Elizabeth Stewart Clark & Company


Book Review: I Like That Good Old Song

Imagine yourself strolling down a quiet village lane on a fine early summer day.

A gentle breeze blows; dappled shade from the trees plays over your face as you walk. You can smell firewood in the sun, and the sweet fragrance of newly-cropped grasses in the pasture.

A farmhouse sits just off the lane, curtains riffling a bit; on the porch, there sits a young person, looking for all the world like a picture from the past. They are sitting with one leg tucked under them, and a large stoneware bowl in their lap, snapping beans.

Absorbed in their chore, they do not notice you, but on the breeze, you catch the satisfied hum of a tune they warble as they work… it is a perfect picture, a perfect “time travel” moment.

Until you realize the song they hum is vintage Metallica.

Music is a major component of modern life; with the proliferation of miniaturized music devices, it’s rare for an individual to lack a personal soundtrack! People relate to music; it sparks emotional responses, recalled memories, and shared connections with others.

As such, music has the potential to be an important interpretive tool for any living history setting. Music gives us an opportunity to connect with our senses, to amuse ourselves (a true “I”-pod!) and others, to communicate, to transmit culture and information, and to add dimension to the everyday life settings we portray.

Music was a major component of historic life! Sung and played at home, in the public square, in churches, in taverns, in theaters, in traveling shows; published in letters, diaries, magazines, and collections of music—the past was not silent. When the majority of our experience with the past has been through books and silent relics, we sometimes forget that the past was a noisy place, just as full of sound as our era.

The biggest difference: the past relied on live performance, rather than recorded and remastered music. Getting back into the live music sound touches something visceral for performers and listeners; we hear the full human experience, without tempering, correction, or re-dubbing. We get in touch with raw emotion in ways our MP3-tuned ears may never have heard before.

Many have desired to integrate music with living history. For quite some time, a main quandary has been “What do I sing? What do I play? What music did They internalize and perform?” 1880s music in 1860s settings is just as jarring as Metallica on the farmhouse porch, after all. It’s one thing to recognize the need for higher-quality musical resources in living history; it’s another to put accurate resources to complete use, and increase the opportunities for connection and interpretation.

Finding lyrics has often been easier than finding the “right” tunes. The mid-19th century practice of mixing and matching lyrics with different tune settings was helpful in allowing people to more readily perform new pieces (particularly singers without instrumentation), but it can be confusing and challenging for modern musicians accustomed to one lyric, one tune, and written notations!

I Like That Good Old Song,” the new anthology from John and Elaine Masciale, is an excellent tool in resolving our musical challenges, and using music in a more full, 19th century way for deeper interpretive connections (and just plain personal satisfaction, too!)

It is, as the Masciale’s describe it, essentially a “fake” book: basic chords and clef notations for the earliest or most common tune settings to each lyric, plus extended verses and variations where they can be documented. Any musician or vocalist will be able to get up to speed very quickly, and then layer in their own individual styling and flourishes for performance.

While we might often see lyric snippets in letters and other written sources, the Masciale’s have done the extra research needed to provide complete lyrics and documented tunes, set in keys that are easy to sing for most voices, or to play on most instruments. Modern musical formatting makes antique sounds accessible to the 21st century musician.

They’ve reproduced a variety of song styles; the 125 songs include “pop” tunes of the era, patriotic and sentimental favorites, ballads, nonsense songs, spirituals, minstrel songs, and common hymns, making the book an easily adapted resource to suit a wide variety of personal preferences, customizing music to the individual impression needs.

The song anthology is presented piece upon piece without interruption; further expansion books will include the research background and commentary on the songs, which will be a fantastic tool for public education and personal context.

It’s easy to see the Masciales are musicians and performers, themselves; where songs require a two-page spread to include all the notes and lyrics, the layout opens flat, with no page-turning. These small touches make the book easy to use in practice and performance. Ever mindful of the need to be unobtrusive in living history settings, they even give suggestions for hiding the modern lay-flat spine, just in case you didn’t have time to memorize your chosen music before the event.

Should you have a personal copy? Yes!

