Cabin in the Pines

Here is Part 2 of the 2-part digression into our beloved domiciles. In the spring of 1965, my grandfather, an about-to-retire teacher, achieved his lifelong dream…a cabin in the woods of Maine, not far from the sea. Gree and Gramp had been married 35 years, lived through the Great Depression and never had much aside from their family home. They worked hard saving for this place, and this was their dream come true. After hiring a contractor to put up the shell, they, along with my uncle, did all the finish-work themselves.

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Though they moved elsewhere for his teaching job and settled in another state, to them, Maine was always “home”. As a child, I spent many a summer in this idyllic place, which was now owned by my mother’s brother. I loved the cabin, and couldn’t wait to get there to visit each summer, though admittedly over the few years following my grandmother’s passing, it was more difficult for me to go there without her.

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When my uncle passed away in 2016, the place rather surprisingly became my husband’s and mine. People called the little cabin a “tear-down” and said we should start over. But for the sakes of departed family members, and indeed for my own sake, we were bound and determined to save it. After some soul searching, I took a deep breath, left my management job in the corporate world the following spring, took a seasonal job in the museum field in the area, and…there was now no turning back.

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When we arrived, the place didn’t look all that bad at first glance. To my delight, original furniture, light fixtures, and kitschy mid-century tchotchkes that I remembered were still there, untouched. Except for the beds and upholstered furniture which we immediately had hauled away to the dump, most things were in good shape and salvageable. When younger, I often fantasized about what I would change or update if I could. When I’d discuss it with my grandmother, she would laugh, her blue eyes twinkling, and say “but I like it just as it is!” Now that I’m older, I see the wisdom in her words and began to have visions of making it a little 60s time capsule without changing much at all.

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We soon discovered, to our utter horror, that the floor joists supporting the entire structure were all broken or eaten away by wood-boring insects, and the supports for the second floor over the porch were bowing forward. I may have cried a little, thinking we’d never save it until several kind neighbors who toured the place with us, reassured us that all was not lost. Three contractors later, we found someone actually willing to help. So here’s a shout out to Shoreline Construction for the work that they did to save something that means so much to our family!

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There was also a horribly unsafe walkway between the actual loft space and a secondary loft bedroom that Gramp created when we needed an extra room. Basically, it was just a couple of boards stretched across the ceiling rafters. As kids, we thought it was fun and cool, but clearly, it had to go. Gramp was a very creative inventor of many things, but he wasn’t of the generation where one worried about permits and building codes. So down it came, and until we come up with a workable solution, the back loft is not in use. In place of the walkway, is a big fan, which sat in the basement of our old house in the box, for about 15 years and comes in handy during the hot days of July. See, I knew we’d use it someday!

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The first thing we really had to do was eradicate mold in the crawl space, or the Shoreline dudes wouldn’t work down there. We didn’t blame them, but there wasn’t time to hire someone so hubby decided that he’d don a hazard suit and do it himself. This is the sight to which I was treated for several days…mmmm, sexy marshmallow!

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Under some stained carpet in the living room, the wood floors were absolutely filthy. Several gallons of bleach later (actually I think it may have been Pine Sol- bleach was for the bathroom), we were in business and work began in earnest. Shoreline Construction came and repaired the damage to the floor joists first. Once the floor was supported, the rooms no longer felt like trampolines, the furniture didn’t lean inward and the doors didn’t scrape against the floorboards, the next step was to rebuild the porch that was supporting the second floor. There wasn’t any way it was going to look like the original because apparently, one can no longer obtain rounded cedar posts that still have the bark intact. What to do, what to do? Fortunately, Grampy kept every single blooming thing related to this cabin, including every cent he paid for every screw, nail, hook, window, light fixture, and piece of furniture, most of it still there, in a folder which was now in my possession. Sure enough, there were the original plans, with the porch as it was intended before it was modified to suit his specification. Texted a picture of the plans to the construction manager, and voila!

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I’d started my job at the local historical society, so even though the house wasn’t ready, living here for the summer had become a necessity, and as you can all imagine, construction in a vacation hotspot at the beginning of the season can be chaotic…they were trying to make all of their customers happy and finish the major work before the 4th of July so that we could all enjoy our homes. “Hey lady, you want real walls? You don’t want to keep all that knotty pine do you?” Yes sir, as a matter of fact, I do want every board of that knotty pine. Please don’t even throw the scrap in the dumpster! Our job was small, relatively speaking, so once the structural stuff was done all we needed was a bathroom. Yeah, try living without a functioning bathroom. I’d describe all the times the toilet was removed and I made desperate phone calls to get it reinstalled in between the steps it took to get the bathroom done, but that’d bore you to tears. Suffice it to say that we lived in a cold-water flat with no kitchen and no heater (it was 42 degrees at the beginning of June) for a while, but at least we didn’t have to go in the woods with the bears. Ok, there was that one time that I stayed with the neighbor across the street because there was no bathroom at all, I had to work the next day so we couldn’t go home, but that’s a minor detail. Mr. H. is handy so he fixed the kitchen sink and built a new floor around the pipes, got the water heater going, fixed the leaky toilet so we didn’t have to replace it, de-moused the small heater and got it working (I guess my idea for a gas stove that looks like a woodstove will have to wait), repaired some woodwork, scraped the old varnish off the window trim, repaired screens to get at least one more season from them, sanded cabinets so I could re-stain them, washed stained floors a million times, sanded part of a floor that was badly stained with 60 grit paper and a hand sander, re-painted thereby saving a rusty old glider from the 1930s, located the septic system so it could be pumped (it had not been in 52 years…so THAT was that weird smell under the kitchen sink), built a stone wall around the yard, built a holder for wood, made me a decorative whale for the living room out of a plank from the old walkway, and basically was my hero. He did a lot of this using Gramp’s old hand tools that he discovered in a closet. He also patched the roof with me freaking out about whether or not I could catch him if he slipped.

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The first room tackled was the bathroom, out of necessity. It was a complete mess with the original floor gone, an odd narrow wooden floor running in the wrong direction that was stained, dirty, and black and warped from moisture. An old rug was stuck to the surface (it had to be pried off with a shovel), and there was a large vanity (that I don’t remember ever being there) that made it awkward to walk in the room. EEK!

Fortunately, the original light fixtures were there and just needed to be cleaned up, and a decision was made to go with “wood look” vinyl flooring rather than real wood since history has shown that occasionally the floor gets wet in a beach cottage. I wanted to try to match the original floor’s color exactly, but Mr. H. wanted something with a little more patina, since it was never going to match the original wood anyway, and we weren’t going to remove the current threshold (which wasn’t there originally).

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His choice on the left, mine on the right. He won because…ya gotta let ’em have something once in a while, right?

We didn’t have any good photos of the original sink, but I remembered that it was an American Standard one with chrome legs, so we trolled Craigslist until we found one. It was Kohler, rather than American Standard, but it would do the trick. It had the original faucets but they didn’t work right. We aren’t sure exactly what our plumber did, but he either fixed the originals, or he found the exact same replacement faucets and drain. I went with my mother to find curtains, towels and a shower curtain before the bathroom was even finished.

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You can sort of see the sink in the background. Yes, we did find that red wastebasket too. Who the heck is that kid? LOL

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We put some of the vintage advertising items we found in the house on a shelf in the bathroom, and we installed a cabinet above the toilet (another item we had stashed in the basement that came in handy…sometimes it’s good to be a hoarder, right?). The original medicine cabinet was also still there and just needed a bit of cleaning and polishing.

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Some shots of the living room from the 60s, and Grampy in his chair.

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This was their 35th anniversary. The plate was in the cabinet, and we even found the banner neatly folded in the bottom of the corner cabinet.

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THE chair. It was long gone, but the green Naugahyde footstool was there. He smoked cherry tobacco in his pipe, a smell I can recall to this day.

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This is my uncle in 1965, at 3:55 pm on July 2 (my grandparents’ anniversary)

This is the condition we found it in, in 2016 below. The original wagon wheel light fixture and lamps were still there. The carpet was a mess and we hoped and prayed the original hardwood floor underneath was salvageable, and fortunately, despite a few burn marks left by previous renters it was. Ripping up that carpet was possibly the most satisfying of all the work we did. The soft furniture was in rough shape, so most of it went out with the trash. My uncle was elderly, and had rented the place out after my grandmother died, hence the condition of the house. We didn’t keep everything that was up on the walls, but all oil paintings were done by my mother and were originally in the house, though most had been returned to her to avoid damage or loss by renters. My husband made Moby out of a leftover piece of pine. The living room tab curtains were decent so we washed them and put them back up.

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1965- My grandmother made the braided rug. It was gone, but I found another vintage one in Dover, NH where she grew up.

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As close to the original as we could get it! My mother painted the fishing shack in Cape Neddick (before it had all the buoys on it).

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Notice that the painting of the Nubble is the same one in the earlier pic of my parents holding me in front of it.

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The kitchen was the most fun. It was a filthy mess, and at first, we weren’t sure we would be able to save either the original kitchen cabinets (we figured we’d need to paint them) or the original Formica countertop. I scrubbed and scrubbed the countertop, very carefully sanded out a burn mark in the Formica, and we scrubbed and sanded the fronts of the pine cabinets. We found a can of stain in the closet and figured what the heck; worst case scenario was that we’d have to paint over it. But it worked beautifully, despite the fact that the can of stain was probably from the 1970s. I read online about how one could clean up old chrome by scrubbing it with wet aluminum foil so we gave that a shot. I’m happy to report that it worked, and although the chrome knobs are slightly pitted, we were able to save them all. The table and chairs from the 1930s had been painted red by Gramp back in ’65 so I cleaned them up and my husband repaired them. They could stand to be repainted, so that will happen this year. Mum remembered that she made the original gingham curtains for my grandmother, so she offered to do that again, though she made a slightly different style. We cleaned up all the little items and put them back up on the walls, and saved as many of the original dishes and pans in the cupboards as we could.

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Gree fixing lunch

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What is that stuff dripping from the upper cabinet?! Possibly molasses. Or something burnt.

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The stove was so full of mouse debris that we threw it out and got a new one.

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Mum’s curtains

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Cabinets and walls, all cleaned up!

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Mum’s toaster cover complete with cat.

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Done!

