Forever in Blue Jeans...Well, at Least Back to the 1600's

(I am reprinting this article from our travel blog, due to its timeliness and popularity). This would come under the category of "Everything Old is New Again", Where did denim fabric originate? Most claim it's appearance was around settlement times, in the days of cowboys and the wild, wild west in the late 1800's.

Not so my acid washed, bell bottomed, bikini top wearin' friends, (Oh yeah, you may not wear them now, but you did then and I know it!).

Even the poor had fashionable split sleeves of the day!
Turns out Denim has been the durable fabric choice of the masses for Centuries as this anonymous Painter aptly named, "The Master of Blue Jean" illustrates in his wonderful painting of ordinary people of the 17 Century.

There are more paintings to study on the link I have provided.

Here's a stray thought on the worn clothing that hasn't been mended by a woman who obviously can sew, do you think it was actually the style to wear them frayed and worn as it was in our day? This family is shown street begging in another painting, the torn denim sorta completes the look, if you get my drift! I love her homemade "French" hood!

Since it was denim, it was never worn by more affluent folks and then handed down, this was "ready to wear" made for regular folks, note the fashionable "Split Sleeves" of the time! Being poor didn't mean you had to be out of step with fashion!

What a treasure these paintings are to those of us who portray the past and struggle because so few ordinary, everyday people are shown in paintings, and we can't all the Queen or her Royal Court...we are mostly portraying Merchants, Musicians and Explorers with small means with which to clothe ourselves.

Not to say the everyday people who first came to this continent didn't dress themselves well, many of them were paid to come here, and a rich supply of clothing was part of the deal. "Two Centuries of Costume in America" Volume 1 (1620-1820) is a fantastic reference that includes ship manifests and letters of communication between Settlers and Continental Kin on the most pressing subject of the time: "What Are They Wearing Back Home and Can You Send Me Some?"

I have provided the link to the free download of this book, which can be read on your computer or your favorite reading device, complete with illustrations! Just click on the link provided and surprise yourself at the extent Women and Men made to dress themselves well even in the "Wilds of America"!

Here is a dress I especially like and hope to endeavour to make myself soon: The Petticoat was actually quilted! I'VE GOT TO HAVE THIS DRESS!
Not Exactly the Pious Pilgrim Wear we have been told about!
Note how the basic pattern of the dress goes back to the middle ages, with very little change to the bodice through the centuries, mostly changes were made to sleeves and collar lines. but you'll find that out for yourself when you download the book.....happy research!

Oh, just in case you need your illusions completely shattered about what women wore in the 1800's, you'll want to get the book, "They Saw The Elephant", which sadly is not free, but a priceless look at the Hardy Women who went west to pan for gold and..(GASP)...wore pants. Thank you to "Snakes" Lady Lauri for lending me her copy!

19th-century American Women: 19th-Century American Women & Families by Noah North 1809-1880

This is not my material and is reposted from the link below, click on the link and visit her fabulous site full of wonderful information!

19th-Century American Women & Families by Noah North 1809-1880

Noah North (1809-1880) Elizabeth Darrow of Holley, New York.

Noah North (American painter, 1809-1880) Unknown Lady in Elaborate Lace Bonnet

Born in Alexander, New York, Noah North was a relatively unknown portraitist whose art career seems to last only during the 1830s in the areas of Alexander, Holley, & Rochester, New York. He also journeyed into Ohio offering his services as a portrait painter and may have traveled as far as Cincinnati. He may have painted in Kentucky as well. No signed portraits from Noah North have yet been identified from the 1840s. Many naive painters saw a serious decline in the demand for their services with the development of photography in the 1940s. Another problem with Noah North's portraits is that they are similar to those of his colleague Milton W Hopkins, and often misattributed.

Noah North (American painter, 1809-1880) Eunice Eggleston Darrow Spafford

Noah North (American painter, 1809-1880) Family Portrait

Noah North (American painter, 1809-1880) Gracie Beardsley Jefferson Jackman and Her Daughter c 1835

Dresses I Have Made In The Past

colonial work dress
These are just a few of the dresses I have made over the last several years to wear and work in in our kitchen.

The biggest challenge is been putting in 16 hour days in fully boned outfits. If I was sitting behind a desk, it would be one thing, but I am regularly hauling water, food supplies, pouring off pots and cooking in these garments, all the time wondering how our earlier ancestors survived the ordeal.

Most of my dresses were revamped from period costume patterns that I converted into time appropriate garments, my Mom was an expert seamstress and as such, taught me how to properly sew any garment, and adapt it to my purposes.

All of these garments are fully boned.

Another Colonial Work Dress
Yet Another
Since we attend time line Events, we are expected to be dressed appropriately 24 hours a day during any type of weather. This has been a challenge, since most reenactors just throw on a cloak and get warm quick.

