Category Archives: Reenacting

I’m baaack!

I finally got WordPress working again, after it was glitchy for over a week. This past week, my 4-year old MacBook decided it was time to start acting geriatric and have a little meltdown, but it looks like it’s gotten over itself for the time being. Yay, I now have computing abilities again!!

So, STUFF has been happening. My awesome mom picked up a few things for my collection: a 1890s shirtwaist, a turn-of-the-century baby dress, a 1950s purse, a 1890s girl’s dress, and three 1960s dresses. How cool is that? I’m working on the first two items, which I’ve been able to look at. I’m getting around to writing detailed blog post on those, but until then here’s the shirtwaist, paired with my 1850s-1870s Quaker bonnet.

10455822_10203984176273056_703664233068884189_nThe kitchen turned out to be the best-lit room in the house … yeah whatever. And yeah, the two pieces are decades apart; I’m just so excited to have vaguely similar pieces to almost make into kind-of outfits that they’re close enough for my brain right now!

 


A ‘Paper Dress’ … From the Late 15th Century

Yeah okay, so not entirely paper.

Dr. Henrike Lähnemann, chair of German Studies at Newcastle University, has delivered a series of lectures looking at the use of paper in textiles. The items in question are late 15th century German dresses that once clothed religious statues. The Bodleian Library has published a short blog post about it here.
Paper has been documented as used in other pieces of clothing, too, but since until recently I’ve only studied 18th century clothing in depth, I’ve never noticed it used during another century. I’ve seen newsprint used in a banyan cap and some wallets, and paper or cardboard used in stays. I used two types of paper when I sewed myself an 18th century wallet, and it’s held up really well.
So why not? Paper isn’t too washable in the soap-and-water sense, but it was a cheap and available material, and works well as a light stiffener. Apparently, people figured that over 500 years ago, at least. Have you seen paper used in clothing from this time, or earlier? Comment below!


On My Bookshelf: The Mode in Costume, 1942

IMG_1462I have a difficult time appreciating older costume books. I’ve been kind of scarred by Earle and McClellan. When I got this book, a first edition of The Mode in Costume, I wasn’t expecting much, and the book really delivered for a while …

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So where do we start on this black gown … neckline, sleeves, waistline, skirt cut … The francaise next to it is pretty much okay, though. Any book that uses Earle as a source, however, is going to be kinda-sorta okay in some places, and hideously awful in others.

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Oh gawd!!! Nooo! Nooooooooo!

It’s one of those here’s-what-everybody-everywhere-wore-since-the-dawn-of-time books, and you can never expect these books to have enough detail to satisfy a moderate interest, or to have thorough enough research to build upon. I flipped from Egypt to 1800s Europe in a few minutes and didn’t see anything that really caught my attention – until I realized that the clothing in the book went right up to the date of publication. There’s no way the authors could have gotten their own clothing wrong.

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Just that line of cigarette smoke screams 1930s-1940s.

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And here we see the entire male wardrobe for the movie Casablanca …

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Huzzah, authors! I mean, these are gorgeous. For fun (because I don’t know what the rest of society deems fun) I went back and read the forward.

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Yes, it’s a statement of the state of the fashion industry at an incredibly turbulent time. I’d always heard fashion professors say that 1930s fashions ‘fossilized’ through the 1940s until Dior’s New Look came in, but I never knew that people acknowledged this during the war. The forward also notes the opportunities American designers had during France’s occupation, without naming anybody.

So do I like this book at all? Kind of. If you’re doing historical clothing research from before 1900, don’t you dare use this book. Really. If you want an overview of 1910-1940 clothing in France and the USA, it’s a start. If you want to know what people thought of fashion history in the 1940s, and what inspired costuming, go for this one. For the history of fashion history, it’s pretty awesome.


Dress Formlets!

Dress formlets! Yeah, tiny dress forms. Like, 6 month – 6 year olds. Huzzah for slightly more professional photography!

Next addition: a tripod.

Next addition: a tripod. That should have been obvious, but whatever.