The bedrooms and loft were next. The master was such that we could only fit twin beds on opposite walls. So, Lucy and Ricky it was for us! All the original light fixtures were there in both rooms, a couple of the bedcovers only needed a wash and a repair, and the Navajo rugs my uncle brought back from Arizona in the 1970s were in great shape. We had an old rope bed for “the Indian room” as it was always known (PC or not), and after a comedy of errors where the tall box spring brought the mattress way up above the headboard, Mr. H. set about making a frame to sit inside the bedstead, and rigged it up so that it looked from the outside as if it were strung with the ropes. Before and after pics of the 2 bedrooms and the loft below.

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Quilted bedspreads were $7 brand new!

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My Uncle traveled “out West” as he used to say a lot, so Mum did the painting of the Rocky Mountains or the Grand Tetons, I’m not sure which, for him.

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The 3 wool Navajo thunderbird rugs were brought back from Arizona in the 1970s.

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The rope bed dates to the 1840s and was an antique I scored for 40 bucks. I used long cotton duck tab curtains for the closet doors instead of those weird plastic accordion folded things. I remember my grandmother having bamboo or something there. Also, what is Maine without a big stuffed purple mosquito in a party hat?

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The loft is accessed by a pull-down attic staircase. Not to modern code, but we made sure that the contractor knew not to take it down. If they had, they wouldn’t have been able to put it back up because rules would have required them to put in a modern staircase. There’s no room in the house for that! Honestly, the loft doesn’t get used much unless a kid shows up and thinks it’s cool.

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I found and repaired that bedspread you see on the cot. I looked for those exact curtains but ended up settling for another set of vintage curtains that were similar to the original ones that were in the living room.

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Vintage barkcloth curtains

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I’m not sure why, but I took the photo prior to putting the repaired quilt back on the bed. There was a bare lightbulb too close the curtains so we found a vintage looking light and moved it up higher.

The porch, the yard, and the shed all need some further improvements, but the original 1930s glider was still on the porch and all it needed was a coat of paint. We set up the porch and it became our informal dining room where we could smell the pines and the ocean, and feel the breeze when the tide turned and was coming in a half mile down the road.

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My husband is a lot like Gramp, and I’m sad that they never had the chance to meet. They’d have been partners in crime at rummage sales, buying in bulk, picking free stuff up off the side of the road like Fred Sanford, making creative things, and fixing things the old-fashioned way. There is still more to be done, such as repairing the porch screens, finishing the back steps, grading the yard, cleaning and treating the exterior wood, adding gutters, exterior lighting, and possibly a new roof, but we’re getting there. Right now, I’d like to think my grandparents are smiling down at us in their little cabin in the pines.

Stuff Gramp made include a lamp, an incense burner, and a dollhouse modeled on the cabin. He made the dollhouse for me when I was 9 (the roof came off so I could play with it, and he carved all the little furniture too), and also made me a lamp that was modeled on the fishing shack at Cape Neddick.

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Gramp gazing at Mum’s painting.

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Oh yes, we went there!

The “Harry Metcalf House”- 1740 or 1940?

By the summer of 2014, we had been looking at 18th-century houses for several years.  I’d find them online, then decide by the photos whether or not I wanted to make an appointment to see the house in person.  My long-suffering husband would indulge me and dutifully accompany me to meet the real estate agent.  Sometimes we brought friends or my brother who does architectural work.  Each time we stepped into a house, I immediately fell in love with it.  Then, when I was done squealing with delight, either my husband or my brother would call me over, point to a supporting beam riddled with rot or wood-boring insect holes, a collapsing wall or rotted sill and say “see this?  Yeah, money pit, let’s go”, thereby dashing my dreams.  Then, in late July of 2014, I saw this…

Bryant1Was this, in fact, the 18th-century house?  No, it was built in 1940!  After viewing the interior photos and seeing that it looked nearly 18th-century inside, with appropriate colonial paint colors as well as iron latches and hinges, I quickly made an appointment and enlisted some friends for moral support.  During the viewing, I was dead quiet and expressionless, while Mr. H. exclaimed, “wow, this house is really solid and well built!”.  My friends took me aside and said, “this house is YOU, why do you not seem excited about it?”.  I replied that I had been disappointed so many times before, I needed to reserve my enthusiasm.  Long story short, we went home to our house that was already for sale, hashed it over, and made an offer the following week.  By mid-August, we knew we had it, and the closing was set for Halloween to give the young family living there time to find a new home.

What isn’t evident in the photos is that, at no fault of anyone who had lived there, because the house was on the old side, the inspection revealed that it indeed was in need of some repair.  Windows and doors didn’t always work correctly, there was wood-boring insect damage on and under the front clapboards behind the holly bush, and worst of all, the “store-front” window to the left of the front door with its 40 panes of glass was structurally unsound.  There was also rot around one of the windows on the side of the house, and some of the upstairs windows were warped so they couldn’t be opened and closed.  Mr. H wanted to replace the windows with modern ones, which someone had already done to a big casement window on the back for the house, to my horror.  I screamed NOOOOOO and he relented.  He and a friend repaired the weighted cords on one or two of them, but it was harder work than they bargained for. Still, it is always better to save wooden paned windows.  Glass can be replaced and wood repaired, so those windows will last centuries if properly maintained.  Vinyl replacement windows last about 20 years and then have to be thrown out and replaced again.

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The sad, sad modern window.  I tell myself that there must have been a good reason for it. The plan is to eventually get a wooden casement window with the diamond-paned glass, but goodness knows when and if we will be able to afford that.

We’d slowly get everything fixed, he promised, even if it became a multi-year plan.  First things:  replace the rotted shingles and clapboards, get the place painted, repair the damaged windows, and the roof over the front window, which developed an ice dam the first winter we were there and leaked into the living room.  Our first mistake was employing a carpenter who didn’t “get it” when I said this was an old house and I wanted the repairs done the right way, with the right materials.  I came home one day to find composite boards around one window on the side of the house, and my head nearly exploded.  My husband convinced me that it was ok, it would be painted, would blend in with the rest of the wood, and at least it wouldn’t rot again.  After we spoke with him, he replaced the clapboards on the front with the correct materials (you know, wood) and it was fine.  However, I was determined to find the right contractor to repair the wooden windows with their glass panes.  We ultimately employed Heritage Restoration, and we couldn’t be more pleased.  Eventually, we will need more work done and I recommend them highly to anyone with a historic home! Luke repaired windows using historically accurate materials and techniques, and Rob fixed some of the doors and locks that were sticking and wouldn’t open and close properly.  They’ve repaired the wooden gutters, and eventually we will need a historically accurate “storm door”, probably board and batten, on the front, new storm doors in the back, a new garage door, repair to the transom with the bullseye glass over the front door (several weeks ago it nearly fell off in a windstorm and hubby took it down so we wouldn’t lose the hand blown glass- he may try to rebuild it himself), either refinished or new kitchen countertops, repairs to the fencing, more window repair, and a brick patio and bushes/gardens to replace the wooden deck in back.  In the grand scheme of things, we were an extremely small job, but they treated us as if our house was important.  We can’t thank them enough! Below are “before” and “during” shots of the front window.

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Finished, with a plexiglass storm window to protect the panes.  Historically accurate? No. But the house is not actually an 18th-century house, so we thought it was an acceptable compromise.

Above- we were without a kitchen window for a while while the rotted casement was repaired.  I so wish that this was done with the casement window in the library/den instead of the replacement that was installed.  But again, I don’t know the reasoning behind it.

The house was built in 1940 specifically for a man named Harry Metcalf and his wife Hazel.  They lived there until sometime in the 1950s when another family, the daughter of whom went to school with my mother, purchased the house and lived there until about 1960.  At that point, the McLaughlin family bought the house, raised their children there, and stayed until the early 2000s.  Apparently at some point during these years the house was featured in a magazine article, which I have yet to find anywhere.  I don’t believe there is anyone alive who can tell me which magazine, and the year in which it was published.  The house was then owned by 2 gentlemen, who painted the interior its present color scheme, then it sold to the young couple from whom we purchased the house.  So we are the 6th owners.  Somehow, the original blueprints were saved and passed down to each owner of the house! Someone mounted them on cardboard and they aren’t framed, but at least we have them.  The last owners thought there might have been more, but so far we haven’t found them.

We also found, in the garage, a door for the back hallway that had been removed (jury’s still out on whether that should be re-installed), a block and tackle that could be repaired and hung from the top “barn” window over the garage,  and the original lamppost light.  It has rusted away around the screw holes and it needs to be rewired, so it isn’t yet safe to put back up, but I’m determined that it should be restored.

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The current lamppost-  it’s ok, but the old one is much larger and I think it would look really cool to have it back up.

Interestingly, the house has its original 1940s bathroom, and we were completely ecstatic, or over the moon, as Prince Harry likes to say, to find it intact with black and white subway tiles and patterned shower floor.  We thought the original tile floor might be under the marble-look stick down vinyl tiles that were probably installed about 15 years ago, but we were told that because a drain pipe for the bathtub was under that floor piped over to the shower drain, the original floor was some sort of linoleum, likely in case the floor had to be lifted to repair the pipes.  For that reason, we decided to just leave the floor alone for now.  The porcelain coated cast iron bathtub needs reglazing, and the shower needs to be regrouted, (causing me to tell overnight guests that it’s just old, not dirty) but that’s part of the long-term plan.  So many people rip those original bathrooms out and make them look nondescript, hence our excitement that the bathroom was original. I might have screamed when I saw the original, etched glass medicine cabinet.  I also thought it was cool that the curtains and shower curtain matched the toile wallpaper.  Some people might think it’s too much, but I think it works.

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Our darling, the late, great, Greta.

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The next thing to tackle was the room decor.  We were determined that it be “colonial”, and fortunately I AM that weirdo that had lots of colonial revival reproduction and antiques in the house.  Neighbors told us that Mrs. McLaughlin always had lots of antiques in the house, so I was determined to do her spirit proud, in case maybe she’s still with us or something, wink wink.  So we sold or gave away some of the furnishings from our old house, and went bargain hunting for antique or reproduction furnishings especially for this house. 

