Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Challenges of the Challenge

Our first annual Challenge event had wonderful weather, and good participation, which in future Challenges we hope will grow to represent even more of the population of Concord in the early 1770's.  The biggest "challenge" for most participants was the exercise of documenting their kit. Not that it's hard, but rather it requires one to look at a our clothing as a subject of research, much the same way some look at battles or the history of a particular regiment.

100% accuracy is not the goal, nor is this meant to be a competition.  The objective is to raise the bar. Some have said, if you can't be totally accurate, why bother?  Well, you can talk to the public about history, and they will retain some of what you tell them. But ultimately, what they bring home with them is the visual impression, reinforced by those pictures they take.  So why not give them the most accurate representation of history that we can!

Some misconceptions of this event that seem to have arisen.

Everything must be totally hand sewn.

That would be optimal, but hand finished is fine.  If it's visible it should be hand sewn.

My fabric has to be a perfect reproduction and expensive.

Concord was a diverse population. There is a wide range of social classes to portray. Your best gown  or suit might be wool or linen.  Silks or fine broadcloth are optional, your choice of fabric should suit your persona, not a mandated fabric.

The documentation has to be extensive and a master's thesis on 18th century clothing.

Documenting your duds can take many forms, internet links, images, runaway ads, merchant ads, original garments, a one page document was fine, some exceeded that, but one page was more than acceptable.

You have to make a new garment or make a garment just for one event.

If you already have something that works, that's great. A few of the participants reworked existing garments, others finished ones that have been on hold, while others used this opportunity to make something new.

There are lots of opportunities to wear civilian clothing.  Battle Road, The Boston Massacre, The Tea Party, the list goes one.  And what about Twelfth Night Ball?  Maybe it's time to create a great new civilian kit rather than wear your sweaty, dirty uniform on the dance floor in January?

During this Hive season we will be looking closely at the documentation process, and we throw out a challenge to all busy bees -- if you have a plan to make something new for next season, before you start, think about looking to the primary sources as your guide, and document your duds before you put needle to fabric.  It's an amazing process and can be the source of great pride, as well as adding to the total experience of being a re-enactor in New England.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Accounts of Account Books

It is of constant amazement when examining artifacts, how certain things beat the odds and end up surviving.  You can understand the fancy gown, quilted petticoat, or paste buckle, but less sexy items, like an account book with its pages and pages of script,  how does that make it thru 248 years of attic clean outs, not to mention silverfish, water, mold and a host of other enemies that destroy books?

Well, thank goodness these things do find a way of surviving the centuries because they are a treasure trove of information! We recently spent a day at the Newport Historical Society examining just such a gem -- the account books of James Gould, an eighteenth century tailor from Newport, Rhode Island.  Over the next several months, we are planning on a closer examination of these books as well as other account books from New England, to obtain a better understanding of what tailors were making, who they were sewing for, what materials they were using, how much things cost, and a whole host of other data.  We're in the process of sorting through what we transcribed in order to organize the information and we are looking forward to sharing that with you.  In the meantime, here are some interesting tidbits from the accounts:

Broadcloth was incredibly expensive!

February 27, 1772  -- 4 1/2 yards superfine broadcloth 180 pounds.
February 8, 1771 --  1/2 yard of broadcloth 30 pounds.

A comparison of labor vs materials.

 "A "Sute of Clos" cost between 32-34 pounds for the making.

Mr. Gould charged 7 pounds (very consistently) to make breeches, unless they were for a "Negro", in which case the cost was 5 pounds 10 shillings.  Why?  A simpler garment?  Possibly.

Sea Captains paid cash, and promptly as well.  One could speculate that Captains were awash in funds when they hit the shops!

Next: When is a jacket not a jacket?

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Doc' what ya got!

When it comes time to make something new for your 18th century wardrobe, we strongly encourage you to use primary sources for your inspiration. But what about what you've already have? How do you "doc what ya got"?

