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Monday, 17 July 2017

My 18th Century Virginian Summer - Month One

I've been at the Margaret Hunter Millinery Shop for a month now (!). It's hard to put in to words how much I'm learning.  But I'll sure try...

There's of course the technical skills. I've learned so many new techniques!  New stitches, when and where to use them, assembly techniques, trim details, etc. There are so many ways in which my sewing will never be the same again. Gah! Eight weeks is not enough time. I'm beginning to understand why the apprenticeship process is 5 years.

If there's any place to do eighteenth-century research, it's Colonial Williamsburg. Not only do they have a wonderful collection and group of curators, but the knowledge base of the tradespeople and interpreters is greater than I anticipated. As I sew my way through a garment and little research nuggets pop into my head I can just ask, "why am I doing this? Where can I go to find more info? What extant garments have [ruffles, trim, stitching] like this?" I always knew this was the place for me to connect making and research, but I didn't comprehend the depths of research knowledge.

Many staff members have devoted their lives to re-enacting and interpreting. They not only are in costume during the day to help guide visitors or actively work a trade, but they also develop their own research interests based on their work. The depths to which people are willing to share their knowledge is overwhelming. (Seriously, don't start a conversation unless you're prepared to finish it!  😆 )

The biggest challenge I've had in Master's work so far is connecting my sewing knowledge to extant garments through secondary sources. We need the secondary sources to support interpretation of extant garments, but they are not enough. Working in a site like CW where I have ready access to research materials of all kinds is wonderful, but it's a Mecca for textile research. Many of the garments discussed in research articles, like Baumgarten, are housed on site (Linda Baumgarten is the former curator at CW. If you haven't read her work do it NOW).

I'm well on my way to completing my independent project, which of course is an overly ambitious complete outfit. See the lady on the right below.

John Collet, Publisher Carington Bowles, BACHELORS FARE, or BREAD and CHEESE with KISSES, England, London, ca. 1770, Black and white mezzotint with period hand color, Museum Purchase, Acc. No. 1962-204,
The silk quilted petticoat is quilted. I just have the hem binding, pocket slits, and waistband to finish. I made the apron last week, the kerchief and most of the ruffles yesterday. The bows shouldn't take long so I'll likely get those done this week depending on how things go. The gown is the next big piece. Of course I need someone to pattern it for me (oh how I wish I could do that myself!). The gown itself isn't particularly complicated. The trim will take me a good amount of time as it will require a bit of trial and error. 

Caps are my nemesis. The one I made early in my internship almost killed my hands. I learned a new way to do rolled hems, so I anticipate less freak out from my hands, but I'd rather be prepared for the worst case scenario in which I don't get it done rather than push to the point where I can't use my hands at all. I have offers of help from my lovely co-workers as they are eager to see it completed, too!

I'm busily embroiled in schoolwork as well. Internships aren't just sewing projects, much to my chagrin.  I have weekly assignments to complete where I connect my sewing and research, plus a final paper I'm gearing up for. I did a research project in the spring where I connected the physicality of sewing to interpreting the past. Perfectly timed for a project like this. 

I've been ruminating on the process of sewing. I'm learning at such a fast pace that it's difficult to keep up with the reflection needed for a project like this. I've been thinking about how my sewing has changed over the past few weeks. The thought of making something entirely by hand has always intimidated me, if for no other reason than I wasn't sure my hands could handle it. But they can! It took a few weeks for them to acclimatize to sewing 40 hours a week (they prefer 32 hours 😆), but now things are easier. I'm still working on consistency, but I can do the tiny stitches and hand bound eyelets without consideration. I can do it without a machine. I can create with my hands alone. This is something that will forever change my sewing and who I am as a sewist. 

As if I needed another reason for fierce independence... 

I'm also fighting the clock to finish my Costume College gala gown in time. I've calculated about 25 hours worth of work left to do. I'm focusing on completing all the components right now so I can get them put together fairly quickly if needed. I've finally finished the sleeve petals, which are fiddly little scallops bound in bias. Now I get to move onto the skirt petals, which are just bigger scallops bound in bias. Eep!

Plus I need to finish my presentation for Costume College. I know what I want to say, and I have most of the pictures I need thanks to my FEP family. It's mostly planned in my head, but it's probably not more than 25% done.  That's what cross-country plane rides are for, yes?

So, that's the scoop. I'm doing all the things as per usual. But it's perfect :)

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