I finally had an unplanned day off from works, and I decided to spend a little time on the collection. I went out and picked up three little dress forms (Craigslist FTW) which made me happy. I have a handful of infant and child’s clothing that really should be photographed on forms, and now that is very possible. Was, very possible. It was the first thing I did when I got home.

Seeing clothing on a human form is always enlightening. My favorite moment was when I was having trouble dating a tie. It was either a short 1970s tie, or a long 1940s tie, according to the dimensions. I was leaning toward the 1970s because I’m always hesitant to date something earlier – it usually isn’t. I was sitting at the table with the tie on a few pieces of archival paper when my dad, who was watching, said “well, let’s see.” He took the tie, put it around his neck, and he didn’t even get to knot it when I said “it’s from the 1940s!” There was no doubt. I just needed to see the thing in situ.

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The very 1940s tie.

I’ve been having the same trouble with this one child’s blouse shirt thing. The bloused effect dates from between the 1800s to the 1840s. There’s no machine stitching to date it, without a doubt, after the 1850s. I spent a week scouring the Interwebs for any picture of a kid wearing something like this, but I only found a few portraits from the 1830s-40s.

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The garment in question.

I’m fairly confident that it’s from that era. The bloused effect, the short puffed sleeves, and the squared neck seemed to fit in there. The somewhat high waistline would suit the 1830s, when waistlines were slowly dropping from the super-high position of the 1820s. I was still a little skeptical, so I figured I’d be able to tell better when I got the thing on a form.

Well, I put it on a dress form for a 2-3 year old and it was way too big. I took it off and put it on a dress form for a 4-6 year old. Still too big, but now the waist wouldn’t close. The shoulders were way too wide for the form. I didn’t even take a picture; it kept falling off. It was almost as big as my 1888-92 bodice, which I had thought was for a 10-13 year old, and … I guess … isn’t …

I’m still fairly confident with the 1830-1840 date span. The biggest shock is that both that 1888-1892 bodice and that light blousy top were made for kids between 5-7 years old. Looking at them on a flat surface or stored in paper, I couldn’t have ascertained that. Heck yeah, dress forms.


15 Hours = eh ….

It’s taken me a while to get a picture of myself in my 15-hour gown, but here it is, at the Bedford PA Historical Society’s new 18th/19th century artisan’s show & conference, America’s Past Preserved.

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Cranberry linen overload!

While a 15-hour, $5 dress is pretty great, there are so many obvious problems …

1) I went for a late 18th century round gown / apron front setup. I kept the waistline low because I’ve seen other American dresses with this sort of configuration. On me, I think it’s very unflattering and doesn’t lend itself to much flexibility. I couldn’t get the apron front to stay in place, either – you can see my stays showing at the waistline where the apron front has sagged. No matter how tightly I tied it, it kept sagging. I’m just going to give up on it now …

2) The front of the bodice overlaps more on the bottom than on the top. When I pin it together, it doesn’t line up straight. That, and the front seems to come down too low, so it creases where the apron front sits and looks icky.

3) The sleeves turned out huge! They’re puffy in the back and too wide everywhere else. I added way too much selvage when I cut them, and I cut them over my awful 1740s chemise which has huge bulky sleeves – a bad move, but it’s the only chemise I have right now, save my 1790-1820 chemise. Soooo … a new chemise needs to be in the works for the next event …

4) When I made this gown, I also made a 1780s/90s cap to wear with it, but as soon as I put it on, it screamed Amish. I have absolutely nothing against the Amish, how they live or or what they wear, but whenever I dress in 18th century clothing, I get called Amish. In all honesty I’m tired of having to explain myself to 50% of the people I come in contact with, so avoiding all triggers sounded like a good idea. Oh well. I’m saving the cap to wear with something more obviously Empire/Regency, so maybe I won’t get so many “oooh look at the Amish girl!” stage-whispered comments.

