Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sewing Tree + 4 H Students Visit Strawbery Banke

A few weeks ago, students of The Sewing Tree, Dover and 4H Design Revue, led by the talented Janith Bergeron, visited the Costume and Textile Collection at Strawbery Banke Museum, in search of inspiration for their sewing projects. After the audible gasp of delight upon entering the second floor showroom, the students had the opportunity to examine costumes and accessories from 1770s through 1950s. Associate Curator, Tara Vose discussed various aspects of the collection including fabrication of garments, ornament application, fabric use and stability, as well as the provenance and family stories associated with various items. Janith guided her students through the complexities of ornamentation and decided to focus the student's efforts on shoes and hats. Many of these will be on view for "Thread: The Story of New England Fashion." Several designers have already selected their inspiration source. More to follow as the sketches and designs develop.

Sarah's China blue raw silk neoclassical dress, which has already won prizes in 4H competitions, will be featured in one of the Museums historic homes. Deanna's prize winning Elizabethan gown and robe continues to delight all who see it.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge

Kate Middleton has been thrust into the fashion spotlight since becoming the friend, girlfriend, fiance, and now wife of Prince William, and she has yet to slip up in her fashion choices. Her style is based on classic staples that emphasize structure and tailoring perfection. She has never chosen something “edgy” but can be said to be someone who is fashion forward with her neutral pallet and impeccable taste.

Two billion people around the world tuned in to watch what many are calling the wedding of the century and the beginning of a modernization of the British Monarchy. Even with the wide speculation of what the marriage between Prince William and commoner Catherine Middleton meant for the monarchy and the country, what everyone really wanted to know was what the bride was going to wear. Many professionals and fashion experts attempted to guess what the bride was going to choose, but none guessed the stunning design that Middleton wore on her wedding day. Kate Middleton has been putting herself on the best-dressed list for quite a while with her simple, classic, and perfectly tailored choices and her wedding gown was no disappointment. Designed by Alexander McQueen’s Sarah Burton, who took over the design company after McQueen’s suicide last year. The design brought back memories of Grace Kelly with a modern dignified twist.

After her wedding that is still being talked about, and the new Duchess of Cambridge continues to shine in a beige Reiss dress when receiving President Obama and the First Lady, Michelle Obama, that, after being publicized, caused the Reiss website to crash due to the onslaught of people trying to get their hands on the dress. She appeared stunning again at the Epson Derby races in an ivory dress and tweed jacket by Joseph, paired with nude accessories by L.K Bennet and a coffee-mocha hat by one of Middleton’s favorite designers; Issa.

The Duchess’s appearance at the 10th annual Absolute Return for Kids (ARK) gala dinner in London did not disappoint in a champagne colored gown that sparkled by Jenny Packham. With the couple’s trip to U.S, the Duchess brought her classic style to California and another Jenny Packham creation fit Middleton's taste with a bit California edge with her LK Bennet heals at the Santa Barbara Polo and Racquet Club. It is safe to say that Middleton has become a fashion icon in the international stage and the world waits to see what she will wear next.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Silkbrocade's Summer Selections

Silkbrocade's Summer Selections

Thanks to the Thread team, numerous garments and accessories have been "rediscovered" and are seen for the first time. We have a second floor "showroom" with numerous items on view. Truly is eye popping! By clicking on the link above, you can experience a bit of the magic we have access to everyday. We are fortunate to work in such an environment-- steeped in Portsmouth family stories, surrounded by the luxurious and the curious and meeting new designers and creative spirits daily.

Photography and styling, Tara, Alexa, Bridget, Rachel, Ali & Julia

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The feathered cape or pelerine - a forgotten fashion accessory!

A few weeks ago we posted an entry about new finds in the Strawbery Banke collections, including this unusual feathered capelet, which, based on style and form, indicated it was created during the first quarter of the 19th century.

This strange little piece is made from rows upon rows of tiny feathers stitched to an unknown fabric, is lined with green cotton and closes with a single hook and eye at the neck. In addition to peacock feathers, it appears to be decorated with feathers from other domestic birds that may have been locally owned. At first it appeared that this was a very unique piece, but a bit of research shows that feathered capes were not all that uncommon in the 1820s or -30s.

Our first discovery was this cape from the Victoria and Albert Museum, shown in 19th Century Fashion in Detail. Like ours, its feathers "are from a range of domestic fowl" that could easily have been found in London at the time it was made--either internally from aviaries or imported from various ports.
This example is of a more common style called a pelerine, which has two long panels (lappets) extending from the front of the capelet. However, the panels are not shown in any of the V&A's photographs.

Next, Cherished Possessions: A New England Legacy, led us to this pelerine from Historic New England. The description of this cape suggests that the fashion may have drawn its inspiration from traditional Hawaiian capes, after the king and queen of Hawaii visited England in 1824, making the production timeline spot on. This specific example is more exotic, with some feathers possibly having been imported, or taken from birds in European aviaries.

The Metropolitan Museum owns a pelerine, which they believe to be inspired by Native American designs.

Another capelet is owned by the British Museum, along with two from Hawaii or Polynesia, for comparison:

At the end of our research, it does not seem that Strawbery Banke's feather cape is very unusual at all for a fashion accessory of the 1820s or 30s. The issue remains that there is no consensus on where such capes come from; some sources suggest that they were made in Europe or America from local or imported materials, while other records say they were made and sold by Chinese artisans in South Africa (the provenance of a pelerine at the Smithsonian and also of several at the Peabody Essex Museum, supports this). A few capes, in addition, are recorded as having been made by Native Americans in the Great Lakes region, who sold them as tourist items into the 1860s. None of this is certain; and while feathered capes abound in the physical record, their origins are elusive!

