19th century fashion in detail

19th century fashion in detail

Published July 2, 2018

Two years ago, we partnered with the Living History Society of Minnesota (LHSMN) to bring about a wonderful working weekend at Hunt Hill, Wisconsin. This year, we’re doing it again! You’ll find all the details and registration links by clicking through.


Published June 14, 2018

From Godey’s, October 1862, we glean this delightful bit, contributed by an anonymous member of the reading public from Illinois:

We wish all our exchanges and subscribers were of the opinion expressed in the following lines:–


What, borrow! and the Lady’s Book!

You do not mean it, really;

Godey would stare with frownful look,

And censure us severely.


Scarce any wish would we deny;

(Before asked, you knew it)

But as to lending Godey, why,

We cannot, WILL NOT do it.


Save your loose pocket money;

Wash your husband’s shirts and collars;

Cut down expenses–cut no dash,

Till you’ve amassed Three Dollars.


Then, with a conscious dignity–

Unlike a begging toady–

Remit your honest dollars three,

And pay for your OWN Godey!

Published June 1, 2018

Image courtesy of Corsets & Cravats

I’m sitting down today with Dannielle Perry, one of the masterminds behind Corsets & Cravats, a new regional conference with some great national-level presenters, about the upcoming even in Newberry, South Carolina.

Dannielle, what made you decide to develop a new educational opportunity in South Carolina? 

In the summer of 2016, I taught a workshop for the Greenville Ladies Aid Society at the home of Rose Favors in Newberry, South Carolina.  At one point during the weekend, Rose mentioned a historic hotel and the possibility of bringing some vendors to the town. 

The next spring, Kara Bocek of Corner Clothiers and I attended the DAR Agreeable Tyrant Symposium.  The quality of the presentations was amazing.  After listening to lectures on things like the weave of the fabric of George Washington’s inaugural suit, we got excited.  We wanted to host a heavily research-based event. We wanted an opportunity to showcase both established and up and coming researchers.  Kara and I had been to the Genteel Arts Symposium in Harrisburg, but there wasn’t anything like that further south. 

I reached out to Rose Favors and Ann Maddox of the Greenville Ladies Aid Society in South Carolina and they were throwing around the same ideas.  The four of us met and Corsets & Cravats was born.

Looking at the mix of workshops and presentations, this is not just clothing; there’s a great mix of material culture and “internal” culture. Music, literature, technology, religion; I get the sense that there’s a push to develop the whole context of the era. Can you tell me a bit more about the goals for the conference, and how you hope to develop it going forward?

People tend to over-simplify historic figures and eras.  Behaviors are not singularly-motivated today or were they in the 19th century.  I am a mother, a teacher, a milliner, a business owner, and a wife. My personal actions and behaviors are not solely influenced by the evening news.  Political and military events do and did affect how people behave, but there is so much more to daily life than that. 

Understanding mid-19th century culture helps people realize that Americans then were not so different than we are today.  Studying denominations and religious practices helps us to understand the importance of God and worship to the average 19th century American.  A study of popular literature can give us a glimpse into day to day life and the issues and concerns of people of the day. 

Some topics are easier to understand than others.  Our cultural sensitivity class will help interpreters deal with sensitive issues like race relations and the institution of slavery. A great place to start on any of these topics is research.  We are offering a class on that too.  In short, our goal is to improve the cultural knowledge of attendees to better interpret history. 

Moving forward, we plan to expand beyond the opera house to the adjacent conference center to allow for more classes, attendees, and vendors.  We are already making plans for 2019, so stay tuned. 

Will there be a focus on the Southeast, or can those from any area of the country attend and absorb some new resources?

Our focus is popular and material culture in America.  We are not regionally focused or limiting ourselves to regional topics. Information should be relevant to mid-19th century interpretation throughout the United States and Canada. 

I happen to be a singer myself, so the musical workshop with actual performance included is particularly exciting. Developing living history skills to include appropriate music has so much potential in every setting and event! Is there a workshop that you’re particularly excited about attending? 

Kara and I came up with topics and then invited instructors, so all of them.  I honestly wish I could take every single class. 

I am excited to be accompanying Colleen for the music class.  Samantha Bullat (McCarty) is teaching a padding workshop to help us make our clothes fit the way they should.  Sarah Hermann is examining genre paintings to find all the little things like baskets, food, utensils, and even the types of livestock that make living history scenes more authentic.  Carolann Schmitt and Mackenzie Anderson Scholtz are each teaching classes that work together to give us the full picture of the underpinnings that create the correct shape for the Mid-19th century clothing. 

These workshops and presentations don’t seem to be limited to the very narrow Civil War years, but rather, cover a more rounded lifetime of experiences leading up to the war. What made you look to that expanded context (which I adore, by the way!)?

People are not dropped from space into a four-year period.  People had lives before and after the Civil War.  They had hobbies and jobs just like we do.  Many people did not know specific troop movements, but they did know about day to day life. 

To have a convincing impression, we need to have a knowledge of mid-19th century cultural history.  What songs would we sing, what books would be reading, how and how often would we worship, etc. are all things that we should be familiar with to properly interpret the 19th century.  

We also hope to expand our reach beyond Civil War reenactors to living historians and historical interpreters who interpret and study more than just 1861 to 1865.

I also notice a concentration on really honing impressions to our individual needs, from the working classes on up, with things accessible to both urban and rural life. If I’m new to creating a first-person impression, or in the middle of revamping old knowledge, where should I start? 

A lot of newbies ask me where to start.  I tell them it is a process.  A great place to start is activities that you enjoy in the modern world and expand from there.  I started to participate in living history in the mid-1990s.  I love music, so a purchased a melodeon and started researching period music.  I learned what I should and shouldn’t be singing/playing.  I learned to sew because I couldn’t afford to purchase the clothing I wanted to wear.  I learned that I was pretty good at fabric arts, so I expanded my sewing to quilting, knitting, and even spinning. 

I try to have one new thing for each event. It doesn’t have to be something you can touch.  It can be something you have studied.  Improve a little at each event and you will be amazed and how you learn, grow, and change.

 I noticed some workshops are already sold out; what’s the deadline for registering? When will pre-registration for 2019 open?

 The deadline for registering is July 15, 2018.  However, we only have a few spots available and registration will close when it is full.  

As you mentioned, many of the classes are already full and many only have one or two spots left.  We kept class sizes from 15 to 20 people based on the subject matter and the size of the classroom.  We wanted participants to be able to feel comfortable interacting with instructors and each other.  We feel small class sizes contributes to meeting that goal.  We are calling them classes rather than workshops because so often participants leave workshops with UFOs (unfinished objects) that take forever to finish.  We wanted attendees to learn skills rather than walk away with half made objects. 

