Project Overview (short version)

The What:

The project consists of reproduction middle class English women’s garments from the time period c.1750-70.  The particular items chosen are representative of fashionable styles of the period likely to have appeared in a  middleclass woman’s wardrobe of mid-18th century England.

List of garments to be reproduced:

– stays

– chemise/shift

– hoops

– pair of embroidered tie pockets

– sack back dress, petticoat, and stomacher

– mantua dress, petticoat, and stomacher

– pet en l’air jacket

– quilted petticoat

– cotton jacket and petticoat

– riding habit (jacket + petticoat, and hat if I can manage it!)

The Why:

There are several reasons why I’m justifying my self-indulgence doing this.  At the heart of it is a deep interest in combining the abstract world of scholarship and academics with the concrete one of practice and craft.  I have been interested in the cut and construction of pre-industrial clothing for several years from the “pretty costume” perspective.  Over time this interest has evolved into something (I hope) more sophisticated that involves social, women’s, and material culture history.  Factors such as the social, political, and economic climates of 18th century England, along with the “consumer revolution” of the period all tie into the process and practice of contemporary garment construction and their associated trades.  I want to tell the lifestories of garments and the women who made them from these perspectives.

The How:

This reproduction project is part of a much larger whole that it is my MA work and eventual thesis.  My research began, and continues, with exploring both primary and secondary sources.

The next part is object-based research, most of which took place over the summer during my time in England.  I spent 3-5 days per week over the months of July and August in the Museum of London’s costume stores examining extant garments one after another.  I spent an average of 1 hour with each garment taking notes according to a template I drew up for myself and shooting an average of 10-12 photographs of the construction details of each artifact.

The third component is this project, including the exhibition that will be on display on-campus at the University of Alberta over March and April 2009. 

This reproduction project represents experiential research and data collection.  In addition to reproducing garments I am also replicating certain aspects of an early modern seamstress’s working experience.  The garments are made from historically appropriate materials, and constructed using equally appropriate techniques and processes. 

Beyond this, I do the work all by either natural or candlelight in order to get some idea of a pre-electricity experience of time and working conditions. 

I also (and I know this is going to sound a little hokey) dress up in an outfit that is somewhat appropriate for a fairly successful seamstress of the time.  While planning the project, I realized that being “corseted” would be important to the experience, as nearly all women of the period wore stays under their clothing (even the very poor).  I also happened to have a costume/reproduction dress on hand that I had made (just for fun!) several years ago.  The pattern for this dress was taken from Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion, and so derives from an actual artifact garment.  I also wear 2 cotton petticoats, a neckerchief, stockings and a pair of period reminiscent shoes (ok, they’re really pretty and I just like them).   I had inteded to make a linen cap to cover my not-so-period hair, but have just never managed the time for it.


For working I sit on an uncushioned wooden kitchen chair.  And at the risk of sounding….uncouth(?) I don’t bathe on my sewing days – on purpose. 

I work 10-12hrs/per day, 3 or 4 days/week, and am keeping a log/journal of the specs of the project along with thoughts, impressions, and questions that arise from the experience.



  1. Erin Said:

    This is absolutely amazing and wow… what a project. 🙂

  2. Berg Said:

    You put all other costumers to shame! I can’t express how impressed I am by your work.

  3. Nabebleames Said:

    Solid article. hope to come back again soon=)

  4. Dusica Knezevic Said:

    Hello Carolyn!
    Very very fine work and presentation.
    I thouhgt – you might like to learn of a sister-project-parctice on the other side of the world? I called the “project” La regina abbandonata (the lost knowledge): it lasted from 1992-2002 (Belgrade – Serbia, Balkans) and, besides free reconstruction of the pasticcio (opera, mime, folly, dance, and paromenade (the catwalk)) in theatre, I recostructed “by feeling” undergarments, crinolines and everything else – including wigs, exclusively out of white linnen (my curtains), cardboard +silk (corsets), and brown packing-paper. The ceazy company wore it and made chaos on the stage, in the sreets, in the busses, parks and elsewhere…
    Then came the facts: it (the whole project ) indeed was very original and particular garments very true to history. Unfortunately, we could not travel, perform of exhibit then (for political reasons). I still owe my own cuts and patterns as well as models, and, as I for a time wirked as costume designer, I saw many of the theatre tailors astounded by the form and the sipmlicity of cuts giving really fine looks… There were exhibitions too (with few photograps left), but I remember a wonderful and cretive 10 years.
    Things go slow here, but in two weeks I might invite you to see my website, which I will build from the left’overs: for the sake of innamorati in barocco and roccoco! Ole!

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