Thursday, 31 December 2015

Author and Authority: Creating Fashion Trends in Historical Re-enacting (Probe on Foucault’s ‘Author’)
As I begin my own process towards authorship, I have been thinking a great deal on how we create authorities out of persons who share their research.  This has held exceptional resonance with me in my own work on Eighteenth Century fashion and how it is viewed by the community of re-enactors I belong to.  When I began as a historical interpreter and costumer, I knew about the larger community, but did not feel a part of it.  In Nova Scotia, we were a small group who did our own research and shared it with our friends, discussing and shaping ideas within a very small group (at that time, about 100 total members).  With the dawn of the internet, and social media beginning with email list serves, our scope grew larger, we were now included within the larger, North American community.  At that time, there were few opportunities for non-academics to publish their research.  Some were able to write and publish books about and through their own local museum collections, others published articles in community newsletters.  At that time, the status of the author rose to dizzying heights, they became superstars within the community and began to be noticed by the academic community.  The research they published was copied extensively throughout the larger North American community with little regard to situational and cultural dynamics.  
Fashion doesn’t exist in a vacuum, but neither does it exist as a wide spread phenomena.  Even today, there are cultural differences in how we dress ourselves, even here in Canada.  The cut of our jeans will be different in Nova Scotia than it is in Alberta, not only because our bodies are differently shaped but also because of how we wear clothing culturally.  These differences relate to genetics, weather patterns, religion, and culture.  In the 18th century, those cultural differences can be highly insular.  What a person wore in Pennsylvania Deutch country would be different than what a Protestant Loyalist refugee would have worn on their way from New Jersey to Nova Scotia.  Don’t get me wrong, fashion existed, and was not as stagnant as would first appear, but there are cultural, weather, situational, and religious differences at play.  A person interpreting a figure from Nova Scotian history cannot just copy an outfit from ‘Fitting and Proper’ (Burnston, 2000) and be entirely correct.
Since the publication of this book, Sharon Burnston has become an authority on 18th century clothing.  She has been given star status within the community.  Others who achieved such status through early publication were not as considerate in their research though, and that research has proven to not be as reliable as Burnston’s book.  Other books published in the same time frame include ‘Costume Close Up: Clothing Construction and Pattern, 1750-1790’ (Baumgarten, 1999), ‘Whatever Shall I Wear’ (Riley, 2002), and ‘Tidings from the Eighteenth Century’ (Gilgun, 1993).  All these authors achieved star status, or authority, save for Mara Riley, despite her research being considerate and strong.
Each of these publications created fashion trends within the hobby.  How can this be, when members of the community should be considering the context of the research and how it relates to their own interpretations of historical figures?  It seems that modern capitalism and desire can influence how we interpret histories, and that when a woman wants a new dress, what is new and ‘fashionable’, even in research, can sway a decision in what the seamstress creates.  Through our actions, we in the community have given authority to these authors.  The fact that some hold higher status as authors than others may have a lot to do with the status of the publication, the paper used in the printing, the institution that houses the collection studied, the use of colour, even the gloss used.  When we look at the collections of garments studied themselves, are there photographs taken, or were artist’s drawings used? What was the quality and care given to the renderings? Are patterns included? Are they easy to use? Are the garments themselves stunning to the eye, or are they very plain-Jane?  All of these considerations will make or break a fashion trend, or create authority for the author.  And so, with each publication, copies of the fashions that were published appeared at re-enactment events across the Eastern Seaboard, whether they were appropriate for the interpretation or not.
In the intervening years, more and more research has been published.  Members of the community have been actively working with museums and in academia, and the research and scholarship has grown stronger with each author.  Through online communities, care has been taken to ensure that people are interpreting their historical figures with considerations of time, place, culture, religion, and political status.  And yet, fashion trends continue.
When Neal Hurst’s Bachelor’s Honors thesis was published, Hurst was working in the men’s tailoring shop at Colonial Williamsburg.  Entitled ‘Kind of Armour, being peculiar to America: The American Hunting Shirt’ (Hurst, 2013), the paper set off a flurry of men wanting to own hunting shirts.  Were they appropriate to all walks of life?  All areas of North America?  These were important questions that needed to be reflected upon before having a seamstress or tailor create one for a given interpretation.  Hurst’s authority on the subject is well earned though, as this was not a simple undergraduate thesis.  Hurst has the academic and employment credentials to back up his research, and that paper was well documented and written.  Even he will exclaim though, that this garment is not appropriate for everyone in the hobby, and he would cringe if it were to become a fashionable trend in the community.
Neal Hurst with Will Gore, both wearing versions of the Hunting Shirt

