Colonial Clothing Re-fit

Posted by Donna on 7:43 PM with No comments
March 2, 2015 |

The calendar reads March, but Mother Nature clearly doesn’t care. There’s still three feet of snow on the ground and another storm in the forecast for later this week. Since I can’t do anything about the weather, I decided the best way to chase away the winter doldrums and put a little spring in my step is with a new sewing project and some bright and sunny fabric.

The timing for a new sewing project is perfect. It’s school tour season at the Golden Ball Tavern Museum, a Revolutionary War era home and tavern built by wealthy Weston, Massachusetts merchant Isaac Jones in 1767. After chatting with other docents and museum guides at the Burnley & Trowbridge workshop I took in February, I suggested to my GBT Education Committee colleagues that we consider doing a few more first-person interpretive tours with accurately outfitted guides for our younger and most impressionable visitors. A local Girl Scout troop is scheduled to visit sometime in March, touring the tavern to earn a “Playing in the Past” badge. Call me crazy, but it just makes a lot more sense to me to have them learn about colonial clothing by someone who is wearing it.

Be careful what you wish for.

Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love the idea of first-person interpretation and think it will make the experience much more realistic and memorable for the Girl Scouts. However, I’ve lost 50 lbs since I made my first set of stays and English Gown. None of my garb fits and I’m back to colonial clothing square one. My shift and underpetticoat are finished thanks to the Burnley & Trowbridge workshop. I’ve been working on my new stays for a few weeks now and started the leather binding the other night. While they aren’t finished, the stays are far enough along that I can use them to help size and fit my new gown.

In the 18th century, the colonial clothing nomenclature was a bit different than it is today. A ”gown” was worn by every woman of every class, differentiated by trim and fabrics. Wealthy women wore gowns of silk; working women wore more linen and cotton. The gown itself was a single piece garment consisting of a bodice and skirt joined together, with the skirt open in the front to reveal the separate petticoat.

Rather than a new English gown, I'm opting for a jacket with contrasting stomacher and petticoat. As a tavern keeper’s wife and the mother of 11, Mary Jones would have been quite the busy lady with all the cooking, cleaning and sewing she had going on every day. While she probably spent most of her days in a short gown, petticoat and apron, it would have been entirely appropriate for her to greet young visitors in a more stylish jacket and petticoat suitable to her status as the wife of one of the wealthiest citizens in pre-Revolutionary Weston.

I found a paisley and flower cotton print in the clearance section of my local fabric store and decided to pair it with a great sunshine yellow linen that’s spent way too much time in my fabric stash. While the cotton print isn’t 100% historically accurate, it’s close and it’s much easier to rationalize working on a gown I need in a hurry using a new pattern and $8/yard fabric rather than fabric that costs twice that much or more. Even for Mary Jones, the cost of fabric far exceeded the cost to make her gowns.

While some things haven’t changed, even centuries later, sunshine always brings a smile even if it only comes in the form of yards of linen fabric.