“I Like That Good Old Song” is ideal for vocalists, for guitar and other stringed instruments, for piano, and any instrument that fits the era. If you’re a member of a vocal or other performing group, plan to grab a copy for each person. Using just this one volume, I can envision living history enthusiasts all across the country assembling performances that add to the magic moments we all crave:

  • A group of dressed-out youths raising their voices in patriotic tunes;
  • People of all ages delighting to rollicking minstrel show numbers;
  • Church services with added dimension through beloved and fervent hymns;
  • Quiet sentimental ballads carried on the evening breeze;
  • Rousing political songs spicing up a good candidate debate or rally;
  • Children practicing their stick drill while marching to popular soldiering tunes….


Just imagine the depth we can add to living history, for ourselves and for our visitors, just by adding that vital component: music!

You’ll want to add “I Like That Good Old Song” to your wish list today, so you can be singing or playing along next week.

Purchase “I Like that Good Old Song” direct from the publisher at tincremona.com.

Fanciful Utility: The Newest Book from Anna Worden Bauersmith!

Are you ready?

Are you a fan of historic sewing and particularly, historic sewing accessories?

Would you like to be able to make gorgeous, functional, accurate pieces for yourself? For gifts? As educational tools? As something just generally nifty to own?

Then you’ll want to order your own copy of Anna Worden Bauersmith’s

Fanciful Utility: Victorian Sewing Cases and Needle Books

Containing full-size templates and illustrated instructions for over 68 projects and variations! The options are truly unlimited, as you’ll learn the concepts and historic techniques that allow you to design your own sewing accessories for gifts or personal use. No sewing machine required! Make them with full historic styling for use in living history, or bring a unique flair to your modern sewing tools by adding creative new touches that express your personality in very modern ways.

Buy Your Copy Now in Patterns & Books or click through to access the shopping cart, see the book trailer and enjoy pics of some of the projects you’ll have at your fingertips! Continue reading

Looking West, Jumping Off

1907 Map by Ezra Meeker, early “opener” of the Oregon territory. The map shows turn-of-the-century geographic names.

Would you like to print this article for your research notebook, or share it with others? Click Here for a PDF version Play fair: don’t re-host the file or sell the article! You’re welcome to link back here, or make copies of the article as-is to share free-of-charge with others. Please leave our copyright line in place, so readers can contact us with any questions.

If your education was like most, your history book handled the Civil War, western migration, and the Gold Rush in three separate sections. For many people, this causes a distinct disconnect, and it may take years to realize that all of these major events in American history happened during the same era! While battles raged back east, individuals and households continued to emigrate, prospect, and settle the west. For modern living history enthusiasts, understand the vast pull of the West is a great addition to mid-century context, and can even enter into specific interpretive presentations.

Beginning with white missionary settlement in the 1830s, the western territories that would become the states of Oregon, Washington, California, Utah, Nevada, Colorado, Montana, and Idaho captured the imagination and hopefulness of a young nation eager to spread out and find new horizons. Land grant programs beginning in 1843 allowed any adult citizen to claim western acreage, provided he lived on and improved the property (called “proving” a claim) for several years; married men were able to claim double acreage. Starting in 1854, acreage could be either “proved” or purchased outright. The Homestead Act of 1862 again granted free claims of up to 320 acres with five years “proving”, or paid claims with six months residency, and $1.25 per acre. With farmland growing more expensive in the northern states, and increasingly tapped out or battle-wearing in the south, “free” land in the west grew more and more attractive. Continue reading

Synchronized Stitching

When it comes to mid-century sewing, there are so many new terms to learn! It gets even more challenging when multiple techniques all use one basic stitch foundation. Here’s a quick look at some of the easily muddled processes for handling fullness. (You’ll find the techniques explained and used in The Dressmaker’s Guide.)

Synchronized Stitching
Each of these techniques uses one or more rows of running stitch as a foundation. These stitches may be completely even, or uneven (usually with a larger stitch taken on the wrong side of the work). The stitches may be long (1/4″, to even so long as 1/2″) or short (1/16″ to 1/8″). There may be one or two rows, or many rows. But generally, the stitches are worked by hand, and taken at the same intervals in each row, stacking up in synchronized sets that, when drawn up, create very controlled, regular “pleats” of fabric. (These are distinct from flat, folded pleats.) There are fine distinctions among the fullness-handling methods as to the exact combinations of these features, so it can be a prime “muddling” point.

Raw Edge Versus Folded Edge
We find our first distinguishing features here: are the running stitches worked along a raw edge, or a folded edge? Gathering, stroked gathering, and shirring are each worked near the raw edge of a garment section. Gauging is worked along a folded edge of fabric, and is typically reserved for the waist treatment of skirts at mid-century.