This brings me to a thought I’ve been having for a while. When I make 18th century clothing, I have to find a middle ground – I have to come up with something as accurate as my skills and research can produce, but also something that the general public interprets as 18th century. The general public is always a mixed bag. There will be knowledgeable people out there who understand my issues with my red dress, and know that it’s probably not super accurate in its current state. Then, there will be people who think I’m Amish, or from the Renaissance, or a Civil War reenactor, or some just weirdo (the latter is probably the most truthful statement). Often I’m the only woman in 18th century clothing at these events, so I can’t fall back on other reenactors bolstering the 18th century theme. I have to come up with something super evocative of “ye olde coloniale period”, while staying as period correct as I can. It limits my wardrobe, but it helps the public – you don’t want confused guests. People get embarrassed enough when I explain that I’m wearing stays.

Okay, sidetrack’s over.

Solutions:

Skirt: remove the apron front and make it an open-front gown. Wider time period, more wardrobe options  … and this alteration is very easy. Also, since my shoes are Burnley & Trowbridge’s women’s red walking shoes, making the gown an open front will result in less than 98% red, which was kind of overkill. I mean, red’s awesome, but really.

Bodice: re-sew the front and take it in a little. Another simple fix.

Sleeves: I am going to take them off completely, trim them down, and put them back on. A little more complicated, but it’s going to be worth it. Then I’ll see about making a late 18th century chemise.

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I got to wear my new Goose Bay Workshops chatelaine to this event. I wore it with a large ivory notebook and a bodkin, also from Goose Bay Workshops, and a pair of scissors without a case … yeah, another upcoming project. They’re razor sharp and pointy so it was really kind of stupid to wear them without a case, but they’re so useful to have I just went with it. It was better carrying them on the chatelaine than throwing them in my pocket, which I have done before, and which was very stupid.

I also wore my new brass sleeve buttons with my chemise. I got those from Goose Bay Workshops as well. I have a pair in oval and octagonal, and though I love the octagonal ones, the ovals fit in the chemise buttonholes so that’s what I went with. They were really nice, much nicer than the old tape ties I had worn before. I want to see if I can get a pattern scratched or engraved into them, I just have to think of a design.

And yeah, I do work for Goose Bay Workshops. I’m the webmaster/helper extraordinaire. That would explain why I have so many of GBW’s items, and why the GBW table is behind me in the first picture. That being said, this blog isn’t the place for me to sell or advertise GBW items, and I won’t. I will be pointing out if I’m wearing a GBW piece, though, just as I’ll point out my Burnley & Trowbridge items, or the awesome, beautiful chatelaine I wore the second day of the Bedford show, made by the super talented David Hughes. Pictures to come. Eventually. You know me.


Eight Hours = Half A Gown!

I’ve begun work on my new linen gown. I’m making it out of a $5 linen tablecloth I picked up from Goodwill a while back. I had re-dyed it to get rid of the crazy neon watermelon color, and it turned out a sort of burgundy. After a lot of soul-searching (red is not an easy color to wear, when it’s a whole gown and I only have red shoes to go with it) I decided to go for it.

I’ve spoken with a self-taught expert in 18th century dyes, and I showed her a swatch of my burgundy linen. I asked her if this color was an easy thing to achieve with natural dyes, and she looked at me kind of funny, as if I had asked if we were living on Earth. So yeah, this color is something that would have been around. Whether it was commonly made into everyday clothing is another story – I still can’t answer that question.

This dress will be a 1780s everyday sort of thing. I’m making it in my super-simplified pattern, all handsewn with linen thread. I’m also timing myself for fun. Here’s what I got done in 8 hours.

* Everything got ironed (I think two hours went to this … oh the joys of ironing huge pieces of linen …)

* The mock-up is fitted. I actually made a real throwaway mock-up this time, but not intentionally. I meant to use some leftover white linen for my lining, but after I had cut my lining and tried it on, it fit horribly – so badly that I wouldn’t be able to reuse the linen. So I scrapped that (haha) and used my beautiful checked linen for the lining – not what I had wanted, but that fabric has such a nice feel, it made a perfect lining. Whatever.

* The exterior fabric pieces are all cut and most of them finished: sleeves are done but not set yet, and the front skirt is cut.