With ladies wear, these trends can be even more drastic.  The men in our community, for the most part, belong to military units that have fairly strict codes of dress.  Uniforms can be researched and recreated to the year, month, even the battle.  Women, because they are a civilian population, do not have such restrictions, and so follow fashionable trends a bit more closely.  Fashion trends that are regularly brought to mind include items like silk bonnets, printed cotton jackets, stripes, silk gowns, and brightly coloured or printed gowns.  When each of these items listed comes into fashion within the community, or comes around again as fashionable in the community, questions of authenticity follow.  Who would have worn these items?  How would they have been worn?  Is that printed cotton originally a bed hanging (upholstery fabric), or was is the lining on the hem of a quilted petticoat?  What class/culture would have worn that garment?  And even, is that fabric appearing to be too 1980s instead of 1780s?  Who first wears a new style has influence on how it will become a fashion trend.  Do they have authority? Have they been published? Do they have name fame?  These are all considerations when considering a fashion trend within the hobby.  Recently, a young woman in New England has entered the hobby, and quickly developed a following.  She was well turned out from her very first event.  Jennifer Wilbur studied fashion photography at the Fashion Institute of Technology (academic word fame amoung fashion people).  Her clothing and interpretation is well researched and thought out.  She seeks out talented individuals to create her wardrobe, even spending top dollar for historically accurate shoes from the UK that many longtime community members are hard pressed to consider.  Even though her wardrobe reflects that of a lower situational Loyalist woman on the march with the army, I suspect she too will create a fashion trend amoung women in the hobby.  She is considered an ‘authentic’ or ‘progressive’ member of the community, names given to ‘fashionable’ young people in the organization that are pushing research and interpretation beyond the comfort levels of the older generation.

                                        Jennifer Wilbur, Loyalist woman on the march: One of her first events

So as I embark on my own explorations in the fashion of the 18th century, I am considering my own authorship, my own authenticity, and my own word fame.  Amoung my smaller provincial group, I have long been considered ‘progressive’ with regards to the clothing I create and wear.  Will this name fame be carried over into the larger North American community?  How will my own research hold up, to scrutiny and to time?  I will have to consider carefully my reader.  I will also have to consider the extant pieces I will chose to include in the published document, were they a fashion ‘trend’ of their time?  An anomaly, or widely worn?  What was the cultural, class, religious, and political ramifications behind the garment, if any?  I will also have to consider how my research is published.  Will I choose a high gloss paper, a hard cover or paper back, colour photographs or the original garments, or line drawings?  How will all of this play a role in how authentic my research is viewed, and how enduring it will become?  Will I have the authority to speak and be heard?

 The Author: Kelly Arlene Grant


Burnston, S. A. (2000). Fitting and Proper. Scurlock Pub Co .
Foucault, M. (1980). What is an Author. In Lanuage, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Foucault, M. (1998). On the Ways of Writing History. In Aesthetics, Method, and Epistemology. Essential Works of Foucault, 1954-1984 (pp. 279-96). New York: New Press.
Gilgun, B. (1993). Tidings from the Eighteenth Century. Scurlock Pub Co.
Hurst, N. (2013). Kind of Armour, being peculiar to America: The American Hunting Shirt. Williamsburg Virginia: College of William and Mary.
Linda Baumgarten, J. W. (1999). Costume Close Up: Clothing Construction and Pattern, 1750-1790. Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.
Riley, M. (2002). Whatever Shall I Wear? A Guide to Assembling a Woman's Basic 18th century Wardrobe. Graphics and Fine Arts Press.