How Much?
Any of these methods use hand stitching, which has the potential to allow a high proportion of fabric to be controlled to a relatively small area. The precise density of gathering, stroked gathering, shirring, and gauging is primarily influenced by the prevailing styles of the particular window on the era, so there’s no concrete measurement that applies to the entire mid-century. Rather, it’s important to look at the overall proportion and fashion for your segment of the century, and control enough fullness to get that look in your reproduced styles. (The best way to do that is to examine as many originals and images from the era as possible, and do a bit of math to work out ratios.)


One or two rows of synchronized stitches are worked near the raw edge, and drawn up into gathered pleats. The garment section is sewn right-sides-together with another garment section, binding, or waistband. The raw edge is either visible on the inside of the garment, covered with a facing, or enclosed in the waistband, cuff, or binding. The gathering stitches may be removed.

Stroked Gathering
Stroked gathering begins identically to plain gathering. It is typically used on a garment edge that will have a flat band as a finish (sleeve cuffs, skirt waists), but can be used elsewhere, such as the armscye of men’s shirt sleeves.

Instead of sewing the gathered portion right-sides-together with the flat portion of the garment, the flat band edge is pressed to the wrong side. Then the band and gathered section are arranged, both right-sides-up, exactly as the finished garment should appear. To finish, a tiny whip-stitch secures every gathering pleat to the folded edge of the band. The piece is turned to be wrong-side-up, the band is folded into finished position, and the whipping is repeated on the wrong side of the garment, too.

The raw edge is still enclosed in the band, but the tiny whip stitches produce a very compact, tidy set of “pleats” at the band edge. The gathering stitches themselves may be removed.

Shirring is most often used to control fashionable, or design-element fullness, in bodices and sleeves. Shirred fashions are very popular in the 1840s, and into the 1850s; shirred styles persist into the 1860s, but the precise designs change through the entire era, so it’s important to use shirring as it was used in your particular window of the era.

Many horizontal rows (often at least five, but twelve or more is not uncommon) of synchronized running stitch control fashion-fabric fullness starting at the waist, and reaching into the rib area, and even all the way to the shoulder in some mid-century bodice designs.

While the rows have synchronized “stacks” of stitching, the individual row length may vary, the spacing between rows may vary, and the density to which the shirring is drawn up may vary from waist toward the bust (typically, the shirring controls fullness most densely at the waistline, and “fans” out above.)

Shirring may also be worked vertically on bodices or sleeves, and is sometimes employed in creating trims, as well. Shirred garments sometimes have a row of trim laid along selected shirring lines, covering the shirring stitches and stabilizing the fullness, while adding a decorative element. Whether the shirring lines are embellished or not, shirring is often stabilized by tacking along the shirring line, through to the fitted lining of the garment, and the running stitches foundational to the shirring are generally left in place.

Shirring is different from smocking. With smocking, the rows generally confine the same amount of fullness at the same density, and additional decorative stitches are worked over the rows to stabilize the stitches and fullness. Smocking is not tacked through to a fitted lining. While there is some documentation for a style of smocking used on British and European field-worker’s coverall smocks, this technique does not seem to have been in popular use for American and non-field-work clothing at mid-century.

Gauging is typically reserved for handling skirt fullness, and develops as a common technique in the early to middle 1840s, when increasing skirt circumferences and fashion preference outstrip stroked gathering’s ability to control fullness without increased bulk.

Gauging uses 2-3 rows of synchronized running stitch (even or uneven), but the stitches are worked close to the folded waist edge of a freshly-balanced skirt. The drawn-up gauged pleats are laid right-sides-together with a finished waistband or bodice, and each rounded “valley” that touches the band or bodice is hand-whipped to the finished edge. This creates a “hinge” that pushes the skirt out and away from the body when worn. Because no fullness is enclosed in the waistband, or resting on the inside of the bodice, gauged skirts add zero to very, very minimal bulk at the waist.

(By the mid-1840s, pleated skirts are also pleated along a folded edge, and whipped to the bodice or a skirt band, preserving the no- to minimal-bulk positives of the desired silhouette.)

And What About Cartridge Pleating?