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This piece is pretty old.  We don’t know if those are the original brasses…possibly not and I purchased antique batwing ones just in case.  It also looks like the feet are missing and again, we don’t know if they were bun feet or just a carved piece at the bottom. We don’t think it sat on the floor like that, however.  The top is a blanket chest and the bottom a 3 drawer chest.  We don’t even know if these two pieces were originally “married” together.

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Believe it or not, this Captain’s desk was my childhood desk where I did all my homework, and kicked the bottom of it…if you look carefully you can see the marks.

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We were hoping she would get into the cradle, but…nope, not interested. The cradle is an original 18th or early 19th-century piece.

Our guest room had last been a baby’s room, and while the color scheme was fine with its gray walls and white trim, I wanted to put it back the way it was originally.  The gentlemen who lived here had painted the trim a historic pinkish tan color, with white walls, so that was my original plan, until I scraped an area of trim just inside a closet door and found that the original color was a bright colonial green, and not the same olive green that is in the living room and upstairs hallway.  I took a small scraping of the original color and set about trying to match it.  I found one of the Sherwin Williams historic paint colors in an unusual green that changes color depending upon the light in the room.  That was it!  My decorating goal for the house was 18th-century style furnishings, but we had a few pieces that were family heirlooms and were decidedly 19th-century.  I concluded that the majority of those pieces should be in one room.  So my mother-in-law’s dresser with carved grape pulls and a marble top, a fancy oak dresser and mirror, a brass bedstead, and my grandmother’s treadle sewing machine would go in this room.  Unfortunately, due to the sloped ceiling, the 1870s corner cabinet would have to go in the living room.  Here are some before and after shots below.

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Before- gray walls, white trim. I liked this but really wanted to put it back to “colonial” style with white walls and colored trim.

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We also changed some of the light fixtures.  Before and after kitchen lights.

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New light in the back hallway. I don’t have a photo of the old one, but it was one of those flush mount lights.

Before and after bedroom lights.

We’ve had lots of fun furnishing the house, and I painted a sign for when, one of these years, my husband finally gets around to building that cage bar and we have a colonial tavern in the basement for our friends.  My inspiration for the sign was one in the collection of Old Sturbridge Village.  My husband often jokes that he has a “bull’s head” because of his extremely large hat size, so we decided that it would be the Bullshead Tavern. Below: the inspiration sign and my silly version, with the name blocked out for privacy, though some of you know who we are.

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The basement needs a little sprucing up and we haven’t gotten to it yet.  There’s a lot more junk down here now…

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A friend gave us these antique andirons for the downstairs fireplace as a housewarming gift.

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We think the bar will go in the corner on the left, just out of sight of the camera.  This basement is decidedly colonial-revival, but we’re ok with that.

We view ourselves merely as caretakers of this home for the future.  It may not have historical significance now, but it is nearly 80 years old, and when it comes time for us to move on, we hope that the next owners will keep all of its character intact and it will be preserved as a historic property.

Choosing the colors for the house and front door: Rookwood Red for the house, and Tavern Door green for the door.  The painter confessed that he saw my color choice and thought to himself “what the hell is this lady thinking?”. But he did what I wanted and later said to me, “I have to give you credit.  That actually works”.

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In the living room, the fireplace dimensions are a dead giveaway that the house is colonial revival rather than a real 18th-century house (not the only indication, but possibly the most noticeable one).  Also, nearly all of the paintings in the house were done by my mother, who has been a fabulous artist since she was a teenager.  I’m not biased or anything though…ha ha.  If you have a good eye, you’ll notice that the painting on the mantel is our summer cabin in Maine.  Mum painted this for Gramp back in the late 60s or early 70s.

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Yep, those are bicentennial portraits on blocks of wood.  I LOVE them!  They were in my parents’ basement and I bugged my mother to give them to me.

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I know, I know.  Too much bloody furniture.

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The desk chair is a D.R. Dimes reproduction.  We are lucky to have it because he has recently closed his business.  The other chair is an antique I scored for 25 bucks, the 1870s corner cabinet belonged to my great uncle, and the schoolhouse clock is the one from the summer cabin.  We brought it back to have it repaired by our friend Peter Nunes (he’s an excellent clock repairman located in Wakefield, RI) and hung it in the living room until it went back.

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I can write on this desk without marking it because with a quill pen one doesn’t use the pressure required for a ballpoint. A friend saw this photo and said “wow, too bad the candle in the window has an electrical cord hanging down”.  So I edited the photo to remove both the cord and the set-in radiator.

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This gorgeous, sunny yellow kitchen is what sold me on the house.

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Detail of the wallpaper in the back hall leading from the kitchen to the teeny, tiny bathroom.  The last lady to live in the house told me that the wallpaper made her think of her with her (now oldest) daughter and that she hoped I would think of them sometimes.  I definitely do, all the time!  I’m usually not a big fan of wallpaper, but I love this paper, as it looks just like a mural.

Back door to the deck.  I just wanted to show this awesome wallpaper.

The dining room has a “Mr. Ed” door, also known as a Dutch door!  The first pic is a detail from the real estate listing.  We are planning to update the chandelier, as we have several antiques stored in the basement.  We’re torn between the two below; one I found at a thrift shop, and the other we brought from our old house.  Even though I was determined to take the pewter Shaker-made chandelier from our old house, I’m leaning toward the black one for the dining room.  The other one will be installed in the basement “tavern” when the time comes.

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Look, a 1970s Hitchcock bench!  I bought it from a lady at work who was downsizing.  The table, 6 chairs, and the china cabinet are all vintage Ethan Allan and came from different antique shops even though the table and chairs seem to be a matching set.

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The pie safe was a wedding gift from my parents. When she told me what they wanted to get us, I told her I didn’t like the ones with the tin.  What?! I must have been nuts…but perhaps I was thinking of the newer versions with the shiny tin.  All I can say is that my taste was slightly different when I was young.  We were fortunate that they found this one though, and we love it.

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Yep, those are 1970s beaded fruits!  Some were vintage finds, but I beaded a bunch of them myself because it’s so much fun.  I found old kits online.  My mother has the rest of them on display in her house.  Since the house isn’t really an 18th-century house, I don’t feel guilty about displaying a few mid-century vintage pieces here and there.  The painting depicts our wedding.

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A very dear and talented friend made the quilted wall hanging that I’m currently displaying on the dining table until I find a suitable place to hang it.

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The messiest room in the house is typically the library/office/sewing room/tv den.  It was meant originally to be a bedroom, but since one has to go through the living room and kitchen to get to the bathroom, we have tons of books and several bookcases, and there were these really cool built-in shelves, this became an informal living room or den.  The TV goes on a shelf in the closet with bifold doors so if we want to hide it we can.

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Greta loves mama's chair.

Greta, you’re in Mama’s chair.

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What it usually looks like in here…

Last but not least is our bedroom.  We traveled to the Cape to get the canopy bed, which is a 1970s pine reproduction.  Gotta love that bicentennial, right?  The lady even gave me the hand crocheted canopy for FREE because she found it in the bag and it was all yellowed. I soaked that thing in Castille soap and Oxy-Clean and it’s beautiful.  I’d love to be able to use it, but I’m not really sure how to keep the dust off it.  Anyway, right after we moved in we attempted to install the canopy, but the cross pieces kept falling out and hitting us on the head.  It was like a Carol Burnett/Tim Conway comedy show, so we gave up and left just the frame up.  For now, we said.  My husband claimed that he was going to put it together and countersink some screws on one side to hold it, but really, that’s gonna happen.  Yeah.

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Little Miss Greta loved being in all the pictures.  This is my summer bedspread and the little quilt that my mother made especially for her.  Now that she is gone, her quilt adorns the back of a chair in the summer house.

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Curtains get changed out on occasion, and these pink gingham ones are in the bedroom in the summer cabin now.

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I was lucky enough to find a hand loomed reproduction bedcover from South Union Mills as the winter bedspread.  I also change stuff on the walls quite a bit and move things around.

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Someone added a wooden deck, which is nice, but we think that there was originally a brick patio here.  Someday, we’d like to put that back along with a Colonial Williamsburg type garden.  This is a very small backyard without much privacy from the neighbors.  Note that the modern window has been painted red and the fact that it isn’t wooden is less noticeable.

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Next blog post…on to the summer cabin.

 

A bit of mustard from the V&A Museum

This gown was made last spring specifically for a trip to Williamsburg to visit my lovely friends who are employees of the Foundation.  For this reason, I knew that I didn’t need to limit myself to lower to middling New England circa 1770, and there is a gown in the V&A museum that I have been dying to make for several years.  It looks decidedly yellow in the photo below from the V&A’s collection, but in other photos the background looks tan.

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I use this image cautiously because I saved it from somewhere on the internet when I was looking for a photo of the front of this gown, which is not on the V&A collections website.  Black Tulip’s sewing blogspot also has this image posted.

My initial quest was for a yellow block print, similar to the print on a jacket I made many years ago.  That was cut from a bedcover from India, so that was where I began, without much success.  The next step was to check all the block print manufacturers on eBay and Etsy, to see what I could find.

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Nothing was really making me happy.  I would have gladly sold the jacket and made a gown out of that exact fabric if I could have found more of it, but alas, it was not to be.  Nearly everything else was either too regular, like a roller print rather than a block print, was prohibitively expensive for my budget, or was the wrong color.  Almost nothing really looked like the original print.  The color was also bugging me…I felt like it was tan, but in some photos it looked yellow.  I just needed the right mustard color that would give the same effect, despite my desire for a true yellow.

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Detail of the original print, from the V&A museum collections website.

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The print that was ultimately chosen.  Tannish mustard yellow in a typically 18th-century floral block print. I’m not sure that I love it.

Once I found it, I needed to draft the pattern.  I based mine on the JP Ryan English gown pattern, but modified a few things to suit my purpose.  I cut the back of the neckline lower, modified the bottom front of the bodice, and pleated the back in one piece instead of using the separate, v-shaped pieced bodice in the original pattern.  I also drafted new cuffs based on the Larkin and Smith English gown pattern cuffs.  As I usually do, I had difficulty getting the shoulder straps right (one shoulder is higher than the other and I have no neck so my shoulder slope is weird), but finally got it to look decent with t-minus one day to go before I got on the train to Colonial Williamsburg!

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The gown in progress, with pleated back.

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Done, waiting for cuffs.