* The back pleats are laid and sewn down, and the back half of the skirt pleated to the body.

* Of course, I had to watch Scarlett O’Hara wear a dress made out of a curtain while I sewed a dress out of a tablecloth.

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My favorite part of sewing a gown. Before these pleats are laid, it looks like a jumble of scraps. After these are pleated and sewn, the dress is suddenly right there and I can almost see it finished. Also, these pleats have got to be the prettiest part of 18th century gowns. I love how they fall – so graceful. 

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Hideous lighting, photography, etc. … but hey look, half a dress. You can see my huge mistake of cutting the neckline too low in the back.

What I have left to do:

* set the sleeves and finish the cuff (that will take a few fittings, but only a few minutes of actual sewing)

*Attach the front skirt and hem/flat fell all that crap (I believe a Godfather marathon is planned for those hours)

* fix something for the back of the neckline – I cut it too low accidentally, and wasn’t planning on putting a very large binding there, but it looks like I will have to now. That will take some putzing.

In sewing this gown, I figured out a cool way to do sleeves. I’m not sure if it’s correct as far as 18th century gown construction goes, but it does save time and uses very little thread, two things that seem to factor into 18th century sewing. Here’s my method.

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Cut sleeve and lining together. Fold under and iron/press the cuff edges and one of the edges for the seam that will run up the inside of the arm. For this sleeve I turned under and pressed the right vertical edge.

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Tack the cuff edges, starting at the corner of the two turned-in edges (shown).

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Roll the sleeve up as it will be when finished, and sandwich the un-pressed edges in between the pressed ones. You can leave your needle on the thread used to tack the cuff, and sew this whole thing with one piece of thread.

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Sew up the inside of the arm with running stitches or a back stitch, catching each piece of lining and exterior fabric with one row of stitches. All the selvedges will be facing the same direction inside the sleeve.

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Well, my camera isn’t good in the low light I have, so you’ll have to take my word for it: here’s the semi- finished sleeve! The front of the cuff will get tacked up to shape the elbow later. Somehow these sleeves look too wide at the lower end. Going to tackle that issue later, I guess …

 

 

 

 

 


Kinda Excited …

I’ve been working a lot on my clothing collection lately. Not the collection of stuff I’m making; my collection of vintage/antique clothes. I’ve been cataloging every piece on my other WordPress blog, which I’m kinda sorta proud of … it’s got over 80 posts now! With a few notable exceptions, most of the women’s clothing I have in that collection isn’t really reproduce-able, like jeans and constructed purses.

But that’s going to change in a week or so. Coming up, I have two women’s dresses and a girl’s dress, all dating from between about 1900-late twenties. Yeah, excitement. I’ll be adding them to my blog with tons of pictures, patterns, and construction tips. Eventually I want to reproduce the two women’s dresses, which will be a lot of fun.

That, and I’ve decided to finally get to work on my new 18th century dress. I’m going to make it from some linen I bought a while back that I had to re-dye over it’s original rabid watermelon color. I have a deadline; early April – my next event, but I also want to see how quickly I can sew a dress by hand. I want to break my old record of two days.

That, and I’m thinking really hard about picking up a dress form so I can actually see some of this clothing worn, and (gasp!) maybe be able to drape dresses, finally!

So I’m going to go get my costume movies in line (I’ve gotta watch something while I sew!) and get to work!


A Caraco!

So it’s been a while … I feel like every blog I write starts off like that.

I recently went to the 18th Century Artisan’s Show in Lewisburg, PA. While it’s a sutler event that’s held in a hotel banquet hall, it’s one of my favorite events. The people are awesome, the things they make are absolutely superb, and the setting is really, really comfy. It’s just so luxurious to go to an event where they take orders and deliver food right to your table. Pretty sweet setup.

I made a quick linen caraco for the event. I eyeballed the pattern from Patterns of Fashion. I used some cheap pinkish linen for the outside, and the lining is made from INCREDIBLE thin, fine linen that’s so stiff you’d think it was starched – it’s not, I washed it multiple times. The stiffness of the lining made the caraco go together really nicely.

