Tag Archive | reenacting

Introductions… and a bit of back story!

So here we are on the official Day 1 of CoBloWriMo and today’s prompt is Introduce Yourself. Well… I’m not sure I could fit that into a single post, after all, isn’t that the whole point of writing all month long? (And then hopefully beyond then!) But in keeping with the spirit of the group, here’s a wee bit about me.

If we step inside the way-back machine… and take a trip all the way to the few months before the 1990s began, you’d find a younger me busily learning to sew in my Clothing I class at my high school. Yep, I’m one of those rare but lucky few who attended full dressmaking and tailoring classes as electives while attending a public school. And if that wasn’t enough to cement my love of sewing, my teacher, the lovely Mrs. C. was also the advisor for the AFS Club (which ALL the cool kids were in – LOL!) and it was with that same AFS club that I first traveled to Colonial Williamsburg. Now I had always loved historical costumes and had done my fair share of dressing up when younger, but it was that visit to Virginia that really pushed things over the top.

Can you guess where I spent the majority of my visit? (Aside from The Cheese Shop, of course.) Yes, indeed… the Milliner’s Shop. How predictable, right? I apparently was too enthralled to take too many pictures, except this gem… don’t you just love my misspelled but clearly enthusiastic caption?

While not surprising that I loved this shop in 1991, what is so impressive is how much research has been and continues to be done by their amazing staff over the many years it’s been open. The Milliner’s Shop still inspires and enthralls historical costume enthusiasts!! (And probably many other high schoolers on summer field trips, too!)

Fortunately, there are no pictures of me wearing the fabulous pink cotton elasticized mob-cap that I purchased at Yorktown during the same trip. Yep. Times have changed my friends…

Fast forward a few years, and you’d find me making costumes to wear while larp-ing at NERO events. And no, I’m not the least bit embarrassed to admit it! (They’re now big enough to have a Wikipedia page – who knew?) To be fair I did prefer dressing as a pretty princess (or rather as one of the princess’ handmaids) to looking all crazy like a giant praying mantis creature. As I look back at my costuming and sewing experiences… this one cracks me up the most – it was silly crazy fun for weekends at a time and definitely led me down the path of immersive costume events. It just turns out I like actual history better than pseudo-medieval fantasy! But sorry… no photo evidence ;o)

By 1999, I had worked for a small costume shop, spent countless hours trying to recreate historical garments (some better than others) for events and outings with friends, switched from LARPing to SCA, started to collect some original historical clothing, amassed a respectable costume library, had a few opportunities to study clothing in museums, and last but not least, joined a RevWar reenacting group. I’m pretty sure it’s been nothing but a slippery slope since then!

My newly tasseled peacock silk parasol in all its glory along the Newport coast.

Not to gloss over the past 18 or so years, but it’s truly been a lot more of the same over these last two decades. I’ve been fortunate to work in history museums as a staff member and as independent costume consultant, my library and clothing collection has only grown larger, and although I no longer do much reenacting, I have expanded my wardrobe (and knowledge) to eras beyond the 1770s. These days I spend most of my time teaching sewing, both modern dressmaking and historical costume. It also seems I’ve gone a bit back to my roots, as ‘pretty princess’ seems to be my favorite type of event to plan, sew, and dress for – whatever the century! There’s always a tiara within reach just in case….

So here we are, back in 2017… and with a quick follow-up to yesterday’s post. I really am all about tassels lately and after having so much fun with my parasol at last month’s event, you can be sure they’ll be making regular appearances in my repertoire going forward.

Stay tuned for further sewing shenanigans, past and present. This little trip down memory lane has reminded me of all sorts of fun projects I’ve done or want to start that I can’t wait to share!





Blast from the past… 1770s style

Antique Nanking ware platter from Kovels.com. Mine is almost as fabulous!

Antique Nanking ware platter from Kovels.com. 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.