Plimoth Jacket Memories

While this is likely to be subject of many more blog posts to come, I couldn’t let the day (or night) go by without writing at least a few words about the rather amazing memories that were recently dredged up! Why is that, you wonder?

Because of this:

plimoth jacket combined

Swoon! It’s not often that my breath is taken away by a historical costume reproduction, but in this case, I pretty much stopped breathing when the lovely interpreter & jacket model Natalie walked into the room wearing this stunning garment. And with no pun intended, I’m pretty sure you could have heard a pin drop in the room – that’s how awestruck we were.

embellishing17thcdressNow to back up and tell a bit more of the story! This past weekend, Saturday and Sunday to be specific, I celebrated my birthday in a rather fabulous way by attending the Embellishing 17th-Century Dress Conference at Plimoth Plantation. There were two full days of workshops and discussions and demos of all sorts of techniques – both English and Native – and all the teachers and presenters were fantastic. An extra bonus was getting to spend the weekend with my friend, Jenni of Historically Dressed– it’s always so much better to share costuming adventures with friends!

The workshop focused heavily on details related to the embroidered jacket project that was completed in 2009: The Plimoth Jacket – A Paradise of Silk and Gold. This 3+ year project was a tremendous effort that eventually involved over 200 volunteer stitchers, dozens of lace makers, several technical and historical experts, and thousands of yards of silk thread.

plimoth leaves

I worked on the wings of the jacket – which is pretty exciting because it means it’s easy to spot my stitching on the finished piece! My detached buttonhole stitching is still looking good nine years later ;o)

But let’s back up even earlier to when the first embroidery stitches were added to the jacket… June 2007. I  was one of about 10 stitchers who attended the first volunteer session and who had the privilege of being the inaugural embroiders on this amazing jacket. Can you tell I’m still excited about this? I hope so… because then you’d understand why when this conference was announced and included the opportunity to see the jacket… I was all in!

Sadly, it seems that most of the story and blog that traced the progress of making the jacket seems to have disappeared from the web but some traces can be found by searching the Internet Archive or doing an Google Image search.

And although I have been back to Plimoth Plantation several times since 2007, it was a huge treat to return for another does of hands-on history. And while it’s true that much of the staff has changed during the past nine years, everyone involved (then and now) went above and beyond to provide a fantastic experience. So thank you, Plimoth Plantation, Jill Hall, Tricia Wilson Nguyen, and countless others who made the jacket project a reality nearly a decade ago, and thank you also to Demetra and Dan Rosen, Kristen Haggerty, and the many other staff members who made me fall in love with 17th century costume all over again during the past few days.

P.S. If you’re keeping track, I’ve been a bit behind on my CoBloWriMo-ing due to the traveling and conference, lol! However, I thought today’s prompt – Give a progress report on your current projects – was oddly fitting even if my current project stretches back nine years! It’s also a good time to mention that the conference gave me the chance to meet and stitch with Mem of Star and Scissor… who is also the driving force behind CoBloWriMo!

P.P.S. My head is literally exploding with other non-embroidery information learned this weekend and with ideas for future costuming. So many more blog posts to follow…

Salem Shopping in 1774

I’ve been having more fun going through old presentation and research files that I mentioned in an earlier post. This post will be short (on pictures) and sweet (on shopping wishlists) as I share three fabulous advertisements from 1774 editions of the Essex Gazette. Oh, to have a time machine and go back to do some shopping!

John Appleton May 3 1774

Excerpt from Essex Gazette, May 3, 1774

First up… the offerings of John Appleton at his store in Salem. Appleton advertised wares as early as 1768 in the same newspaper. This particular advert has quite the listing, including:

Calicoes and Patch… striped linen for jackets, taffeties … padusays… blue, green and cloth-coloured damasks, … Long lawn, cambricks, Plain and flowered lawns, Lawn aprons, diapers … Cardinal silk … Cotton velvits, …Silk ferrets … Stay trimmings… Women’s English & Lynn shoes … and fish-hooks.

According to the advert, these goods were recently imported from London, and are listed as ‘A fine Assortment of English, India, Irish & Scotch Goods, at the very lowest Rates.’ The image scan is a bit too fuzzy to make out the spelling of every item but one can get a sense of the breadth of variety without knowing the specifics. (And for the record I now want a Cardinal silk cloak… because why not?)

Next up is and advertisement from the following week, May 10-17, 1774. This time we can see the offerings of Nath’l Sparhawk… which is just the best name ever for a shop owner!