Making some modern clothing

Before I head back to class next week, I have one more sewing project to get done.  As it requires a machine, I need to get it out of the way so that I can turn my work table back to a holder of notes and reference books.  I am also hoping, by the mere fact that I am sewing at the turn of the new year, more sewing will happen over the course of the next year.

Here are some of the projects I want to finish:

My own striped fitted, en ferreau backed 18thC dress that has been on the pile since last spring. And fix the grey petticoat that goes with it.

Find and finish mum's sacque backed 18thC gown that has been on the to-do pile for longer than I care to admit!

A quilted waistcoat for me.

A new fuller, and longer bedgown for me, and to fix my old one so that it is shorter and fuller through the hips.  I made the old one with just a bit too small piece of cloth for the length that it currently is, so a remake is in order.

I have a few other pieces of cloth for more petticoats.

We all need more stockings, and I really need to get back into the habit of knitting.  I could be doing more with my commuting time.  I might need a small yarn bag for this project.

But first, the modern sewing projects...and re-organizing my closet a bit better so that I can find things.

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

the 'stuff' that makes up a life.

I have been considering the idea of stuff a lot this Fall.  George Carlin's rant about stuff comes to mind when you have to move all your stuff.  Six years ago we left a 3500 square foot house and moved into a 700 square foot apartment with two storage units.  We gave away a lot of stuff.  The kids got a full living room full of stuff, the lawn mower, the weed wacker.  Other things went to other people, gardening stuff, studio stuff.  A lot of stuff got donated to either the Sally-Ann or the 'free love bin' at NSCAD.  The fashion department also go my large 'scrap' bin and several boxes of fabric bits.
Then, this past summer, we moved again.  To Montreal, and into a 2000 square foot house.  To say that the movers did a shit job of moving our stuff is an understatement.  I may be the next 5 years just finding everything again.
This summer, there has also been a refugee crisis that makes the crisis of WWII look like a drop in the bucket.  People have been leaving the Middle East, specifically Syria, in droves.  Carrying what they can in backpacks and baby strollers.  These are people just like my own family, hard working, middle class, city dwelling in large part.  They have been criticized for what they are taking with them.  They have been criticized for leaving their home country, for wanting better from life, for their children.  They want to be able to sleep at night, safe, secure, without the threat of being shot or bombed.

And I think about our own hobby of re-enacting.  In the 18thC, I have paid a lot of money for stuff that I can use to interpret a person who is homeless, who is a refugee fleeing a war I didn't really want.  I wrote a probe about the cell phone, and it's usefulness to a refugee this past term for Humanities class.  I thought about all the things one could 'pack' on the sim card of a cell phone: family photos, important documents, contact information for loved ones and friends, not to mention being able to contact country's refugee camps and being notified of the possibility of getting to go further, to countries like Canada to restart a life.  And I wonder what it must have been like for the refugees of the American War of Independence...

An inventory of Myrtleville farm in Ontario from August 1849, by Eliza Good lists:

Parlour furniture, including 12+ chairs, sofa with hair mattress, tables, book shelves, carpets, fireplace furniture.
Drawing room furniture including more chairs, another sofa, more tables, more bookcases, curio cases, embroideries, colour prints, more carpets, more fireplace furniture.
Bedrooms include bedsteads, cots, chests of drawers, washstands, chamber ware, more chairs, trunks, more carpets.
The Kitchen includes two more bedsteads, tables, wash tubs, stove and furniture, pails, tins.
Bedding and bedclothes include, pillowcases, featherbeds, hair mattresses, bolsters, pillows, blankets, chaff beds for servants, quilts, sheets, tablecloths, towels, baby and children's clothes for 3 boys and 6 girls.
In the closet there were milk pans, china, including a tea set, glasses and decanters, ivory handled knives and forks, a spinning wheel and reel, sheet music, a good quantity of cloth, flannel, calicoes and muslin.  And a good amount of jewellery and eye glasses.