Alexa Price
Strawbery Banke Curatorial Intern, summer 2011

Civil War Fashion at Strawbery Banke

Alexa Price
Strawbery Banke Curatorial Intern, summer 2011

Last week Salem State University held a one-week intensive class at Strawbery Banke, taught by Chief Curator Kimberly Alexander, Ph.D. and Professor Dane Morrison, focusing on New England's contribution to the Civil War. On Tuesday I was asked to do a brief presentation on clothing during the war era, and in preparation I had the chance to look at some wonderful pieces in the Strawbery Banke collections! I thought I would share my photographs of those pieces with our readers.

This blue silk gown is an exquisite piece of 1860s day wear, with gathered self-fabric trim at the dropped shoulders, fringed pagoda sleeves and acorn tassels at the front closure. The pattern is a fashionable one for the time, when large plaids and stripes were popular for women's clothing. The bodice is fitted with darts in the front, placed directly over two bold blue stripes and causing them to taper down towards the skirt, adding to the illusion of a small waist. Interestingly, women in the 1860s did not wear tight-laced corsets to achieve their figures, unlike the fashions of the later 19th century. Rather, corsets mainly provided support while dropped shoulder seams and hoops worn under the skirts made the waist look smaller by comparison. We unfortunately did not have a hoop to display this dress over, so I will have to leave that to your imagination.

Be sure to zoom in on the photographs for a look at the decorative details of this gown-it is well worth it.


This is a simpler day gown, from the very late 1850s or very early 1860s. The cut of the dress is the same as the blue gown, and again the bodice is fitted with darts in the front, but it lacks any form of ornamentation. The bodice has bishop sleeves, a more practical style than the flared pagoda. This particular dress is made from textured silk, but similar gowns with darted or gathered bodices could be made from cotton or calico prints, depending on one's financial means.
The less expensive cotton gowns would be what you might expect to see in a Civil War encampment, if a woman were following her husband in the army. Gathered bishop sleeves were more practical for working in camp; also, hoops were very impractical and would not be worn. The hoop had its dissenters, as working women would have known well. In one example from 1860, a mill owner put out a statement that, "It is always a pleasure for us to see our workpeople, and especially our comely young women, dressed NEAT and TIDY.[but] the present ugly fashion of HOOPS. is almost impossible and highly dangerous. We now request all our Hands, at our Factory to leave HOOPS AND CRINOLINE at home" (


Strawbery Banke also owns a young lady's gown from c. 1840, which I included because it shares some features with young ladies' fashion during the Civil War. Girls and young teenagers could wear gowns with short sleeves, as this example shows. Skirts were also shorter for young people, starting below the knee for girls, and extending gradually to ankle-length by the age of 18. Girls generally did not wear hoops, only enough petticoats to hold their skirts out to a generous size.


And finally, a detail shot of a layered and fringed pagoda sleeve on a deaccessioned gown from Strawbery Banke. The silk is shattering badly on this gown, but it makes an amazing study piece. The pattern is unusual, being almost a watercolor-look broken impression of a plaid!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

BOOK RELEASE PARTY for 'Fashion Design Essentials' by Jay Calderin

BOOK RELEASE PARTY for 'Fashion Design Essentials' ... on Twitpic

Another must have for your reading list. And for publication in 2012, Jay will author the introduction for Thread: The Story of New England Fashion (Published by TheBlueTree, with photography by Ellen McDermott, authors Kimberly Alexander, Ph.D. and Tara Vose.)

New Website for Silkbrocade

Get updates on our designers, sponsors, collaborators and friends. Virtual tours of studios, shops, classes, as well as interviews, publications and podcasts will be included over the next few months. Follow and join our ever expanding network of creative partnerships, all interested in fashion and design but representing countless perspectives and contributing energizing visions.

Photograph by Ellen McDermott, 2011
London Lady's Shoe by James Davis, Aldgate nr. London
Silk brocade, with floral motif and paten

Friday, July 1, 2011

Locally Made Through the Centuries

Last week was an eventful one for the Thread team, including two discoveries of items in our collection that were locally made here in Portsmouth! The first is a late 19th-century hat, which has long been a team favorite and featured in several previous posts. It turns out to have been made by Mrs. B.F. Lombard, a prominent milliner who made and sold hats at her shop on Congress Street in the 1890s. She later moved to Vaughan Street, where she kept her shop into the nineteen-teens. Our hat is a fine example of Victorian elegance, made of black silk with large grosgrain ribbon bows, and a few broken stems where previous adornment is now missing.

Our second discovery is more elusive - a pair of blue textured wool shoes (now faded and almost green), with the name "Samuel Hawks" and "Daniel Street" printed inside. The New Hampshire Gazette and Portsmouth Journal of Literature and Politics advertised his shoes (and Daniel Street store) from 1824-1831, but our shoes appear to be of an earlier style. As our research continues we hope to find out more about the story (and time line) behind them!

Stay posted, and in the mean time enjoy these pictures of Portsmouth's historical craftsmanship!

Alexa Price, Strawbery Banke curatorial intern
Accessories photographed on site at Strawbery Banke Museum