Pre-registration for 2019 will open shortly after the Corsets & Cravats 2018 weekend.  However, this will be a hold my spot only as we haven’t lined up all of our teachers for 2019 at this point.  Some speaker class ideas for next year include heirloom gardens, naturalists, humor, and what it means to be middle class. 

Is this a conference best suited for those who are more experienced with living history, or are “newbies” going to fit in well? How much experience do I need to have before attending?

You don’t need experience to attend.  We have attendees who are new to living history and we have people who have been participating for decades.  We have had interest from other costuming communities beyond living history.  We are open to all who are willing to learn. 

A quick peek at the vendors shows a well-curated group of merchants. Will the juried vendor space be open to the general public, or reserved for conference attendees?

As a vendor, this is a topic close to my heart. Being a vendor is a job not a hobby.  Vendors work for weeks before an event producing, and preparing stock geared toward a specific event. We spend years and thousands of dollars researching the items we reproduce.  Vendors need to not only meet expenses but make money to make the time and effort they have made to attend an event worthwhile.

The vendors will be open to attendees and the general public.  The best time for the public to visit will be Saturday morning.  Weekend attendees will have adequate shopping time throughout the weekend. We want to give our vendors the best opportunities possible to have a profitable weekend, so they will come back. 

The overall conference cost is only 5, and that includes up to five workshops on two days and the Saturday presentations; tell me a bit more about the special events connected with the conference?

Beyond classes and presentations, weekend attendees are invited to attend a Friday night sociable, Saturday night entertainment, and Sunday morning church services.  Our theme for Friday night is “What?  This old thing? It was just hanging in my closet.” Attendees can wear any impression from 1830s to 1870s and will be given a chance to explain the outfit and give documentation.  We will also have tours of the opera house and refreshments provided by the Greenville Ladies Aid Society.   

Saturday night at 8:45 the Joyful Harps will entertain us on the opera house main stage.  Sunday morning, Reverend Brantley will lead us in worship at the opera house. 

For an additional fee, we are offering Tea on Friday, and Supper on Saturday.  Tea will be hosted by Reverend and Mrs. John Taylor Brantley at a local tea house. Unfortunately, the tea is already sold out.  Saturday evening, we have a period inspired supper at the community hall adjacent to the opera house with local SC foods.  There are still spots available for supper.

Do I need to be in period dress the whole time?

No. You don’t have to dress out at all if you don’t want to.  Period is dress is encouraged for tea, Friday night, and Saturday evening.  We feel participants will be more comfortable during classes in modern clothing.

I see there is a period photographer; I love having a plate made as a truly unique souvenir of an experience! Looking at the photography page, there are a lot of options to suit my budget, with size, optional prints, and optional framing.  How do I reserve time, and what should I expect of the experience? Could I have a wetplate done in modern clothes, or must I be in period clothing?

We are excited to have Harrington Traveling Photographic Artists joining us for the weekend.  Their work is phenomenal.  The Harrington’s made a ruby ambrotype of my family in a picnic scene at the Maryland, My Maryland event in 2012.

Most collodion artists only do ferrotypes, but Todd and Vivian make ambrotypes, ferrotypes, and carte de visite.

You may have wetplate done in period or modern clothes.  In fact, many Newberry locals plan to come have their image struck.  To make a reservation email . 

I’ve not been to Newberry SC before; what should I plan to do or see while I’m there for the conference? With independent lunch windows, where should I plan to eat? Any local specialties I shouldn’t miss?

I got help with this one. Rose is our local Newberrian.  She is compiling a huge list of things to do and see in Newberry and all of South Carolina.  She is not quite done with the big list, but here is an abridged version.  

Where to eat? There are several places within walking distance of the opera house.  For a sit-down lunch, try Figaro or Cabana.  Figaro’s Chef John Worthington has promised to make some special fare for C&C attendees.  Figaro market has to go lunches. There is also an ice cream shop called The Corner Scoop which has sandwiches too.

What to do? There are lots of great shops and boutiques in downtown Newberry.  Two great antique shops are As Time Goes by and Eurolux.  For history lovers, Rose Hill Plantation and Hampton-Preston house within a reasonable drive from Newberry.  The town also has an internationally acclaimed nursery known for its orchids. 

What top three bits of advice would you give to any attendee?

1.  Don’t be afraid to ask questions.  Your instructors are happy to help you. 

2.  Let us know if there is something we can improve.  We do not know if there is a problem unless you tell us. 

3.  Relax and have fun.

There you have it, everyone!

For complete information on the new Corsets & Cravats educational conference in Newberry SC, August 3-5 2018, please click through to www.corsetsandcravats.com. Register ASAP to claim one of the few remaining spots! It’s sure to be a fantastic experience for all!

Published May 6, 2018

Only a few weeks after we debuted the new free sunbonnet pattern, made possible by the lovely folks at Mahaffie Stage Stop and Historic Farm, one of our lovely Sewing Academy readers and long-time Forum member, Betsy Connolly Watkins, has completed her very own, and was very happily willing to share the experience with all of us!

You can read her post, and see how charming the results are, right here.

And, for the record, I agree with all of her comments! This is not the very-very-simple style suited for very new historical sewists. It is not hard, but it does have multiple steps that may feel unfamiliar even to someone with the years of historical sewing experience those like Betsy have.

The process of back-engineering the original in the Mahaffie collection was a lot of fun for me, simply because of the interesting order one needs to take to replicate the results of the original. It was a series of “OH! So then… no, but first.. oh, and then… nope, this other…” I spent a good two hours muttering to myself in delight, sketching, and measuring. And then even more hours thinking through it all, and turn it into a step-by-step project and test out the sequence.

While you could make a Mahaffie-style sunbonnet in any sunbonnet-appropriate textile, I really love that Betsy used a woven check very similar to the original extant bonnet. The checks show off so wonderfully in this style, as would any linear-design fabric. This is one style that really needs the smaller, linear motif to show off best; a larger print, or a non-linear floral would not have such distinctly charming arrangements in the bias-cut frill, and in the seaming/piping of the front/back bonnet sections.

Excellent work, Mrs Watkins! May you wear it happy, deeply shaded, and in excellent health!

Published May 2, 2018

Tater-snark: Verb. A portmanteau derived from “Spectator” (noun; visitor or observer) and “Snark” (adjective; synonyms include sarcasm, ridicule). To respond in an annoyed or snarky way to questions from visitors or spectators (or their charming tater-tots) who ask questions such as:

“Is that fire real?”

“Is that food real?”

“Is that baby real?”

“Are you hot in that?”

Yes, you’ve probably heard one of these questions, or a variant thereof, a full one-hundred times in a single day.

Yes, on the surface, these questions can seem “silly.”

And No, you’re not allowed to pitch a fit over any of it. If you’re tending toward yet another round of tater-snarking, either in-real-life or on-line, please reconsider doing public-facing events. Ever.

Here’s why, in a fairly compact but firmly-meant tirade:

It’s just rude in any century.