Nathaniel Sparhawk May 10 1774

Excerpt from Essex Gazette, May 10, 1774

He had advertised Beavers and Bohea (among other items) in January of the same year but in May was running a much longer column. His goods were coming from London and Bristol and I found it interesting that he named the specific Captains who made the journey. I’m also curious that he sells by wholesale and retail at his ‘CHEAP STORE in King-Street, SALEM, a few Doors above the Custom-House.’ Was cheap a favorable way to describe a shop? Curious minds are wondering but have no answers… yet.

Sparhawk offers many items in common with Appleton, but a few differences can be found including the following:

…changeable lutestrings, black ditto … Quality shoes & coat bindings, Gold and silver Prussian ditto … Children’s red Morocco leather shoes … Black and white whimsey caps, with cords … Plain and flower’d serges … Black and white spider-net, Queens’ gauzes … Black and white catgut … Women’s white and glazed and unglazed kid gloves & mitts … and Coffee.

More than a few interesting items in the Sparhawk list! If I’m transcribing it correctly, whimsey caps (with cords of course) are by far the most curious to me. I’ve not done much serious 18th century fashion research in a number of years so it could be that this is a wildly popular and well-known term. However, it’s new to me and I love the idea of purchasing such an item to wear, just so I could ask for it out loud.  In other adverts, Sparhawk lists them with children’s items and in one case, specifically calls them Children’s Whimsey Caps so it could just a youthful garment – more’s the pity!

Excerpt from Essex Gazette, December 27, 1774

Excerpt from Essex Gazette, December 27, 1774

Last but not least we jump to the end of year for a December 1774 advert, this time provided by George Dublois. Like Appleton, Dublois had been advertising since at least 1768. Many of his goods are the same as the other shops – checks, linens, broad-cloths, camblets, stockings, and the like seem to be common to just about every ad for English (and Irish, Indian, and European) Goods of the period.

A few new additions to this particular set of three listings includes:

… Bath Frizes … knit breeches Patterns … Hatter’s Trimmings of all sorts … crimp and common cap Wire … letter’d and other Gartering, … and velvit Corks.

Velvit corks? Um, okay. A quick googling shows that to be a high quality type of cork. Who knew?

There’s more than a few terms that I’d love to look into more as time allows. But once again, the hour grows late today and I’ll have to save those efforts for another day. Until then, I’ll be having dreams of cap wire and whimsy caps and flowered serges and striped linen jackets… with a few velvit corks and fish hooks thrown in for good measure!

Late 1820s Day Dress

So although my mind is still spinning with thoughts and memories of revwar reenacting and 1770s dressmaking, I particularly like the Day 5 CoBloWriMo prompt (write about a favorite project you’ve done in the past) and it brings to mind a very plain day dress I reproduced a few years ago.

osv 1820s

Posing (and even smiling) in the Towne House Garden Arbor at Old Sturbridge Village. And yes, I have fixed the hem since this picture was taken!

The blue-grey cotton dress in the photo is loosely copied from one in the collection of the Andover Historical Society.

front detail sm

Detail of the original silk dress with interesting pleating at waist and sleeves.

The original dress dates to right about 1830, maybe a tad earlier, and is made of lightweight brown silk taffeta. My favorite construction detail is the skirt pleating with the stacked box pleats.

From a fashion history standpoint it straddles the 1820s & 1830s by being able to hang relatively straight rather than being gathered all around the waist. The skirts of both the original and the reproduction do form a slight bell shape if enough petticoats are worn or displayed underneath to give it a more 1830s feel.

The detail at the top of the sleeves is more typical of the 1830s with rows of parallel knife pleats to control the fullness before being released into full gigot sleeves.

For my repro, I was a bit limited on fabric and was also trying to create an 1825 appropriate look for a particular event I was attending. I reduced the fullness of the gigot sleeve and skipped the pleating at the top of the shoulder but I did retain the false cuff detail. My false cuff falls straight across the sleeve rather than at an angle like the original, but I still like the overall effect.

sleeve detail

Sleeve detail

Only the bodice of the original dress is lined and it’s a lightweight unbleached linen or cotton that acts as support for the fan pleating/gathering at the waist and neckline. The neckline on the original is piped as are the back bodice seams. It closes with hooks and eyes at the center back with only the lining being fully closed. The silk fabric is gathered in such a way that it meets when the lining is hooked shut.