 

It looks quite like the original, if I do say so myself, and I was beyond ecstatic to realize that I already had a light yellow wool petticoat similar to the one the V&A had paired with the gown.  However, if I had to do this over again, I’d make the following changes: make less of a curve at the top of the bodice; cut the back of the neckline slightly lower and less wide, cut the shoulder straps straight instead of with a curve; and make the sleeves slightly longer.  I still have a bunch of this fabric left, so as I am wont to do sometimes, I may actually cut new shoulder straps and modify the bodice and sleeves of this gown at some point in the future.  Here are some pics of the gown in action.

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I dressed this up with white accessories, a green bow at the neckline which matches my hat, and a grosgrain ribbon belt with buckle, as was sometimes done in the 1780s and 90s.

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The girls take an evening stroll toward the Capitol.  We were so stuffed from dinner at the King’s Arms that we didn’t want to sit down, so a walk was in order!

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New Adventures in Men’s Clothing

I’ve never been quite confident enough to make men’s clothing, with one exception…I made kind of a farby waistcoat for a friend about 10 years ago.  I hand stitched it and then I cheated and asked a friend to machine the buttonholes for me and help me add the pocket bags because I didn’t know how and I was terrified to do it, lest I ruin the precious little fabric I had.  Anyway, it was pretty, though quite historically incorrect with machine embroidery (at least it was silk, right?) and a garishly bright yellow linen lining.  I might be tempted to argue that the embroidery design looked acceptable for the 18th-century, and there were those “bizarre” embroidered silk waistcoats early in the century, but this is not the typical embroidery pattern for the style of this waistcoat. For fabulous, sumptuous, historically patterned embroidery, visit Sewstine’s blog here.    I cannot even describe the incredible job she does with her costuming, so please check it out for yourselves.

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This photo was saved from VintageTextile.com, but the link is no longer active.  This is closer to the style of embroidery of the waistcoat shown below, but still not quite.

It was also too short for the era for which he needed it, yet not the right style for the 1770s either, so I hope my friend didn’t feel terribly bad if he had to dispose of it somehow.  I’d definitely forgive him for that.  If I had more of this fabric, I’d fix it though.  Piecing garments was common practice during the time period, and my sewing is decent enough now that I could add more fabric onto the bottom fronts fairly seamlessly (haha get it?), but unfortunately, this was it.

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Pretty, but not quite.  I had limited fabric and tried to match the pattern on both sides, but again, not quite.  The back was made of plain gold silk.

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My friend wearing it with his vintage velvet pirate jacket.  Unfortunately, it’s clear that the waistcoat is not long enough.

We’ve learned a lot over the years and while my husband’s clothing looked decent, we both realized that some of his stuff needed an upgrade.  He had 2 waistcoats that he absolutely loved, purchased at least 5 years ago from a fairly well-known sutler.  They were machine stitched, and were supposed to be a style from the 1750s, but were slightly too short for that.  Since he is in his 50s, he got away with wearing them as outdated waistcoats with a 1770s suit (below left, please ignore the way he’s wearing his watch chain) and a 1760s suit (below right), but really, we know we can do better than that.

Several weeks ago, I took them both completely apart.  We agreed that if I was going to ruin one of his waistcoats, he could stand to lose the dark blue one, even though it almost matched the coat and breeches he already had (made by a reputable tailor, even if it was machine sewn).  That waistcoat was made of heavy wool and was lined with thick cotton so he was hot (and not just in a good way, wink wink) when he wore it to events under his heavy wool coat.

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This is the only pic of the blue waistcoat “before”.  The pockets are huge, with buttons, and the machine stitching is very visible along the edges.

I ripped out the lining and removed all of the machine stitching, pressed away the lines/holes where the stitching used to be, then put it all back together by hand.  I pressed the center back seam open, and whip stitched the seam allowance down to each side of the back, being careful not to let the stitches go all the way through to the outside.  The pocket bags show on the inside, but no one will see that and I felt that his comfort was most important.  I then cut away the bottom of both fronts at the angle used for the 1770s waistcoats.  It looked pretty good, except that the pockets now looked weirdly enormous, and the machine stitching along the top edge was glaringly obvious. bluewaistcoatoldpockets

I had some extra material where it was double thick in the front to cover the pocket bags on the inside.  Using as a model a second-hand 1770s waistcoat that we’d purchased for him, I drafted new pocket flaps. 

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Hand sewn waistcoat we purchased second hand.  I used this to figure the angle of the cut-away at the bottom, and to draft the new pocket flaps.

Since the wool was very thick and the tops of the pocket flaps were folded down, attaching them to the front of the waistcoat was murder on my hands.  I attempted to use a thimble, with varying success.  When I put the thimble on the finger I normally use to push the needle through, my tendency was to use the next finger on the needle instead of the one with the thimble. But, ultimately, I got ‘er done.

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The back of the waistcoat had a bunch of lacing holes and a cord for adjustability.  If I’m not mistaken that style was less common in the 1770s than earlier, and I certainly could have cut new backs out of a different material.  However, given that his weight sometimes fluctuates, we decided to just leave that alone.  He sometimes takes his coat off, but at really progressive events he won’t, so that compromise won’t show.  When all was said and done, it seemed decent enough for me to attempt to alter his yellow one, which was made of lighter weight wool. 

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Finished!  Not bad.

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The yellow one was lined with light yellow linen, and we decided that it was a light enough color that we’d leave it alone rather than try to replace the lining with a white or unbleached linen.  I followed the same steps with that one, but it was significantly easier to attach the pocket flaps since the wool was not as thick.  Cutting the new pockets was tricky though, because I had no extra fabric.  I had an outdated women’s garment that I had taken apart to remake, but it was still in pieces because I didn’t have enough fabric to recut it correctly.  It was almost the same color, and I decided that if I needed to, I could use it in a pinch.  First, though, I tried cutting the new pocket flaps from the existing ones.  Because of the button holes on the original pocket flaps, there wasn’t enough fabric at the bottom for a seam allowance, so I simply whip stitched the raw edges to overcast them together.  I figured if it looked terrible, my fall back was the almost-the-same-color fabric reserve.  When they were done though, I thought they looked acceptable.

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Since he loves this waistcoat, he periodically popped into the room asking “are you done ruining my nice waistcoat yet?”  Cheeky monkey.

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Not ruined.  There are marks where the buttons used to be, even though I tried to press those out.  We aren’t too bothered because there is evidence of alterations and revisions on extant waistcoats, so this sort of lends it more authenticity.

The last step was to topstitch over the machine sewn buttonholes.  Buttonholes scare me, frankly, but a friend from Williamsburg had given me a lesson after he showed me how to add welted watch pockets to Mr. H’s breeches.

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Dear sexy knickers…some of you will get the reference.  No watch pocket here.

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My welted pocket after a lesson from my friend.  Same breeches as above, different lighting.

I also watched a couple of tutorials on YouTube from Fort Ticonderoga as well as a general one on historical buttonhole techniques and then practiced by adding buttonholes to the cuffs of my shift, a procedure that was LONG overdue.  They didn’t look especially pretty because I had to cut the slits with scissors and they frayed a bit, but I found that the stitch itself was much easier than I’d expected.

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Sleeve links finally added!

In the end, the waistcoats weren’t ruined, and I feel confident enough now that if I can find the right red wool, and a couple of chisels from the hardware store to cut buttonholes, I may actually make him a new waistcoat!

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Detail of waistcoat, part of a British “ditto suit” dated 1750-75, Met Museum

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Another waistcoat, part of a British “ditto suit” 1770-80 from the Met Museum

I might also make my friend a new “bizarre” early 18th-century waistcoat, as I have some crazy embroidered fabric in the stash that somewhat resembles an extant waistcoat from 1715-1720.  Bizarre silk was woven rather than embroidered, but this still might work. For a good description of bizarre silk, visit the Dreamstress website. The time has come for skill expansion, so tailoring, at least on a basic level (breeches… oh hell no!) is in my future.

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Bizarre silk sleeved waistcoat, France, 1715; LACMA M.2007.211.40

This is no’ me plaid

Sometime last year while researching the family’s ancestry I discovered that my grandfather was Scottish. I’m a weird mutt, and you probably don’t want all the details but one side of said grandfather’s family also goes back to 3 pilgrims on the Mayflower…no wait, 1 pilgrim and 2 strangers.  Ok, I always knew the Scottish bit because of the family crest that is still in its prominent place in the summer cabin.  What I mean is, I found information on who his ancestor was and why he came to Dover, NH in 1630.  The family is an old Norman family established at the time of the Norman conquest and the first Baron of the family was created in 1178.  The family seat is in Aberdeenshire, and one of them led an army of Royalists against the Covenanters in 1644 where they were victorious.  My particular ancestor, however, was a Covenanter himself and decide to beat a hasty retreat in 1630 before things got troublesome for him (which means he didn’t actually sign the covenant in 1638 but that was where his sympathies lay, and he must have sensed the storm a-brewing).  So came he to Dover NH where he married an English woman and changed the spelling of his name, presumably because a) he wanted to seem more English than Scottish, or b) it was his wife’s preference and she was wielding a frying pan so…

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This one would give a good clunking!

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Gramp and a cat named Malcolm. Methinks Malcolm wants some turkey.

There was also a story about how some family members who stayed in Scotland were Jacobites who fought at Culloden, and that piqued my interest.  Thus far, I haven’t been able to either confirm or deny that but it is something to contemplate.  Following this discovery, I was happily able to join the actual Clan in Scotland and,  you guessed it, it was time to make some 18th-century plaid clothes!  This, of course, is quite impractical for me since I don’t actually live in Scotland, nor were our family members Highlanders, and more importantly, I have no use at all for such things in the New England colonies.  Or do I? Hmmm.  As you will see, I can use some of what I made, and other things will be just for costume use, demonstration, or specific events where I can have a highland Scot persona.

I’ve already written to some extent about my gown inspired by the Isabella McTavish Fraser gown in the Inverness Museum.  That original gown has it’s own blog now and was written about by Peter MacDonald on the Scottish Tartans UK website. so I won’t belabor the point.  I made one because it’s gorgeous, I love it, and I can use it for clothing demonstrations (I already wore it to a museum event with documentation on the original gown available).  Someday I plan to recreate it using Gramp’s family tartan, but since that wasn’t quite in the budget, I made it with some cheaper not-a-real-tartan-but-pretty fabric that my Mum found.  She and another random lady in the store decided that it would go well with my reddish brown hair, and that was that.