And rude = unproductive interaction, with high level risk of damage.

Why, when presented with an opportunity to share something we love with people who aren’t as experienced in it, would we risk turning them away empty-handed just because they didn’t ask a question in the precise wording we’d prefer?

It’s our burden, not the visitor’s.

Loads of “history people” ramble on and on about being “in this for public education” to “educate the public” since our society is so woefully ignorant of history.

That very statement should warn us that we’ll run into a lot of visitors who don’t have context for our specific era, the habits and practices and society of it all. Why should they have? It’s not their particular passion. They have no obligation to come to a history presentation, event, program, or demo with grand fore-knowledge and a master’s-thesis-level understanding of what we’re sharing.

We do.

It’s our chosen hobby/work/calling. It’s our job to share context and information effectively. It’s none of their burden at all, and we’re being foolish if we expect it to be.

If I’m not willing to educate with kindness, consideration, and accurate information, then I need to stop spouting “educating the public” as a goal, and stick with events that are private, no public in attendance.

Every question is an attempt to connect.

Connection = Awesomes.

So let’s re-think the purpose of the question before we are tempted to Tater-snark.

How many times are people presented with fiction and make-believe instead of accurate history? Every time they encounter someone who “hides” a camping cooler under a canvas “box” cover, they get make-believe, not history. Every time someone sees a galvanized tin beverage dispenser on a side-board under a canvas fly in front of a wall tent full of altered 1970s furniture, they get make-believe, not history.

People aren’t asking if that set of items is physically present in this plane of existence.

They’re asking us to share the truth, reassure them that they’re seeing history, not make-believe, and provide some greater context. Let’s answer the unspoken question, not ridicule their attempt to connect!

“Is that a real fire?”: Is that fire made with wood that would have been available here at the time? How did you get it started? Would someone stepping out of a time machine recognize this style of fire as a valid one for the era, and for the use?

“Is that real food?”: Is it seasonal and accurate to the era? How would a person in the past have gotten it? Will it taste the same as it did then? Is it safe to eat right now? Are you preparing it in a manner consistent with history? Are the tools and implements and pots just like what they’d have used in the past?

“Is that a real baby?”: Is it actually a tiny human, or a well-done doll? Are the clothes right for the history era? What about the toys? Did kids really play like that? How can I get hold of the same sorts of things? Are the games fun? How did they feed babies? Why do boys wear dresses? How do the cloth diapers work? Is it gross?

“Aren’t you hot in that?”: How do your clothes work? Are you too warm? Is it safe to wear all that? I’m hot in a tank and shorts–how are you not dead? Was their climate exactly the same as ours? Can I bring you some water? Where do you get your water? Where did they get their clothes? Did they have machines to help? Why is your clothing colorful? What do your clothes say about your life? Really, are you too hot in that?

If I can’t exercise just a tiny bit of creativity to answer the unspoken questions, and fulfill that individual’s attempt at and need for connection with me, a “person of the past”, then I have zero business at events or programs that have a public component.

Even if it’s the fortieth time I’ve heard the question in 15 minutes.

Answering those questions–the real questions behind the questions–that’s my job. It’s my responsibility. If I ever decide I don’t like doing it, then I need to find another style of event that doesn’t include people who ask those questions. Full stop.

Connection = Awesomes.

Tater-snarking is rude, unproductive, and closes off opportunities to connect.

So stop it.

The end.

Published April 30, 2018

Sometimes, a video tutorial really helps!

Mary Corbett’s Needle N’ Thread has just such tutorials, for free…

Of course, not every tutorial presented is appropriate for mid-century use. Take a look at

Published April 24, 2018

Some questions from newer folk lately have sparked my own ruminations, and I thought it was about time to do a Part The Second to an older post about Why Things Cost Money.

Hiring sewing work done is a 100% historically accurate thing to do! In the mid-19th century, regular working class women (and certainly middle class and higher) did not do every stitch of their own sewing (unless need or preference required it.) Hiring a sewist for all of the work, or part of the work, is entirely bog-common.

(For some fun reading, check out Carrie Williams’ diary detailing her at-home work, found in “So Much To Be Done“, edited by Ruth Moynihan. Awesome book. And Carrie is just tremendously personable.)

(That link to the book is strictly courtesy; I don’t have affiliate linking. Probably ought to look into that? But when I share a link, you can be confident it’s done from admiration, not pecuniary consideration.) (Also, you can get hardbacks for under and paperbacks for under , including shipping. This is an awesome book and you should probably just order a copy.)

So, when hiring sewing work done in the form of purchasing a finished wardrobe item, what are some things to keep in mind?


Asking others for their preferred makers for X item is a great way to refine the vast options you might find in a Google search. You can usually get honest assessments and tips, too. But beware of blanket endorsements. No individual is “The Best” at every single aspect of mid-century wardrobes and material culture, and their quality may change over time.

I get uncomfortable if someone recommends me with “Liz is awesome at EVERYTHING! She’ll set you right up!”—because frankly, I’m not awesome at everything. I have good dressmaking and fitting skills. I can do some pretty amazing things. But I’m not my first choice for drafting a tailored men’s frock, or building a straw bonnet. I’m still learning in those areas, and won’t do them for other people until I’m a lot further along!

Asking others for recommendations can lead you to lesser-known makers who don’t advertise widely, and that can be an absolute treasure! Many makers keep their client list small for excellent reasons, and a personal introduction to one of these private makers can bless your historical work for decades to come.

Take a close look at the standards of the person doing the recommendation. Not everyone has the same goals and baseline as you. If you want your own standards met, you’ll need to get recommendations from those who share that standard. If you want to upgrade, look for notes from those whose living history impressions make you envious along historical accuracy lines. If your goal is to look like you stepped out of the past, don’t heed recommendations from people who look like they stepped out of the Gunsmoke Extras Cabinet.

Take a close look at a maker’s current work. It’s a simple fact of humanity that sometimes quality goes downhill over time, through aging or hiring out work or infirmity or laxity or sheer boredom or lack of research application. There are some makers who were considered top-notch ten years ago–but whom I cannot recommend now, because they’ve taken too many shortcuts, produced poor results, and similar frustrating situations. I don’t exempt myself from the push to Keep Improving… that’s half the fun of providing resources! Keeping up a good standard, and pushing the envelope both keep me engaged as a maker. Look for someone with the same engagement!

Visual Comparison

Even with a positive recommendation to an engaged maker, know what you’re looking at before committing to a purchase. I’m always better impressed with a maker when they show me original/extant items side-by-side with their repro piece, and they compare very, very closely.

By “closely”, I’m looking for something that’d be identical, but for a patina of age (our repro items should be appropriately aged for the use they’d have in our target year, which is generally Not Much Aging). I’m looking for the same proportions as the original. I’m looking for the same materials, manipulated the same way. I’m looking for compatibility in internal and external construction techniques. Even if something is a composite reproduction, incorporating features from multiple extant pieces, I want to see the pieces replicated closely, and with consideration and coherent logic.

