Wednesday, March 22, 2017

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How to be a Boss at Research - Part 3

How to be a Boss at Research Part 3: Rules of Engagement - Primary Sources

Alright, kids, we're here. Part 3 of what appears to be a very long series about researching historic dress. Let's do a recap before we move on - yes?

Part 1: Introduction to this long series. Go back here if you're just now tuning in.

Part 2:  What are Primary sources and Where you can find them. This section directly coincides with what's coming up. This is a good link to just bookmark so you can refer back to the different databases I've listed in the post.

Rules of Engagement: Primary Sources (AKA how to actually use these silly databases so you get something out of it. (Note: All of my examples are related to the 18th century, but the guidelines are applicable to all time's just the best era for me to use as examples.)

1.      Spelling. In the 18th century there was more than one way to spell a word, and this lack of spelling formality affects how we research today. Just because you know that we spell Mantua-maker this way today, does not mean that will bring you up a lot of hits on your database. You might (and should) try multiple spellings of words to help you find what you’re looking for. For example: Mantuamaker, mantua-maker, manteau maker, manteau-maker, mantoe (seriously.), etc. You might get repetitive hits, but you also might find hidden information that you missed in your first search.

2.      Understand that our dress history terms are not the same as they were in the 18th century. This is crucial when you are searching 18th century American or English databases. We use French terminology today to describe a lot of the clothing and accessories, but 18th century Americans and Brits did not do that. For example, A robe a la franaise is called a Sacque or Sack in 18th century English. You might find a couple of hits if you search the French term, but you will find a lot more if you use Sacque. (Sack is problematic since it is…well…a sack and you’ll probably get a lot of hits on boring stuff like grain prices, etc.)
True Story.

3.      Accept all information for what it is, and do not leave out things of your research that you do not like because it does not fit your personal narrative of how history is supposed to be.  I cannot state this enough. I have seen time and time again (hell, I’ve probably been guilty of it too!) where people will purposefully manipulate or ignore primary documentation because it does not suit their personal opinion of how that time period is supposed to be. PLEASE DO NOT DO THIS. If you are researching a subject it is now your responsibility to try and understand it from the perspective of the 18th century. Listen to what history is telling you, and learn from it. History is not here to fit into our molds of what we think it was like. We learn from her.

4.      Beware of confirmation bias This is a lot like above, but instead of ignoring information you’re misinterpreting or manipulating faulty resources to suit your viewpoint instead of acknowledging that the information cannot confirm or deny your hypothesis.

Let’s use aprons as an example for both of these bad habits. You’re trying to figure out the most common way to tie an apron during the Rev War period, but information is kind of all over the place, and frankly, the more you look the more your eyes go cross. So you start to only look for images that suit your viewpoint and ignore ones that contradict it. When you do this though, you realize that your image and source documentation is weak, and so you start including images that are debatable (they do not prove or contradict your point, but you want to include them in the “prove” category), misidentify objects to validate your argument, and try to use how people wore aprons in the 1910s to validate how they wore them in the 1770s.  It’s hard for us as costumers and reenactors to acknowledge our deep desire to put history into sealed boxes. We want it to be easy. We want it to be clear. We want rules to follow so we’re not “farby” or “n00bs”. We don’t want to be attacked by people we consider our peers, idols, or anyone. The problem here is when it goes to an extreme and you are ignoring the human element. We are researching a culture. A people. And we are all different. Whether it was the 18th century or the 21st century people are as people are, and we cannot be put into boxes. The more I have researched the 18th century, the more I have realized that while there may be good solid guidelines, there are very few rules, and just like the English language, for every rule there is a lot of breaking of that rules. Look, it’s just human nature.