I did the same (lining, piping & back closure) on my cotton version. The fabric I used has much greater drape than the original and may in fact have some rayon or even silk blended in. I don’t recall purchasing it with that knowledge but after years of wearing it, I’m not convinced it’s 100% cotton. In any case, it’s been one of my go-to dresses for working in an 1820’s historic house, attending events at Old Sturbridge Village, or going to other big-sleeved costume outings!

osv chickens

Sometimes I even get to hang out with chickens while wearing it! And for the record, this is probably the best detail shot of that bonnet that I have ;o)

Blast from the past… 1770s style

Antique Nanking ware platter from Mine is almost as fabulous!

Antique Nanking ware platter from Mine is almost as fabulous!

Long story short (which is not one of my strengths…) I found myself at the Rebecca Nurse Homestead in Danvers, Massachusetts earlier today. A small revolutionary war encampment was happening and I went to meet the owner of The Georgian Kitchen. Sadly, I didn’t get to sample any food (total fail on my part not his!) but it did look delicious and I did snag some stunning Nanking ware platters and dessert plates.

This was my first visit back to the 1770s in quite a few years, and while I can’t be sure, I think it’s been nearly seven years since I last visited this particular historic site. As a super-involved RevWar reenactor from 1999 through 2009-ish, I spent many weekends at places like the Homestead. Being there on a beautiful day like today, it’s easy to recall many of the memories I created over the years and I have to admit that I still miss parts of the hobby.

One of things I miss most is teaching and presenting clothing workshops – I love seeing the look on someone’s face when they have an a-ha! moment in the midst of learning a new technique or when a smile pops up while modeling a new gown.

As I looked through my computer files for photographs of events in Danvers, my search came up empty but I did stumble upon a two presentations I gave related to 1770s clothing in Danvers. So instead of pretty event photos, I’m sharing some facts, figures, and what-nots from those notes. Without further ado…

danvers clothing 2007

While the talk was originally 90 minutes or so, I’m cherry picking some of my favorite bits and pieces here, including this unusual portrait of Nancy Bezoil Lane and one of her children. According to the notes I copied at the time, the auction site (F.O. Bailey) that sold the painting had the following to say:

Nancy Bezoil Lane and fifth child by Benjamin Blyth, 1781.

Nancy Bezoil Lane and fifth child by Benjamin Blyth, 1781.

A fine 18th C portrait of Nancy Bezoil Lane (Mrs. Nicholas Lane) and her 5th child (mother of 13 children) of Salem, Mass., in the manner Joseph Badger, from the Frothingham/ Smith family who have resided in Wayne, Maine since the early 1900’s;

There was one item in the sale that might have escaped unheralded but for a few bidders in the know. It was a large oil on canvas with its subjects identified through family history as Nancy Bezoil Lane and her fifth child of Salem, Massachusetts. Later information dug up revealed that her husband, Nicholas, was a sailmaker. The consigning family was from Wayne, Maine, and represented the Smith side of the Smith/Frothingham connection to the famous furniture makers of Massachusetts.

Apparently, the double portrait was misattributed. Listed as “in the manner of Joseph Badger,” at least two knowledgeable bidders blew off the Badger connection and proceeded on their own knowledge. The winner at $32,480 was dealer Marvin Sadik of Scarborough, Maine, who was dead certain that the artist was actually Benjamin Blyth (baptized 1746-after 1786).

He affirmed later: “There’s a lot of information on [Blyth] in the Massachusetts Historical Society…I’ve had it cleaned, and it looks terrific, and the woman has a wonderful coiffure. It was painted in 1780. We found that out by checking her birth date. It was in Salem.” He later added, “She’s sitting in a Chippendale chair, and the baby is holding a teething ring. I just got it back from the conservator…There are only about three known oil portraits by Blyth, so cleaned up it looks wonderful.”

Sadik referred to a very similar painting in Nina Fletcher Little’s Paintings by New England Provincial Artists 1775-1800 on page 55. “The painting is quite similar to mine of Mrs. Benjamin Moses, virtually the same size as mine, painted by Blyth in 1781, and it is in the Essex Institute in Salem, Massachusetts, and that is evidence enough for me.“

What is perhaps most interesting is that according to the Gloucester & Salem Vital Records books, Nancy’s husband Nicholas was a sailmaker and they married and lived first in Gloucester before moving to Salem, a major port town adjacent to Danvers. The portrait is a great pictorial example of what clothing was being worn by the middling sort and when combined with newspapers from the time, we start to get a more accurate sense of what was being worn in the area.

Although Danvers was primarily a farming community, its proximity and connection to the larger prosperous town of Salem would have exposed many residents to range of goods and services. And even Danvers had its own shops that catered to the fashion needs of the residents.