There are many things that can bump a maker off my list on the visual comparison component. Using modern saris (because they often have charming border print styles) for 1850s border print tiered dresses is rarely successful. While they’re both involving border print elements, modern saris aren’t made in mid-19th century print motifs. And since my criterion is “match it closely”, that’s going to fail for me, and I’ll use a different maker. I’m always going to have the key elements of mid-century fabric styles in my mind; if an otherwise-well-made dress fails at fabric style, that’s sadly going to be off my list… and I’ll probably look very carefully before buying other items from the same maker, since we may have a fundamental priority mis-match.

Critical Questions

It is always appropriate to ask a maker questions.

I’m not talking about asking them to give away their favorite fabric sources, or to give you free lessons in how they make things. Those are professional resources that you should expect to pay for, and even then, they may not be for sale.

I’m talking about questions like, “Can you tell me about the interior construction? What features does this item have, and are they commonly supported in original primary sources? Can you point me toward some of the references you’ve used?”

If you’re asking for references, expect them to be able to refer to two or three in the public sphere. Sometimes people hide behind “in private collection”, then do atypical things, and never will divulge even a single image of their proprietary sourcing. I tend to feel (and this is maybe harsh, but it’s realistic) that this “only private sources no one can look at” attitude is pretty iffy, and even when I’ve got a lot of proprietary sources in my stash of info, I’ll want to make sure there are several readily accessible to the public, to which I can point them for their own inquiry.

Another critical question to ask yourself, and your possible maker, is “Does this item really support my historic goals?” A top-notch maker will want to know your interpretive needs and activity needs, as well as personal preferences, so they can hone in on the specific range of work they provide that best suits your actual needs. They’ll even try to talk you out of buying something from them if it’s not right for you goals.

Beware a maker who tries to justify selling you something they have on hand, versus what would be truly right for your needs. “It’s here” is not a valid purchase reason if the item doesn’t meet your need criteria!

Budget Considerations

Consider that just about half of anything you pay to a maker is immediately eaten up with taxes and business expenses burdening the small proprietor. The other half buys supplies to make the item you want, keeps the lights on, and buys the pizza and ramen and avocado toast. If a maker meets your needs for the Big Three Considerations above, don’t give them grief about charging skilled rates for the labor you’re asking of them. If you need to save up for the purchase, do so.

I recommend getting a reloadable pre-paid debit card, and squirreling funds onto that card as often as possible. A few dollars here and there will net you a neat nest egg toward useful purchases, and you can use it on-line very easily, as well as in person.

Here’s to the Makers! They make specialty hobbies a whole lot easier!


Published April 23, 2018

During workshops in Olathe, Kansas this February, I was pleased to be allowed to study an original slatted sunbonnet in the Mahaffie Stage Stop & Historic Farm collection… and then even more pleased when this lovely historic site granted generous permission to share it with all the Sewing Academy readers!

It’s a charming, everyday sunbonnet in a small woven check, with multiple tones of warm cream to honey-brown, with a delicate single-layer bias frill all the way around. A very clever shape for fabric-conscious cutting, plus a great detail in how the back neckline fullness is handled, will make this one sunbonnet you’ll want to recreate.

It’s a style appropriate to any working class impression, and up into the middle classes in casual outdoor settings where fashion is less important than sun protection. Made a bit smaller, it’s a lovely style on young girls. Made in a very delicate fabric, it might become your very best bonnet!

Click the image to access my study notes and project suggestions in PDF.

You’ll find it in a permanent spot in the Compendium, as well (scroll down to the women’s projects).

Please keep in mind that Mahaffie Stage Stop & Historic Farm has been very kind to allow us to share this project; it is shared with the intention of use for personal historical dressing, and historical education use, and is not licensed for use in making items that will be sold.

Additionally, all diagrams and illustrations, as well as the instructions and study notes, are covered under my own copyright, and may not be re-hosted or republished without permission (just email me and ask, if you have any questions at all!) If you’d like to share the sunbonnet project, the easiest way is to link to it here, as we may publish correction, updates, or additional notes, and a direct link will allow you to access the most current authorized version.

Basically: be the lovely, considerate Sewing Academy Reader that Great Auntie Maude knows you to be! And do send us snapshots of yourself in your new Mahaffie Collection Sunbonnet!

Tagged civil war sunbonnet, free sunbonnet pattern, mid-19th century bonnet

Published April 22, 2018

DressingGirlsIn the Petticoat Evaluation post, I discovered a petticoat I’d made for our oldest years ago that just needed a bit of repair and button movement to make it suited for our youngest this season. Said youngest has actually been using the petticoat for generalized dress-up for about a year, and there is visible damage from her tenure. I’ll definitely need to “make a-mends” to get this petticoat into shape!

Mending is a grand use of my time. With just a single 20-minute sewing session, I’ll restore an entire petticoat to hardy use, saving myself a few hours and several yards of cloth to make a full new one.

Mending is also a very common mid-century practice, and to get a great fix, I can use two different options.

I could darn the ripped area, using stitches to draw the edges back together and make a new, small-scale weave to strengthen the area. When done well, this is very nearly invisible, and quite strong.

However, my youngest is a very active girl, and I anticipate a lot of rough wear on her petticoats! Another period mending choice is to patch under the area. This will give me a fresh piece of fabric stabilizing the ripped area, and the whole thing will take heavy laundering without a hitch.

Mend1This is the rip; it’s on-grain, vertically (I have no idea how she managed this, but a tree and climbing were likely involved). There is a second small rip not far from it.

You can see that the edges are a little shredded from being laundered a few times before mending, but not too badly. I’ll definitely want to “make a-mends” before any further laundering, or this rip will grow!

I don’t need to match the fabric exactly; I can get into my scraps for a 3×2″ piece of basic white cotton. This is a very utilitarian item, and since our interpretive needs are working class and western emigration, a tiny bit of visibility can actually be a great interpretive point for us!

Mend2With a bit of steam and a hot iron, I pressed each edge of the patch to the wrong side.

Using pair of small, sharp scissors, I cleaned up the edges of the rip, and pressed those to the wrong side very gently. (The picture was taken just before I clipped out those long threads in the middle of the rip.)

Laying the patch on the inside of the petticoat, a quick felling stitch attached the pressed outer edges to the body of the petticoat.


Mend3You can see the short stitch perpendicular to the edge of the patch in the photo to the left.

The needle and thread move diagonally up to the next stitching position, so on the inside of the patch, there are short perpendicular stitches over the patch edge, and on the outside of the petticoat, there are tiny diagonal stitches outlining the patch position.

Another round of felling secured the tucked-under edges of the rip to the underlying patch. I used the point of the needle to “sweep” the raw edge under just a bit, which turns a long, gapped slit into a slender oblong with finished edges.