I put the caraco together by first sewing lining & outer pieces together, then by sewing each segment together. It saved a lot of thread and sewing time, but it was a little more difficult for me to do, without a dress form or anybody to help me fit the caraco. It was also a little difficult when I finally got the pieces together and found that it didn’t fit perfectly. When I’m sewing for myself with no dress form, I find it easier to make a linen lining, try that on, tweak it, and then complete the garment.

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The back came out oddly tight in places, but I love the sleeves. I made them a little puffier at the shoulder, like a 1770s/80s silk robe I saw in a book. I made the elbows straight and long, and then sewed a little linen band to loop them up with in the front – that was taken from a 1780s calico gown I saw somewhere online. Yay for good research …

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I did finally figure out how to keep the point at the center bottom of these bodices flat – the trick is boned stays. Before, when I’d wear a bodice cut like this, I’d sit down, my jumps would warp, and my bodice would fold up. With boned stays, it stays put, even if it’s loosely pinned, thin cloth, unboned … anything. Yay for figuring stuff out!

 


18th c. American Clothing Resources

Sometimes it’s difficult to find books that focus on American clothing from the 18th century, instead of France and England.  Here’s a list of my go-to research books that take a look at American clothing. It’s certainly not complete, but it’s the basis of most of my research.

The Mirror of Antiquity

The Mirror of Antiquity: American Women and the Classical Tradition

Caroline Winterer

Cornell University Press 2007

ISBN 978-0-8014-4163-9

An utterly fascinating in-depth look at how classical ideas and ideals shaped American dress and culture. Recommended for those looking for a deeper understanding of 18th century women’s clothing & early American culture. A detailed, well-researched book. It covers the 18th century and much of the 19th. Illustrated, B&W.

Fitting and Proper

Fitting & Proper: 18th Century Clothing from the Collection of the Chester County Historical Society

Sharon Ann Burnston

Scurlock Publishing Co., Texarkana TX1998

ISBN 1-880655-08-X

A basic book looking at a few great pieces of clothing from the Chester County Historical Society. Mainly Quaker pieces, these are well-documented and the author shows how they were created. Men’s and women’s clothing is included – the book covers basic pieces of clothing worn during the 18th century. Graphed patterns included, illustrated, B&W.

What Clothes Reveal

What Clothes Reveal: The Language of Clothing in Colonial and Federal America

Linda Baumgarten

The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation

Yale University Press, New Haven CT, 2002

ISBN 0-300-09580-5

An in-depth look at clothing and culture in America during the 18th century – this book looks into the answer to “why did they do/wear that?” Highly recommended as a place to start a deeper knowledge of American life in the 18th century. Detailed research, fun read – an enlightening book covering all aspects of clothing. Well illustrated in full color – you’ve got to get excited about that.

Costume Close-Up

Costume Close-Up: Clothing Construction and Pattern 1750-1790

Linda Baumgarten, John Watson, Florine Carr

The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation

Quite Specific Media Group LTD NY 1999

ISBN 0-89676-226-2

In essence, this book is a more detailed version of Fitting & Proper. A fascinating look at a handful of American clothes, showing how they were cut, put together, and how they aged over time. It’s great because it focuses on both men’s and women’s clothing. A good place to start costuming – this and Fitting & Proper are my go-to books for when I begin a piece of clothing, because they show the construction very well. Not a heavy read; many illustrations. Graphed patterns and color/B&W illustrations.

Tidings from the 18th Century

Tidings From the 18th Century

Beth Gilgun

Rebel Publishing Co., Texarkana, TX 1993

ISBN 1-880655-04-7

The most down-to-earth and practical costuming book that exists, to my knowledge. A fabulous book to begin re-enacting with. It covers more than clothing, too – the biggest themes of living history and re-enacting are included. An easy, fun read – many of the chapters are in letter format, like an 18th century novel. Some patterns, well illustrated, B&W.