A hundred years earlier, in the Scottish Highlands, a farmer's small house would contain things like a dish dresser, box beds, bedding, a sofa (a bit different than the mid Victorian one, for sure), chairs, tables, fire implements, cooking implements, kitchen ware, pails, pans, possibly a spinning wheel and maybe even a loom.

Another short inventory of a Black Loyalist in Nova Scotia preparing to leave for Sierra Leone in 1791 requested that he and his wife, farmers, be permitted "to take with them a musket, an axe, two hoes, a saw, and a chest of tools, in addition to two chests of clothes, two barrels of other items, and a bedstead.  They were certified as people 'of good character" (Whitehead: 2013, 51).

These lists give us a bit of an understanding of what farming families would expect to own.  What though, would they take with them if they had to leave in a hurry, and were unsure of where they were headed, or how they would get there.  Ruth Whitehead describes white Planters from the Carolinas being "crammed into fifteen vessels with the slaves that remained with them" (Whitehead: 2013, 74).  What household goods would have been 'crammed' in alongside the human freight?  In the New Brunswick museum, there is an extant waistcoat from the revolutionary period.  When studying the waistcoat, I learned that there was a portrait of the owner to be hung in the portrait gallery that same Spring (1995 or '96).  This portrait featured the very same waistcoat, and the person depicted in the painting was a Loyalist who fled in the middle of the night.  The story goes that he had returned home from a dinner party to find a sword through the forehead of his portrait, the hole is still visible in the painting.  Why this man would think to bring his portrait as he fled for his life boggles the mind.

I like to imagine that, in period, I would have been a middle class farmer's wife.  Though with Pierre's love for sailor's clothing and the sea, I was far more likely a sailor's wife even then.  I would have lived in a coastal town.  I would have owned things, things to make a home.  I might have even owned nice things...though maybe not many.  So with every item that we add to our re-enacting kit, I stop and think about how valuable it would be to our daily lives.  What would I need in a new place, what can I carry, how would we have gotten there?  How would our stuff have gotten there.  Most likely, we would have travelled by sea, so packing things for that voyage would be important.  And so, as I begin my list of projects for this upcoming year, I will keep clothing to a minimum, so that we 'live' in our clothing more.  I will be thinking about the types of 'furniture' I will want, things that can serve multiple purposes, like trunks instead of chairs. 
And as in other years, I will most likely have my valuable items, like my pewter dishes and my china tea set, but will keep them packed away when not in use, so that they stay 'good' and in my own possession...Living amoungst crowds of people you may not know well, or trust, things could 'go missing' you know.


Grant, I. F. Highland Folk Ways. London and New York: Routledge, 1989.
Pain, Howard. The Heritage of Upper Canadian Furniture: A study in the survival of formal and vernacular styles from Britain, America and Europe, 1780-1900. Etobicoke, Ontario: Prospero Books, 1984.
Whitehead, Ruth Holmes. Black Loyalists: Southern Settlers of Nova Scotia's First Free Black Communities. Halifax, Nova Scotia: Nimbus, 2013.

Monday, 28 December 2015

Interview with Mathew Gnagy: Adjunct Instructor at the New School, Wardrobe for NBC, Owner of the Raleigh Collection and Author of the Modern Maker series of books.

This was the second interview I completed for my Humanities class, subject being knowledge production.  You can tune into Mathew's podcasts from time to time and watch him working in his studio.

1. Can you describe your working space? Be as detailed as you like.

My workspace is small and contained.  I used kitchen counters and cabinets that I purchased at Home Depot to build my work table and storage.  It's roughly 12 sq ft.

2. What are the practices of your daily life?

I wake somewhere between 6 and 7am and have morning coffee and start my day by combing through my files, or googling things that are related to my research, or at least related to whatever I woke up thinking about that morning.

3. What do you 'do'?

The short answer is that I "make clothes".  The long answer is that I study early modern tailoring and garment industry to better understand the context of dress from the standpoint of regular everyday people, living and working day to day rather than studying the politics and aristocracy.  I'm interested in the common folk.

