Monday, May 13, 2019

How I've Missed You!

It has been a long absence and I have missed you all! 

What in the world have I been up to? What has taken me away from you, my beloved friends here in our wonderful sewing community? 

Higher Education. 

Finally, I completed my Master's degree! The last year has been spent planning and writing my thesis and designing and curating my Master's project. You know exactly what I mean. Between work and college, my life was not my own. The days melted together, I'm not sure if I ever slept, but I'm sure I lost my mind somewhere in the middle. By the end, when there was nothing more to do than be DONE, it felt surreal. I had been running at full-speed (I'm sure I'd surpassed the speed limit a long time ago) for so long that when I COULD stop, it took a while for my engines to cool. Too revved up for too long.

And then, I slept for a week. Hard.

I have a lot to share with you! Projects, museum visits, etc., etc., it's all there! Let me give you a quick pictorial tour for now - a tease. In future posts, I'll share more project photos and go into greater detail. 


Master's Project - "Fall of the American Dressmaker"


~Gallery exhibit announcement card~

 Experiencing history is far more impactful than simply reading about history. While I did write about the history of the American dressmaker and milliner and the circumstances behind their professional decline, who would care to know, and why does it matter in the grand scheme of American history? I wanted people to care and I wanted people to know; I wanted to garner public interest in women's labor history and bridge the gap between the public and academia. I created and curated an exhibit featuring seven reproduction historical gowns from 1880-1920, each gown representing a pivotal change in women's fashion, each gown a discernible indicator of shifting social attitudes towards female emancipation and visibility. 

Originally, I had eight gowns planned, but I only had a ten-week window to create them. I decided to construct the most historically significant gowns first, then work on the rest as time permitted. I finished six of the eight; the seventh was borrowed from my completed collection of historical garments, one that you've seen and I've blogged about. Keep in mind, I had to construct most of the structural undergarments (bustles, hoops, corsets) to accompany the gowns. 


~Undergarments on dummies, stored in the attic as I complete their gowns~
~Organizing the dummies and their gowns on the gallery floor~

After the gowns were completed (I gave myself a December 8th deadline), I began work on the exhibit labels. I had to create 32 these, all backed and mounted. I had three weeks to get them designed and printed - everything had to be installed the first week in January. 


~Printer's proof for the 10 x 18 inch labels~
~Printer's proof for the 24 x36 in labels~

In between all of the designing, draping, sewing, and graphics work, there were press releases to approve, press interviews to give, photographers to meet, a reception to plan, etc., etc...


~Photographer Sydney Denlinger working her photo magic~

~Beverage table set for the reception~

...and NONE of it would have been possible without the help of friends and family, who provided their time and labor, and industry professionals who rock at their jobs (like the Operational Manager at Office Depot, Jo, who personally printed my exhibit labels then delivered them to me at the gallery so I could make my installation deadline)! 


Wright State History Symposium

I had the privilege in mid-April to present at the Eighth Annual History Symposium at Wright State University...






Patterson Homestead 

Several of my gowns from the exhibit in January are on display through September 2019 at the Patterson Homestead here in Dayton. Dayton History's collections manager, Gwen Haney, and living history specialist, Rachel Zimmerman, contacted me in October 2018 about including the gowns as part of the homestead's spring opening in May 2019. The gowns were installed May 1, including a reproduction NCR women's factory uniform I created for the homestead's NCR Room. This past Saturday for the spring opening, I was invited to speak about the history and transition of American women's clothing from 1870-1920. I had a wonderful experience and I hope to be invited back. 


~Me, getting my bearing straight before the presentation~

~Two of the gowns on display in homestead's great hall~

There is so much to share, and this is just a snippet! It is so good to be back - how I've missed you!


Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Mementos of Affection at the Cincinnati Art Museum


~Illustration from Mark Campbell's book (1867)~

In 1867 in Chicago, Illinois, Mark Campbell, a self-proclaimed expert in the art of hair fancywork, published a comprehensive manual entitled Self-Instruction in the Art of Hair Works. The book’s publication was a necessary endeavor, he said, “in compliance with an almost universal demand, concluded to publish about which will clearly illustrate the Art of Hair Dressing, and the making of Hair Jewelry and Hair Work of every description.” Campbell claimed that his instruction manual on the art of hair fancywork was the only book of its kind, disclosing the long-held secrets of the industry, which would make his book “an indispensable adjunct to every lady’s toilet table” as she learned to expertly dress her own hair without the expense of a professional. Furthermore, he said, those wishing to preserve and wear lasting mementos of love from the hair of the living or deceased would know without question that the hair art created and secured in a locket at their breast was the actual hair of the loved one.[1] In fact, Mark Campbell had discovered an additional way, through publication, to capitalize on the culture of sentimentality and commemoration deeply ingrained in American and European societies. While hair fancywork emerged in the mid-17th century, it was not until the late-18th century that it quickly become a popular form of personal expression and individualism, this juxtaposed to the Industrial Age and its cheap, mass produced goods.

