Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Schoolgirl Art - Needlework at the Westtown School

Westtown Friends Boarding School was founded in 1799 by the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends for the purpose of providing a “guarded education” for its children.

The curriculum for Westtown students during the early years included reading, penmanship, grammar and mathematics. Geography and science (including astronomy) were taught, the latter often during evening lectures. Surveying and bookkeeping, useful in future vocations, were offered. Formal religious instruction in the principles and testimonies of Friends was introduced in 1833.
The education offered boys and girls at Westtown was much the same even in the very early years of the school (reflecting the Quakers' belief in the equality of all people.) One difference, however, was sewing class for girls. Plain sewing, samplers, pin cushions and other handiwork were done by girls until sewing class was eliminated from the curriculum in 1843.

"Girls are also to bring with them a pair of Scissors, Thread-case, Thimble, Work-bag, and some plain sewing or knitting to begin with." Information for Parents, Westtown School, 1799

Much of Westtown’s well-known needlework collection will be part of an exhibit at Chester County Historical Society in West Chester, on view from December 2, 2011 through September 7, 2012. IN STITCHES: Unraveling Their Stories will provide a rare opportunity to see large portions of both Westtown and CCHS’s needlework collections. The exhibit will feature many samplers and embroidered globes made by girls at Westtown School, along with a variety of other samplers and needlework items made by girls from Chester County and the surrounding area 200 years ago. Stitched under the direction of a sewing teacher or female family member, these commonplace pieces have become heirloom treasures that provide an opportunity to tell each maker’s story, as well as document the patterns and practices of needlework in particular locations.

I had the opportunity to view this exhibit earlier this month and I have to say if you have any interest whatsoever in historic needlework, you MUST find a way to see this exhibit!

Allow yourself plenty of time, not only is this particular exhibit fabulous, but so is the entire Chester County Historical Society museum. Even better, they do allow photography for personal use. I would like to offer the museum my sincere thanks for giving me permission to share these photos with you.

The work shown is simply incredible in it's execution and charming in it's design - I love this fanciful map:

And these pinballs are both beautiful and useful:

Embroidered globes, both terrestrial and celestial were used to teach geography, real globes were expensive; thus, a stitched globe was an economical way for a young girl not only to learn her lessons but to practice her needlework.

Piecework Magazine ran an article on these globes, instructions and patterns are available here.

These pieces offer so much inspiration and for me, it was a joy to see all the botanical influences.

I'm sure many of my fellow Civil War enthusiasts are saying, "but this is too early, what does it have to do with our era?". I agree, it does pre-date "our" era, but so do we, unless we were born in 1861. I'm of an age that I might have attended such a school and if so, I'm sure I would still have this type of needlework in my possession - I might even still display it in my parlor. 

The needlework being produced in the 1860's owes its origins to the girls who learned their stitches in earlier decades and taught their daughters and granddaughters. While we dread the all-to-common period instructions "any lady can create this item based on our illustration", the ladies of the time really could!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Fossilization - Bead Journal Project March 2012

My rune stone for March is "Fossilization".

As I progress with this project, it seems that my runes are tending to have multiple meanings and that is also the case with this one.

"Fossil" is a term sometimes used for people who are old or perhaps those who cling to dated attitudes - it's certainly not a compliment!

But consider the forces that create a fossil - over eons of time, minerals replace organic tissue. Pure luck is a large factor, the plant or animal needed to die in just the right environment. Fossils are actually incredibly rare; only a infinitesimal number of the organisms that have existed through the ages will be found in the fossil record.

Humans have been discovering fossils throughout time and the interpretations of those finds have changed over time, ranging from mythical dragons to "giants of the earth" to out current scientific thoughts - will time bring further theories? 

My rune stone focal is a fossil found here on Mackinac, probably some type of sea creature that once lived in the ancient sea that formerly  covered this area.

My color palette is based on the colors of limestone, a variety of greys and used beads of varying sizes and finishes.

If you look closely, I tried to incorporate coral fossil forms in the beadwork. I once again left areas on the back open to allow the base stone to be visible.  

I photographed this particular rune stone sitting on a very large fossil ammonite my husband found as a child.