Functionally, “cartridge pleating” is the same as gauging. It’s simply a more modern term for the technique (so don’t look for it in mid-century descriptions, notes, or manuals), and may have its origin in the similarity of the regular, rounded pleats to the rounded loops of cartridge belts that coincided with the development of metal-cased ammunition.  Ammunition loops of this nature held paper-wrapped ammunition charges during the 1879 Boer War (South Africa), but metal-cased small arms ammunition wasn’t developed until the Swiss took on the engineering challenge in the early 1880s.

You may also hear the term “organ pleating”, as gauged fullness can bear a resemblance to the vertical pipes of a pipe organ. However, “organ pleating” does not seem to be a mid-century term, either.

So, for mid-century, call it gauging.

Regardless of the technique used, handworked running stitches allow a great deal of flexibility and control in your mid-century clothing. You’ll get the best results if you keep in mind a few basic tips:

1: Use a thimble. The added protection and traction allows you to work more quickly, and with less tissue damage (and unladylike language.)

2: Treat your threads. A bit of beeswax strengthens your sewing thread and helps reduce tangling.

3: Load up. Rock the needle through the fabric to “load” four to ten running stitches on the needle before pulling it through. You’ll get straighter stitching lines, and increase your speed tremendously!

And if you’re working at home:

4: Pop in a BBC costume drama. It sets a mood, and well-dressed historical gents are always good inspiration for quality stitching.

Great Expectations

If you’ve been having a hard time reconciling a burgeoning pregnant figure with historic clothing, there are some snazzy tricks the Original Cast used, and you can use them, too! Yes, wearing a wrapper for half a year is one option, but if you’re wanting a dress that looks like a normal dress, and can stretch through a pregnancy, and then be used post-partum, consider making an adjustable dress to start. (This is also a technique that can work if you need to have multi-fit dresses in a costume trunk!)

Mid-century styles actually make it easier to “dress the baby” than other eras; the rounder, slightly-higher waistlines of the 60s, for instance, are very forgiving through early pregnancy, and easy to use later, too.

Most women tend to gain inches through the torso and bust, but relatively few experience dramatic changes through the shoulders, so work up a copy of your base pattern that fits easily (but is not baggy) in the shoulders, and quite generously over the bust, with some decent expansion in the waist (say, 10″ across the front).

One way to do this is to slice up your waist-to-bust dart, and then over to the armscye. Swing the outer/side section of the bodice out to create a 5″ gap along the waistline (the section will “hinge” at the armscye), and trace the new, exaggerated shape. Leave your back bodice as-is. It’s nice to have something that really fits, and a smooth back bodice helps with the end-of-gestation large-as-a barn feeling.

If you’d like to preserve a bit of “this is a real dress” feeling for the very end of pregnancy, do run a very little bit of gathering to mimic a gathered-to-fit bodice style.

Cut a strip of fabric (straight grain is great, bias if you need to) about 2-3″ wide, and of a length sufficient to span your newly-enlarged front bodice waists. This will be used to create an interior waistband or facing, through which three narrow tapes will be threaded in stitched channels, to adjust your dress bodice.

Press the short edges of the strip to the wrong side 1/4″, and position one short end just behind your desired bodice closure line, the other just in front of your side seams. Hem the upper edge of the facing strip flat to the inside of the dress, using a running stitch by hand. (Hand stitches show less on the outside, and are more flexible during use.)

Continue to stitch three 1/4″ channels along the facing, being sure to leave the exits on the short ends quite open.

(showing the finished interior casing when skirts are attached; click to embiggen.)

Narrow twill tape can be threaded through to use in your bodice adjustments. You can either choose to sew the tapes firmly into the side seams, or have them adjust individually by adding short, permanently stitched tapes to the side seams, with which each tape will be paired and secured. The tapes exit at center front, and are adjusted and tied inside the bodice before the bodice is fastened.

(from the outside, only a few running stitches show.)

Set your skirts to the expanded waistline, using gauging or whipped pleats.

In early pregnancy, or post-partum, the tapes can be snugged up comfortably, and the bodice will appear to be gathered-to-fit. There will be a slight bit of extra skirt bulk just in front, but it’s generally not noticed, and in any case, is normal for this particular mid-century dress technique. In later pregnancy, the tapes are loosened to accommodate The Bump; in late pregnancy, they may be left untied altogether. Bust measurement increases will pull the front of the bodice up just a bit, with a handy side-benefit of raising the waistline for the baby, as well!

