Saturday, August 5, 2017

#5: Origin story.

When I was a younger kid, I was obsessed with Little House on the Prairie. Not the show, but the book series. I read it over and over, and couldn't stop thinking about it. I was interested to know all about what sort of clothes they wore, what they ate, the chores they did, etc. So I went through and took notes on all the practical things Laura wrote about. That was my very first research experience. No one told me to do that, I simply wanted to learn!

My mom was extremely supportive in all of my ambitions, and is still a firm believer that play time was a big part of our early learning curves. She certainly was correct, because I took all the notes that I had gleaned and applied it to my play. I pretended to wash the clothes exactly as Laura did; I cut corn kernels off the cob and dried them in the sun, I sewed my own bonnet. My sister and my friends were extremely patient with bossy me, and played along without much complaining. That really was my element, was creating realistic situations that were correct for how it had been done. I was around 11 or 12 when this began. 

Around this same time, I was sewing historical doll clothing for my American Girl. I wasn't particularly interested in accuracy (I still didn't even know what that was, technically), but my interest in sewing had developed enough that I knew how to sew proficiently from a pattern. When the idea hit me that sewing my own costume was possible, I jumped right in! I bought the pattern that looked the most like the TV show costumes (ack!), and saved my quarters for the fabric. Let me tell you, 5 whole yards seemed like a LOT of fabric for someone accustomed to purchasing 1/2 yard at a time!

After my first costume, I made another pioneer costume for my sister. Around that time, we were invited to come to a Civil War reenactment with our friends, who were part of an English Country Dance group. They brought us, and let us borrow costumes. We learned our first dance, and I was soooo excited. I didn't even know what a reenactment was, but let me tell you...I WAS SO EXCITED! The fact that there were other people in the world who was as obsessed as I was about life "in ye olden days" thrilled me beyond all reason. 
The train with graffiti is an abomination to this picture....

We joined the dance group, and the reenacting group. I took my beloved pioneer costume, and ripped off the bodice and made a new, more "Civil War-ey" blouse to go with it. It didn't turn out very well, but I wore it anyway (I was 14 at this point). A lady approached me at this reenactment, and asked if I wanted some tips to make it more accurate. I said, "sure, whatever"...and kind of half-listened as she explained what I could do differently. I didn't fully understand most of what she meant, but later on I was very upset at what she said (I must have blocked it from my memory, it might have been worse than I'm remembering). It wasn't that she was mean, but....she knew what she was talking about, and I did not. From that moment forward, I was determined to be dressed "above reproach", and be able to confidently prove that I knew what I was about.

My quest for accuracy began! I enlisted a friend who had made a few dresses to help me with a more accurate one. I used a reproduction cotton, and a few historic techniques. I had no clue what I was doing, but she was helpful and wrote very clear instructions. I still love it and wear it, although it doesn't fit very well, especially since I did not initially have a corset. 

After that dress, I started doing my own research, which at first really involved asking other people what was accurate because I still didn't know what that looked like. Accuracy felt like some unattainable knowledge that required years and years of expertise. At some point in my research, I had a major "Aha!" moment: I could be my own expert, and I did not need anyone to tell me how (or where, when and why) to do that. Yes, some research projects take years and years, and for a lot of older  women who didn't have the privilege of the Internet, it has taken them that much time. But being young, curious, and tech savvy has gone a long way to help me catch up! I'm not saying I don't ask for help; I often do when lack of experience catches up to me, particularly in the fitting area of dressmaking. 
One of the first dresses where I only needed *a little* help.

My most recent revelation: sewing is actually not my main passion. It's research! My newest goal and dream job is to work in a museum with original textiles, in conservation and restoration. I do still love sewing, however I am a bit of a perfectionist, and for this reason I am not the most prolific at projects. One dress can take me a lot of months to finish, NOT including the undergarments. Since maybe 5 or 6 dresses ago, they have all been carefully researched, and I can say with confidence they are as historically accurate as humanely possible. That could be an entire post in itself! 

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