As you can see, when I get the funds to do a real tartan, I have several options:

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Around this time I was also able to purchase some “crossbar stuff” fabric from William Booth Draper.

browncrossbarstuffCross bar camblettee fabric (linen/wool) for a petticoat and jacket.

I was able to document that this type of fabric was sold in both Providence/Newport and Boston in the mid-18th century so it was plausible that I could use it.  I often wear the crossbar petticoat with my plain gowns at progressive Rev War events and I’ll be able to do the same when I make the gown.  My inspiration was originally this lovely “Oyster Girl” by Phillipe Mercier.  This was copied by other artists in mezzotints and Emily’s Vintage Visions also blogged about it here.  I still haven’t made the gown you see below, but I plan to do so this winter with the fabric on the left.

With regard to the fabric on the right, I had enough for either a gown, or a petticoat and jacket, but not enough for a gown and matching petticoat.  I’d been poking around on a Jacobite re-enactment site and immediately decided that, although a jacket was not common for an English woman in the New England colonies, it would be most appropriate for a Highland woman or a Jacobite.  Sometimes I make things just because I wanna, and end up with limited occasions to wear the said garment, but there is usually some event, somewhere, where I can use it so typically I just plow ahead.  My first step was to go hunting for Jacobite (1745-ish) images, though some are later.  I needed to document the use of “plaid” or crossbar in ordinary working women’s garments (never mind that famous painting of Flora MacDonald), as well as document the wearing of jackets, and headgear (cap vs. kertch).  I found most of my images on Mara Riley’s website.  Yes, I do realize that this is not a primary source, but she uses primary sources and put the info out there for us to use.  I consulted Mara on my finished outfit as well, and she is very kind and helpful.

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Scottish Highland Women, David Allen, 18th century.  Both crossbar and stripes are used.  The younger woman wears a cap.

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Scottish wash day.  Documents use of jackets as well as gowns.

Above left, a woman from Edinburgh (lowlands) and right, a woman from the Hebrides

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Detail from David Allen’s “Highland Dance” 1780

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Detail of Lovat Spinning

So far, I’ve documented jackets, both cap and kertch, so I could decide to wear either, and crossbar or plaid for women’s garments.  Time to make the outfit!  I used the JP Ryan pattern View A to make the jacket. I also made a stomacher in case I decided to pin the sides back and wear it that way.  Highland women were often barefoot, but if they did wear shoes, they tended to have ties rather than the buckled shoes that English women or even lowland Scottish women wore.

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Pinning the lapped seams

The finished product! Left, without stomacher; middle pinned over stomacher; right fuzzy back view.  No I won’t wear my hair hanging down like that, I promise. I wonder what Grampy would think? Now to find some event at which I can wear this…

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Goofy bathroom mirror shot.  Wearing this in a typical 18th-century manner.

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Dressed as a traditional highland woman, perhaps an older woman. My shoes aren’t visible because when trying this on I didnae bother to put on the right pair.

 

Sometimes it helps to be a chocoholic, applesauce making, clothing geek…

This week I finished up my seasonal museum job.  Cue sad face…20180930_151030But before that happened, in addition to giving tours of the historic properties as I did last season, I was excited to be asked to give special presentations this year.  Every Friday from late June through Labor Day a colleague and I gave demos on the history of chocolate.  This is a program sponsored by the historic division of Mars, American Heritage Chocolate, and is presented by museums across the country.  It seemed to be a big hit with our visitors.  We began by discussing the origins of chocolate in Meso-America, how it was prepared and used in the colonies in the 18th-century, and how it evolved in the 19th-century to become the kind of consumable product we know and love today.  We then prepared and gave our visitors a taste of “colonial chocolate”, which was a hot, frothy, thick drink rather than the piece of candy they were originally expecting.  Most of them loved it, even the kids, and it was interesting to see what insights the visitors themselves had.  Early on in the season, we had a gent from Honduras whose grandparents grew and harvested cacao and made chocolate powder in the traditional manner!  He and his children were extremely excited and enthusiastic to exchange information, and learning from him was an unexpected treat.  It was also fun to see which spices the visitors could taste in their chocolate, as in each session different visitors could taste different things.  If any readers have experience with this program, I’d love to hear your ideas and insights to make it even better next year!

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Showing the entire interactive display

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The Chocolate Chicks of Old York

In September, I dragged my poor, long-suffering husband to the museum for the town Marketfest Day (we even made the local paper) to conduct a demonstration of applesauce making on behalf of our museum.  I excitedly researched 18th-century applesauce recipes, only to find to my dismay, that those recipes I could find were mostly from the 14th-17th centuries and called for fortifying the boiled apples with either suet from beef or hogs, or alternatively, with the even more delicious cod livers!  Check out a medieval recipe here. I dutifully informed Mr.H. who said “yeah NO!  We are NOT doing that, I don’t care how accurate that is.”  LOL.

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Photos by Janet Blyberg

Instead we did this…which consisted of boiling the apples and adding a small amount of sugar and some spices, which was not a very exciting demo, but people seemed to come to talk with us, and we explained in great detail what we were NOT doing to laughs and great gasps of horror.  To be fair, our ancestors likely did this to give their boiled apples a bit more nutritional and caloric value.  We used a bit too much water when boiling the apples and wound up with both applesauce and something like cider, which I thought was an added bonus.  One of my colleagues made a yummy banana-strawberry-applesauce bread with it the following week, and when hubby returned on the weekend the cider was quite delicious with the addition of spiced rum.

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The finished product (above) and some great ideas for 18th-century libations (below)

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This is what happens when one has too many of said libations…

Our second special presentation of the season was called “From Petticoats to Pockets: Getting Dressed in the 18th-Century”.  A colleague who is also a living history enthusiast and is a master seamstress to boot, and I brought in sample clothing and accessories and basically took over the entire function room with our display.

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Photo on right by Paul Shaughnessy

Since I’m not terribly modest, I showed up in my colonial underwear, and my colleague assisted me to dress, while we explained all the layers of clothing, accessories, and general 18th-century clothing construction and how it differs from modern construction to the room filled with (mostly) ladies.  We got the usual gasps of disbelief when discussing the lack of knickers in the 18-century (no, I did NOT flash them…I cheated and wore shorts under my shift), when inserting the big wooden busk into my stays, and when fastening my clothing with straight pins the size of nails without the assistance of a mirror, which was kind of a hoot.  Some of our visitors and museum members were interested in 18th-century clothing, some were theater costume makers, some enjoyed sewing or quilting, and some were simply curious. We were like pigs in you-know-what and could have talked all day, though we managed to limit our presentation and question and answer session to somewhere between 60 and 90 minutes. Every item we had on display was either an original that we owned, was from the museum collection, or was a reproduction that we could document with either an extant example or with an original painting or illustration. clothingdisplay3clothingdisplay4clothingdisplay1clothingdisplay2colordisplay

I’m at my best researching topics and making presentations/giving demonstrations, and think it is important that both adults and children get to see items and touch or try things with a hands-on approach.  I’d love to do more of this in the future and am hoping that those in charge at my museum are open to this approach.  If readers have suggestions for demonstrations and presentations in a museum setting, and for tactfully suggesting new programs, I’d love to hear them.  Hope you all had a fabulous summer!

The drool factor- printed textiles at the DeWitt Wallace Museum

Last weekend it was time for a short excursion (ok, 12 hours on a train) to Colonial Williamsburg. While I’ll spare you all the fun and excitement I had with my friend watching a bunny making a box hop across the room, waving “hi” to sheep across a field, eating way too much, finding bald eagles, and plotting how we might be able to freak out all the ghost tours passing by the house in the historic area, I will tell you all about our museum visit. We specifically visited the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum to see the exhibit “Printed Fashions: Textiles for Clothing and Home”. We’re both textile and fashion geeks, so we were giddy with excitement as we approached the steps of the Public Hospital for Persons of Insane and Disordered Minds, also called the Eastern Lunatic Asylum during the Civil War. An appropriate place for a couple of 18th-century fashion lunatics right? But wait, we are serious scholars of fashion history!

Upon entering the room we first saw the large projection video of Colonial Williamsburg Foundation employees dressed in reproduction 18th-century fashions. I was particularly awestruck by the men’s tailoring, I won’t lie. When we reached the cases containing the extant textiles, I was immediately struck by how small the clothes were! Quite a few of them appeared familiar because they were featured in the Foundation’s publications written by Linda Baumgarten; Costume Close-Up and What Clothes Reveal, specifically. I took photos of almost everything for my own reference, and most of the objects have had photos previously published anyway, so I don’t feel too guilty about sharing my photos.

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This jacket is one of my favorites. I somehow thought it was a normal size. Nope, it’s TINY, on a teeny tiny little mannikin lady.

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See this gown in Colonial Williamsburg’s emuseum HERE.

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My version of the jacket, made with Colonial Williamsburg reproduction fabric and the JP Ryan “caraco” pattern. However, the original is a French garment, and may not be appropriate for living history in the American colonies. This was sold long ago.

The textiles featured were printed between about 1720 and 1820, and the earliest ones were printed in India. In the 18th-century there began to be some printing in North America, and indeed some of the motifs featured have an American influence. Some, including a textile featuring George Washington and Benjamin Franklin, were printed in England for export to the American market. Think about that for just a moment!

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See George? He’s there.

Contrary to what we might have been taught in the past, printed textiles are not just for the fancy-pants gentry, rather they were available to every level of society. The fancy-pants among them simply had better quality printed textiles, perhaps containing more colors than would have been available for the lower sorts to purchase. Hand-painted Indian chintzes with multiple colors would have been the most expensive. Some of our favorite items were actually jackets, worn mainly by the Dutch, as well as others in continental Europe and in the mid-Atlantic colonies. While we don’t feel that they are appropriate for us to reproduce for our own use (I actually copied a few, then sold them to other ladies in the appropriate colonies who would get more use from them), we could appreciate their beauty and the incredible printed fabrics from which they were made.

