - and there are other options.

So I challenge you ladies to elevate your participation at Battle Road.  Let’s plan something really worthy of your great clothes, research, and hard work.  It’s time to get off the sidelines and get in the game! Why not:

·      Set up a first person zone and practice scenarios focused on either domestic life or the events that would become the start of the Revolution.
·      Bring out the spinning wheels and teach each other to spin – or use a tape loom.
·      See if it is possible to quilt a petticoat in a weekend
·      Make a seasonal meal
·      Teach someone a new skill
     Learn a new skill
·      Do Laundry
·      Finish a project
·      Spend the day visiting and learning
·      Do a fashion show for the public
·      The possibilities are endless

Who’s in????

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

March Hive -- Staying Warm from the Inside Out

This Sunday, March 13th is the last Hive of the season. The topic is "Staying Warm in the 18th Century - from the Inside Out"  We'll be looking at how both men and women dressed when the weather got cold -- from inner wear to outerwear.

The doors open at noon for "The Buzz"  -- grab a cup of coffee and catch up with a friend.  The lectures start at 1 and will run till 3.  The last hour will be a chance to work on a project or get help with something you are working on.

We have something extra this time!! -  Roy Najeck will be offering a concurrent cartridge pouch workshop for up to 5 people.  This is a 21 round pouch with a black leather shoulder strap suitable for militia, state troops and pre 1779 Continental Army.  The pouch is based on originals from New England and the Champlain Valley.  If interested email Roy directly at  No experience in sewing leather is necessary.  You will learn the basics from 12 - 1 and work on your project while the lectures are going on.  The cost is $60 (includes all materials)

Also, we have two openings left to Saturday's shirt workshop.  If interested see the Larkin and Smith website I to sign up.

As always, there will be coffee and tea served, snacks to share are always welcome. 
The Hive is free - located at Minuteman Technical High School on route 2A in Lexington.  Follow the main entrance and go all the way to the end of the building and use the entrance (the one near the pool) follow the signs for The Hive.

Also we're looking for volunteers for set up, clean up and coffee duty.  Email me if you can help.

See you this weekend!


Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Shirt Workshop

We will be holding an 18th century men's shirt workshop on Saturday, March 12th, 2016 (10am - 4pm) at the Golden Ball Tavern in Weston, MA.  It's a one day class where you will learn the techniques you need to make a man's shirt (or woman's shift).

We will be cover construction sequence, stitching techniques, and how to master the tricky parts of assembling your shirt. You will learn how to customize your shirt to achieve the proper fit, whether you are making a gentleman's/officer's shirt or a soldier's shirt.

Your homework before the class will involve cutting out the pieces, so we can go right to work on your shirt.

The cost of the workshop is $55 and does not include materials.

To sign up visit At the Sign of the Golden Scissors
Any questions email

(Maximum enrollment 15 students)

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Back Down the Rabbit Hole -- Shirts

National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London Self Portrait of Lt Gabriel Bray 1775

IIt's back down the rabbit hole and this time we were led there by shirts.  We decided to do something different this year by devoting an entire Hive to a single garment. The shirt was selected for several reasons - because so many reenactor men are wearing really bad ones, but also because we knew there was much to be learned about this seemingly humble garment.

The first part of the Hive will look at the shirt from a societal and historical context. What do earlier and later shirts look like?  What do period sources tell us about how to make a shirt? Who makes them? How many would you own? What are the period names for the parts and pieces of a shirt? We'll then dive into a survey of shirts as depicted in 18th century artwork in order to identify the hallmarks of a shirt from the 1765 - 1785 time period.  We'll use period advertisements, inventories, sewing guides, and other primary sources to better understand fabric options, shirt production and specifications.

Detail from The Blacksmith 1772 Lewis Walpole Collection
The actual construction of the shirt will take center stage when we dig deeper into the details, sewing techniques and assembly sequence. We are going to look at four examples of shirts with 18th century provenance that we have had the opportunity to closely examine.  What did we expect to see?  What didn't we expect to see?  And what were the out and out "wow" moments?   And thanks to high resolution digital photography we can zoom in close enough to make sense of what we can't see with the naked eye.

Detail from Paul Revere Portrait by JS Copley - MFA Boston
The last part of the Hive will be spent demonstrating several of the stitching techniques you will need to create an authentic shirt of your own.

Mark you calendars for February 21st and come join us for what should be a fun and informative afternoon!

The Hive will be held at Minuteman Technical High School on route 2A in Lexington, MA.  The Hive is from 12-4.  Admission is free, coffee is served and snacks to share are always welcome.

Any questions feel free to email me at

(Yes our website is currently unavailable -- up to date info will be posted on this blog)

Sunday, December 20, 2015

HIVE 2016 Schedule

Sunday January 3, 2016 -- Battle Road Hive  noon - 4pm

 12:00 – 12:45: Parker’s Revenge – What we have learned
"BALL!” Whenever this simple word was shouted, all work in a small wooded area on the eastern end of Minute Man National Historical Park would come to a halt. Within moments a small, dedicated group of archaeologists and metal detectorists would gather around the person who initiated the call. They would be the very first people to see what had not been seen since the afternoon of April 19, 1775 – a deadly relic of battle – a musket ball. This fall a project lasting more than two years to discover where Captain Parker and the Lexington militia met and engaged the British in battle finally came to a close. The results have been more exciting and enlightening than anyone could have imagined. Park staff and volunteers involved with this battlefield archaeology project will share with you their experiences from the field and discuss the analysis of the finds. Where was the battle fought? How did it develop?  Pay close attention, as this year’s Battle Road tactical demonstration will be based on it!
1:001:45: “…the farmers gave them ball for ball, from behind each fence and farmyard wall…” Interpreting Battle Road Combat
For interpreters, helping the public better understand what they are seeing during a reenactment or tactical demonstration can be a daunting challenge. There is a lot going on out there and important details that can easily go unnoticed. How did a commander organize his column for a march through hostile country? How were flankers deployed and in what strength? Did the militia really fight “Indian style” on April 19th 1775? Park Ranger Jim Hollister will share some interesting primary sources that may shed light on these questions.