Add gestational and nursing corsets, and you can comfortably wear this style through pregnancy and for months beyond. If you’ll be pregnant during the summer, utilize slightly V’d necklines, open sleeve styles, summer-weight fabrics, and half-high linings, to reduce the heat retention of your dress, as well.

And, just for something fun: if you’re in the Pacific Northwest this summer, stop by Oregon City and the End of the Oregon Trail Visitor’s Center, to see a great exhibit, “And Baby Makes Three: Motherhood and Maternity on the Oregon Trail” The exhibit is free to the public, and is open Thursdays through Mondays, 11-4.

The Wonders of a Winter Hood

With cooler weather reigning in most areas, you may be looking for those particular wardrobe additions that are both accurate, and designed to keep you warmer, safer, and happier at winter activities. Look no further than the glorious Winter Hood! Created separate from other winter wraps, your hood moves freely with your head, blocks drafts, and acts as a perfect platform for personal expression through the use of colorful fabrics, or even a touch of luxury in an otherwise working class wardrobe.

Here are some top-notch resources for accurately-made hoods, suited for all cool-weather living history endeavors:


From the Forum: New Year, New Us!

The process of moving forward in living history is a big deal for the progressively-minded. Want a peek into the minds of those “oddball hardcores?” Take a gander at this recent thread from the forum:

New Year, New Us living history resolutions

The Sewing Academy @ Home forum is not just for clothing tech support; you’ll also find a vibrant and civil community of living history enthusiasts. It’s a great place to help you make your 2012 historic (and not in a Mayan sort of way.)

Neither a Borrower Nor a Lender

Transcribed from the 5 January 1861 Rural New Yorker


There is a certain class of persons who seem to be inveterate foes of decency, as far as the returning of borrowed articles is concerned. Have you ever, gentle reader, been blessed with one of these “borrowers” for a neighbor? If you have, you doubtless know what it is to measure out homeopathic doses of tea, starch, sugar, and all the et ceteras of housekeeping. If “trials bring strength,” your patience charity, and other Christian graces are undoubtedly largely developed. Exercise has probably not been neglected, as you have daily to “just step across the way” after your washtub, smoothing iron, or most vexatious of all, your newspaper. Sometimes one is tempted to exclaim “blessed be nothing,” for then at least one is free from all importunities to lend.

It seems to be an established rule with these borrowers, that book and papers are purchased by their friends “pro bono publico,” instead of their individual, gratification. Perhaps from this misapprehension arises all those inconveniences wherewith they so annoy the reading part of the community. And it certainly is an annoyance, just as you have settled yourself for a quiet evening’s looking over the paper, to have your neighbor step in with his stereotyped “Good evening, Mrs White–thought I’d just run over and look at your last paper a few moments.”

Well, there is no use in crying, so you hand him the paper, inwardly hoping that his few minutes may be few indeed. But no, he sits immovable, until hastily glancing at the clock, he perceives it is rather an unseasonable hour. Then comes the crowning trial for you as he coolly says: –“I beg your pardon for staying so late, but really this story was so interesting I didn’t mind how fast the evening was slipping away; guess I’d better take it home and finish it.”

Away he goes, paper in hand, and after it has been read and re-read by the whole Smith family, after the news is old, the jokes stale, and the recipes cut out, your paper comes home, if you choose to bring it.

This is about a fair specimen of newspaper lending; and if my experience is any criterion to judge by, lending books is not much better. Now and then one is returned uninjured, but the majority come home with broken back and leaves that suggest at once the use of Spalding’s glue. Others, like the Dutchman’s hens, “come home missing.” But it will not answer to be too severe upon this army of borrowers. We must give, “line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little,” and wait patiently for that “good time coming,” when every man shall be the possessor of his own Bible, his own tooth-brush, and his own newspaper.

If you, like the Cousin S from Vermont, are plagued by Borrowers, consider giving either them or yourself the gift of a new copy of The Dressmaker’s Guide, Second Edition, for Christmas!

Something For The Gents

I was tickled to read this very concise look at how gentlemen can improve their mid-19th century impression… you’ll want to visit and read it, too! With the expansion of citizen living history, more and more men are exploring the wide range of mid-century clothing styles, but one thing they all have in common is the need to wear those trousers at the right height! This, as with so many physical details, is another spot where looking at images of The Original Cast is a huge help; you’ll enjoy some great images in the article. My thanks to Mr James Williams for making it available!