5.      Running around with a “UFO” as a rule. This goes to the opposite end of the spectrum that I discussed above. There was weird stuff happening in the 18th century. WEIRD. People wore weird fabrics, clothing, etc. They styled themselves differently. This all goes into the human nature element I was discussing above, but it’s also important that you do not take one weird ass story and make it gospel. For example: There is a man’s jacket in the Tailor’s shop at Colonial Williamsburg. It is made out of a bright red and white checked fabric that is commonly used for furniture. When you ask the tailors about the jacket, they’ll go on to explain that they recreated it based off a newspaper advertisement of a runaway slave. This enslaved person ran away…a lot…. so much so that it seems like his master had a jacket made out of the bold fabric check so that way he could be easier to spot. It was so weird, even for the 18th century, that it was made to be used a signifier. Does this mean that you should make a jacket out of red and white fabric check? Not unless you are portraying that particular individual, or one very similar to him, and you use that fabric as an education point. This jacket is a UFO and should be treated as such: Proceed with extreme caution. Context is everything.

Whew! We did it! We got through the Primary source part of this series! Next up is the readily available, but sometimes confusing Secondary sources!

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Monday, March 20, 2017


1820s Green Dress - Basic Measurements and Sleeve Examination

Hey Everyone!

Abby here with another post about the 1820s Green Silk Lustring Dress that has recently come into my possession. (You can read about how I got the dress here. If you're curious as to why I've dated it in the 1820s check out the post here.)

Like I promised and many of you have asked, I'm now going to share with you those fun detail shots, interior pictures, and discuss my construction notes with you. Due to the insane amount of images and notes I've taken on this thing, I'm going to break up the posts into 3 parts: Sleeves, Bodice, and Skirt. Today, we're going to look at my general observations, list of measurements, and the sleeves.

General Observations

- Dress is made up of a bodice with separate skirt. Made up of bottle green silk lustring. Due to fading in places where moisture was present, I am inclined to believe that this green dress was created using yellow and blue dye & not arsenic.
- Minimal signs of damage (tears, holes, shatters).
- No evidence of major remakes or refashioning.
- Threads appear to be mostly 2 kinds. 1 of green silk and 1 of green (faded to yellow in some places) cotton or linen(?) There is black thread used in some cases which might be evidence of later mending & possible mild alteration.
- Bodice is lined in glazed cotton or linen. Unable to confirm without microscope.
- Waistband appears to be of a coarse linen. Also unable to confirm fiber content.
- Sleeves are Unlined.
- Original button still in place at the skirt (and OMG it's so cute!)
- Hooks and eyes are missing.
- Hem of skirt is faced in a brown cotton or linen, and then wrapped in what appears to be a green worsted wool.

Cute button is cute!
List of Measurements

Bust: 30-31"
Shoulder to Shoulder: 20" (dropped shoulder)
Bodice Length: CF- 10.25" CB - 13.375"
Bodice Waist:  26-28"
Skirt Waist: approx 25" (Altered to make smaller. Original size probably around 28")
Sleeve Length: 31.5"/14 nails* (top) & 23.5"/10+ nails (under)
Sleeve Poof: 23" around & about 13.5"/6 nails long (interior tape holding the poof in place is 6.25"/about 3 nails)
Sleeve Wrist: 9" around
9" up from Wrist: 10.75" around
Hem Circumference: 97.5" (5 panels of silk @ selvage to selvage approx. 19.5" wide)
Skirt Length: 40.25" long (not including waistband)

* "nails" is another form of measurement used during this period to get to ell (nail/quarters/ell). Special shout out to A Fashionable Frolick for my housewife w/ my special measuring tape that has nails and quarters marked out for me!
Screenshot from Workwoman's Guide that explains the units of measure. 1 English = 45" and 1 French Ell = 54" these numbers sound familiar? Now you know why fabrics are woven at those widths! It's a holdover from this unit of measure. :) 

Now let's talk about the sleeves:

This is the "deflated" sleeve with the broken interior tape. I used this one for my measurements.
Here's the broken tape. You can see how it was reattached with the black thread, but the other side is out of the same greenish thread that is seen all over the dress. I would guess this is linen tape. The other side is a later twill tape fix. 

