Wednesday, July 29, 2015

What the Seamstresses Wore, c.1775

Wednesday, July 29, 2015
Isabella reporting,

I'm visiting Colonial Williamsburg again this week, and of course I visited our friends in the Margaret Hunter millinery shop. In the past, I've shared different posts about what some of these shop's ladies were wearing (here's a mantua-maker's apprentice, a woman blacksmith, and a housewife), all dressed in replicas of 18thc clothing that was made by hand in the shop. Everything is cut, fitted, and stitched entirely by hand, using 18thc methods, and I'll be writing about more of their fashions in the next few posts.

This summer, the shop is blessed with a number of hardworking and gifted young interns to help not only with interpretations for visitors, but also contribute their stitching skills with a needle.

This would have been quite typical of an 18thc mantua-maker's (dressmaker's) shop. The shop's mistress of the trade, likely the owner, would be the one who designed and fitted the dresses, and interacted the most with customers. The more complicated work in creating the dresses would be done by the next level of skilled worker, the journey-women. Below them would be the apprentices, and at the bottom of the shop's hierarchy would be the seamstresses, women whose skills were usually limited to straight seams and "plain" stitching. As can be expected, there were more seamstresses than anything else, and they were the lowest on the pay scale, too. Georgian literature is filled with pitiful seamstresses who cannot make ends meet on their meager earnings, and too often meet with unhappy endings.

I can report,  however, that the intern/seamstresses in the Margaret Hunter shop are all prospering merrily, and all say they'll be very sorry to see their internships end. Here are two of them, dressed appropriately for their station and positions working in a fashionable shop around 1775.

On the left, above, is Maggie Roberts. She is wearing a jacket that laces up the front, and is made from a reproduction Dutch printed cotton. The jacket is worn with a tucker, a cotton kerchief, a ruffled cotton cap with a silk ribbon, a cotton apron over a linen petticoat, and a coral necklace. On the right is Peryn Westerhof Nyman, who is wearing a center-front closing English gown with her skirts looped up over her petticoat, a cotton apron, cap, and kerchief, and silk ribbon bows on her bodice and cap.
As you can see, above right, both young women are also wearing the period-correct underthings to give themselves the fashionable shape of the era. They're both wearing boned stays, plus bum rolls and extra petticoats to give them the stylish full, wide backsides. (Read more about 18thc bum rolls and false rumps here.)

And yes, these saucy seamstresses were turned out literally head to toe in their Georgian finery, lower left, and eager to show off their flirtatious clocked stockings. (There must have been some male apprentices nearby.) The pink-heeled mules were made by journey-woman Sarah Woodyard, while the the black shoes and the reproduction stockings are made by the company American Duchess.

Interested in becoming a mantua-maker's intern next summer? The Margaret Hunter shop begins accepting applications in late winter for the following summer. Follow them on Facebook for more information as it becomes available.

All photographs ©2015 by Susan Holloway Scott.


Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for allowing me to be a part of your blog, and I had such fun meeting and chatting with you! Hopefully we will cross paths again soon, and chat some more : ).


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the lovely photos and chat! Perhaps I will see you around the shop again this summer.


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