~From Menge's style and price catalog (1874)~
Initially, hair work provided only a decorative backing to painted portrait miniatures as a tangible, yet private reminder, of one’s adoration or grief for the beloved.[2] However, from the early Regency to the late Victorian eras, the art and exposition of hair fancywork was in its zenith, and wisps and waves of hair were everywhere, not only preserved between the pages of personal diaries and scrapbooks, but woven into elaborate parlor decorations and intricate jewelry, prominently displayed within the Victorian home and as personal ornamentation.[3] Indeed, jewelers like Charles T. Menge in New York City and Halford & Young in London, the very sort of proprietors who Campbell accused of accumulating a fortune from the sentiment of others, "and would still retain [their art] a profound secret but for his publication,” were well established in the hair fancywork trade, had published their own fancywork design books, and despite the publication of Campbell's book of self-instruction in the art, did not struggle for business. 


~Various symbols and their means in hairwork~
In 2012, I had the opportunity to visit Kent State Museum of Fashion and view their Civil War Fashions & Domestic Life exhibit, which included beautiful decorative pieces of intricate hair art woven into wall portraits, from family trees to framed flowers – they were extraordinary. This past November, the Cincinnati Art Museum featured an exhibit entitled Mementos of Affection: Ornamental Hairwork in Jewelry and Portrait Miniatures. The items showcased in the exhibit are truly remarkable pieces of craftsmanship. What allowed me to understand the meaning and significance of the pieces on display was knowing what the symbols meant that adorned each piece. It is not enough to look at these exquisite works of art and see a pretty thing, then move on to the next. These mementos of affection disclose a secret world unknown to most of us today, expressed in the colors, gemstones, plant life, animals, and objects which detail a piece. For instance, if you should ever see an article of hairwork, whether jewelry or home decor, adorned with pearls, it is likely a mourning piece, “pearl” symbolizing tears. But not all hairwork centered on loss and grief…


~A Family Tree~
There is love. The presence of a garnet often symbolized deep affection and fidelity, or Cupid’s Arrow, which symbolized love and piety. Portrait miniatures with hair work were very often keepsakes of familial love, affection between friends, children, and parents. Watch fobs and rings were commonly woven from a lover’s hair, as well as necklaces, earrings, and bracelets. The Victorians seem to have a macabre sense of sentiment when we superficially regard their expressions of love and grief, but these manifestations of feeling are no different than the articles of love and grief which we observe today. For example, we may not have a brooch made from the hair of a loved one, but it is common today to see the bereaved wearing urn pendants or displaying artful paperweights that contain the ashes of a love one.


Below are a few of the sentimental treasures displayed in the exhibit at the Cincinnati Art Museum. Looking carefully at each, can you determine what sort of sentiment or commemoration is being expressed based on the objects detailed and their symbolic meaning?  

A Gentleman, c. 1974, watercolor, ivory, hair, copper, gold

Bracelet, c. 1845-1850, watercolor, hair, ivory, glass, gold

Bracelet, c. 1846, gold, hair, enamel, seed pearls, fabric, wood, glass (a)

Bracelet, c. 1846, gold, hair, enamel, seed pearls, fabric, wood, glass (b)

Bracelet, c. 1850-1870, gold and hair

Necklace, c. 1850-80, hair and gold (a)

Necklace, c. 1850-80, hair and gold (b)

Young Boy, c. 1790, watercolor, ivory, hair, seed pearls, gold

For a virtual tour of the Cincinnati Art Museum's Mementos of Affection: Ornamental Hairwork in Jewelry and Portrait Miniatures, please click here. To view or download a copy of Mark Campbell's 1867 instruction manual for hair fancywork, please visit the Internet Archive by clicking here

Happy Spring and blessings and happy sewing!



[1] Campbell, Mark. Self-Instruction in the Art of Hair Works, Dressing Hair, Making Curls, Switches, Braids, and Hair Jewelry of Every Description (New York, 1867), Preface.

[2] Shuemaker, Helen. “’This Lock You See’: Nineteenth Century Hair Work as the Commodified Self,” Fashion Theory: The Journal of Dress, Body & Culture 1:4 (1997), 423.


[3] Ibid, 422.