Detail of the piping and gathering on the sleeve

This the end of the piping that is at the edge of the sleeve. It was originally split up the wrist with piping on the edge. It was whipped closed with the black thread later. I believe the piping is a natural wool yarn 1 to 2 yarns thick in the channel. 
Here's an interior shot of the piping at the wrist (shown above). You can see the knot (!) that secures the faded green thread. The piping is made with running stitches (visible).
There is piecing at the underside of the top of the sleeve. It's mostly invisible from the outside. I'm curious as to how common this was in silk gowns of the period, and if there was a standard "piecing" technique used. It makes sense since we need a lot of fullness at the sleeve head and the silk was only 19.5" wide.  

Another view with the side seam. They're about 3/4" wide and backstitched (12-14 stitches per inch). Also see where the green dye has faded to yellow due to the moisture? The blue dye faded away with the sweat. 

Top of armscye. You can see the back-stitching stops, and it seems like the are just running stitches holding the top of the sleeve in place. I'm a little unsure about what is really going on here. It's very messy, and hard to see. 

Silk side of the same sleeve. Just...yeah...messy. Overcasting....running stitches..just..everywhere. 

Alright, that's it for today! Next week we'll keep looking at the gown (either skirt or bodice - I have yet to decide as of writing this post).
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Friday, March 17, 2017

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The 1790s "Jane Austen Goes to Ikea" Gown - The Corset

Ikea does it again - Ingmarie curtains >>
This year is 1790s year.

After completing all the book projects, Abby and I can finally settle into share-able projects. Both of us are mad for the 1790s after studying and re-creating various pieces for the '90s Round Gown chapter, so we've decided to explore further.

I'm making an open robe with a gathered bodice and long sleeves, to be worn over an embroidered white-work petticoat.

My sketch for the back of the gown.

I have three new pieces to make for this costume - the corset, petticoat, and gown itself. The corset was a quick project - two layers of linen with very little boning, lacing in front. I based my design on garments shown in Fashion: A History from the 18th to the 20th Century (the KCI book), Corsets: Historical Patterns & Techniques by Jill Salen, and Corsets and Crinolines by Norah Waugh.

My simple two-piece pattern for the '90s corset
The term "corset" or "corsette" existed throughout the 18th century, appearing to describe semi-boned, quilted, or stiffened bodices worn instead of stays. In the '90s there's a shift altogether from stiffly boned stays towards softer, lighter corsets, or stiffened bodices, that created a more natural bust shape while still lending support.

World, 1789 - "The French Corsett"
"Patent and [other] riding habit, elastic stay and corset maker, to which [her] Majesty and the Princesses have been pleased to express their most gracious approbation." - The Morning Post and Fashionable World, 1797                                                                  

"Corsettes about six inches long, and a buffon tucker of two inches high, are now the only defensive paraphernalia of our fashionable belles, between the necklace and the apron strings" - The Times, 1795

Interestingly, many of the 1790s corsets were still to-the-waist and many still had tabs. In experimenting with short and long stays, I've found that the waist length actually effects the bust and how it is raised, supported, or separated (later on). It's boob engineering - the boning in the front of 1790s and early Regency corsets cantilevers off the stomach at the bottom to stay close to the sternum at the top.

A quick try-on. The bust is low and full and round, unlike the high, compressed busts of earlier and later silhouettes.

The corset is bones at the center and side back all the way down into the "tail."
The corset vs. stays has been a bit of a mind melt for me. My inner staymaker wanted this garment to be stiff, with no wrinkles, but 1790s corsets were soft, form fitting, but not *tight* the way stays were. The point is not to reduce the waist but instead to support the bust, so lacing the corset loosely is key. Additionally, the shoulder straps and bustline drawstrings both play important roles - the shoulder straps keep the corset up and pulled in at the very wide side of the bust and the drawstrings on each side pull the sides in further, to eliminate gapping. I've also constructed my shoulder straps in an 18th century posture-correcting configuration seen on several extant pairs, such as these late 18th century stays from the Philadelphia Museum of Art:

Stays, late 18th c., Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1998-162-50 
My '90s stays complete and laid out flat. They're not perfect, but they get the job done.
With the corset done, it's on to the gown. More on that soon...!

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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

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How to be a Boss at Research - Part 2

How to be a Boss at Research Part 2:  Where to find those pesky primary sources from (mostly) the comfort of your own home! (For Review: Part 1)

Hey Ya'll! Abby here again!