Cloth and Costume

Cloth and Costume 1750 to 1800, Cumberland County, PA

Tandy and Charles Hersh

The Cumberland County Historical Society 1995

ISBN 0-9638923-2-0

I haven’t finished reading this book, but it looks pretty good so far. The biggest drawback are the pictures – the printing and photography are very poor in some instances. The book covers both clothing and its production in Cumberland County PA. Illustrated, B&W.

Have I missed any great reads you know of? Comment below and I’ll add them to my list!


A New Pair of Stays for Market Fair

Well, I wasn’t able to sew a whole bunch of things for the Market Fair on November 2, but I was able to squeeze out two wearable items. First, I made a new set of pockets which I’m pleased with.

New pockets made in linen diaper weave. The cloth was trimmed from a waistcoat that was updated from c. 1720 to c. 1760.

New pockets made in linen diaper weave. The cloth was trimmed from a waistcoat that was updated from c. 1720 to c. 1760.

I also started on a huge undertaking that I’ve been dreaming of for years – a new pair of stays, handsewn with metal (not plastic!!!) boning. I’ve always wanted pink stays, so I scraped together all the leftover bits from the frump dress / pinner apron project and got peachy-colored ones.

Close enough.

I only had two short sleeves and a bit of the bodice of the dress left, so I pieced the crap out of it and I actually finished the stays with that tiny amount of cloth. Here’s the pieciest piece:

This was half a day's careful work. I have about an ounce of scrap cloth left from this project, and it's all thready bits trimmed off the edges.

This was half a day’s careful work – ten pieced of scraps to form one pattern piece. I have about an ounce of scrap cloth left from this project, and it’s all thready bits trimmed off the edges. Everything else was used.

These are my old corded jumps that I based my new stays on.

I based the stays on two American originals from the 1740s-60s. I found that stays from this time are differentiated from earlier and later ones by two factors: the height of the stays in the front (higher than later stays, lower than earlier ones) and that most of the boning is more vertical than later, angled boning.

All the pieces in line, before all of them were boned.

All the pieces in line, before all of them were boned. I eventually shaped the top line differently.

The front four pieces from the inside, sewn together. I meant to make the front lace up originally, but I threw that idea out - too many eyelets.

The front four pieces from the inside, sewn together. I meant to make the front lace up originally, but I threw that idea out – too many eyelets.

The progress on my stays had to be interrupted because of work, so on the day before the Market Fair, they were in three pieces and none of the edges were bound. They also needed to be re-fitted because I had forgotten that those old corded stays stretched when I laced them up, and fresh new metal-boned stays weren’t going to stretch all that much. So I worked all day, and got enough done to wear them. I wasn’t able to bind the entire lower part of them, but I did get the upper edges done, and the eyelets in, and the whole thing pretty much fitted. The lining had to wait.

The stays from the front - the upper chest fits a little funny, but otherwise they are so much more comfortable than my corded jumps.

The stays from the front – the upper chest fits a little funny, but otherwise they are so much more comfortable than my corded jumps. It’s because of the tabs on the bottom – no more bones digging into my waist, yay! That being said, these stays don’t give me a lot of waist anyway. I’m kind of tubular.

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The side. I see now that the boning directly under my arm is too vertical; it makes the waist of the stays stand out from the body. Lessons for next time.

Final analysis: I’m not as pleased with the stays as I thought I would be. They still fit a little funny around the upper bust and waist. I think it’s because of the direction of the boning, and because they come up a little higher in the front than I’m used to. I’ll take a closer look at that later.

In the end, I went to the Market Fair with some stuff to demonstrate with, and I was able to dress two of my sisters, myself and my dad. It was a perfect sunny fall day. I had a table full of repro clothing and my sewing kit out, and I worked on a new stomacher for an early gown that I haven’t made yet (…). I spoke about what people wore, how clothes were made, who made them, and the issues facing re-enactors and living historians in reproducing 18th century clothes. I scared a bunch of little boys when I taught them that 18th century boys their age wore gowns like girls. I met some great people who were doing wonderful work creating their own clothing. I had such a good time that I forgot to get a picture of my table or any of us! Oh well, next time. : D