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Another French jacket, often copied because construction techniques are outlined in Ms. Baumgarten’s book, Costume Close-Up

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I copied this using the JP Ryan jacket pattern, and the lapped seam construction techniques in Costume Close-Up

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Ok, I still have this one. So sue me, I like it. I don’t often wear it, but it’s pretty adjustable in size because it laces over a stomacher, so my skinny-girl friends who need to borrow something can easily wear it. With that fabulous Indian block print, this ain’t goin’ anywhere!

It is also somewhat astonishing that they have survived in relatively good condition. There were jackets, gowns, quilts, men’s banyans and caps, pockets, stomacher backings, waistcoats, children’s clothing, hats, and aprons, as well as furniture items.

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My version of the hat above. I’m wearing it in the photo with the blue print jacket.

I took lots of photos so that I would always have them, but I wish I’d spent just a little more time in there with a notebook, even though I have the publications written by Ms. Baumgarten, the Senior Curator of Textiles and Costumes. The exhibit is well worth a visit! Please also check out the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation’s You Tube channel, which discusses the exhibit, and offers a behind the scenes tour of all the textiles (not just the printed ones).

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This was worn by Anne van Rensselaer in New York in 1787. This is a good example of a “fancy-pants” printed textile for a wealthy woman. See the emuseum description HERE

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Here is this outfit mounted in the museum. We agreed that it looked odd, compared to the emuseum mounting of the garment, which is why I also posted that photo. This is one I didn’t copy, though it is documented to have been worn in NY. It’s a bit late for our purposes.

We also checked out some additional clothing objects at the American Revolution Museum in Yorktown, where we found shoes, clothing, and dolls to excite our fancies.

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Silk shoes with paste buckles in the Yorktown American Revolution Museum

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Reproduction “Dunmore” shoes by American Duchess. The fabric is made to resemble the very common wool or callimanco shoes popular in the 1770s. The buckles above are original, 18th-century paste buckles. The repro shoes look very much like the ones in the photo above, including the tongue and heel shape. Buy them here, at American Duchess’s shoe site.

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Here’s a cute little dolly at the DeWitt Wallace exhibit wearing a printed dressing gown, a quilted petticoat, stays, and a pocket. And the little shoesies!

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We had a good laugh looking at this doll in the Yorktown museum who appears to be a bit judgmental with that raised eyebrow. Prudence is judging you and finds you wanting! Also see the little child’s stays next to her. Nope, those don’t belong to the doll!

There isn’t enough time or space for me to post every photo I took of every textile, including the men’s suits and waistcoats, and the early 19th-century garments, but I’d encourage you all, dear readers, to either visit the museum, or at the very least check out the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation’s E-museum via the links posted. The archives are searchable! DO IT!!!!

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In honor of the exhibit, we are wearing our Indian printed textile gowns. (Left 1770s, right 1780s)

 

Hole-y shift, Batman, it’s an apron!

The first shift I ever had, made in about 2006, was falling apart faster than I could repair it. Between tugging on the sleeves, stays rubbing on it under the arms, and laundering, it was a complete mess. My first mistake, which I no longer make, was thinking it was acceptable to wash it in the machine as long as I hung it up to dry. Um…nope. We have a top loading machine with an agitator, and that was simply too harsh on the delicate linen fabric. At first, I patched it every time I began to see a new hole or worn place, but the fabric was so delicate that it began tearing apart from the stitches in the spots where it had been patched. I considered keeping it for my Loyalist refugee impression, thinking that a woman on the run wouldn’t be able to procure a new shift and it would look authentic, but a friend who saw its condition said it appeared to be “too worn for decency”.

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Yikes

I could have let my husband use it for a rag, we could have used it to start campfires, or it simply could have gone in the trash. But, I seldom throw anything out until I’ve really thought it through. It sat in a drawer for a year or two while I wore a newer shift that is now always laundered by hand and hung up to dry.

The body of the shift was in great shape…the damage was all up at the top near the bust and under the arms, and on the bottoms of the sleeves. I could have cut it up to make caps or a neck handkerchief, but I wanted to use as much of the “good” part of the fabric as possible. I looked online to see if I could find any references to shifts being repurposed, but didn’t find anything significant. However, I was convinced that it would have been done in the 18th and 19th centuries, as I remembered my grandmother talking about reusing and remaking things until they were so tattered they had to go to the “rag man”. Wool coats, skirts, and dresses were cut into strips to make braided rugs. She was born in the 20th century, but hers was probably the last generation with ties to the practices of the 19th. Ultimately, I decided on an apron.

For more on shifts, see Sharon Ann Burnston’s website. http://www.sharonburnston.com/shifts.html Sharon has published excellent, and FREE instructions on how to make a historically accurate 18th-century shift.

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plain linen apron from Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

I cut the front and back panels of the shift off at around the bustline area, just under the arms, and I cut the gussets off the bottom of each side. Those were so nicely sewn by the seamstress who made the shift, that I put them aside and kept them.

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Beautifully sewn gussets by seamstress Wendy Strawn

I also put the tattered top part aside, as there are still useable pieces, one of which I cut off to use as the waistband. There might even be enough material on the sleeves to make a cap at a later date.

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Enough for a cap? Time will tell…

The front and back panels that I cut off were about 24″ wide, which is not really wide enough for an apron, so I joined them together with an enclosed/French seam on the inside.

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The join in the center is rendered somewhat less noticeable by the gathering at the top when the apron is worn. The bottom was already nicely hemmed, so the only other thing I had to do was hem the sides, gather the top, then add the waistband and strings. The whole thing took maybe 2 hours total, and rather than a fancy, embroidered lawn apron (don’t worry, clothes horse has one or 2 of those too) I have a nice white linen apron for a middling to lower class impression. What do you do with your worn out 18th-century clothing?

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The author’s version of an 18th-century apron made from a repurposed linen shift.

The Whittemores or…getting down and ugly for the sake of authenticity.

Last year I wrote at length about Patriots Day and the Battle Road event in which we participated as part of McAlpin’s Corps of Loyal American Volunteers. While last year’s event was definitely successful, Mr. H. and I decided that we needed to step up our game a bit this time. We are certainly not actors (see my post on that account here), but we felt like we hurried through the scenario last year and we both admitted to it feeling a bit awkward. Mr. H. also pointed out that even though I tried to dress “down” somewhat, I actually “looked pretty” last year, and would a middle-aged woman taking care of her sick daughter, as well as her daughter’s 2 little boys under age 5 and their newborn baby sister really be worrying about wearing that nice blue gown and pretty green bonnet whilst trying to hide the valuables and fleeing from the approaching King’s army? Um…probably not. I also knew that a green silk bonnet could be documented to New York and PA (5 references) but not to New England (yet). It’s not impossible that Mrs. Whittemore could have had a green bonnet, but the vast majority were black.

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The 3rd Mrs. Whittemore at home (last year). Methinks she looks a bit too happy, and fancy, for a woman running for her life and hiding in the woods. Photo by J. Henry

We knew that the Whittemore family were “farmers” but we weren’t quite sure what that meant in the 18th-century sense. My husband grew up on a dairy farm in the 20th-century, so he knew how that worked and what type of questions to ask. How many acres did they have? Were there other buildings on the property? Did Mr. W. have a trade other than farming? Did they have animals, and if so how many? What sort of crops did they grow? Did they have any sort of help with the work? Were they wealthy, middling, or rather poor? What might they have been wearing that day? We set out to find the answers to those questions.

The first order of business was to re-read the information found last spring: documents from Ancestry.com, and an article in the Boston Globe about the family. Info in Ancestry is sometimes incomplete or incorrect, but much of it was useful. In some cases, I was able to link to the vital records of the town and find the marriage records. I also contacted the historian mentioned in the Boston Globe article, Polly Kienle, and she very kindly shared her information with me. Jacob Whittemore was born on March 3, 1721, and died in 1780, which made him 54 on April 19, 1775. His first wife was named Esther Whittemore and was his cousin. Imagine that, cousin Esther didn’t even have to change her name when she married. How convenient! They married on October 28, 1746, when Jacob was 25 and Esther was 16 (born in 1730). The data gets mixed up here because Ancestry says that Esther died in 1753, but according to the Concord vital records, Jacob married his 2nd wife, Deborah Flagg in 1749 because Esther had died giving birth. Their daughter Esther was born in 1748. Ancestry says that cousin Esther had 2 other children in 1747 (Milton) and 1749 (Artemus) but there is no other mention of those children. So, did she die giving birth to Esther, or did she die giving birth to another child a year later? There weren’t any other leads online for me to follow, so for now at least, on to other things. As far as I could tell, poor cousin Esther died when she was 18 or 19, leaving at least 1 child, but possibly 3 behind. With an infant(s) to care for, Jacob would have wasted no time in finding a mother for the poor child(ren), and so he married Deborah Flagg on October 19, 1749. Deborah was born on February 13, 1719, so she was 30 when she married 28-year-old Jacob, and she wasted no time having children. A child named Jonathan was born in 1750 and again, there are no records as to what happened to him. It is presumed that he died young because there is no mention of him elsewhere. Another daughter named Sarah was born on November 1, 1751, and Deborah died shortly after giving birth to her. This leaves our Jake a single dad with 2 little girls for certain, and possibly 2 or 3 little boys but…we don’t know what happened to them so they could already have died. Anyway, at this point, what does Jakie need? You got it, he needs another wife! He marries Concord spinster Elizabeth (or Elisabeth) Hoar (yep, cue all THOSE jokes) on December 5, 1754, so we know that he was a single dad for about 3 years. What did he do? Who took care of those kids? Inquiring minds want to know! According to Ms. Kienle’s information, Lizzie was probably born in 1722, though her date of birth is not listed. She was the 6th of 7 children so she probably didn’t have a big dowry, and let’s face it, she was an old-maid at 32 so she was lucky Jake would have her, right? Seriously, her family was prominent in Concord so it was likely an advantageous match. In any case, she took on 6-year-old Esther and 3-year-old Sarah and raised them like her own. The family lived with various relatives in a crowded house Jacob inherited from his father Nathaniel, and the girls married local boys who may or may not have helped out on the farm. Esther married Benjamin Brown and had 10 children, and Sarah married Moses Reed and had 9 children.