So after the first post I'm sure a number of you are thinking, "Alright then, so where can I find these “primary” sources Miss Hoity-Toity Smarty Pants?"

It’s a fair question, and it’s a bit of a pain in the bum, I agree with you on this. I have missed my access to databases after leaving Colonial Williamsburg and University, but there are options for those of us who don't have access to the same databases as museum professionals and academics do.

However, with that being said...maybe you do want the same kind of access that college professors and grad students can be done. There are two different ways to go about it. One is going to be more successful than others..

Your Local University Library

Though you usually cannot get remote access from your home to your local Uni’s databases unless you’re an enrolled student, almost all University libraries are open and free to the public when you’re on campus. You can get a free guest login for their computers, and then a whole new world will be opened to you. For eighteenth-century research there are several databases that are extraordinarily helpful: Eighteenth-Century Collections Online (ECCO), Burney Papers Collection (Historic British Newspapers), America’s Historic Newspapers, Accessible Archives, and more. Most universities that have a moderately successful history department should have at least some of these databases that you can search for free. If you bring a USB stick, you can spend a day saving whole books or parts of documents about your subject to look through later. If you’re worried that your local University library wont let you in, just look up their website on the internet before making the trek over to find out for sure…or if you’re not a millennial who hates talking on the phone…just call them up and ask!

Your Local Library

This will probably be more successful if you are near a larger city (like Boston), but some will also have access to databases like the ones I mentioned above. It’s just a case by case basis. It’s up to you to find out if they have access to these databases or not.

Oh really? Well then, you should come sit next to me on the couch, and I'll tell you all about it....

But what about if you don't want to/can't make it to the University library and your local library is a bust, too?

It's ok! There are databases on the internet. Right now. For you to look through! Below is a quick list that I have come up with. All but one is a free database - which is awesome! Also, if you know of other searchable databases please share them in the comment section below and I will add them to this list!

1. (It's great for 19th century. All of Ackermann’s Repository is on here, Godey's Lady's Books, tons of Victorian and Edwardian Dressmaking and Tailoring manuals…as is the 1990s version of Oregon Trail….)  $Free

2. The Old Bailey Records - This is a database of all the court proceedings from London’s Old Bailey (17th century - 20th). It is really helpful for finding out the cost of some things, what was commonly stolen, and some unique quirks of the different social classes in England. Some court proceedings are a bit brutal to read, just a forewarning. This is a favorite for a lot of reenactors because of its easy to use interface and accessibility.  However, I would caution using it as your sole point of reference, which I have noticed is becoming more and more common with reenactors, and I find this a bit troubling. It is a great resource, yes, but it should not be your only resource.  $Free

3. Larsdatter's List of Runaway Ad Databases - This is someone else’s collection of different runaway slave and servant advertisement databases that range throughout the Colonies in the 18th century. With runaway advertisements…it’s kind of like the Old Bailey, but even more specific. They are an excellent reflection of a certain social class during this time period, and you need to keep this in mind when you are working on your outfit/character development/etc., but they are not the end all be all for all social levels. Nonetheless, these advertisements often include stolen articles, and so they are going to use common language and descriptions to help get their stolen goods back as best as they can. It can be an excellent way to learn terminology. $Free

4. Google Books. Seriously. Try it. When I was doing my hair research, I was able to stumble across a TON of primary source books on the subject matter. There are even a few Lady’s Magazines on here too. Searching can be a bit fussy, but just keep trying different key words, you can find some amazing primary documentation here! $Free

5. Newspaper Archive - Though you can get free access to this database if you’re near the right library, you can also sign up for a private subscription so you can fight with this beast in your own home. I was a member for a while, and I found some great articles in here when I was researching milliners and mantua-makers in the Midwest during the early 1800s. I did find it to be a massive pain in the backside to work with though. $Paid Subscription

6. Bunka Gakuen Library's Digital Archive of Rare Materials  Here is where you can find the entire Gallery of Fashion from 1794 to the early 1800s, as well as other great resources. You can search by century, too, so it’s actually pretty easy to use once you make sure everything is in English. Warning: Like so many other searchable websites, it can be a bit fussy at times. $Free

While there are probably more “Free” Databases on the web that I have missed (Like I said earlier - if you know of any please share in the comments!) this should be a good “starter” game plan for you to go off and start doing your own research! Next, we need to talk about how to use these primary source databases, how to understand them, and some precautions as well.