4. What is the knowledge produced?

This is an interesting question and one which I was discussing with one of my tailoring students last night.  On the surface, it appears as though the knowledge I produce is about the cut and construction of early modern clothing.  The deeper aspects, however, seem to be more about resurrecting an older way of thinking about process and creation.  Almost like looking at the negative space of the evidence that we have about the period and its clothing.  And by negative space, I mean trying to decipher the steps in the process which are not visible in the end product except by what they leave behind in terms of fit, shape and accuracy.  A prime example is the basting process in tailored goods.  It is temporary and it is removed before the garment is passed to the client.  You can't see it directly, but you can see it in the way the clothing fits and moves.

In today's world, we have a mindset of "one tool, one job, one way".  The longer I study the work of these old master tailors, the more evidence I find of a much deeper and holistic mode of thinking.  Each step in the process has multiple results.  For example, using specific proportions taken from the client's own body, one not only makes the pattern, but the seam allowances are included.  It may not seem like much, but in our modern work, the allowances are added in a separate step.  Similarly, the aspects of sculpting and manipulation of the plane of fabric are natural results of the method by which the pattern is taken...however in the modern world, the sculpting has either been eliminated altogether (because the pattern makers don't construct and therefore don't understand or know about it), or is must be painstakingly calculated into the numbers used to draft a pattern.  The easy way of explaining it is that the processes were created to SERVE THE ART rather than using a standard system and forcing the art to bend to the will of the immutable nature of modern process thinking.

5. How does [your work] take shape in material form?

The simple answer is that it results in historical clothing.  The complicated answer is that those clothes have an essence, a feel and a look that is easily identifiable as more authentic because of the intense observation of historic processes.

6. Are there problems with your space?

I don't have a lot of problems with my space except that it is a little small.  However, on the positive side, I find that the smallness of the space leads me to be more responsible when stocking it, or when planning the steps of the project.

7. How does this effect your work/knowledge production?

It doesn't have a large effect on my work, though when I look at historic depictions of tailor shops, they do seem quite small, so in that respect, I'm putting myself in the same environmental situation as the tailors of the past.  It definitely leads me to think more thoroughly about the process and helps me to understand which steps of the process should be batched together and where they should take place in the shop.

8. What lead you to do the work that you do?

It's a long story, but I began to learn craft techniques such as knitting, crochet and hand-sewing when I was very young.  I was 6 when I first laid my hands on a crochet hook and began to learn how to use it.  Knitting followed shortly after and was superseded by weaving, tatting, macramé, sewing and sculpture.  By the time I was 10 years old, I had already knit about 5 sweaters, I had purchased or built three different types of weaving looms and had the beginnings of a significant library of craft books and knowledge.  In High School, I was asked to make costumes for several students in one of my literature classes which focused on British literature and Shakespearean theatre.  It was my first real foray into creating items for other people.  I fell deeply in love with the process of research to understand what was correct to make and what was not.  It was that experience, more than any other, that started me on the path that has led me to my current work.

Sorry this has taken so long to be published.  Thank you Mathew for taking the time to chat with me about what you do.  You are inspiring!

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Christmas holidays

And sewing....

I have dug out the studio/loom room/writing space from the term of writing.  I still have no idea where most of my studio supplies are, because I haven't really unpacked and resorted things after the move.  Having had most of it packed away for six years and then having the movers unpack everything and use my studio supplies to use as packing materials around other things means that I have no idea what I own anymore, or even where it is.

I will have to get to that over the holiday, for sure.  Not today though.  I have two projects cut out and am sewing them up first. The first on the block is a red, boiled wool jumper dress that I can wear with black tights and a turtleneck and be nice and toasty warm.  Especially good for days when I don't really want to be dressed.  The second is this lovely little number.  I will be making it from a lovely grey/brown wool suiting with a fine blue line in it.  I have one royal blue statement button for the jacket front, and it will be lined in the same blue.  I also have blue shoes to match.  I will probably wear it with brown tights and turtleneck.

As I am sewing, I am catching up on my favourite TV shows on youtube.  This week it's "Grand Designs" with Kevin McLoud.  Learning a lot about sustainable architecture and building homes that are in keeping with the landscape as well as being cool, modern things where comfortable living can occur.