My overall interpretation for this rune is positive - a rare phenomenon, a beautiful object, a lucky find. But it does include a mild cautionary component, a reminder to not allow ourselves to become too rigid in our thoughts and attitudes less we become set in stone.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

2012 Conference Highlights - Displays of Originals

The originals - I suspect this may be THE highlight of the Ladies and Gentlemen of the 1860's conference for many attendees. Literally hundreds of items will be displayed over the course of the weekend, as they change each day. Photography is most definitely allowed - I took over a thousand images - and the owners of the items are always happy to point out unexpected details or move an item to reveal more information.

This presented a bit of a challenge for me - how to pick what images to share, as posting all of them just isn't feasible. So I decided  to take a "Costume in Detail" approach, just sharing bits of many garments in a collage format.

We start with accessories:

Next is millinery:

And finally, fabrics and trims:

Pretty incredible eye candy, yes?

Remember, this is just a small fraction of what was on display.

When I'm asked, "Is conference really worth it?", I tend to be almost over-enthusiastic, because I truly believe it's worth every penny and every inconvenience involved. The opportunities to learn, to share, to shop and simply interact with other individuals who are committed to "getting it right" are priceless.

We'll be there in 2013 - and we'll be presenters!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

2012 Conference Highlights - Needlework Competition

There are so many highlights to attending the Ladies and Gentlemen of the 1860's annual conference, but the needlework competition is always a standout, both for those who enter and those who enjoy viewing high quality reproduction work based on the techniques of the past.

This years theme was quilted hoods or bonnets. Enteries need to emulate the appearance, construction, materials, embellishments and workmanship of the mid-19th century.

There is both a popular vote winner, chosen by all the attendees and judged winner, chosen by the speakers based on specific criteria.

And here are some of the competitors:

Entrants not only now have beautiful and functional cold weather headcoverings, but have also expanded their knowledge base - everyone wins! 

Saturday, March 10, 2012

2012 Conference Highlights - Conference Fabric

There are many highlights to attending the Ladies and Gentlemen of the 1860's conferences but everyone always looks forward to Saturday morning and the grand reveal of the "conference fabric"

Traditionally, all the female presenters receive a cotton dress length of the fabric with the instructions "make an 1860's dress", the male presenters receive a smaller length of silk or wool to make a vest.

This year was different - all the presenters received a length of the beautiful Italian merino wool seen above and were told to make "a garment".

On Saturday morning, all the presenters come up on the stage and give a quick explanation of what they did and why - so let the show begin!

We'll start with a dress and look at the gorgeous bodice! The way it was darted creates really interesting lines and the little lapels are great. The lapels are quite easy to create, it's just the customary jewel neckline turned back and trimmed.

Something to notice on all these ensembles - the wearers have all the appropriate accessories, hairstyles, etc to complete the look - so look for the details!

Some speakers show the image that inspired them - not only are the outfits a match, so are the facial features!


Trim and it's placement can really effect the look of a dress, and this is perfect. Just a bit can make all the difference in creating a custom look. While it doesn't show especially well in my photo, the little fringy faux buttons were dead on, perfect reproductions of those I've seen on original garments.

A fabric this beautiful doesn't necessarily need a lot of trim, especially when your fit is good - it's all a matter of personal style.

Vests were represented:

And trousers:

Here's a traveling outfit - sacque and petticoat, with all the accouterments, including carpetbag, shawl and umbrella.

Here's a way to stretch your wardrobe, a wool skirt worn here with a blue velveteen bodice. The skirt can also be worn with it's matching wool bodice. While skirts and bodices of the same fabric are the most common, this is a great example of an appropriate use of a coordinating bodice.

There are over 100 pompoms on this rigolette:

And here's Emily, in her very own conference dress:

A couple ladies created a garment we seldom see - coats:


Remember, this year the instructions were for a garment - can you spot it?   (And, yes, he is singing!)

And his inspiration:

I'm in the planning stages of a bathing suit, so I was thrilled to see this outfit:

It was based on an original:

Effort was made to replicate all the details:


Including the polka dot lining - it's the original "itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny, yellow polka dot bikini"!

Some of my shots of individuals didn't turn out well, but here are some group shots showing everyone:

Speaking from experience, it's both exciting and terrifying when the box of conference fabric arrives: what if I don't like, what if it just won't "speak" to me, what if I totally mess it up? But I'm always amazed at the variety of creative ways the fabric is used and the Saturday morning reveal is a definite highlight of attending conference.