Sunday, April 28, 2013

My 1860s Gown...My Daughter's College Paper

My daughter mentioned to her Art History Honors professor that I was busily sewing 1860's clothing for myself and my son.  I've met this professor and she is absolutely great! She has taught the students that more than paintings comprise art.  Obviously architecture can be considered art, so my daughter took lots of photos of Poplar Forest Saturday for an art history extra credit paper.  Paper can become art, so when my daughter told the professort we had toured Pret-A Papier at the Hillwood Estate Museum and Gardens, the professor told her to write an extra credit paper on it.  Historical interpreters can be considered when my daughter told her professor we were going to see Mount Rushmore come to life, the professor asked for a paper to be written.  Even a historic gown can be considered art! When my daughter told the professor that I was busily sewing 1860s garments for our homeschool history presentation, guess what? The professor asked for a paper! 

Since I had the most research for my gown, we focused on that. My daughter asked me how I decide which historical garment to make from all the available choices.  First, I think about appropriateness for the interpretation of a character. Second I research extant gowns from museum collections and old paintings and fashion plates, then decide on my favorite one, based upon my sewing abilities and available patterns to try to replicate the look.  A sheer gown from 1860 was entirely plausible for my character as a US Senator's wife from Washington DC.


I even found an extant sheer bodice in the MET's collection, which I used to sew my bodice as historically accurate as possible.  At the link you can see 4 different views of the bodice, using a 100% cotton sheer windowpane outer fabric.  When my daughter saw it she was amazed at how nearly identical it was to my 100% cotton windowpane fabric. I told her that is why I purchased it!  Then I styled the underlining to match that of the extant gown.  I even trimmed it in cotton lace.  Although the extant bodice had hooks to secure the bodice, old paintings from the 1860s showed buttons. Therefore either hooks or buttons can be used.  I used mother-of-shell buttons for the bodice lining and pearl buttons for the outer fabric of the bodice.  I decided on a black sash based on an old painting I found from the 1860's. Many of the paintings and old photography show 1860s ladies wearing a cameo with their sheer gowns.  Therefore I wore a cameo as well.

To extend the idea to a more artistic feel, I submitted my gown to the international sewing group's Historical Sew Fortnightly's latest challenge: "By the sea." Here I am posing in preparation for a picnic by the sea. Or historically, it could be a rendering of my picnic at Manassas Junction in July of 1861.


Now for the HSF details:

HSF  2013

The Challenge: #8 By the Sea

Fabric: cotton

Pattern: Truly Victorian Sheer Dress and analysis of extant gown


Notions: thread, buttons

How historically accurate is it? very accurate

Hours to complete: lots

First worn: history presentation

Total cost: $50

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Meeting Benedict Arnold as Thomas Jefferson's Guest at Poplar Forest

On one lovely spring day in April...

Poplar Forest 4

we visited the private retreat of Thomas Jefferson called Poplar Forest...

Poplar Forest 1

to meet with Thomas Jefferson and his special guest...Benedict Arnold???

Thomas Jefferson and Benedict Arnold

Indeed, the man whose name is synonymous with treason, the man who rampaged through Virginia causing then Governor Jefferson to flee from Richmond to Monticello and ultimately to this private retreat, graciously invited the turncoat himself to Poplar Forest. 

As we arrived to visit with them, now President Jefferson suggested we all gather for a "painting," except he wondered where my son was.  I explained that my growing teenage son has discovered food.  He had gone back for seconds at the reception, where there were many delicious treats. After my apologies, we posed for a quick rendering...

TJ and BA 4

Meanwhile I saw my son arriving so we contined our pose. (My son just saw this photo and said, "It looks like our family has really grown in size!"

TJ and BA 6

We had a wonderful chat, then it was time to begin the program. We sat near the door and it was so neat that as they entered, President Jefferson noticed my son and grandly shook his hand.Then as Gen. Arnold walked by, he too shook my son's hand and said, "You might regret this later." =)

Although we had time traveled to the Federal Era during Jefferson's presidency, Gen. Arnold was dressed as he did during the war. He told us that he actually hadn't worn his regimental in years but decided to try it on that morning.