Mend5All done!

Now the petticoat is ready for a nice long soak to remove old stains, and a good line-dry (with the help of friendly hens, of course!)

A good starch and press, and re-positioning the button to sit more securely at her waist, and this petticoat is ready for action for one more year!

Tagged Dressing Girls, dressing girls sew-along

Published April 21, 2018

Lilly Martin Spencer Selfie about 1848

One of my all-time favorite genre artists of the mid-19th century is Lilly Martin Spencer, the England-born daughter of French immigrants to Marietta, Ohio. Lilly (Angelique Marie) was eight when she arrived in America (New York), and about eleven when the family moved to Ohio in 1833. She was educated at home by her parents, and spent many hours of her formative years immersed in art, presenting her first solo exhibition in August of 1841.

She married in August 1844; her husband gave up his tailoring profession and instead supported his young wife in her art career and through his own domestic work at home. She would give birth to 13 children, 7 of whom survived to adulthood, without significant diversion from her art career, though the family was never terribly wealthy, and maintained gardens and a home-flock of hens to make the budget work.

Her paintings have a certain good humor to them, and her skill with emotion in her brushwork is absolutely fascinating! Painting mostly domestic scenes of everyday life, her work is also highly realistic (some criticism of variable skill as to precise noggin-sizing is valid in a few pieces), and becomes a gorgeous way to research home interiors, tools, furnishings, clothing, hairstyles, and how everything combines in “average” US households at mid-century.

The Jolly Washerwoman; Lilly Martin Spencer

The Jolly Washerwoman; Lilly Martin Spencer

Clap Hands; Lilly Martin Spencer

Clap Hands; Lilly Martin Spencer

And basically, I just really love her work.

So, rewind just a bit to late March 2018, when I was a presenter at the second annual Citizens Forum conference in Monroe, Michigan, and met up with an old friend, Bob Sullivan of Sullivan Press. Go click through to his site. I’ll wait while you explore a bit.

Mr Sullivan does a cool thing: he reproduces paper stuff for the mid-19th century, and he doesn’t limit himself to military minutia. One of his major lines is the reproduction of Beadle’s Dime Everythings… fiction as well as the useful non-fiction publications that not only add to any mid-century impression, but also inform the impression along the way! And because he puts painstaking effort into the physical elements of each item, you can have his goods out in historical settings and they look RIGHT, without the additional patina of age an original would have, and without risk to original paper in an interpretive setting, too. Reasonably priced at - for Dime Guides and reprinted magazines, he’s a resource for anyone with a yen to read original publications in historical or modern settings. It’s kind of awesome.

Several of us stayed in the same hotel for the conference, and Thursday night, we bumped into Mr Sullivan during check-in. He said he had something he thought I’d enjoy seeing, so we met up a bit later and I had two very fun moments: one a Nerd-Girl Tech Moment, and the other a Lilly Martin Spencer Fan-Girl Moment, and both of them were highlights of my day!

Nerd-Girl Tech Moment

Original magazines were published with covers in the same paper as the contents, with the intent that subscribers and readers could have their issues bound into volumes if they liked. Some individuals put together homemade portfolio-style bindings (another friend shared a youth newspaper in a home-bound portfolio later that weekend, and that was awesome as well). Some had them bound at the book-binders.

But, ever the clever ones, the Original Cast had additional options, including the Emerson Binder, and didn’t Mr Sullivan have a year’s volumes of The Home magazine, still in their Emerson Binder? What a treat! Though the hinges that attach the steel strips have failed in the intervening 150 years, the overall structure is still visible, and it made my office-supply-loving heart sing!

The makers of the Binder were quite firm in their instructions, still pasted into the end-paper of the strong boards or “lids”, and advertised cost-effective and specifically-sized binder kits for different publications and types of papers one might like to bind.

Read The Directions.

Directions for Binding.

Place the first paper squarely on one lid of the Binder and mark it opposite each eyelet hole about one half-inch from back of Music and Newspapers and about one-fourth inch from back of Magazines. Punch holes where marked, and mark succeeding numbers by this first one, being careful to place the tops and back of the publications even.

Passing the threads through the papers, and eyelet-holes in the last strips, draw them TIGHTLY, causing the steel strips to close on the papers like a vise, and fasten firmly by “belaying,” as seen in the illustration.

For permanent binding, tear off inside covers and advertisements, placing title page and index in front.


Emerson Binder; Bob Sullivan Collection

Emerson Binder; Bob Sullivan Collection

Emerson Binder; Bob Sullivan Collection

Emerson Binder; Bob Sullivan Collection

Because the cords (with needles helpfully and permanently attached) are “belayed” on just as you’d lash down a window cord to a cleat with a figure-8 wrap, the system can be opened up and more numbers added over the course of a year.

So. Very. Nifty.

The Fan-Girl Moment

But wait, there’s more!

Inside those lids were twelve issues of The Home: A Fireside Monthly Companion and Guide for the Wife, the Sister, the Mother, and the Daughter. Edited by Mrs. Metta Victoria Victor. (Not the same sort of Victoria-Victor as in the 20th century, though. Metta Victoria is just a fine name for a lady in the late 1850s, and Victor is a sturdy and fortuitous surname to add to it.)

And the very first article in the June issue (No. 6 in Volume 7) was a profile of and interview with none other than Lilly Martin Spencer!

This latter-day, in widening the sphere of woman’s labor, will become historically memorable. The changes of custom, of old and time-honored usage, in regard to woman’s “sphere,” are of a very important character, even if they cease to attract much public attention; and the future historian will have reason to christen this century as the one in which Woman’s Humanity gained its first proper recognition and standing. It is now honorable for her to compete with man in any of the trades for which her strength fits her; it is proper for her to do business in her own name, to hold property, and to sell it; to manage schools, to direct great public and private institutions is her privilege; to practice medicine her conceded province; to become writer, artist, publisher, her right. No other age ever gave her such recognition of equality.

Following that glowing start, the author of the piece (not identified, but possibly Mrs Victor herself) describes my favorite Mrs Spencer’s work in terms I support wholly: “They are fresh, finely-colored, delightful designs, showing something merry in the artist’s conception of life. Indeed, in the field of humorous characterization, she may be pronounced the first artist in America. Her intuitions are sure and strong, and none can work them out with more power and truthfulness.

I couldn’t agree with the author more.

And of course, Mr Sullivan’s very fine replication of the issue came home with me.

Happy, happy Fan-Girl Day!


Published April 18, 2018

In among all the fun of clothing a girl, it’s important to consider some of the elements that are often overlooked, like accessories that include jewelry!

With a bit of minor effort and hand dexterity, you can create a lovely bit of period-appropriate jewelry for your favorite girl (infancy on up) to wear in historic settings.