Here are a few of the listings that were included in the original presentation:

Date Shop Name Owner Business Location
1768 No info Nathan Andrews Cordwainer Unknown
1768 King’s Head Tavern William Jones Tavern Rd fr. Boston to Salem
1768 Bake House Benjamin Pickman, Esq. (of Salem) To be let Near new mills
1769-70 The Bell Inn Francis Symonds Selling India & English good; Entertainment for Man and Horse Near Salem
1774 No info Jeremiah Page Store & Shop adjoining to be let 1 m. east of Mr. P’s Tavern
1774 Mr. P’s Tavern Mr. P______ Tavern 1 m. west of J. Page
1774 Unnamed Joseph Jackson Assortment of English Goods, suitable for all seasons Opp. Capt. Page’s
1769-74 Unnamed William Pool Gloves, Leather Breeches, etc A little below Bell Tavern

Phew! The midnight hour is creeping upon us once again and while it would be lovely to add some more portraits and pretty dresses… that will just have to wait for another post. Happy stitching my friends… and for those that like the challenge of research, I hope you enjoy these little tidbits!

Update: Oops! My bad… this post was totally inspired by the Day 4 CoBloWriMo prompt: Write about a recent event you’ve been to or trip you’ve taken.

Raindrops on roses

Remind you of a song? Well, with the witching hour approaching and being a bit tired, I’m putting aside my planned costume-specific post to take up today’s CoBloWriMo prompt: 5 things that make you happy. So here’s a few quick thoughts on some of my favorite things!


Handsewn eyelets… yep, you read that right! There’s something therapeutic about creating those little circles in a layer (or four) of fabric without breaking any of the woven threads. This example is from an 18th century stays tutorial. Seeing it again almost makes me want to start a new pair of stays. Almost…


Antique & Vintage Costume Books… oh, the hours I can spend poring over their contents and drooling over the illustrations! This yummy example is in my private collection and is a Ladies’ Tailoring sample & sales book from 1909-1910. The fabric swatches are amazing and the designs are super details. Fabulous for eyeing and touching! I’ve been fortunate to come across a few books and magazines from as early as the 1890s to add to my shelves and also have many more digital or repro copies, thanks to Google Books & Ebay. One of my go-to e-books is a 1911 dressmaking guide by Carrie Crane Ingalls. Yes, the first name caught my attention at first but after making many petticoats, underclothes and skirts from her instructions, she won me over with her attention to detail and thorough explanations.


Costume Lovin’ Friends… because of course pretty clothing is best enjoyed in company! Yes, researching, planning, stitching, and wearing a new costume is a wonderful journey and one that I love to be part of but it’s always more fun to grab some friends for an afternoon of shenanigans in costume. Better yet if there’s a road trip and a great meal involved. And while photos always help capture the moment (and would add some extra imagery here) many of my favorite memories were created without a camera in sight and I’m so thankful to have a great group of costuming friends to play with! (Although to be fair, this particular photo is helpful in reminding me to shorten my petticoat 😜)


Sterling silver thimbles… and other old-fashioned sewing tools – I just can’t get enough! They just make me happy to see them on my finger, on a shelf in an antique shop, in my work basket, and yes, even pretty photos on Pinterest. I truly enjoy hand sewing and while costuming full-time several years ago I was often stitching 8+ hours each day. I mastered the art of using a thimble (or at least remembering to use one) and have been partial to sterling thimbles since then. The soft metal warms and better molds to my finger with each wearing… so much so that I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve found myself walking around the house (or out running errands!) with a thimble still stuck on my finger hours after I’ve stopped sewing!

And last but not least:


A cup of Earl Grey tea… yum! Need I say more?

So while raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens are also wonderful, these are a few of MY favorite things!

1830s Roller Print Pink Gown

Now that CoBloWriMo is officially underway and the first prompt (What are your goals for 2016?) has been issued, it’s time to put my bits of blog planning into action! For at least the next few days, I’ll be catching up on projects that have been completed but that I never took the time to write up.  First up… one of my favorites: the gigantically-enormously-sleeved roller-printed pink striped 1830s day dress!

Photo by Pearl White Studio, 2015.

Photo by Pearl White Studio, 2015.

Did I mention gi-normous sleeves? Why, yes… I am wearing pillows on my arms! (No, really I am! They’re tied to the inside of the dress, but more on that later…)

This gown was a two-year process to make and was started in time to wear for the annual street festival, Andover Day, in 2014 when I would be participating in a living history open house at the museum where I was working. In my haste to prepare for that event, there were many details that were left unfinished, including all the back closures, hemming & closures at the wrist, neckline inside binding, and basically anything that needed final tacking or topstitching. Let’s just say I was walking around very carefully that day – I had straight pins up and down the back of the dress, throughout piped areas on the bodice and even at my right wrist!