Writing 1

This annual presentation of "Conversations with Thomas Jefferson" was wonderful as always, but especially so in that we got to hear from the most puzzling man of the American Revolution. At last we got to hear his side of the story.  Arnold was a perfect gentleman and from the audience there was not a single "boo" or "hiss." 

Arnold recounted his boyhood and early profession in his home colony of Connecticut.  In fact, one of the guests was from Connecticut and asked him to recount a tale of horror with which she thought he had partaken as a redcoat.  He assured her that the massacre was not ordered by him, in fact, he had sent a command to not massacre but the message had not been received. 

Arnold further told the story of his part in fighting the taxation issues before the war to joining the Continental Army to his part in the Battles of Quebec and Saratoga.  Most interesting was his admiration for men like Daniel Morgan and General Washington. His disdain though was for men like Ethan Allen, who took over his idea to take the cannons from the British controlled Fort Ticonderoga.  For Fort Ticonderoga, Arnold received no credit. For the victory of Saratoga, the turning point of the war, causing the French to openly aid America, he received no credit.  Whenever anyone in the audience gave him credit for these victories, he agreed with them and thanked them most profusely.

On the table was a display of the rough draft of the Declaration of Independence, which Thomas Jefferson had written, and for which Benedict Arnold had once fought.

Writing 2

If only his pride had not gotten in the way, had he remained in the Continental Army faithfully serving the patriotic cause, he would likely have been one of the most famed generals today, in a positive way.  Instead honors that I've seen for him do not reflect his name.  There is the boot monument at Saratoga and the no-name plaque at West Point. Arnold performed an incredible service to our country, then threw it all away.  It is considered more honorable to make the decision as to which side to serve before the action. To turn traitor (in the middle of the conflict) is unforgiveable. The British never trusted him, assigning Colonel Dundis the task of keeping an eye on this British general who had once fought valiantly for America. No one really trusted him after the war either.

We learned a lot about Benedict Arnold five years ago when we studied the American Revolution with Jean Fritz's excellent book, Benedict Arnold: The Case for a Traitor. In each of her biographies, she writes in the tone of her subject. For this book, she acted as prosecuting attorney, laying her evidence for why this man turned coat. I'm sure the actor/historian has more worthy books to read, but meanwhile Fritz's book will be a great start. Technically it's a children's book, which my kids read when they were in grades 6 and 8.  Technically it's technical, so by today's public school standards, it would be a high school/adult book. It is the most difficult and detailed of all of her books. Everything she wrote is mostly what I know about Arnold...and was mostly what I heard today from the man, himself. What a great opportunity we had to meet Benedict Arnold and hear his side of the story and finally be able to query him (respectfully) without threat of punishment when he's taking over Williamsburg!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

In Memory of Will from Colonial Williamsburg

This week my computer relayed the sad news from Colonial Williamsburg's facebook page that one of their many talented actor/interpreters passed away. Will always engaged with my kids. He always asked them when slavery would end. My kids always assured him that they do not support slavery. He'd whisper, "You're abolitionists? I'll keep that a secret so you don't get into any trouble."

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This wonderful picture was taken by the grandmother of the little girl. My kids and I are to her left.  The grandmother stumbled upon my blog, emailed the photo and gave me permission to post it.  Will was engaging us in what he was best known...singing!  We must have sung for an hour with him!

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Now the streets will be quiet...too quiet. Our prayers extend to his family and friends...

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Honor Society and Exxon Mobile Scholarship

My daughter has been doing quite well in college.  She earned a 4.0 GPA last term, which earned her the entrance into the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society a couple of months ago.  Tonight she received a $250 scholarship from Exxon Mobile.


To earn the scholarship she had to submit an essay about an ethical or moral dilemma, which I think is quite difficult to do.  As a family we discussed numerous examples of it in current events, books and movies, during her birthday dinner.  I forgot all about it but she wrote a paper and submitted it a few days later.  A few weeks ago she came excitedly running to me to announce that she had won the scholarship!  I told her to find more scholarships that require essays!

