Special “Behind the Scenes” tours were yet another feature of our
full day at Old Sturbridge Village during the recent 2010 National
ALHFAM Conference. I accompanied the ten or so other folks who
took a peek at the inner workings of OSV’s Costume Shop.
Now when I was at Conner Prairie (back in the early ’90s), we had
to make, or pay someone else to make, all our own 1836 clothing.
Any and all fabrics we used had to be approved by, and all patterns
were obtained from, the Costume Department. However, that is NOT
the case at OSV. All clothing worn by interpreters is made by Shop
staff. Various items are constructed, and then each person is assigned
whatever pieces are appropriate for his or her particular character
and/or location, be it farmhand, spinster, shoemaker, gentleman,
cook, or whatever. Everyone is responsible for alerting staff when
repairs and such are needed, and if an item is lost or destroyed,
the Costume Shop must be reimbursed. However, washing and/or
dry cleaning of each item is done by the individual wearer.
OSV’s Costume Shop itself is housed in a cute little white former
house adjacent to the Village. Comprised of three floors, one is
dedicated to women’s clothing, one to men’s, and one for fittings
and other more general tasks. Christine Bates and her staff are
responsible for providing clothing for any and all people, young
and old, big and small, who work daily in the Village. From children
participating in summer camp to special event folks to the everyday
interpreters, all are outfitted by Bates and company. And, if I recall
correctly, more than 200 people will be wearing period-appropriate
clothing during this year alone, thanks to the Costume Shop.
There were two things that I found particularly interesting
about the way clothing is handled at Old Sturbridge Village.
One, that any and all fabrics used must be documented by
virtue of their existence in the Museum’s Collections. Two,
that the actual sewing of garments, large or small, is done
by select seamstresses, hired on contract, in their own homes.
Yes, there wasn’t a sewing machine in sight during our tour!
All major work is done off-site. Apparently (and I don’t quite
understand it), there’s something regarding the use of sewing
machines and the ability to obtain insurance. Or something.
That certainly wasn’t the case back in the days at good ol’
Conner Prairie! I can remember going often to the Costume
Room to use some nifty sewing gadget or other. Never used
the sewing machine, tho, as I had my own…but I digress.
The Shop’s work can be simply exquisite. This lovely dress and
its color combination caught my eye:
An interpreter saw this banyan and wanted one like it, so he
brought in the original, the Shop staff created a pattern, and
then made the garment, using fabrics he chose (now, if it’d
been me, I would’ve selected a nice paisley of some sort!):
A never-ending task in the Costume Shop: patching; and yes,
the Shop, and NOT the interpreters, does any and all mending,
repairs, altering, and so forth:
Speaking of which, rows and rows of spools of thread, in every
OSV’s Costume Shop takes care of all woolen garments, as well:
Something it would’ve been nice to see more often at Conner Prairie,
men’s corduroy trousers:
Hats! (er, Bonnets!):
I especially like the small, close-fitting, navy blue one,
with the pink-ish feather:
One thing I’d like to add…during our brief tour of OSV’s Costume Shop, I was
struck by the sheer numbers, by the quantity, of clothing the Shop produces.
And by the variety of fabric patterns…solids, small prints, large, plaids, as well
as every color imaginable. Oh, and the things that CP banned. Yet, at the same
time, I didn’t see any stripes. Wonder why? Or maybe I just missed them?