Coral bead strands show up with fairly good frequency in stories, advertisements, fashion notes, letters, and photographs, as well as in engravings and paintings, and in every case, there seem to be variations that suit a working class setting.

There are some very ornate mid-century pieces, but my focus was on the simple styles well-suited for a child or teen.

Many images show a necklace that’s a bit more generous than a choker, but is definitely not a long dangling strand. I chose a length that would curve neatly around the collarbones, without hanging low or feeling “chokey.”

Natural coral has a lovely heft and coolness to the beads; definitely use semi-precious natural materials, versus anything plastic. The end “drape” of the necklace has everything to do with the finished period look.

To make your own, you’ll need:

Coral Beads: I chose 6mm real coral beads (talk to Elizabeth Aldridge about getting your own strand); original coral strands vary in size, so you could opt for smaller beads or graduated beads, and still be very consistent with originals. Plan to spend about on a strand long enough for a girl’s necklace.

Some coral harvesters use unsustainable practices and have poor track records with human rights. If you can’t get responsibly-sourced natural beads from Elizabeth above (her stock won’t last forever), consider using a natural semi-precious stone round bead, or a ceramic bead, that can mimic the weight, smoothness, and color ranges of natural coral.

For instance, this Etsy seller has smooth red jasper beads in a 6mm size, with a fine hole (they are imported from China, so there may be additional issues there); Fire Mountain also carries deep red jasper beads in 6mm in 4mm sizes.

Dyed red carnelian beads are another option for a mid-century girl’s jewelry; if you’ll recall from Little Women, Amy has a carnelian ring (fiction is not what we base historical impression on, but Louisa May was not making up her details from thin air!) Less-marbled pink rhodochrosite and deep coral pink or red agate are interesting visual choices, too. (Avoid overly-marbled, pearlized, crackled, or matte options for any bead.)

Silk Beading Cord: after looking at recommendations on-line, I settled on Bead Buddy #4 silk bead cord, which has a fine beading “needle” (a fine wire that slipped through the bead holes effortlessly) attached already–handy! I found it at Joann’s, of all places, for about .50 a packet. One packet was enough for two necklaces. For the style of necklace I chose, I needed a cord that would knot large enough to hold without sliding into the hole of the bead, so I looked for something that was about the same diameter of the bead’s hole, knowing that a simple overhand knot would then be sized just right. And while it’s described as “cord”, this stuff is very fine. (Silk has the strength and rot-resistance advantage over pearl cotton or other cotton threads.)

Period-Passable Clasps: none of the clasps currently sold market themselves as “antique replica”, so I went on a visual hunt to look at clasp styles on original simple bead strands. Flat “bar” or “box” clasps, and round slide-in clasps both showed up pretty consistently, as well as a few other styles. I found a set of 10 clasps from Hildie & Jo (again, at Joann’s) for under , and got four “period unobtrusive” clasps for historic purposes (plus a few that will work for modern use). Avoid lobster, toggle, and magnetic styles–these will not hold up well to the weight of the coral beads, and also look entirely modern. (Fire Mountain Gems and other jewelry suppliers have great options; WalMart does not.)

A Straight Pin: this is my main tool for getting the knots close to each bead without any fussing or cussing. Any straight pin will work, but I found a ball-headed pin worked more comfortably for the knot manipulation, without putting big dents in my fingers.

Some Time: about two hours. If you’re wanting someone else to make one for you, plan to pay them skilled rates on top of materials. While you can make one yourself for under , you should expect closer to for someone else to make them for you with the same methods described here.

Key Technique: Individual Knotting

Placing a single, snug overhand knot between each bead gives the whole strand more stability, making it less likely to kink or knot, and should the silk cord break at some point, you’ll lose at most one bead.

The knot between each bead also cushions them from clacking against one another, which can crack or damage them over time. The extra time needed to do the knotting is well worth it!

An overhand knot is the first one most of us learn: it’s the foundation of tying your shoes. The trick to placing them very close to each bead is accomplished by using a pin in the knot’s open area, and gently pulling the free end of the cord as you move the pin snug to the bead. When the knot is snugged to the bead, you can remove the pin and firm up the knot.

Attaching the Clasp

I used the same overhand knot (well, three of them, around the last bit of cord between the clasp and bead knot) to attach the clasps. A bit of modern Fray Check or period gum arabic helps keep the cord ends intact and knots firm over time.

Then I trimmed the excess cord off.

And then two little girls ran off giggling madly into the sunset, wearing their very lovely coral necklaces.

And then the one with pierced ears came back to request some coral drop earrings… for which I’ll share notes another time.

Tagged civil war coral necklace, coral strand for girls, make civil war jewelry

Published April 5, 2018

Just a quick note to say HELLO to all the lovely Sewing Academy readers, and give you a peek at my project stack for the coming months!

Lilly Martin Spencer; The Little Navigator

I’ll be dressing my own daughters (and baby grandson, thanks to that old-married Eldest girl of mine!) for the upcoming season’s history tours at the small regional history park where we volunteer, so look for some sew-alongs and tutorials related to dressing infants, pre-teens, teens, and young adult women.

Sewing Academy member P. Thacker, of the Pacific Northwest Contingent, has sent in some great process photos for fitting and completing a lovely corset for a young lady, and that’ll be coming up soon, too.

I have permissions in hand for not one, not two, but THREE amazing and totally bog-common mid-century sunbonnets from private and site collections, to add as project sheets in the Compendium! These will all be for personal use only (courtesy to the owners who have been awfully gracious in allowing us to share them!), and are not to be used for items that will be sold. I’m excited to see what gorgeous sun protection you’ll all make with the project sheets–corded and slatted variations included. They each have features to delight the maker and the wearer.

We’re in the planning stages for workshop weekends in Minnesota and the Pacific Coast in the early fall of 2018, and talking about some fun options in Arkansas or Ohio for 2019.

Great Auntie Maude’s Favorite Cloth Doll will be coming out as a digital-download very soon! The fun everyone is having with instant gratification and the Cloth Girl pattern is encouraging, so we’ll be making more published items available that way.

I’m even working on a digital version of The Dressmaker’s Guide, so it’ll be easier than ever to get hold of your copy, whether you’re US or overseas.

Tiny, Tidy Things (a fun set of pointlessly decorative items from US publications in the early 1860s, including full-size templates, original text, and illustrated instructions for replication) will be available very soon as both a workshop option (we had so much fun with that in Gettysburg!) and as a stand-alone project book in print and digital download.

We’ll be doing a large-scale revamp of The Sewing Academy @ Home forum, with an eye toward making it far more mobile-device-friendly, and will be rolling out some fun group research “dogpiles” and other virtual activities you’ll want to read.

Basically: 2018 promises to be a busy year of renewal, restoration, and fresh research to enhance our appreciation of the mid-19th century! I’m glad you’re along for the ride, and can’t wait to see what we all do together!