How To Wear Trousers Properly


How Many Dolls Do You See?

I count eight.

All four cloth dolls were made using our Great Auntie Maude’s Favorite Cloth Doll Pattern, available in the Marketplace. It’s so much fun to see the individuality each girl’s doll has!

A simple cloth doll can be a great Christmas gift, and definitely works well in the toy basket for living history events. These girls are all set to do some high quality historic interpretation, just by sitting under a tree and playing together. They can also undertake their own doll sewing and gain useful historic stitching skills (to the delight of mothers everywhere!)

Thanks, girls, for sharing your dolls with us!

Pre-Teens and Stays

From the Sewing Academy @ Home Forum, here’s an excellent topic:

Help!  My oldest, almost 12, needs new everything.  We haven’t made her stays of any kind yet but I am sure it is time.  She is starting to develop, has a small bust-to-waist difference, but is still very short-waisted.

Should I:

a) Use the Girls pattern (#200) and make it stop at her waist, resulting in something very similar to a sports bra in look.
b) Use the Girls pattern (#200)  and ignore her anatomical waist and make her waist about 15″ where her pants end.
c) Use a corset pattern and ignore the busk (button the front closed) and using cording instead of stays with lacing in the back.
d) Make her a real corset (Please say no, I’m not sure I’m up to the expense or have enough time to order stuff before I need it.)
e) Some other option I am completely overlooking

This is a very common position for families with girls in the 9 to 13 age group!

Most girls, at the very beginning of their development, go through a stage where their bodies store some reserves to use during the major growth of puberty. Since she’s likely to hit a lot of development in the next two years (visible and invisible), I’d go with making her comfortable corded stays now, rather than a fully boned women’s corset. Go for something for support and *minimal* torso control, just enough to help her feel modest and secure.

You could absolutely go with a child-shaped stay, or if she would prefer, and a more generous figure shape warrants it, try the curvier lines of an adult’s shape (control down over the top of the hip), and consider adding straps for now. Does she have a preference at this point? If so, I’d try to follow her preference as to shape, and make this as inexpensive as possible: buttoning closure in the back, or possibly front, cording rather than boning, very minimally compressive… something to give a stable platform for her clothing.

Anticipate that even if she doesn’t get a lot taller in the next few years, she will most likely change shape a good deal, so use inexpensive cotton sateen for the stays (or another inexpensive, lightweight, fairly firm fabric), and cording, etc, to keep the stay updates both very affordable and very period-correct.

Many girls in living history are making their way into their teens lacking appropriate support. As they get taller, and move toward ever-lengthening skirts and petticoats, the weight of their clothing can become oppressive. Adding supportive stays and light corsets to their historic wardrobe is the best way to get a finished look consistent with images of The Original Cast, and it will also help support the increasing weight of their clothing, allowing them greater freedom of movement and far more comfortable historic living.

Between the ages of 12 and 20, a girl may go through two, three, four, or even more corseting changes, as her figure develops: all the more reason to undertake these supportive endeavors at home!

In the Marketplace, you’ll find some resources to help you keep your teens and pre-teens correctly supported. Our Girl’s Linens pattern has simple corded stays that are very easy to fit for support. Practical Prinkery and The Dressmaker’s Guide both include chapters on corsetry, and how to make both a customized pattern, and finished corded or boned corsets.

Beyond comfortable corded stays, here’s one last tip on keeping this age group well-turned-out: Growth Tucks! They’re vital for drawers, skirts, and petticoats!

The SA and National Geographic!

Some time ago, a writer for the Education section of National Geographic’s site contacted me about participating in an article on Civil War reenactment… and of course, being a life-long reader of the magazine (and a home-schooling-Mom user of the site!) I said yes. The article was published today. Pop on over and take a peek!

Why I Wear Split Drawers

This story is somewhat diminished without pictures (which, thankfully, I do not have), and I confess myself a bit hampered when limited only to the written word, and deprived of the ability to gesticulate and pantomime the adventure. Nevertheless, I share my horrific tale in the hopes that someone may be edified, and spared a similar fate.

When I started out in Living History, I presumed myself to be a fairly Smart Girl. When I heard that to be historically accurate, a woman should wear drawers that lack a sewn-closed crutch seam, the Smart Girl in me cringed. How immodest! thought she. How inconvenient! Surely, this is beyond the pale.