....Uh huh...sure...

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Friday, March 10, 2017

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Dating the Green 1820s Dress

Hey Everyone!

Abby here- 

So last week I posted about the awesome green dress my mom found in a little antique store in my hometown, and when I shared the photos here and told the story of the dress, I dated the gown c. 1825. Today, I thought I would go through why I think the dress is from around that time period. Then, hopefully next week, I'll post all about the construction details, interior photos, the yummy guts of all this. But first, let's talk about the dating of this gown.

Here she is again, in case you're new to the party.
Now, to be perfectly honest, this is not a time period where I feel particularly confident, I mean, let's be honest not a lot of us seem to pay that much attention to the 1820s. We usually focus on earlier decades or we get completely blindsided by the crazy 1830s. The 1820s seems to sometimes get lost in the mix, even though 1820s is just as crazy as the 30s and has some really lovely aspects about her that make it sometimes prettier than the 1810s. So let's look at the dress on Frankenlily and look at some of the construction and design details that I used to help me get an idea of her date and what I looked for when I compared her to other original gowns and images from the period.

Ok, so those were the immediate things I picked up on when I looked at the dress. Next, I started digging around on pinterest to see what I could find in the realm of imagery of portraits, prints, and other original gowns. I have to admit...this was tricky. There doesn't seem to be a lot that survives from the 1820s that is simple. Most gowns in collections seem to be on the much more fashionable side of things, but I was able to find a few. Challenges were also faced for the prints and portraiture, because event though I can see some of the gown in Ackermann's - these women are being rightly depicted as fully dressed with gowns covered in trim, and they're wearing  belts, pelerines, bonnets, etc, and so it can be hard to see the neckline, shoulder slope, etc. So, with that in mind, some of the images were picked because the sleeve size and shape looks the same, the waist sits at a similar place, there is fullness in the skirts, etc. 

Morning Dress, Mid- 1820s, Met Museum, 1977.197.3

Morning Dress, 1827-30, Met Museum, 1981.13.1

Quaker Dress, c. 1825, MFA Boston, 53.1770

So all of these gowns seem to have at least a couple of similarities to the green dress - skirt fullness, sleeve shape and construction, sloped shoulder, and if I could - neckline. The neckline is the hardest thing to compare the green dress to others. This time of neckline does not seem to be common in original gowns in museums. As for fashion prints, like Ackermann's below, some gowns do look like they could have a very high neckline like my dress, and others seem to have a more open neckline, in keeping with the cotton dress in the Met. 

Morning Dress, May 1825, Ackermann's Repository (Neckline similar to the cotton Met Dress)
Morning Dress, November 1827, Ackermann's Repository (It looks like it might have a high neck like my gown.)

Promenade Dress, August 1827, Ackermann's Repository  (Neckline unclear)

So, after obsessively trolling everything I could find on Pinterest to help figure out the dating of this gown, I also contacted a curator friend and picked her brain about it, and she agrees that the gown appears to be from the mid to late 1820s. Since the provenance of this gown is a mystery - all we know from the dealer is that it came from an estate sale "out west", and when you're located east of the Mississippi river, that's a pretty broad placement. It is always possible that this is some weird anomaly dress that might be 1830s, and it's kept the hallmarks of earlier fashions. However, there seem to be some really good matches with the gown that are within this 3-5 year time frame. 

Next up, we'll go through the gown's construction details and photos. It might manage to fit all in one post, or I might break it up into "Bodice" and "Skirt"...this will depend on how much I find in the skirt and if it will warrant its own post. 

If you are a fan of the 1820s, and you know of any original images or gowns that look similar to the green dress - I would love to see them! 

Until then - have a great weekend everyone! 