Newbie Clinic -- Just starting out or want to update your kit? The newbie clinic will show you where to start and get you going on the right track (for both men and women)

Kit Tune Up -- Bring that unfinished project or item in your kit that needs work. Reattach your buttons, add another buttonhole to your shirt collar, tighten up your baggy breeches, fix those floppy gaiters --our Hive team will help you get your kit ready for the season.

Paul Revere by JS Copley
Sunday, February 21, 2016  ALL ABOUT SHIRTS! noon- 4pm

Presentation -- A Look at Original Shirts - It's all in the Details!

Breakout Sessions: Demonstrations/Discussions involving the details of making a shirt
--Selecting Materials
--Preparing and cutting your pieces
--Attaching cuffs, and sleeves 
--Fitting the shoulders and neck
--Thread and Dorset Buttons
--Stitch Basics & Flat Felling
--Attaching the collar

Everyone should make a shirt at some point.  You will learn almost every hand sewing technique and master your stitches in the process, not to mention create a thing of beauty (and the same techniques are used to make a shift).  This half day session will get you off to a good start and will hopefully inspire you to make a new shirt for the season.

Winter - John Collett 1779

Hive 3 - Sunday, March 13, 2016 KEEPING WARM - INNER & OUTER WEAR noon 4 pm

Men --
Cloaks, Surtout, and Great Coats
Muffs and Gloves
Quilted Waistcoats

Women --
Cloaks, Short Cloaks and Cardinals
Muffs, Mitts, Gloves
Quilted Petticoats
Flannel Shifts


As always, Hives are free, we serve coffee and tea, and snacks to share are most welcome.

Any questions?  email:

The Hive is brought to you by The Ladies of Refined Taste and Minute Man National Historical Park.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

2015 OSV Clothing AAR

OK gang, let's talk!  Clothing standards love 'em or hate 'em -- for a truly first rate event they are absolutely necessary.  I'm not talking guidelines either,  I'm talking enforceable standards where there are consequences for non-compliance.  Sounds a bit harsh I know, but standards are like puppy training, you have to stay with it, be persistent, and reward good behavior to achieve long term results.

Truth be told, I love attending the OSV event.  The staff there is so accommodating and friendly, the site beautiful, the visitors are curious and engaged.  Best of all I get to visit with friends and meet new people and spread the Hive message.  And I do see improvements in clothing, sometimes where you would least expect it.  To those who tried to make upgrades to their kits - great job keep up the good work!  On the other hand, do rags were back, bodices never left, and coats were far and few between.  It's clear our message isn't reaching a certain segment of the reenacting population.

So that brings me back to standards and another thorny issue -- legacy events. Imposing standards on legacy events is incredibly difficult. There are ways of doing it, however there are consequences.  It takes time, lots of work, patience and perseverance.  On one end of the spectrum is the Battle Road model.  Create standards, phase them in along with education, inspections and a little peer pressure.   That worked for Battle Road 2000, but two years later when the pressure was off, things slipped backwards.  That's when we started the Hive to address the slippage and to keep moving the ball forward.  It works, but the time and effort that goes into just maintaining the standards is immeasurable.  And, all in all, compliance is less than you might expect.

L'Hermione 2015
Then there is the Fort Ti approach, who used the "here are the standards, like it or not" technique.  This methodology relies heavily on the loyalty of those who already comply plus you have to brace yourself for the onslaught of the reenactors with the torches and pitchforks.  These are the folks who go on a rampage because they've been going to the event forever, and no one can tell them they can't have their beards and wear sneakers to reenact an actual event at a historical site/museum.  After the dust settles, this method works too and is much faster and less work than the Battle Road system but I'm guessing that ultimately compliance is about the same.

Muster Day MMNHP
So here's where I have landed when it comes to events like OSV's Redcoats to Rebels and other legacy events.  No matter how many blog posts I write, workshops we conduct, Hives we run, etc., that woman who comes out to play once a year with her town militia husband, is not going to swap her sleeveless bodice for stays and a gown no sooner than her husband is going to shave his beard, buy a pair of repro shoes and put on a well fitting coat.  It's not what they are about.  On the other end you have the event organizers who risk a PR nightmare if they uninvite groups who don't meet standards. So you do the best you can.  You go, have a good time, but don't have high expectations when it comes to authenticity.

L'Hermione 2015
To those of us who care about creating accurate impressions, it's time to create new events. I'm taking juried events, where one has to bring their documentation to participate. Yes, they will be small events, and people will throw stones and whine about how we're being elitist and exclusive.  That's okay, there are plenty of events for them to attend why should they care about what we do.  If you want to take it to the next level, enforceable standards, events where we are reenacting a specific date and place, and doing lots of good research beforehand -- that's the next frontier.  Not everyone will be aboard. Though when they are done complaining about what we are doing and they take look over the fence that they, in fact, have built, they'll see we are having fun and may just want to join in.  The gate's always open -- you just have to be willing to play by the rules of this new, really cool playground.