And so, Smart Girl that I presumed myself to be, I held fast to a decision to wear that ultimate in modest apparel, cotton-lycra bike shorts, beneath my skirts.

Sure, it meant I had to carefully plan my beverages, and necessitated some fairly convoluted acrobatics just to use a porta-loo, but it was worth it, right? To avoid those dreadful split drawers, I’d do just about anything. Besides, the one pair I’d worn for five or six minutes (borrowed from a shorter friend) would have given me a permanent double wedgie, and that couldn’t be good, right?

I continued with my acrobatic endeavors for a few events. If you’ve not done it yourself, the process of trying to use a porta-loo, whilst wearing a hooped skirt, and a corset, and cotton-lycra bike shorts tucked up under that corset… well, let’s say that quantum entanglement theory is relatively simple, comparatively, and leave it at that. One key feature of the process is needing to hike the the dress skirt, several petticoats, and hoop skirt well above one’s shoulders, catch the hoops together with one hand and pull them toward the front of the body, and proceed with business with oneself as the rather sweaty, huffy cheese in the middle of a hoopskirt taco.

This tends to limit one’s peripheral vision.

About one year into my living history exploits, I took a well-planned trip to confessional at Our Lady of Blue Waters. I re-enacted the hoopskirt taco arrangement, and backed into a standard-sized porta-loo to perform my endeavors. It wasn’t until I was seated, and commencing my endeavors, that I noticed the entire interior of the porta-loo at been “decorated” by a veritable Poo Picasso. Everything I was wearing was now covered with human waste that I had not been able to see, because I was too busy wrangling my modern layers the Smart Girl Me had insisted on using, against the advice of very clever living history friends.

I survived. I burned all my clothes, but I survived. I also borrowed some books from those dear friends, applied some drafting and geometry, and worked out a good math plan to create historically correct split drawers for myself, that fit in the length (to avoid the Mother of All Wedgies), fit in the width (with a nice bit of overlap for customized privacy and convenience), and could be worn comfortably in all weather.

With well-adjusted split drawers, visiting Our Lady of the Blue Waters is as simple as stepping in, lifting skirts straight up, and taking a wide stance before sitting and commencing any needed endeavors. No more hoop tacos. No more Poo Picasso striking without warning.

And that, friends, is why I wear split drawers.

Here’s how to make your own.

Is It Really Important?

How important is historical accuracy in an interpretive plan?

Pardon me a moment while I hop up on this handy stump and share a few thoughts…

Patrons to any historic site (and extrapolating, to any history-focused event) have the very reasonable expectation that the site is “doing it right”–in other words, that the site is presenting them with historically-consistent information all the way through, from plants in the flower beds, to items in the gift shops, to household furnishings, to the details of material culture in clothing and accessories, and definitely including the information presented through entertainment.

Therefore, it is vital that any on-site entertainment be continually looking for ways to upgrade the historical content, becoming “edu-tainment”–something that patrons can enjoy, and also walk away having learned things that accurately reflect the historic record. The good news is, small changes can be free (or very nearly so), and change can happen over time.

Historic clothing plays a tremendous role in all of this. It’s a primary visual component of any historic interpretation, and deserves weighty consideration. The Original Cast did every single activity we might interpret while wearing a full complement of accurate clothing; there is no reason we should endeavor to do less. More after the jump… Continue reading

Immersion Events and Really Small People

The fast-approaching event season presents families with many options for living history activities. You might find yourself contemplating local “smorgasbord” events, historic house events, civic commemorations, semi-immersion events, or even full-immersion events designed to be functional laboratories for living history enthusiasts. Immersion events post some unique challenges to families with infants or very small children. With planning and determination, it is possible to combine immersion and infancy, without accuracy compromises. Continue reading

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About The Sewing Academy
With a focus on the 1840-1865 era, The Sewing Academy is your home on the (internet) range for resources to help you meet your living history goals!

Elizabeth Stewart Clark has been absorbed by the mid-19th century for over 20 years. She makes her home in the Rocky Mountains with her husband, four children (from wee to not-so-wee), far too many musical instruments, and five amusing hens.

Email Elizabeth Or call 208-523-3673 (10am to 8pm Mountain time zone, Monday through Saturday)
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