<3 <3 

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Wednesday, March 8, 2017

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How to Be a Boss at Research - Part 1

How to be a Boss at Research Part 1: Intro, Different Types of Sources

Hey Ya’ll!

Abby here, and today I want to start a conversation with you about something that’s really important to a lot of us in this historic costumer/reenactor community.


More specifically, what it means to do research, how to do it well, and what to look for in other people’s research to know whether or not it’s actually useful.  You see, with the growth of the Internet over the last few years and the explosive trendiness that is historic dress in general (especially in academia…lordy!), there has been a huge expansion of knowledge and accessible information that is just coming to light day after day after day. Lauren and I are not “old” by any modern standard, but the dress history/costuming/reenacting world is totally different today than it was 10 years ago! Ideas and beliefs that were commonplace when we first really got into this hobby are now easily considered outdated and wrong. Kind of crazy, but it’s true!

Whatever you say Benepickle Cutiepatch*...

With that in mind, the amount of new kids coming into the hobby on top of the continuing expansion of the internet…knowing what is good information/bad information/responsible standards of research practice can be tricky. So this series (which I originally thought was going to be one post with bullet points - bahahahha that's hysterical.) is going to break down research in very basic terms. My hope is that it will be accessible, applicable, relatable, and amusing. Because I can't stand being boring. 

First, we need to break down the different types of resources that we have available to us, today. 

Primary – Documentation that comes from the period you are studying. For examples: newspapers, court records, original books, manuscripts, letters, original clothing pieces (kinda…this one is a bit tricky - because clothing was often remade, you need to be able tell when something is original to the garment vs. later remake...but I digress...) etc. They all must come from the time period that you are studying. This is the absolute best option for historical research. The more primary documentation the better.

Ryan, you can read Ackermann's to me every damn day of the week. <3 

Secondary – Modern publications regarding the past. Good secondary sources will cite primary sources to back up their argument. Some excellent modern authors are Linda Baumgarten, John Styles, Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell, and Anne Bissonette, among others. Older secondary publications can be a bit precarious. Norah Waugh and Janet Arnold did excellent jobs with their books, but we know for a fact that some of their patterning/terminology is just wrong. So, while their written work is from a great deal of primary documentation and is very very good, but we know that there are patterns and other aspects of their books that should be taken as inspiration and not as cold hard facts.

A small selection of my babies

Tertiary – Facebook groups. Forums. Blogs. (Yep - even ours!) Etc. Though as a newbie, it is beyond tempting to go head first into these groups for answers, support, and conversation, it is vital to understand, that unless someone is actually citing their statements (or opinions) to you on a facebook group/forum/blog that you should take all of it with a grain of salt. Almost everyone on these groups means well, but a lot of bad information is passed along this way. This is how mythology spreads, or silly rules or rumors get started. It’s a dangerous place for a new researcher to go.

Ok - So now what? In the upcoming weeks we're going to go through all the different types of sources and discuss how to find them, how to use them, and how to know when it's time to toss out the junk. Basically what I have come come refer to as - The Rules of Engagement. 

<3 <3

* I know his name is Benedict Cumberbatch, but I can never not change it up for my own amusement.

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Monday, March 6, 2017

Please Vote for Us!

Lovelies, as you all know, the passion and goal of American Duchess is bringing the past back to life through beautiful shoes, and now a growing collection of books and sewing pattern too. What we do is geeky, no doubt, but we love it and the community that has grown and learned and been with us all along the way.

We've entered the Fedex Small Business Grant contest for a chance to win $25,000 to help us hire employees, create new old shoes, and explore state-side manufacturing. The first part of the contest is by popular vote, and we need your help to get to the second stage.

You can vote once every 24 hours, if you love us with extra sugar. Thank you!
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Thursday, March 2, 2017

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Bringing a 200 Year Old Treasure Back to Life

Hey Ya'll!

Abby here and I am so excited to share with you all something that just came into my possession earlier this week.