I've had to work as I froze, so i had to do some research and come up with various combinations of quadrupled petticoats, long underwear and many layers of shawls tied back to keep them from igniting on the burners of the many stoves I cook on.

polonaise back
Most of these garments, (other than the Capote) would not withstand the scrutiny of an expert seamstress, they are not hand sewn and have little Cheats, to get the job done. Minor things like safety pins here and there and metal grommets down the back, but for the most part, they have been very close to what was actually worn. (Don't get me wrong, most of the uppers on these dresses had to be hand stitched, there just is no other way to get a decent shape! Also all my hems are hand sewn, never found a machine that could do it as well.)

I sewed evryones clothes here!
My next projects this year is to stick with machine sewing on the main parts but to do more hand stitching, and use strictly historic patterns with a definite historical reference.
Bundled Up

Capote Back
Capote I hand Made for a friend
Dress I made for my Niece

Here I am as a Pirate Wench Arghhh!

Romantic Peroid Clothing on my Wish List

I am very excited about this season, it brings many changes for myself as well as the kitchen.

As far as I go, I have some great projects I'll be working on when things are slow in the Kitchen, (HA!), I plan on creating a one shoulder leather dress from brain tan Elk, as well as recreating a leather strap dress from Deer brain tan.

The Elk dress is a go, I'm just waiting for the hides, the strap dress is on hold until I can get to the Chicago Field History Museum to examine the genuine article they have stored away there.

1820's Day Dress

1700-1800 stays
I am also changing my wardrobe, (It's about time, most of my stuff has seen better days!), I am studying "1820's Romantic".
I need to hand make a new set of stays for both projects as well as design the clothing from patterns...I can't wait to get my mannequin "Josette" out of storage!

The 1820's was marked by the dropping of the Regency empire waistline, (yet not quite to the natural waistline), and the addition of "Mutton" sleeves. 

They still had the soft, relatively un-boned corset of the Regency and before era. Also the skirts were heavily quilted and corded to get them to spread out.

I could use that comfort, and I also like the idea of wearing clothes that only lasted a short time history wise. No one seems to wear these garments today.

Should be a fun project!

My Native American Regalia Ambitions

Grand Portage Treasure... Re-creating The Hiawatha Dress

My family is originally from Grand Portage, Minnesota. In the search for my Mother's Grandmother, I came across this collection of paintings by Eastman Johnson, painted in Grand Portage around 1856.

He was most famous for his rendition of "Hiawatha", a painting he painted with the use of Grand Portage regalia created for this purpose by the local women of the Grand Portage Tribe of Ojibwe.

It occurred to me that I am descended from a long line of expert hand seamstresses, and the woman who created the dress may very well have been my relation. I was also intrigued with the design of this garment, how did the sleeves work? Were they useful, or just ornamentation? The paintings seem to depict a usefulness, one even showing a family paddling a canoe with the sleeves on. These were more than just ornamentation, to be set aside at work time, as has been suggested.
I then found that the garment used in the painting was currently in storage at the Depot in Duluth, just an hour or so from my home so I made an appointment with the curator to photograph. and measure the "Strap Dress" depicted in the painting. After examining the garment I decided to recreate the dress myself, to see what this dress really looked like and how it was worn to honor my Heritage.
I used an Swiss army blanket as my "mock-up" as the material used by natives at this time was imported "Stroud" or "list" cloth from England. Re-created "stroud" wool costs more than $75.00 a half yard. I also was toying with the idea that this dress was originally made in deer hide and the wool blanket had the thickness that approximated hide texture and weight.

The army blanket was much thicker so the plans did have to be slightly altered, but I am very pleased with the results. 

I am wrapped in a 1 1/2 point Hudson Bay match coat in Hudson Bay colors of Red & Black. The white blankets shown in the painting represent the American Fur Company, which took over from Hudson's Bay around this time.

I later created the blue wool dress shown above that more closely resembles the historic garment. I am still working on the bead work for this garment and will probably never be done adding to it. 

My proudest moment was wearing it to the Grand Portage Powwow in 2006, and showing it to my Grandmother Lorraine.  

My latest project is to recreate the leather strap dress I discovered in the Chicago Field History Museum as well as the create the dress that my good friend Mia let me borrow and make a patten from and as if that isn't enough, I have plans to make a two hide dress from Elk hide also.

I do not know exactly why I started on this particular journey, I now have more than 15 years of research on just the clothing alone.

It seems there is an Old Spirit within me that keeps whispering to me to keep doing what I am doing. I have vivid dreams of details and events that keep me going when all reasons to do so abandon me. I am simply driven to continue whether I choose to do so or not. 

Maybe it is just the Spirit of my Mother, who taught me to hand sew expertly and carefully, giving me a great appreciation for natural fabrics and creating well tailored clothing. I certainly hope I do her justice in my endeavours.

During my quest, I have returned to my past and attended Native American Gatherings and Powwows, meeting wonderful people who I never would have met otherwise.

I certainly have benefited from the experience and it has made my life much fuller. This is a pleasant end in itself and I am grateful to all who have taken me in as Family and taught me things that have made my journey meaningful and fruitful.
Mia's Dress

Strap Dress


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...