Meanwhile she is fitting in volunteer work at the college with the honor society for some events. Today was quite a challenge, because she was asked to help with a couple of events. However she had classes, that in fact ran late.  As soon as she left her math class tonight she joined us in the van to ride to the other side of Northern Virginia for the Award Ceremony. We missed the reception but surprisingly arrived in time for the ceremony.

This term the honors classes have given her fun opportunities.  Her art history honors class toured the National Gallery of Art last month with her professor. In fact our entire family was invited to join too. It was a great tour!  During spring break her biology honors class had a behind the scenes tour of the Smithsonian's Natural History Museum. When she got home she shared all her pictures of their stuffed birds, so we settled down to watch an old Colonial Williamsburg EFT we have about America's first naturalist, Mark Catesby.  Then last weekend my daughter's biology class observed birds at the Potomac Overlook.  It sounds like a great place. We'll have to visit soon as a family. She can share everything she learned with us! I was going to do a full blog post on Catesby, but that was the day my old blog started to shut down and I had to move the old blog to here.  One day I'll try to write more about Catesby but meanwhile here's a bit of info here.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Great Expectations as we Read Great Serial Form

My personal favorites of Charles' Dickens' works are two books. One is A Christmas Carol, which I introduced to the family years ago.  Now we all want to watch both the Muppet and the George C Scott movie versions every Christmas. When I was in the eighth grade, my mom gave me A Tale of Two Cities for Christmas. I read it over Christmas break and thus began my curiousity with the enmity between Britain and France.  Don't we all have portions of that book memorized? It transcends time.

Meanwhile, I had great expectations of Charles Dickens' Great Expectations. Everytime I pick it up though, I find it horribly boring. Because of the trouble I've had trying to get interested in it, a literary friend suggested I read it as originally printed, as a serial.  That most definitely intrigued me.  Dickens published this story in weekly installments in his literary magazine, All the Year Round.  It was also published in Harper's Weekly in America. Published in 1860, I did not want this work to consume our literature time during our Civil War studies.  Dickens allowed American works in his literary magazines, but he would not allow anything that had to do with the Civil War.

The version we are using is a Norton Critical Edition, edited by the humorous Edgar Rosenburg.  The text is 750 pages long, but only half of that is actually the book.  The rest are essays, period illustrations such as the front cover of All the Year Round, and notes on the work.  With this book Great Expectations can be studied as deeply as one's heart desires. The book even has special markings for which chapters were included in which serial.  There are 59 chapters.  Three chapters were published in the serial each week, so our reading plan is a mere three chapters a week. That's about 20 weeks of reading, about 4 months. 

The thing I like about staggering the reading is that I don't have to be succombed by sheer boredom for a full three weeks.  Instead I merely keep returning to it on a weekly basis. Even after the 12th chapter, I still find it boring.  I wouldn't bother with it at all but this is considered Dickens' quintessential work. I do like to study literature, government, geography, fine arts and literature in context with world history. It certainly pulls us into the dregs of society of mid-19th century England.  Many of Dickens' works were reform oriented, as Parliament slowly gave more and more rights to the common man over the course of the 19th century. Currently we are also reading a small biography of Queen Victoria, but other than that, I have no other books to reference of English society. Not all was well and Dickens' let us know that through his books. Since his books were written over a large portion of the 19th century, it's good to know where they slip in to world history.  Pip was suffering in England during the tumultous days of southern states seceding from the Union in America. Slipping this book in as a serial was perfect, because many Americans would have been reading this in their weekly subscription, while a gazette laid nearby with headlines of seccesssion.

There are funny moments in Great Expectations, though not of the light-hearted humor type but of the "this is crazy during the depths of despair" type.  For instance when Miss Havisham addresses Pip's uncle, the uncle replies to each of her queries in the form of discourse with Pip.  Pip, in amazement, makes facial gestures to his uncle to respond to the lady already,  but the eccentric lady seems to be perfectly content with this bizarre conversational arrangement. 