Published February 4, 2018

One challenge that shows up every year is that of working with lovely new living history enthusiasts who’ve been conned by merchants selling loose “blouse” bodices and matching cotton print skirts… they’re made cheaply with modern techniques, are multi-size, usually based on bad modern patterns, and I say “conned” rather boldly, because if the merchant is interested in history, they know they’re selling bad stuff to good people. I have an ethical issue with that.

But that aside, how can we salvage the hard-earned budget that went into it for the nice newb?

Sometimes, it’s just a flat “We can’t.” The fabric is too far removed from a period print style, or the skirts are only 90″. those items just can’t be remodeled, and any efforts to do so will not result in a period garment at the end.

Sometimes, it’s a reserved “Well, possibly, IF” with a whole list of Nopes that could disqualify the garment from use in historic settings:

Is it a natural fiber?
If the answer is anything other than cotton, wool, or silk, that’s a Nope that stops the process in its tracks.

Is the fabric reasonably historically accurate?
If it’s a solid cotton: Nope. If it’s a modern busy floral: Nope.  If it’s a moderately passable print style but kind of “period boring” or monotone? Well, maybe.

Is the skirt at least 150″ around the hem?
If it’s skimpy, we’re back to Nope. If it’s greater than 180″, go ahead and take out a panel once you have the waist and hem deconstructed.

How is the hem handled?
We’re usually looking at modern machined waist treatments, and to fix it for period use, we’ll need extra fabric. If there’s a 3″ or greater turned-up-fabric hem, that’s good! Pick out the stitching and press it all flat for now.

How is the waist handled?
In merchant-row make-do, it’s usually machine-gathered, or pleated, and shoved raw-edge-up into a bulky fabric band. Take off the band entirely, pick out any stitching in the placket (which is hopefully on a seam!), and press the top edge smooth.

What’s going on in the bodice?
Most merchant-row-make-dos are a big shapeless “blouse” with big bishop sleeves and for some reason, a standing collar bit. (Okay, I know the reason. These unethical, non-history merchants all copy a “garibaldi” bodice pattern that doesn’t have the right shaping to begin with. Copies of copies of copies are awful.) Most just tuck in. While that stinks for the person who has been trying to wear it, it actually works in favor of a remodel, so we’ll just take our small win and run with it.

The Process

If you’ve not Noped Out the garment yet, here’s the general process of recovering the investment.

1: Make sure everything from here on out is done over a well-fitted corset, skirt supports, and petticoats made full-gathered (150-180″, hand-gathered), of decent white cloth that has some inherent body to it (Pimatex-brand white broadcloth or chain-store “Premium” white muslin bought with a good coupon).

2: Click through to the Compendium and read the articles on Petticoats and Gauging Skirts. Refer back as needed.

3: Face The Hem. Sew together full-width strips of plain white cotton, about 6-8″ deep, until you have something that matches your skirt’s circumference. Sew the strip right sides together with your hem edge, then press the allowances toward the skirt. Fold the white cotton facing up into place on the inside of the skirt and press the lower edge nicely. Hem the raw edge of the facing with a single-thread running stitch to finish your skirt hem.

4: Seek Balance. Have a helper measure you from corseted waist, over your skirt support and petticoats, to the desired finished hem. Follow the directions for balancing a skirt/petticoat found in The Dressmaker’s Guide, or in the excerpted article in the Compendium. Fold any extra fabric at the top edge of the skirt over to the inside and press.

5: Find the Bodice Waist. Put on the bodice over corset, skirt supports, and petticoats. Use a piece of narrow elastic tied around the body at the narrowest point of the waist to find your waist. Gently tug the fabric downward under the elastic, so it lays smoothly and you have fullness arranged from the center of each breast, toward the center front, and then right in the middle of the back–nothing blousing over the elastic. Have a helper chalk along that line.

6: Reuse the Extra. Take off the bodice. 1/2″ below the chalked line, cut off the rest of the fabric. Press the excess smooth. Cut the extra into 45-degree bias strips, about 1.25″ wide, and piece them together until you have a long bias strip that equals your waist measurement plus about 3″ for “wiggle room.” Fold the strip in half lengthwise, and baste in a fine cotton cord (#3 or #5 crochet cotton works pretty well) snugged into that fold to create bias piping.

7: Gather Yourself. Run some gathering stitches from the hemming line of the center front facings, toward the side seams, and across the center back. Put on the bodice, and draw up the gathering to handle the extra fullness in the bodice. It should keep smooth sides, but have gathered fullness from the central portion of each breast toward the center front, and concentrated fullness in the 1.5″ or so centered at center back. Wrap the gathering threads around a pin to keep your fullness control in place. If there’s a lot of fabric and you’re getting weird pulls from the armpit trying to get the sides smooth, take extra out of the side seams until you have a moderate amount of gathered fullness under the breasts, and a bit of ease at the center back.

8: Pipe the Waist. Lay the piping and bodice right sides together, matching up the raw edges of the piping with the raw edge of the bodice waist. Leave about 1″ of the piping projecting past the center front edges of the bodice for now. Baste the piping in place. Turn the seam allowances up toward to the bodice, and test the fit. The piping should ride right where the waistband of your petticoats ends. If it needs to move up a bit, reposition it until you’re happy with the length, then securely stitch the piping on, very close to the cord. Press the allowances up toward the bodice and secure with a bit of a whip stitch, taking only very tiny “bites” through the outer fabric fullness.

You can use some of the piping to pipe and finish the neckline if you’ve removed a band collar.

9: Set the Skirts. Follow the instructions for Gauging or Pleating in the Dressmaker’s Guide, or for Gauging in the free Compendium article noted above. The basic instructions create a “straight shot” placket, rather than an off-set opening, so be sure to use the “wrapped front” edge to make sure you don’t have a gap at the placket.

10. Get Closure. Replace wooden buttons with covered cloth buttons made from tiny bits leftover from your dress remodel. Use hooks and eyes for a new, functional closure right at the waist, and anywhere else between buttons where you need the closure security.

11: Add Basic Accessories. A tidy white cotton collar, little white cuffs… you’ll be tidy and presentable in a remade make-do dress!

All of this is admittedly a LOT of work. It is very do-able, IF the fabric and basic features will even allow for a remodel. The work, on top of the expense of a poorly-represented style in the first place, is one reason my nose gets severely out of joint on behalf of excited newbies who are taken advantage of by merchants who ought to know, and DO, much, much better!

Published January 20, 2018

DressingGirlsI do have a small stack of petticoats the girls inherit from one another. Because each was made with period techniques and decent fabric, I have some evaluation to do, to see if I can recycle any of the Inheritance Stack for this season’s use.

