Living History Farms’ museum guides are often seen in period correct clothing when they are demonstrating at the museum’s historic shops, farms, and homes. A large part of this clothing is actually made right here at the museum. The Period Clothing shop seamstresses recreate 1850, 1875, and 1900 era clothing. They use modern patterns from documented historic clothing companies, patterns they have drawn and adapted from clothing in the museum’s collection, and patterns they have created based on photographs and illustrations of the historic period. Whenever possible, the finished look of the garment must be as historically accurate as can be. But this is tricky!
Period Clothing Shop manager Laura must balance the amount of wear the garments will take and a careful use of museum resources, with the desire for historic accuracy. For example, sometimes she uses polyester blends in clothing because they are cost effective and wear/wash very well for a busy museum guide. Another example is the use of modern sewing machines for some items, instead of completely hand-sewing each garment–both for efficient sewing time and for garment strength. So how does Laura spend the winter in the clothing shop? Let’s ask her!
Laura: Winter is clothing replacement time here in the Period Clothing department. During the general summer season I’m out in the Millinery as a museum guide several days a week, so winter is a perfect time to catch up on projects behind the scenes! There’s always plenty of mending to do. At the end of the season, our museum interpreters bring me back clothing like these trousers—the interpreters work very hard!
I need to decide which worn garments can be mended and which must be completely replaced. Some clothing I can still buy new for the guys, especially at the 1900 Farm and in Walnut Hill. Men’s work clothing styles haven’t changed as much as people would think. The women’s clothing, however, and most of the men’s clothing for the 1850 Pioneer Farm, has to be made here. 2015 will be my thirteenth year here, so I’ve started seeing clothing I made ten years ago come back with so many holes and tears that it can’t be fixed enough to wear for a whole season. Looking these garments over, I start to think about how to make new clothing better—longer-lasting, or at least faster to construct.
Our 1850 men’s shirts have a distinctive “square and rectangle” cut that uses fabric very efficiently. In the past, the shirts have been made with a dressy pleated bosom, as nice shirts were made back then. But the two pleated bits sometimes got put into the shirt wrong, and they make the front of the shirt heavier and hotter than our interpreters on the 1850 Pioneer Farm need them for every day work. So this winter, I figured out a simpler shirt that’s faster to make. The simple placket is quick to put in by machine, and the facings that make the shoulders more durable under suspenders are sewn in with running stitches, rather than felling stitches that have to be worked one at a time.
Vests are always a problem. Specifically, vest pockets are a problem, because everything ends up in them, and they are a pain to fix. Lots of stitching goes into making sure the vest pockets last as long as the vest itself. Welt pockets are standard in 19th century vests, and they are complicated in themselves:
Zigzag and stay stitching the pocket bag will hopefully keep the pocket from fraying inside the vest. Careful topstitching will help the outside welt stand up to use, even if an interpreter hangs his hands in them all the time.
We’ll see how long these vests last out at the 1850 Farm. They’re replacing some that I made three years ago. The 1850 farmers can be notoriously hard on their clothing.