I can't say that the serial part has grabbed me yet, however my son is enjoying it. My daughter read the book in full on her own a couple of summers ago and enjoyed it quite a bit.  Obviously I'm a hard sell. I confess I'm also having trouble understanding it. Perhaps its the boredom factor because my mind keeps wandering so I have no idea what is going on.  Reading summaries helps me a lot to know what's going on.  This link has tons of information.

I only wish I could adapt this book to the actual serial subscription. That would be fun to have come in the mail each week, to build the suspense perhaps. I told my son he is not allowed to look ahead like he always does. How in the world can anyone spoil a good book that way? We'll see if my expectations become greater over the coming weeks.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Civil War Rhetoric History Presentation

For the last few weeks we've been studying about the Civil War, Reconstruction, and other world events during the years of 1861-1877, like the development of the telegraph, the work towards women's suffrage, Queen Victoria, and the Franco-Prussian War. We've also started a biography of Theodore Roosevelt who was born shortly before the war. In addition we studied literature like Uncle Tom's Cabin, Longfellow, Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Poe and Dickens.


(My daughter did not participate this time, her choice, since she was busy with college and I had little time for costume sewing.)

My son portrayed various Union officers, whereas I portrayed a Senator's wife at the First Battle of Manassas.



Throughout the presentation these CDs helped us set the mood.


I purchased "Hard Times" a few years ago when I met these wonderful musicians at a special Battle of Hampton Roads weekend at the Mariner's Museum in Newport News, Virginia.  The man playing the banjo is the historian Carson Hudson, who wrote the book, Civil War Willliamsburg (in the photo above), which I bragged about earlier.  Whereas that book is all about the southern town of Williamsburg which is partially occupied by federal troops and the southern perspective, this CD is all about Stephen Foster's music, giving us a big of the northern touch. The songs are obviously representative of the times. Mr. Hudson gave a wonderful background of history for the many songs they played at the museum, which truely opened my mind to the culture of the mid-19th century. Playing this CD always brings great memories and we often play it on the drive home from CW. He's a wonderful story teller and there are great stories in the book as well.  This cd was played during "the picnic."

Bugle calls were used extensively in the history of military engagement. The Civil War is no exception. Because of some unique history of bugles during the Civil War, we decided to showcase it for our presentation. Hence the other cd of bugle calls was used to announce the change of course in each aspect of the program.  After my son and I had dressed and come downstairs, we played a bugle call from this cd.

BUGLE CALL-ASSEMBLY We had cued everyone that when they heard the bugle call, we were ready to begin. Time to gather around.

Now that the stage is set, back to the story.  I am a Washington DC senator's wife. On the morning of July 21, 1861, we received news of a battle in Manassas, the first land battle of the war. We were quite certain that this battle would result in Union victory and quickly end the war, so many of the congressmen and their wives joined us in quickly packing a picnic...


...and traveled with us by coach on this particularly lovely and hopeful summery morning.  The travel would be long, about five hours to travel about 30 miles. We packed plenty of food for our picnic, since we would certainly be hungry after the long ride.  As we passed the sentry into Northern Virginia, we saw many poor homes, boarded up.  We saw a few slaves and a few slave owners, all poor, mere owners of small farms. At one point we saw a Pennsylvania regiment marching northward. We stopped to chat with them about the battle which we could easily hear booming in the distance, but they didn't seem much interested in sharing details. We asked where they were going. Their enlistment was up and they were walking home to Pennsylvania.  Dumbfounded we encouraged them to help with the battle pounding away miles behind them but they weren't in the least bit concerned about it.  Moving on we became lost so we stopped for directions from one farmer who redirected us.  When Secession was mentioned, the farmer gave us a funny look, thought a moment, then said he didn't think anyone in the country would ever secede.  We all sort of looked at each other, then proceeded to Centerville, a few miles from the battle site.  What a contrast the noise and smoke from the battle was to the otherwise tranquil rolling farmland that met our gaze, set amidst the Blue Ridge Mountains, in shadings of blue and purple against the sky.  We were quite optimistic about certain Union victory, and one lady exclaimed that we'd be chasing the rebels to Richmond that night.

Suddenly our picnic was quite upset when the Union cavalry charged through our food, shouting for us to quickly escape!  How could this be? How could the North not win? How could they not win the entire war today?


