Friday, August 10, 2018

Book Review: Living History

Title Image from Living History by David B. Allison

Living History: Effective Costumed Interpretation and Enactment at Museums and Historic Sites by David B. Allison.

This is an interesting little overview of past and current interpretation methods.  It's not a long book:  98 pages divided into seven chapters, plus introduction, bibliography and a little poetry.  The tone is conversational; the content intermixes personal anecdotes, descriptions of previous interpretive techniques, research study results, and interviews with the staff of living history sites.  All in all, it's an approachable look at how living history interpretation has developed and changed through the 20th century, and what current best practices look like.

I mostly value this book for its retrospective of living history as museum practice: what seems to work with modern audiences and what does not. While reading, I found the shift between research and story a little jarring at times, but that's possibly because I was expected a denser, or more theoretical work (my fault). I did end up enjoying the peeks at how other sites operate their interpretive programs, though there were other partss I'm not sure I care for it. For instance, the section summarizing living history in popular media, ie South Park and The Simpsons, was longer than I found interesting or useful.

There wasn't a lot of 'how to' included, but there was a certain amount of 'this works well, that less so.'  I very much appreciated seeing someone else agree with me that 'feigning ignorance of the present' and/or 'mocking the visitors for their modern clothing and accouterments' is not a productive way to start conversations.  Personally, I find that approach annoying, and a distraction from the actual topic of conversation: Allison puts it more pedagogical terms, that making the audience feel stupid puts them in a defensive mindset which is not conducive to learning.

This isn't a book that will teach you how to interpret effectively, but it's a quick read that's likely to help you refine your methods and/or your site's approach to the interpretation.

Stars: 3.5

Accuracy: Encourages it.

Overall Impression: An interesting perspective on the development and direction of living history interpretation, but neither the most in-depth theoretical assessment nor a how-to guide. Approachable language makes it a good choice for a layperson interested in the hows and whys of living history and museum "enacting".  If it convinces even one person to stop using 'ignorance of the present' as their interpretive hook, it will be a job well done.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Original Cotton Dress, 1852

Cotton Dress, American, 1852
From The Met (Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection).

An eye-candy reminder that cotton print dresses don't have to break "the rules" in order to be pretty. Yes, it's the usual gathered-to-fit bodice with bishop sleeves and a gauged skirt.  But this cotton dress still has a wealth of detail without piles of trim: the very full bodice front is neatly shirred at the waist; the equally generous bishop sleeves are gathered neatly into the piped armscyes and button-closure cuffs; those cuffs are finished with delicate self-fabric ruffles.  The dropped shoulders, full sleeves, and tidy waist all conform to the fashionable silhouette of the 1850s, despite the modest fabric. And either that material has a ton of body, or the mannequin arms have been padded very well...

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Waistcoat, 16th Century

Blog backlog continues, because the universe conspires to ensure last-minute event sewing, but doesn't always allow time for photographing the results.

My Tudor kit, such as it is, is largely comprised of light-weight linen (being primarily used in August). Thus, my first June event fell on a cool, damp weekend, which saw me sewing a single wool garment by campfire-light, as the rain closed in.*

Tudor Tailor 16th Century Woman's Waistcoat
Waistcoat. It's actually a burgundy color.

The waistcoat pattern was drafted from The Tudor Tailor. I opted to include the wings, and the used the straight collar/cuffs. The material is a dark red wool from Pendleton, with a full lining in linen.  I used black size 2 hooks for the fastenings, inspired by the Amsterdam examples.

*I proceeded to wear the said garment next day (pinned close for lack of hooks), while helping start a new fire in the said rain.  A month and a half later, I finally managed to sew on the 12 hooks.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Monday, August 6, 2018

SA Cloth Girl Doll

Meet Nelly's new little sister: Harriet. She is made from Liz Clark's 13" cloth girl doll pattern.

Sewing Academy 1850s/1860s Reproduction Cloth Girl Doll
Harriet in new dress and pinafore.
Not visible: chemise, drawers, petticoat.
I don't have a lot to review here, as the pattern instructions and format closely resembles its predecessor, the cloth lady doll (15").  If you liked that, you'll like this.* The differences are in the doll size and garment types: the girl doll is two inches shorter, and her wardrobe includes children's style variations, as well as few different outerwear pieces, such as a sunbonnet and pinafore.  The girl doll pattern also has instructions for making dress and bonnet forms to display additional garments. 

The garments in common between the two dolls are nicely differentiated: the girl doll has a slightly different style of chemise, while other garments (drawers, stays) are cut in children's styles. The main reason for adding Harriet to my kit is to show the differences between womens' and girls' wardrobes.

The other notable difference is that the girl doll pattern is a pdf rather than a paper pattern.  While this felt a little weird to me, I appreciate the ability cut out pattern pieces without having to trace them.

What You Get With This Pattern: 

  • 1 pdf, containing 20 pages of instructions and 8 pages of doll/clothing pattern pieces
  • Patterns include the doll, a dress form, a bonnet form and the following garments: chemise, drawers, stays, petticoats, dress variations (yoked, gathered or pleated bodices cut high or low; 5 sleeves), jacket, basque, pinafore, and bonnet. 

Rating: 5 stars
Difficulty: Varies from easy to intermediate
Accuracy: High. Some background is included about cloth dolls; the clothing rings very true for girls' dresses of the 1850s/1860s.
General Impression: A nice doll, from a pattern than is easy to use and encourages customization.  In quality and user-friendliness, this pattern is the equal of its predecessor.

*I really love using Liz's patterns, finding them straightforward and intuitive to use. Occasionally, someone disagrees with me on this; check out the free compendium articles if you want to get a feel for the writing style.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Fancy Dress Article

Mrs. Watkins has a fun article about fancy dress parties. Makes me wish I were in Minnesota this autumn...

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Undersleeves (Bishop with Frill)

Not my project, but last weekend's sewing did include this pair of undersleeves:

Long undersleeves of lawn.
A friend had cut them out already, and I sewed them while she made some final adjustments to dress and collar. The material was a smooth lawn with moderate body (from Mill End, if I recall correctly); the shape is a moderately full bishop sleeve, with a ruffle set in the cuff, and the upper edge hemmed (not gathered into another band). The cuffs close with hooks and eyes.

I'm really please with how the
ruffles' rolled hems turned out.