But I’m getting ahead of myself – let’s start with the basics. The fabric is a delicious warm pink and cream wavy stripe – a reproduction print cotton that I fell in love with and purchased locally at Quilter’s Common. They stock a rather stunning array of repro cottons and I usually dream of new gown ideas every time I stop in!


Truly Victorian’s pattern was inspired by an 1832 fashion plate.

The pattern is the 1830s Romantic Era Dress by Truly Victorian. I have to say that I love this pattern! I did fit the dress over my 1830s stays and with using those related measurements, I had only very minor tweaking at the shoulder area for a perfect fit. As is my usual habit, I did not make a muslin – I just dove in with the good fabric. I used 1/16″ cotton cording for all of the covered piping, picked up from the home dec section at Jo-Ann Fabrics. I have a note to myself to use Coats & Clark Knit-Cro-Sheen crochet cotton for the next time around but have yet to actually pick some up!

The bulk of the interior seams were sewn by machine, and the bodice and sleeves are fully interlined with another light cotton. I regret lining the sleeves as it makes them terribly warm when worn at any temperature over 70°F. Less than ideal for a gown likely to worn for spring/summer/fall outings. And back sleeve puffto the pillows… I used the short puff sleeve sleeve pattern to create a sleeve pouf – similar to this one from the Victoria & Albert Museum. I’m also betting that a down filling would be cooler than the cotton batting I used. Did I mention the sleeve were on the warm side?

To create the proper bell-shaped skirt, I wore three petticoats beneath the dress. First, and closest to my corset was a plain linen petticoat from my 1770’s wardrobe. It’s lighweight and starts to create some bulk at the hem. Over that was a corded organdy petticoat, made following Jennifer Rosborough’s excellent instructions. Lastly, I added a quilted petticoat to add some loft and soften the bell shape. And voila… a lovely 1830s silhouette!


1830s Roller Print Cotton Dress - Finis!

1830s Roller Print Cotton Dress – Finis!

As I sit here typing and trying to recall details so many months later, I’m reminded of the few finishing touches I added before wearing it for Andover Day 2015. I did manage to finish the neckline (self fabric binding to hold the piping to the inside) as well as add hooks and eyes at the center back and both wrists. Some vintage ribbon with paper flowers and leaves at the waist and in my hair were my go-to accessories both years. Maybe for the next wearing I’ll craft an actual belt!

Photo by Pearl White Studio, 2014.

While I did not use sleeve puffs in 2014, I did make and wear them in 2015 and you can see what a difference they make! Here’s my 2014 portrait as taken by Pearl White Studio. Not so gigantic, right?

As the midnight hour approaches and I wind down this entry, I’m still contemplating the initial prompt for CoBloWriMo: goals for 2016. This post, and this dress (even if it’s a past project), are well suited to that theme. One of the first things I did this January was reach out to some like-minded relatively-local costumers to see if we could try to coordinate outings and make some concrete event plans. One of the ideas (goals?) kicked around was a Wives & Daughter’s 1830s theme picnic. As the half-way point of the year approaches, I’m excited to say that those plans are underway and we’re looking forward to fabulous outing in September. And as I pour over old photos, costuming notes, and pinterest images, I’m still loving this gown so maybe I won’t be adding a whole new 1830s ensemble to my 2016 goal list after all.

On the other hand… A belt? A reticule? A pelerine? Now those are some costuming goals I can get behind… and maybe even get ahead of! What a list – I’m off to get some sleep and start dreaming of big-sleeved parties…

Back on the (blogging) bandwagon

Isn’t it funny how a small coincidence can have a big impact? After not being particularly active or following the Historical Sew Monthly very closely on facebook, I was in binge reading mode when I saw the following post:

facebook post suggesting idea of coblowrimo

What? An excuse to get back to writing? An excuse to write about costumes? An excuse to meet other like-minded sewists? Yes, please and thank you!

So, here we are on the very eve of day one of CoBloWriMo, or rather a moment into it, and I actually have some plans in place to carry me through at least the next week of writing. Please stay tuned dear readers… it may be a bumpy ride, but at least we’re headed in a forward direction! The next few posts will see me catching up on details from some 2015 and early 2016 completed projects but I’m also hoping to finally get some patterns drafted for sharing, too. Fingers crossed that this motivation continues ;o)

In the meantime, here’s a few sneak peeks of some favorite finished pieces… with details to follow of the related shenanigans in the coming days!