Here she is all laid out on the work table 

Look, I know she's a bit plain and simple, but when I pulled her out of the box on Monday I squealed and then cursed a little bit in disbelief. You see, this dress showed up in a large box of antique clothes that my mom found while antique shopping in my hometown. While she was there, the dealers were so desperate to get rid of the clothes that they just kept pulling out piece after piece. My mom was texting me the whole time, and when this little green number popped up in my just looked a mess. I couldn't really see anything exciting about it in the photos, but since it was an entire ensemble I figured it would be worth having...even if it was some weird Edwardian era thing.

...but my mom...she dropped a big hint, "Abby, it might be 1830s, I don't's hard to tell, but it has mutton sleeves..."

Actual footage of green dress while my mom was shopping

More actual footage...this makes me cringe now to see that skirt dangling like that...

I didn't really believe her, to be honest. Why would I? How on Earth could there be an 1830s dress in some random antique store in Kentucky? It made no sense. You see, I'm a bit jaded as a millennial antique hunter. I grew up listening to my mom and grandmother tell stories about all the amazing things they could find at antique stores and flea markets in the 1970s, before the flea markets filled up with Happy Meal toys and crew socks. It has always made me sad how over priced and hard to find good antiques can be nowadays. While we've all heard the odd "I found a doozy" story here in the States, I always felt like it was the impossible dream for me.

That day though, that day was different.

My mom was wrong. It's not an 1830s dress that she picked up in her large  antique clothing haul.

It's 1820s...specifically we believe the dress is from around 1825...give or take a couple of years.

It's even earlier than what she had hoped against hope for. Lauren and I are still in a bit of a shock about it.

Me in my lab coat of courage...being very excited!

When we got her, she was this wrinkly, crease ridden mess of a thing, but the fabric was in incredible condition. There are very few holes in the entire garment, and only one shatter point. Everything else is actually pretty fantastic.

While I've had some curatorial and conservation training and experience over the past few years, I am in no way an expert. I did know one thing though - I needed to get rid of the sharp creases. Crease = Shattered fabric. I did not want that to happen.

So with that in mind, Lauren and I washed our hands, put on our white lab coats of courage, and set to work. We decided to mount the green dress on Lauren's Frankenlily and steam the dress back to life.
Steamer vs. Creases of Doom

We were both a bit terrified, but I had faith that the textile would hold up to this treatment. I wouldn't have even attempted it if I thought she would be destroyed.

As I started to steam her...something interesting started to happen. What was once a soft handed and lightweight plain woven silk, started to have body again. As I steamed the dress the sizing in the textile seemed to have reactivated, and all of the sudden we had a super crisp silk gown on our hands. It stopped us in our tracks.

What is happening? Is this ok? Did we just kill it? What is this? Is this just real life? Is this just fantasy?

Caught in a landslide of feelings I grabbed Textiles in America and flipped to the page about Lustring silk. It states:

A light, crisp plain silk with a high luster. "A taffeta which had been stretched and, while under tension, smeared with a syrupy gum. This dressing was dried with the aid of a small braizer and gave the material a glossy sheen." (page 283)

While still a bit wrinkly, you can see how the pleats in the skirt have a lot more body to them

After reading those couple of lines, we both started to relax a bit. The gown's fabric has all the characteristics of pretty black and green changeable lustring that has lost a bit of its sheen. It seems like a little bit of steam reactivated the gum in the textile and changed its hand instantly. What we also noticed is how this crispy finish helped with holding the puffy sleeves and skirt out and away from the body. Awesome!

We couldn't help but pose her with our Brontes

Currently, the little beauty is still on Frankenlily, relaxing a bit. In my next post about her, we're going to discuss how we came to the conclusion that she is from c. 1825. Then, we're also going to another post on how to examine extant garments to gain a better understanding of period construction, and other bits of information. Basically, I'll walk you through how I like to study original garments through the eyes of a maker as a way to add to my knowledge bank.

This little bit of trim on the back is the only bit of decoration (other than the standard piping) on the gown.
So here she is! Our 200 year old treasure! I can't wait to share more about her with you all, including all of those juicy interior shots! If you have any questions you'd like for me to answer specifically leave a comment & I'll try to answer them or work them into the next blog post!

<3 <3
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