Three that came easily to the top of the pile include:

Inheritance Petticoat #1: Waist 26″; length 17″ max (there is a single 1/2″ tuck still in place); circumference 106″.  The circumference is great for a small girl, but even with all the tucks dropped out, this petticoat will be 5″ short of the smallest length I need, and I’d need to re-set the waist to be 5″ smaller, too. Too short, too wide. This one is a good candidate for selling off to another family, or donating to the loaner closet at our local historic site.

Inheritance Petticoat #2: Waist 26-27″, depending on moving a button; length 21.5″ max; circumference 86″. Again, the circumference is good. It’s going to be a bit short and wide to work for my youngest, so my time is probably best used making her something she can wear for a few years going forward. This will be another that gets cleaned and pressed to pass along or donate.

Mend1Inheritance Petticoat #3: Waist 24″; length 22″ with a single 1″ tuck remaining, for a potential max length of 24″; circumference 84″. This petticoat has one small mend, and one larger mend (2″ long vertical rip) that will need mending.

I can re-set the waist to suit my youngest girl, who needs a 22″ band over her stays. I could also potentially just add a second buttonhole and button position, and save myself the re-setting time, as the waist difference is a meager 2″. The length will drop out to 24″ by simply taking out the remaining growth tuck; she needs skirts of 23.5″to hit her mid-calf, so I will leave the length as-is (it’s 22″ long with the tuck in place).

Just a few minutes measuring and inspecting this petticoat, and with a short 20-minute session to mend the rips, and I’ve saved myself the entire process of making one petticoat for her! I’ve also identified two potential re-sales or donations that can save other families some time and effort.

Taking stock of clothing at the end of each interpretive season, and again a few months before each interpretive season, saves time and effort. What do you have? What do you need? It’s the same process as done in the 19th century: practical, frugal, and functional!

Tagged Dressing Girls, dressing girls sew-along

Published January 12, 2018

Grab a cup of your favorite warm beverage: I’m sitting down today (via a whole stack of excitable aetheric communications) with Kristen Mrozek, one of the founding forces behind 2017’s debut living history conference in the upper mid-west, The Citizen’s Forum of the 1860s. Registration is now open for 2018, I’m going to be there speaking and teaching, I wanted to get a little behind-the-scenes info for everyone in the region!

Every educational gathering seems to develop it’s own personality, right from the start. At the Citizen’s Forum, I’d describe the focus as “history loving, everyone welcome”–there’s a feeling of lightness, enjoyment, and camaraderie amid the scholarship that strikes a nice balance for experienced and new living history enthusiasts.

As Kristin says, “We want our attendees to feel that primary sources are attainable.” The conference follows through on that this year particularly well, with a focus on how period images inform historical interpretation. The Citizen’s Forum also features original artifact displays, up close and personal, all through the weekend–yet another avenue making primary sources attainable.

I asked Kristen what aspects of the conference have her particularly excited this year? “We have an all-star cast of speakers, with topics designed to hit a range of interests, and I’m personally psyched about the workshops. Last year, we started with two workshop options, and this year attendees have nine to choose among!”

The location for the Forum, in Monroe MI, is perfectly sited for attendees in the upper mid-west, and for anyone flying in from other regions–even Canada is an easy hop. Having taught in Michigan, I can tell you that Michigander living history folks are uniformly delightful–welcoming, very family-oriented, and eager to cross-contaminate (AHEM) MEET new history friends.

The weekend of 22 March was carefully selected to avoid conflicting with other conferences, and still be early enough for everyone to head home and apply what they’ve learned to the 2018 interpretive season. I know I’ll be incorporating aspects into our interpreter training for the small local history park where the little girls and I volunteer each year!

The official host hotel is the moderately-priced, but very comfortable, Holiday Inn & Suites Express in Monroe, about a 15 minute car-ride from the Forum venue on the campus of Monroe Community College. Kristen says, “A car is useful to get around, but if you’re flying in, let us know so we can try to hook you up with a car pool!”

One of the things that most impresses me about the Citizen’s Forum is the budget-friendly aspect. With other great conferences like The Citizens of the 1860s Symposium in Gettysburg, The Citizen’s Forum is focused on making it easier to access top-quality learning, closer to home. As Kirsten put it, “We also considered the benefits of having a family-oriented conference. Sometimes we want to bring children along, but the sheer cost is overwhelming. The cost for a young person () is less than half of the regular adult registration (0).”

And, several lucky attendees have been awarded scholarships in memory of dear history family members

Sometimes, the hardest thing about a conference experience is having to pick and choose topics. The Citizen’s Forum is solving that with a combined topic track all day Saturday, and more workshops on Friday and Sunday. There’s also built-in time for shopping and visiting, without losing a single minute of program!

And one of the best things about any conference experience? The social events that help us all get to know one another! This year, we’ll enjoy a Friday night soiree at the Historic Sawyer House, where attendees and presenters will get to spend time in a 19th century home, sipping punch and catching up (or meeting for the first time!) If I remember to pack my period eyeglasses, I’ll be the grinning stout lady perched in a corner–if I forget them, I’ll be the squinting stout lady perched in a corner. Hermit Liz does come out of her shell now and then!

Does the supernatural draw you? This year will have an optional ghost tour at The Old Mill, if you’re up for some 19th Century frissons down your spine.

One thing many people worry about is having The Right Clothes for a conference experience. Kristen assured me that period dress is not required at any point during the conference–we’re in modern settings, learning through modern presentations and PowerPoints, after all!–though if anyone does wish to dress out, Friday night’s soiree is a great time to do it!

This year’s workshops are designed to get you all set with great wardrobe options, though! I’m excited to help people with hands-on fitting from patterns, and direct draping workshops, and you’ll find the collars workshop from Sara Gonzalez, and cravats class with Eric Smallwood to ideal in rounding out a great physical impression.



Last year’s debut conference weekend had quite robust attendance, with over 100 attending. This year, the organizers have expanded the conference space and raised the attendance cap, but good programs often sell out before the deadlines–so get your registration in very soon to make sure you can come out and learn.

Whether you’re returning from last year, or new this year, you can expect a warm welcome at the Citizen’s Forum. Everyone has attendee comfort as a primary goal. You might even get a quick phone call or email from Kristen herself, just to make sure your questions are answered and needs are met!

So often, living history events aren’t set up for modern socializing–we’re too busy Doing History to catch up on modern hobby chat, sharing research, and the like! Events like The Citizen’s Forum are all about learning, connecting, and socializing. As Kristen notes, “As I sat and chatted with friends, I realized that they came from all over the country, and this was one of the few times we could gather.”

With built-in shopping time as well, we don’t have to sacrifice presentation attendance or socializing to shop some great vendors, including Samantha McLoughlin, The Victorian Needle, Miller’s Millinery, Sullivan Press, James Country Mercantile, and Lucy’s Hairwork.

The Too Long; Didn’t Read summary: HIE THEE TO THE CITIZEN’S FORUM. We’re going to have a blast.


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