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Between the 1771 land records, and information compiled and provided by Ms. Kienle, we were able to determine that Mr. Whittemore owned 114 acres which consisted of meadow, orchard, and woods both north and south of the Concord road, and that in addition to a “mansion” house (the house is large today but is not a mansion in the modern sense; this term refers to the basic 2 over 2 style of the house) there was a barn, a corn house, a cider mill, and a blacksmith shop not owned by the family but run by the Browns (possibly relatives of daughter Esther’s husband). Exact numbers varied between the 1771 records and Jacob’s probate inventory at the time of his death in 1780, but the family had 1-2 horses, a pair of oxen, up to 5 cows, some sheep, a pig, and at one time a sow and piglets. They also probably had chicken and/or geese, but those are not mentioned, nor are dogs (for sheep-herding) or cats. They had 20 barrels of cider from the orchard in their cider mill, and they had 3 tons of English hay and 5 tons of meadow hay. It appears that the family was neither particularly well off, nor particularly poor; rather they would have been the “middling sort” managing a working farm. Significantly, they did not have “servants for life”, which meant that there were no enslaved people living with the family. We assume that Mr. and Mrs. Whittemore and their children worked the farm. Since there were 3 women and 1 man, it is likely that there were local young men from neighboring families helping with the heavy work. We don’t know this for certain, but it is a reasonable conclusion to draw. Moses and Sarah Reed remained on the farm after they married, so there were at least 2 adult men to take care of the heavier work. There is probably enough information about pre-20th-century farm work and the division of labor into “men’s and women’s work” for another blog post, so I’ll leave that off for now. Details about the property itself can be found in the National Park Service (NPS) publication “Scene of the Battle”.

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On April 19, 1775, the family in what is now called “The Jacob Whittemore House” near the Minuteman National Historical Park visitor center consisted of Jacob and Elizabeth, daughter Sarah and her husband Moses Reed, their 2 little boys; 4-year-old Whittemore and 2-year-old Moses, and baby Sarah, born on April 1, 1775. Sarah was considerably unwell following the birth (don’t worry, she had 6 more kids and lived until 1830). The family buried their valuables and fled the house just before the King’s troops leaving Concord came back through on their return to Boston amidst heavy fighting. They carried Sarah out on a mattress and hid in the woods some distance behind the house. There was a skirmish on the property, and a wounded soldier may have been brought to the blacksmith shop for medical treatment. I found no accounts of damage to the Whittemore’s house or personal property, (though that doesn’t necessarily mean they escaped entirely unscathed) but other neighbors were not so fortunate. Many had furniture, crockery, and looking glasses smashed, and furniture and houses or barns burned by the retreating soldiers who became angrier the closer they got to Boston.

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After we obtained all of the information we could, we needed to get ourselves into character. Since I had access to information from Jacob Whittemore’s probate inventory, we wanted to know what he might have been wearing. He had a “blew” coat and waistcoat (called a jacket in the inventory), as well as a “brown jacket”, a “blew” greatcoat, black wool breeches, leather breeches, and trousers. There was no description of his shirts (whether they were made of white linen or something else). He also had a “beaver hat” (no mention of the style), boots, 2 pair of shoes, and silver buckles. Mr. H. has a blue wool 1770s style coat and blue wool 1760s style waistcoat but when he tried it on he felt that it was too heavy for the weather. He also has matching blue wool breeches. He decided this time to wear the coat and waistcoat from his 1760s “ditto suit” (ditto suit: 3 matching pieces) and the hand dyed, now faded, gray linen canvas breeches (but not the matching waistcoat), as well as a blue checked linen “work” shirt with a white neckcloth, so that his pieces were mixed, as if he’d grabbed the breeches for working and his decent coat, hat, and neckcloth. This is fairly similar to what he wore last year. The plan for next year is to have his clothes more closely match the inventory to the best of our ability.

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Mr. Jacob Whittemore in his kitchen

In planning Mrs. Whittemore’s outfit, I had to think about what she might have been thinking. The night before, Paul Revere and the riders (no, no, not the 60s rock group…that was Paul Revere and the RAIDERS, silly) were out calling the alarm. At some time between 1 and 2 in the morning, the Whittemore and Reed families would have been awakened by the pounding of hooves and the alarm cry of “the Regulars are coming out!” Paul Revere was captured just west of the site of the Whittemore house at around 2 a.m. (see his account of that night in this deposition) so it is highly likely that he and William Dawes, and possibly Samuel Prescott rode from Lexington Common along the road past the Whittemore house.

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In case you wanted to know what he looked like, here’s John Singleton Copley’s portrait of Paul Revere, painted a few years prior to the action.

The adults in the family likely passed a mostly sleepless night, though they no doubt tried to get the little children back to sleep and perhaps encouraged their ill daughter to take some rest. In the early morning hours, the church bells began to toll the warning, and signal gunshots (typically 3 shots in a row) were being fired to call out the militia to Lexington Common. Moses Reed was 26 and Jacob Whittemore 54, so although Jacob was on the older side, both men must have been expected to turn out with the militia. So why didn’t they? Were they Tory sympathizers? Conscientious objectors? Probably not, as Moses Reed later joined the Continental Army. Of course, we have no way of knowing for certain, but it is likely that Jacob, having lost 2 wives to complications of childbirth, and possibly having lost 3 children to early death, was not inclined to leave his daughter alone in a state of ill health with 2 children under the age of 5 and a newborn to care for. He had to have known that if she couldn’t walk, her step-mother could not possibly have assisted her and the children out of the house alone, thus putting them in danger of molestation by the troops. He may also have encouraged his son-in-law Moses to remain behind in order to keep the family together and keep him from danger while his wife was ill. At approximately 5 a.m. the conflict on Lexington Common occurred, and it is possible that the noise from the guns and the shouting could be heard at the house from 2 miles east. Almost certainly the Regulars passed the house in the early hours of the morning as they marched toward Concord, 7 miles away, and the family may have seen them out the windows. It is likely that Elizabeth Whittemore would have had to leave the house and visit the barn to help her husband feed the animals, as well as feed the children and the rest of the family their breakfast amid the anxiety and turmoil, then pack and hide the household valuables in case the worst should happen. My assumption was that she would have reached for her dark-colored work clothes, and would not have worried about how she looked that morning. For this reason, I chose a dark green petticoat, and a dark green gown of a slightly different shade, a dirty blue checked apron, and a white cap and neck handkerchief (common accessories for the middling sort). To venture outside, an old, slightly tattered black silk bonnet, dark green wool mitts, and a short black wool hooded cloak were selected. Incidentally, we have no record of what sort of relationship Elizabeth had with her step-daughter, but she raised her from the age of 3, and Sarah later named one of her daughters Elizabeth, so I choose to think that she probably loved her as if she were her real mama.

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Elizabeth, Sarah, and Jacob. Nope, not a real baby! Photo courtesy Elizabeth Sulock

As the Regulars left Concord to march back toward Boston the fighting became heavy, and the neighbors began to become alarmed as the fighting moved closer. The further east the troops came, the more officers they lost, and the more casualties they suffered, the angrier they became. They began to destroy property, to shoot into the houses, and to set buildings afire. Some people hid in cellars and attics, but for the most part, the women and children fled to safety. The Whittemores hid the valuables, and just before the Regulars arrived they fled the house, carrying Sarah out on a mattress, taking cover in the woods behind the house. We can imagine them hearing the shouting and the gunfire coming closer and closer, seeing the smoke from neighboring homes being set on fire, seeing livestock running free through the fields, having been set free in anticipation of barns being set ablaze by the soldiers, and seeing panicked friends and neighbors running down the road and through back fields seeking safety. We can only imagine the sheer terror they felt leaving the house, not knowing if they would even have a home to which to return, and fearing for the lives of Sarah and the baby. It was this, that we would have to recreate during the civilian evacuation scenario we had planned at our event.

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Map of where the fighting occurred on the afternoon of April 19, 1775. The Whittemore House is near Fiske Hill, where the fighting was heavy and near where “Parker’s Revenge” took place.

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The horsemen cometh

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Evacuating the house. Photo provided by Hannah Peterson, taken by Josh Hasbrouck

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Amos Doolittle, Print #4 “View of the South Side of Lexington” as the column marched back to Boston under heavy fire. Note the houses/barns all ablaze.

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Non-professional photo by me

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Professional photo by John Collins

All in all, most of us did what we could to put ourselves in the appropriate mood. In fact, as Mr. H. and I were bringing our wheelbarrow up to take our places prior to the start of the evacuation (which had civilians heading from the William Smith house down to the Whittemore House) we’d been talking about all those things in the previous paragraph, and we encountered an unfamiliar British officer (i.e. not one of our actual friends). For just a split second, until he spoke to me pleasantly, I had this odd, unsettling moment of gut-wrenching anxiety. To our credit, during the scenario, no one smiled or laughed and we all look quite grim in all the photos from the day. I look appropriately ugly and unpleasant in most of the photos I’ve seen, as if I hadn’t slept and perhaps had been crying (it was cold and my nose was red; I’ll spare you all that photo)…not how one wishes to look on any given day, but hopefully indicative of our success in capturing the mood of the situation. We were unfortunately not able to carry our “daughter” out on a mattress, so we supported her between us, but we now have another year in which to figure out how best to do that next year! At the end of the day, we feel a strange kinship with Mr. and Mrs. Whittemore, and we hope we have done justice to their memories.

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Professional photo by John Collins. This was taken as we made our way up to the house prior to the evacuation scenario, and just after we ran into the officer on the road.

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Her parents help Sarah and the baby to leave the house, while Moses brings a wheelbarrow of the family’s possessions that were not hidden, as they head for the woods. Incidentally, baby Sarah was born just prior to the start of the American Revolution in April 1775, and died at the age of 90 in April 1865 just after the end of the Civil War. Photo provided by Hannah Peterson and taken by Josh Hasbrouck.

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Mr. Whittemore converses with Deacon Mason.

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Mr. W. with the Mason family upon returning home to find his house unscathed. Mrs. Mason’s brother was not so lucky. His barn was burned to the ground.

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The women and children (and some men to help us) of Lincoln and Lexington. Photo courtesy Ruth Hodges. We thank Ruth, the officers of McAlpin’s Corps, and the NPS for working so hard to coordinate the scenario this year.

Note: Photos by K. Henry unless otherwise indicated in the caption. All rights reserved.

From Farb to…Fab? Molly’s Journey into Darkness.

