My goal is to take an ad, artwork, or account from the 18th century and use a merchant, or several sellers of wares to make the look come to life. Making it happen is the focus of this section of articles. I will try to post them periodically. This post highlights products found at Burnley and Trowbridge aka B&T. I am also releasing one focused on Wm Booth Draper today.
Many people who are newer to the hobby want to better understand how to make an outfit that matches a period account. As with everything, there are a lot of layers to an ad, an artwork or to a period account. While people are aware of this, it does not make it any easier to do. I am using some of my favorite merchants of textiles in the hobby to share possibilities of what you could use to produce the clothing in the ads. Maybe in doing so I will help someone on their journey.
I am not an 18th century fashion or textile expert. I need to say this because there are some amazing people out there (including the sutlers) who have been doing research for years. This is meant as an aid. Consult with others before making purchases.
Read, research, listen and share; that is my current approach. A lot of what I will share in these will just be my current understanding of 18th century clothing. I am trying to share my knowledge and process in a way that I hope helps others. Yes, there are others who would be better fit to do this, but I am lucky enough to have the time, and the inclination, so you are stuck with me.
On with the ad!
It is early January 1773, in Colonial Virginia. Mary Davis, a convict servant and the property of John Catlett, has run away. Mary, a stout woman, is an investment and he means to find her. Ms. Davis is lusty which means she has some meat on her bones. Being listed as middle aged in colonial times implies that Mary is in her 30’s or 40’s. Although mortality rates of children were high, those who lived past childhood had relatively reasonable lifespans.
Mary’s skin tone is said to be swarthy meaning more olive than peaches and cream. Her hair is black. Smallpox have marked her, leaving the memory of what she suffered etched in her skin. These scars are not uncommon in society. A smallpox vaccine has been discovered and reduces the death toll drastically, however inoculation is not common.
Talks as if she had a bad cold
Mary’s voice makes her sound as if she has a bad cold. Does she sound like her nose is pinched? Or is it Reinke’s Edema, more commonly referred to as smokers voice. Reinke’s is not always caused by smoking; several health conditions can cause it.
A Cover Story
As her owner, Mr. Catlett, predicted, Mary has made her way to the Rappahannock River area. She is attempting to disguise her identity. She changes her name to Mary Phillips in hopes it would help to hide her whereabouts. There are few options for a woman to make a living in this period, especially one who is trying to hide. Mary has resorted to begging on the streets from Gloucester to Middlesex, it is only a matter of time before John Catlett finds her.
It is early March 1773. The weather is chilly. By the end of the month it will become unseasonably warm. It has been two months since Mary Davis ran away from John Catlett in Todd’s Bridge, Virginia. Her master is still looking for her. One more ad inquiring about her whereabouts will be published. What happened to Mary? I have no idea.
This is a good example of an ad that has a woman in normal working clothing. It is probably very worn, which you should just allow to happen with time. There is probably piecing and patching on the outfit, which you could reproduce. This is not a ladies maid or a seamstress. Mary is just one of the masses convicted of a crime who served an indenturement.
What she wore using B&T:
A Dark Camlet Gown
Burnley and Trowbridge has a nice camlet for a winter gown. As always they include some documentation and information about their product.
Camlet according to Montgomery was “Of plain weave, woven in many widths, lengths, qualities and in all colors. Some of goat’s hair, some partly of silk, or linen and some entirely of wool; they are made for men’s and women’s clothing, bed hangings, furniture, and church hangings.” (Textiles in America, Montgomery pp 188)
A Red Silk Handkerchief
B&T has the best, researched and documented line of reproduction handkerchiefs available. This currently includes one in red silk. Before I started going through this ad, I thought they only had their cotton and linsey-woolsey line of handkerchiefs. Boy was I mistaken. Silk is a common material used as a handkerchief for all levels of society. Here is some information about this beautiful reproduction.
DAR Museum Reproduction by Burnley & Trowbridge Co.