First, let's start with what year this garment is appropriate for.  The next frontier for this hobby is to dress for the year - generic 18th century is so yesterday (so to speak).  Take a look at the details, does my gown have robings and a stomacher or is does it close in the center front? Does it have a completely separate bodice and skirt? How large are the cuffs on my coat? What does the collar look like?  How long is my waistcoat?  These details will certainly help date your look. But why do I need to know that?  Well, you wouldn't wear 1812 clothing to Battle Road, so why would you wear 1780's high fashion to a French and Indian event, for example? So start by determining your timeline.  Look at portraiture, genre art, museum collections. But beware of the latter, unless a piece has a specific provenance or is consistent with other accurately dated examples, museum pieces are often misdated or dated to a very wide range or are remodeled pieces that are difficult to date accurately.

So you've found your clothing pictured in genre art or in a museum collection.  Good start. Now you need to look at your fabric.  Can you find a description of that fabric in period ads or inventories? Runaway ads, for example, are full of detailed descriptions, though sometimes things aren't always what they seem. Words like "calico" don't mean the same as they do today.  You can double check the meanings of these terms in the OED or Florence Montgomery's "Textiles in America"

CT Journal 1/11/1781
So far, so good, now don't forget the details. You may want to get your feet wet by documenting your accessories. How am I wearing my handkerchief? How long are my shift sleeves? How is my hat shaped?  What kind of basket am I carrying? Artwork is teeming with details! Find an example and print off the picture. If someone asks you about that market basket you are carrying, you can whip out your documentation to show them -- it sure beats saying, "I don't know,  I saw it in the XYZ sutler catalog."

Hogarth's A Harlot's Progress
Market Basket - notice the one in the Hogarth print (lower right)

So start somewhere, but most importantly - start! Before you know it you'll be an old pro at this.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Going Brown!

My impression for the Hive challenge will focus less on fashion and more on projecting an age appropriate appearance for a well to do woman of 18th century New England.  The overall impression is based on the many portraits of older women painted by Mr. Copley, and they are almost all wearing brown silk gowns.  My goal when making my choices for this challenge was to paint a picture of a mature woman who looked back on a life well spent, was elegant in simplicity, and showed pride of position in her community.

Mrs. Humphrey Devereaux
This portrait of Mrs. Devereaux is c1771, and has the style of cuff that I will be wearing (pleated at the elbow), it is an open, stomacher front gown.  Her gown is brown silk satin, mine is brown silk damask.  My gown and petticoat are completely hand sewn using silk thread and linen thread with the construction based on a similar damask gown in a private collection. Not meant to be worn over hoops, the gown has a matching petticoat and stomacher.

 The white accessories are based on another portrait by Mr. Copley, Mrs. James Russel, c 1770. My white handkerchief will be plain white linen, bordered with vintage cotton lace, hand hemmed and pinned closed by a blue silk ribbon bow. White linen mitts and a fine muslin apron will complete the gown accessories.  My cap will tie under the chin and also have a blue silk bow.  Lappet caps are not that stylish in the 1770s, older women wore them, they soften the face and as one ages, one can appreciate that it is more flattering to an older woman's appearance.  We need all the help we can get!

Mrs. James Russell
In many portraits of older women, supplemental handkerchiefs in black are placed over the white handerchief, my version of the black handkerchief is silk organza.

An outdoor event requires a hat for sun protection, and a black silk hat will provide shade as well as some stylish flair to this conservative impression. Black silk hats were frequently advertised in colonial newspapers for sale.

Boston Newsletter, April 20, 1769
Hats were available for purchase ready made as in this advertisement for "black Satin Hats".  My silk hat has a straw foundation and silk ribbon ties and trim.

My shift, which will not be seen, is vintage linen, hand sewn with cuffs, the dimensions are based on the Copp Family shift in the collection of the Smithsonian.  My stays (also not seen) are patterned from the pink (were lavender when new!) stays in the collection of Colonial Williamsburg.

 My stays are blue linen, bound with white leather and trimmed with white tape and lined with blue check linen fabric.

Stockings are plain white and my shoes are simple black leather shoes with white metal buckles purchased from Burnley and Trowbridge.

Female Bruiser, c 1770

This blog post took me less than two hours to complete from start to finish, most of that time was spent googling and getting distracted with what I found!  Documenting what you wear is fun, almost like a treasure hunt, finding all the neat things we see and putting them together with all the neat things we do.