Monday, March 10, 2014

Wayne County Museum Visit

Today, I had the privilege of accompanying Saundra Altman, proprietor of Past Patterns, to the Wayne County Museum in Richmond, Indiana. Several garments were pulled from the museum's extensive collection of local costume for our personal viewing, but in particular two extant pieces, which I would like to feature here.

The first garment is an early-Regency round gown dated to about 1800. For those of you who are Regency reenactors and costumers, you are probably familiar with this garment - more specifically, the pattern for this garment (I frequently see reenactors and history enthusiasts wearing renditions of this gown at local period events). Saundra was given special permission from the Wayne County Museum to pull and pattern the dress, which she offers as part of her growing pattern collection. How exciting to see the original article!

Two characteristics of this gown impressed me immediately upon handling it. First, its weight, which is substantial in contrast to the silk gowns of this era (they are very light, almost airy, even when lined); second, the dress is a wearable size (the full-bust measurement is about 34-36 inches, while the overall length of the dress would fit a woman about 5'4" in height). The fabric of the dress is home-pun and weaved, constructed of course cotton and linen fibers. The madder red and indigo stripes of the dress fabric are silk threads. The bodice of the gown is lined in three different course cotton and linen fabric scraps and tried in the front at the full and under-bust points by cotton cording. The skirt is unlined. 

~Front view~

~Sleeve detail with underarm gusset~

~NOTE the added skirt panel above the second tuck~

~Bodice interior and bust bandeau~

~Bodice back detail~

~Skirt's inverted center box-pleat~

~Skirt's knife-pleats, about 3" in depth~

The second garment is an excellent example of a gown that has been repurposed or remade in a newer fashion, which was a very common practice among the lower (as well as middling and upper) classes. While textiles were the first goods to be mechanized in the late 18th century, quality fabrics, particularly fine silks and cottons, were still relatively expensive and most often recycled into one thing or another as the garment wore over time. It was not until looming mechanization was improved during the 1840s that quality fabrics became relatively inexpensive and affordable (even so, recycling textiles continued and was very common still, up until the 1920s).

The story that accompanied this unusual gown upon its acquisition is that it belonged to a local woman, who, in the mid-1830s, refashioned an early 1800s dress into her wedding gown. This may have been the case, although the sleeve design and higher waist placement date it more closely to a mid-1820's style. Of course, incoming and outgoing styles overlapped fashion eras often by several years, and more importantly, the woman who repurposed this gown most likely had to work with what she had. Whatever the case, it's an intriguing garment.

The gown is made of an iridescent purple and olive silk. The skirt has an extended 18" hem of glazed ivory cotton (which seems to predate the silk), but it was not part of the original gown. The bodice front has been reconstructed and piped at the seams with hemp cording and matching purple/olive silk. The bodice lining and bust bandeau are both of a newer printed rust-colored cotton (as compared to the silk and glazed cotton); the sleeves are lined in the same glazed cotton as the skirt's hem. The most unusual feature of this gown is that the original 1800s bodice front is now the bodice back, and the back the front; there is also the suggestion that the skirt's width has been shortened, evidenced by the differing back seam as compared to the two side seams (the finishing of the raw edge is different, the thread, as well as the stitching hand - very similar to the reconstructed seams in the bodice).

~Gown front, restructured~

~Bodice back, restructured~

~Glazed cotton extended hem~

~Bodice interior~

~ Interior armscye, shoulder, and side seams~

~Neckline and piping detail~

If you ever happen out to Richmond, Indiana, give the Wayne County Museum a visit. It's a smaller local museum, but the displays are marvelous, and OMGosh! you should see their car and carriage exhibits (makes my heart pitter-patter)!

I'd also like to extend a special thank you and warm wishes to Saundra Ros Altman, Jan Livingston Brady (garment collections manager), and the wonderful volunteers (Cathy, Gloria, and Alberta) at the museum for a fabulous visit!

Blessings and happy sewing!

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