Well, supper's in the fridge chilling out, waiting to be baked.  Lunch has been consumed.  I hear mum downstairs working away, and the daylight doesn't last long these days.  I should get to work.  I might have that red dress done today!

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Dane's favourite christmas treat

My grandmother Mackie used to make at least two pans of these at Christmas.  I would be too, if Dane and I were going to be home, as these were his favourites.

Watkin's Walnut (tea squares)

Lower crust:
3/4 cup butter, creamed
1/3 cup sugar
2 egg yolks well beaten
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp vanilla

Blend all well and press into a 9x9 pan.  Bake at 350F 10-12 minutes or until lightly browned

Upper crust:
2 eggs beaten
2 Tlbs flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup walnuts
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup shredded coconut (moistened with a little milk)
1 tsp vanilla

Mix all together and spread over partly baked crust.  Bake a further 20 minutes. Cool. Ice with almond buttercream.

Because Dane and I will be on opposite sides of the globe this year, I may have to wait until he and his family come for a visit in the spring.

Making puddings...

I used to make fruitcakes every year, my family loves them.  They also love plum puddings though, and these are far more difficult to find these days, so I have switched over to making them instead. 

Here is the basic recipe I use:

In my Gran's large beige, "Green's" mixing bowl, I put about 8 cups of dried fruit.  This year it was cherries, cranberries, pineapple, mango, and apricots, plus a goodly handful of very sticky, candied ginger, all chopped up in bits.  Over this I poured a bottle and a half of Capt. Morgan's Spiced rum.  I have used many different kinds of hooch over the years, from scotch to dark rum, to light rum.  Apart from the year I used the 15 year old black rum from Jamaica that everyone was afeared to drink, the spiced rum is by far the best hooch to use, in my opinion.

I let this sit, contemplating it's own drunkenness for two or three days, stirring  it once a day to make sure all the fruit gets drunk.

When I'm ready to make some pudding, I remove half the fruit from the bowl.  I make my puddings in two batches. This is from the 1938 Watkin's cookbook.

In a separate bowl, I combine:

2cups flour
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp salt
2tsp baking powder

I pour this over half the fruit in the big mixing bowl, stirring all to combine and coat the fruit.

Then in the other bowl, I combine:

1/3 cup grated butter (use frozen, it grates up well)
4 eggs
1 cup milk (this year I used chocolate milk)
1/3 cup molasses
splash of vanilla

I pour this into the big "Green's" bowl with the fruit and mix well.

I now am the proud owner of four pudding tins.  1/2 of the fruit mixture with one batch of the pudding batter will fill two of these tins.  Make sure you grease them well, even if they are non stick.  Trust me!
Two tins will fit nicely inside my large roasting pan, which I half fill with water.  I then set it into the oven which has been preheated to 400F, then turned back to 300F.  I steam them in the oven for about 2-3 hours, making sure to keep water in the bath. 

To serve, steam the pudding to reheat.  In our house we serve it with butterscotch sauce and whipped cream...a little goes a long way.  In my grandmother Mackie's house, she served it with hard sauce:

Also from the 1938 Watkin's cookbook
3/4 cup butter
1 cup powdered sugar
1tsp vanilla
Cream butter, add sugar, beat well.  Add vanilla.  Pack smoothly in a small dish, sprinkle with nutmeg. Chill until ready to serve.

Friday, 11 December 2015

A Day in the Life of MY Dream Job - Margaret Hunter shop at Colonial Williamsburg

This Morning's Interview is with Abigail Cox

1.      Can you describe your working space.  Be as detailed as you like.

Ok, where to begin, first is that our larger overall working environment is on Duke of Gloucester St in the heart of the Historic Area of Colonial Williamsburg. We’re on the side of the city close to the Capitol and other trades sites, which results in an active part of town. The building itself is an original building dating from around the late 1730s. Though the building is original the interior had to be redone in the 1950s to look like an 18th century millinery shop. They did a nice job, though the interior is based off of French millinery shops and not English millineries. We also question how much the shop would have looked like an apothecary inside as it was an apothecary shop in the 18thcentury before it became a millinery shop.