Molly’s journey into living history began inauspiciously enough, with a parade. Those of you who have followed this blog will no doubt have seen the first post about my interest in history as a child, and how I got started in the hobby. If not, here it is. ‘Zat a REAL fire? or…What is this strange hobby anyway and why do I do it? I did my first parade in an outrageous costume from the school department. I knew it was incorrect, but I was chaperoning children and did what I had to do.

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I KNOW, OMG, WTF is THIS?!!!!

Once I knew I wanted to become involved in living history, I needed a mentor. Unfortunately, the groups in my immediate area tended to be parade-oriented, and as a result, there really wasn’t anyone who could advise me on clothing or material culture, as there were very few women in those groups. I went online, and talked to a few people (some of whom are now deceased), purchased patterns and outfitted myself, knowing just enough to be dangerous. Here are some of the mistakes I made in the first few years.

Above are a couple of first attempts. The blue gown was made by a seamstress using the JP Ryan pattern. It isn’t bad, but the fabric I chose isn’t quite right for the Rev War time period. If the printed design had been white on blue instead of light blue on blue, and spaced further apart, it might have been ok. It’s also center front closing which is a later, 1780s style. I got rid of this gown, which I sometimes regret, but for a first attempt, it isn’t THAT bad. The fabric is probably more appropriate to the first quarter of the 19th-century. The garment on the right is what is often referred to as a “shortgown”, a jacket most often worn in the mid-Atlantic states. I’m in Colonial Williamsburg in the photo, so it’s acceptable for the location, but the fabric is heavy cotton more appropriate to upholstery.

The next mistake was made in pink linen, with an even brighter pink petticoat. Still a center front closing gown in a high fashion style, worn after 1780. High fashion means silk, or printed cotton, and not likely to be made in linen in the 1770s. The bright pink would have been achievable on wool or silk but probably not linen. Also, any references to plain color linen that have been found indicate that they are most often blue or brown, and once in a while a light yellow. Light pink? Maybe, but less likely.

Starting to get a little better, is a wool jacket and 2 wool petticoats. I purchased the green worsted petticoat second-hand at a Hive meeting in Concord and it has become my absolute favorite. The jacket is in a style more common to the 1740s and 50s, based on a garment in Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion but technically I’m of an age where I might still be wearing the larger cuffs even though they are out of fashion by the 1770s. The jacket will close all the way in the center front if I have my stays tight enough, so when I do wear this, I no longer use the stomacher (not pictured). Jackets though are less common in New England, where most women wore gowns. The second pic is another “shortgown” but in plain linen. This is fine for mid-Atlantic, and the green wool petticoat and printed handkerchief are good for New England. Green linen apron, though? Sorry, nope. For a while, I was in the habit of wearing my handkerchief tucked down on the sides rather than crossed in front. Was cleavage a big deal in the 18th-century? Not really. But for warmth and sun protection, women typically covered it during the day, so I caught on and began to do that. I also noticed fewer men seeming to forget where my eyes are, so there’s that.

Here again is some improvement, but still some problems. The pic on the left is a “caraco” jacket and matching petticoat. The fabric reminded me of the caraco in the V&A museum, so I had this made with the JP Ryan pattern, but the construction is not the same as the original. I got rid of the caraco and replaced it with a gown of the same material, which I was fortunate enough to find.  In the second pic, the gown is center front closing, but I’ve hidden that with the handkerchief. So far, so good. Unfortunately, the gown is bright red linen, and the apron again is green linen. So no good. There’s also something odd about the shape of the crown of my straw hat. I was really sad to let this gown go because it was really quite flattering. But wrong is wrong is wrong so…goodbye to the red linen gown (update: I DID find one the exact same color in wool, open front style, that a friend was selling, yay!). I hope my friend the officer doesn’t mind being in the photo. I didn’t have the heart to crop out his resplendence.  See the updates to the above, here:

All of the above clothing (with the exception of the updated versions) was acquired before I really understood how to do good research. I made some of my own clothing but often used modern construction techniques like bag linings or…gasp…the sewing machine on parts I thought wouldn’t show. Oh, the horror. To my credit, I usually tried to get it right by copying something I’d seen but I didn’t always understand context. For example, I didn’t see that copying something in a museum that was worn in continental Europe but maybe not in the colonies didn’t make sense and I hadn’t really yet developed an eye for appropriate fabric. One thing that really helped me make the transition was Hallie Larkin’s Swatches, a Guide for Choosing 21st Century Fabrics for 18th Century Clothing. This may still be available At the Sign of the Golden Scissors website.

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Above- fabric and extant jacket from Duran Textiles in Sweden. I couldn’t resist the fabric but…continental European textile and a garment style worn in the mid-Atlantic region rather than New England But by this time a couple of years ago I understood appropriate context. I’m in Williamsburg, VA wearing an imported “Dutch” textile, and it’s hand sewn using the lapped seam technique in Linda Baumgartner’s Costume Close Up.

In the early days, I showed up at events I’d heard about because either a friend asked me along, or I assumed it was open to anyone “in costume”. In some cases, it was a closed event and I unknowingly didn’t meet the standard, which as one can imagine, led to hurt feelings. Please understand, I really wanted to do it right, and my bad behavior was well-intentioned. I was the only woman in the group to which I belonged at the time who was willing to wear stays, so give me credit for that. I just didn’t “get it” yet. My friends laughed, told me I was crazy and looked uncomfortable, asking why in the Sam-hell would I want to “wear corsets”? So I was caught in the middle of two extremes. I could see at the outset which things were blatantly incorrect; old-timey costumes if you will, but I didn’t have a clue about the subtleties of 18th-century clothing, nor did I yet understand the idea of context. This means that yes, I was indeed in danger of being a “Farby Barbie” wearing a frilly gown to a military encampment that would have best been worn at either the English court to meet His Majesty, or to a fancy party in London (or yeah, maybe a ball in Newport). At least by that time, my fancy gowns were correct in style and material, and there always seemed to be a fashion show, thus my excuse.

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Yaaaass queen. Green silk sack back, and not a mistake. Gown by Lori Lawhorne

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Also not a mistake. Silk robe anglaise, petticoat, and stomacher by Sharon Burnston. I somehow managed to cover and trim the hat.

I also didn’t know who could best advise me, and as a result, every well-meaning person tried to. I was confused by information overload and didn’t know to whom I should listen when presented with conflicting information. And y’all know, I was presented with LOTS of conflicting information. So as a result, I sometimes I got it very right, and sometimes got it very wrong for any given event. As most of you are aware, there are costume enthusiasts, museum docents/interpreters, mainstream re-enactors, entertainers/actors, progressive living historians, and frankly, people who are simply out for a lark in an old-timey costume pieced together from their attic. There are others who are simply following their significant other into the hobby and outfit themselves with the most inexpensive thing they can find in order to participate. Ok, my husband. But now I MAKE him get things that are appropriately accurate (see the before and after below).

Let me please be clear- there is nothing inherently wrong with any of that, and I am not disrespecting or criticizing anyone for what they choose to do, as it all has its place. People are free to be themselves and wear whatever they wish. Just not always at the same events. I consider myself to be halfway in between a costumer and a living history interpreter. For living history events, I try to be as progressive as possible. But sometimes I copy a garment in a museum or in a painting, just because I want to. Occasionally, I’m not sure I’ll have anywhere to wear it, or will decide to attend a more mainstream or costume oriented event and will wear something I would never choose to wear to a more progressive living history event.

Sometimes, ya just gotta have fun and be a pirate! These were specific pirate-related entertainment events or parades. On the right, I’m wearing my husband’s 1760s coat along with a petticoat I made for myself with leftover material from his (quite accurate) ditto suit. Doesn’t he look handsome though? Yeah baby, yeah!  On the left, I’m wearing a velvet jacket with pewter buttons for which I have no documentation whatsoever. *Update:  I lied.  There is in fact documentation for this style and material. This is French, from the first quarter of the 18th century.  Ok for fantasy pirate playing, but not for American colonies during the Revolutionary War.

Casaquin de velours rouge, vers 1700-1725, France, Palais Galliéra, Musée

Casaquin de velours rouge, vers 1700-1725, France, Palais Galliéra, Musée

Below is more improvement. We’re still using a cast iron set up in the photo on the left, but we soon realized that if we were either following an army, or refugees on the run, we’d not be burdened with all the heavy cast iron. Now we use tin, and only bring what we can carry, unless it is an event at a house museum where we’re asked to bring a whole setup for a demo.

For anyone interested in 18th-century material culture, check out the 18th-Century Material Culture website and slideshows here. Can you spot Beaker? He’s done a lot of the research for us, and I can’t recommend this site highly enough! Also, as you can see, my gowns and accessories have improved in style, and material (wool, open front with stomacher). At this point, I’ve started to “up my game” on research and documentation because I saw friends beginning to travel to the dark side, and I longed to be there with them. Around 2009, as I recall, I put away the sewing machine and started learning how to make my own things using 18th-century construction techniques.

Here with Kitty at Battle Road. All my clothing is wool in appropriate colors and I have the ubiquitous black silk bonnet. At the time, the broadcloth mitts were thought to be correct. There has since arisen evidence that “worsted mitts” may have been knitted rather than cut from cloth. For now, I still wear them so I don’t freeze, but that may change in future. In the pic on the right, I have a brownish-green striped linen gown, a green silk bonnet and a blue and white checked linen apron.

So in the hope that I may be able to help someone else, I’ve totally put myself out there. I’ve shared my journey in pictures with commentary on what is “wrong” or what I have learned. Feel free to either laugh or sympathize, but kindly do not take advantage and copy my old photos to one of those “Rev War Farbs” sites. The key to improving for juried or progressive events, which started for me after I’d been flitting around mainstream events for 4 or 5 years, is research and using primary sources (extant garments and contemporary-to-the-time documents). Using these sources to provide context was absolutely key for me to improve my impression and be able to begin attending progressive events. Make no mistake, I was intimidated at first, and continue to be to a certain extent. No one wants to be laughed at, made the butt of jokes, or excluded. I firmly believe that other people don’t intend to be mean or to bully anyone, but can get caught up in it when they don’t like what they see. I say, let us all be kind to one another, and keep on researching, and documenting your impressions. Stay hungry, my friends.

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Loyalist Refugee fleeing through Maine to Canada