“Spotted” handkerchiefs appear frequently through out the 18th and on into the 19th c. Originally made by “tie & dye” method in India, English dyers sought to duplicate the popular style at minimal cost by blocking the popular and lively patterns.
The color Red appears constantly in shop advertisements, runaway ads and also makes frequent appearances genre paintings. This handkerchief is a reproduction of a handkerchief in the collection of the DAR Museum. It is scaled and colored to match the original. The pattern is one that appears to be very common being held in a number of collections and found as well in paintings in the Red as well as a Golden Yellow. It has a time span from 1750 to as late as 1865 as demonstrated by this silk bolt retrieved from the Bertrand Steamboat which sank in 1865. Made of 100% silk and measuring approximately 36 inches square with a hand rolled hem. NOTE: Image shows full handkerchief
Wow, just wow. Angela and Jim are upping their game every year. I love the linsey-woolsey white one I wear all the time that I got from B&T.
A Black Chip Hat
One of the coolest things about Burnley and Trowbridge is not only are their products wonderful, but you can find everything that you need from head to toe in one place.
These black chipped hats are a something fast and easy to use in finishing off any outfit. B&Ts are smaller than the one pictured at the end of this article, but more appropriate for the time period.
Don’t forget the ribbon. You will need a couple yards for the tie and another for around the crown. Chip hats are found everywhere. Sometimes they are covered. If you wish to cover your chip hat you can pick up some black silk to do that here as well. It is a very simple project.
Leather Heeled Shoes
I encourage you to consider a pair of black shoes for this run away ad. They are the most common color of leather shoe in the time period. Because of availability and the time involved in making the shoes, make sure to call before you order. The people at B&T are always helpful and will talk you through getting a pair of shoes that will fit your foot.
You will probably need buckles to keep your shoes on. A simple buckle with rounded edges works well for this woman.
Shoes are not very comfortable without a pair of stockings. Most noteworthy on them is a faux seam that imitates the originals.
What is missing?
Stays, petticoats, apron, shift and a cap, are all necessary to finish this look off. While the optional cape and mitts, and random other accessories can add more to an outfit, a gown does not fit or hang right without stays. Not to mention all of the knowledge to put it together.
Well guess what? Burnley and Trowbridge offers classes during off season. For several years now my husband has purchased me a class with them in Williamsburg every year as a Birthday or Holiday gift. They fill up fast. Here are the current listings.
Stays are an absolute must to wear a gown. They ad structure and shape to the gown. If they are a well fitted pair of stays, they also provide support for your body while working on your feet. Do not make a gown without first buying or making stays. They are the most important first item you will get as a woman in this hobby. I cannot stress this enough. If you want to be taken serious about what you are doing, you need to get a set. Things you need to make a set of stays?
There are a huge number of choices for the outer fashion fabric or for the lining. A plain unbleached linen is fine. However if you want some color they carry a full line of worsteds as well.
A few basic pieces of advice when making petticoats: the hems are VERY small. 1/8 inch hem to 1/2 inch. I can tell when someone has a chunky hem on their petticoat, it makes them hang completely different on the bottom. 2 panels of modern fabric is all you need to make a petticoat, so probably under 3 yards.
Strings for your petticoats and apron.’ I use the same material for the waistband and then buy strings.
You can add a bright color of binding to the bottom of the black petticoat to add a little spice to your look. Black petticoats are very common.
Odds and Ends:
When I make clothing that is intended to represent what those of the lower sorts were wearing I stick to unbleached linen thread (bigger the number the finer it is). Make sure to wax the thread all the way up and down before sewing with it. Waxing helps to prevent breakage and tangling. Because sewing should be an enjoyable process look into good needles. Tailors needles are a lot nicer to use than the less effective ones you find at Walmart.
Use a nice thin linen. The hems of the caps are itty bitty. You hem them before you join them, and then butt seam them together.