The largest room is the front room which is our workspace and where the public visits. We are one of the few shops with one door for the public’s entry and exit, which gives us more privacy in the back of the shop, but can result in the front room being quite crowded at times. There are 5 full time employees in the shop, with two volunteers as of this moment. The number of volunteers fluctuates with the season. We split the shop down the middle with the tailors on one side of the shop and the milliners/mantua-makers on the other. Our work tables are situated right up against the very large south facing windows which is our source of light for the work that we do. We are dependent upon natural light to be able to work; so on very dark and dreary winter days sewing productivity can be minimal.

The tailors sit atop the work board, as was the practice during the 18th century, and we as milliners and mantua-makers sit at our work board on backless stools or cozied into the window seat. Our work board is a bit higher than the rest of the counter that surrounds the rest of the shop, and part of this is so that way we are closer to eye contact level of the guests when they come in. This allows us, at times, to continue working while speaking with visitors without an uncomfortable height difference.

The walls of the shop are covered in shelves, boxes, drawers, and pegs to store and display our items and materials. The guests are able to get an idea of what a millinery shop would look like at that time, and get a taste of period shopping experiences (they stay on the public side of the U-shaped counter while we interpret, work, and display items from the private or employee side of the counter).

As for the back rooms, there is a storage/display room and an office on the first floor. The storage room has to be kept fairly tidy and historically accurate since it can be seen by the public. It also is where our fireplace is located, which we use on occasion, but not as regularly as other trade shops. The smaller office is where the tailors have their modern office space, books, fabric, clothing, and tool storage. It’s a tight squeeze to say the least.

Above stairs are more offices and our modern restroom. Both offices double as storage of fabric, clothing, tools, and storage. The larger office also holds the larger work table for cutting out of larger projects, meetings, and staff lunches. We also have a refrigerator, microwave, coffee maker, and toaster oven in the larger office, 2 desks, computer, and ironing board. To be frank, it feels like we’re busting out at the seams (pun intended) more often than not.

2.      What are the practices of your daily life?

We are open to the public between 9am-5pm 7 days a week, with Fri/Sat being only the 3 milliners/mantua-makers and Sun/Mon the tailors’ days. We show up before 9 am, some of us arrived dressed in our 18th century clothing, while others come in modern wear and change at the shop. We write up an interpretive schedule for the day based off of who is working that day, what meetings are occurring, etc. We keep the schedule as even and balanced as possible. With the interpretive schedule set, we are able to configure the rest of our day around our speaking time. Usually we have sewing projects that are demanding our attention, but we are still a modern museum with modern day responsibilities, so there are always emails to write and meetings to schedule. We also fit in our research when we can amongst our other responsibilities and lunch too. Usually we head home between 5 and 5:30 every night.
3. What do you 'do'?
                We are a par to the Department of Historic Trades and Skills at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. Our responsibility is to research, rediscover, practice, preserve, and educated the public on our respective trades. All but one of the shops in the department have an apprenticeship program where we have created an educational based employment opportunity where after a series of projects and research, the apprentices are able to graduate to journey(wo)men. Apprenticeships usually last between 4-7 years, and you are encouraged to stay on as a journey(wo)man after completing your apprenticeship.
I currently am about half way through my apprenticeship, which specifically means I have completed the millinery portion of my and am into mantua-making (dressmaking). My sewing projects revolve around my apprenticeship demands and the demands of the various projects and programs that the shop is involved in. Researching my trade and the objects of my trade is done through almost exclusively primary documentation, ranging from newspapers, magazines, books, original images, and garments. Occasionally, we will reference a Janet Arnold or Norah Waugh book to see how they have patterned original garments or skim their primary research that they’ve published in their secondary source.  We practice what many call “Reverse Archeology” or “Experimental Archeology” where the practice of making an object is the point of the study. We recreate items to better understand what they are, why they existed, who used them, and how they were made. Sometimes this means that we are producing some unusual pieces that spark a lot of questions, but the experimentation is what makes our shop so great and helps us understand the past in a much more comprehensive way. We are not here to make reproductions; we are here to understand two 18th century trades that were extraordinarily popular as they were diverse.
Though our museum focuses on telling the story of Williamsburg, Virginia through the American Revolution, the trades department is a bit different. Our shop, in particular ranges in projects from the early 18th century through the 1840s, but we do try and keep the 19th century sewing above stairs and out of the public eye if we can help it, and it doesn’t happen very often. We interpret western fashion from roughly 1774 – 1782 in the shop, and the pieces on display all help tell that story. The clothing we make is not limited to Virginian dress either, as with the lack of primary resources that highlight Virginian women’s dress, we wouldn’t have that much to make. So we have a broader reach in our production, looking at clothing in the USA, England, France, and I’ve even taken a study trip to Sweden.  The variety of skills and techniques that we’ve seen from Western Women’s clothing in the 18th century has raised a lot of questions for us, and by reaching out beyond our borders we are hoping to find the answers to better understand the women who practiced our trade, what they did the same and what they did differently.
4. What is the knowledge produced?
                To continue what I stated above, our goal is to better understand the trades of 18th century millinery and mantua-making, and through the study of these trades gain a grounded and well-rounded understanding of 18th century society and culture as a whole.  From a practical perspective, we also figure out how to make the variety of objects that were worn by our ancestors to such a degree that we are able to educate the public through our interpretation and hands-on workshops.
                De-bunking mythology is another goal of our shop. My personal research has been focused in 18th century hairdressing and hair care, and a lot of mythology around hair hygiene I’ve been able to debunk through the careful study of primary documentation and experimental archeology. For example, the pomades and powders that were used in hair dressing did not ‘stink’ of bacon or mutton, but instead were cleaned of all animal scent and then heavily scented with essences and essential oils which results in clean smelling and fragrant hair.
5. How does it take shape in material form?
                It takes shape by the objects we make and the clothing we wear. All the objects that are displayed in our shop (that are textile/fashion related) we have made, by hand, in the same manner and techniques that were done in the period. We make the clothing we wear in the shop, and we are able to help others create their own 18th century clothing through hands-on workshops where we teach the skills and techniques of the milliner and mantua-maker.
6. Are there problems with your space?
                Probably only that which can be expected; it’s too small at times for all of us, the public, and all of our things. With that being said though, there is nothing better than sitting at that work board on a brisk cold sunny morning with a warm cup of coffee looking out onto Duke of Gloucester St.

7. How does this affect your work/knowledge production?
                It’s the struggle of the trades person, regardless, I believe, of what shop you are in. Customer service comes first, and if that means putting down our project to answer a question, regardless of that project’s deadline, that is what you do as a Colonial Williamsburg interpreter. 18th century milliners and mantua-makers could, and did, work in more private and quiet settings. So their productivity was no doubt larger than ours, but it’s just how the job is. Another issue is the ability to research as a result of staffing shortages or project demands. There is a lot of juggling that comes with this job, and one of the biggest challenges for a new apprentice to face is figuring out how to handle all the different demands and responsibilities of working in a trade shop. Though, I have to say, I am never, ever, bored.

8. What lead you to do the work you do?
                All of us who work in this shop will answer this question differently, but I am only going to speak in regards to myself in this case, so please keep that in mind when reading this. I qualify myself as a Dress Historian who makes the clothing she studies. I’m not a re-enactor nor am I a costumer. As an undergraduate studying Art History, History, and Theatre, I was and always had been very interested in historic clothing and fashion. Between my junior and senior years of undergrad I spent a summer working in the Margaret Hunter Millinery shop 4 days a week and 1 day a week with Linda Baumgarten the Head Curator of Dress and Textiles at Colonial Williamsburg. The hands-on and sort of trifecta approach (studying, making, wearing) to studying 18th century dress in the millinery shop had a very strong draw for me as an academic. The practice of being able to make and wear the clothing I study has given me a deeply intimate knowledge of the clothing and a better understanding of the culture and its people. Working for Colonial Williamsburg, in my opinion, is the best place to study 18th century women’s dress in the way I wanted to study it.