(This story is not original to me. I gathered much information from this story from the account of a British reporter, William Howard Russell, who had also traveled from DC to view the First Battle of Manassas. The unusual tales I told are from his own dumbfounded account. It's quite an interesting read! I highly recommend it! Although it's 27 pages long, it's easy and interesting.)



We recreated the picnic at Manassas for our dinner.  From the British journalist's account, I know that they definitely did have sandwiches, tea, and wine. From a smaller account I read that there was also  pie. I read at a reenactor forum that for this event, one should distinguish between a southern family picnic (fried chicken and ham) and a Washington DC socialite picnic.  Therefore I made this an upscale picnic.

I chose an old quilt I had made years ago for the tablecloth.

Because of the length of travel and the need for haste to arrive at the battle before it ended, we merely filled a crock with tea and water and allowed it to brew in the back of the coach under the July sun. (This is a Texan thing to do. I don't think Virginians know this trick. My neighbors probably wonder why I'm always putting this jug on our deck.)


Our picnic also included a tomato mozarella black olive lemon salad, lobster salad, rosemary bread, cheese crackers, honey and peach butter. The honey was in a sealed jar, and the peach butter (which I had canned last autumn) was in a mason jar.  Apparently mason jars were invented previous to the Civil War...and apparently at the encouragement of Napoleon who said, "An army travels on its stomach." He offered an monetary award for any brilliant thinker to discover improve preservation techniques. Thus, if the story is true, began the search for the "canning" process. For dessert we had peach pie.


The flowers represented flowers found on soldiers' graves after the Battle of Chancelorsville. A beautiful site awaited the soldiers who returned to the battleground a year later.  These burly, brazen, hard core soldiers were softened at the site of springtime on the graves of their comrades. 


During dinner, Alban Stimers told us his story. (Technically this is a cavalry hat, but the Civil War regimental needs so much spiffing up, especially because I had so much trouble sewing it to fit him in a limited amount of time, that we decided to spif things up with all the regalia to camouflage costume problems. Even when properly fitted we don't like these regimentals at all.  Whoever designed them needed more fashion sense. The hat was the hat he made four years ago.)


Stimers was chief engineer of the USS Monitor, the infamous ironclad who battled the CSS Virginia (Merrimac) in the Battle of Hampton Roads. It was fascinating hearing the story of the history of ironclad back centuries before this! My son read an entire book on this (Monitor Chronicles, pictured above, and published by the Mariner's Museum)


The weekend we were at the Mariner's Museum (see paragraph on the CDs above) someone had given him a craft project which was basically tagboard paper punchouts to recreate the Monitor.  Here they are!


My son also showcased his bosun's whistle.


BUGLE CALL-RETREAT!  The Confederates are upon us!  Flee!  One of the congressmen was captured and taken prisoner to Richmond, the capital of the confederacy.

We returned to Washington DC (the family room) in great haste. Here we met General Daniel Butterfield. While he was encamped with his men near Williamsburg at Berkely Plantation, birthplace of President William Henry Harrison, he asked a bugler to help him change the tune of taps. We found lots of information from bugler Jari Villanueva who wrote the article linked above and in the podcast shared  below, that the original "Taps" did not meet with the approval of Butterfield, although Napoleon I apparently liked it the best of all the bugle calls.  Butterfield whistled a tune for the bugler to play, and together they composed "Taps" as we know it today. 


During the war it was common for the military to fire 3 volleys at the funeral of their fellow comrades.  However after the heat of one battle, the officer was concerned that the volleys would call the enemy back to battle, so instead of the volleys he asked the bugler to play the recently revised "Taps." That began the tradition of playing "Taps" at miliary funerals. Later the playing of "Taps" and the firing of 3 volleys became part of the traditional funeral service of a military member...a time honored tradition that continues not only today, but on Memorial Day as well. This is what Memorial Day is about, remembering those who gave their lives so we can have our freedoms as Americans today. For a great podcast, with a great bugler, former bugler of Arlington Cemetary, who plays on the audio portion both the supposed Napoleonic favorite and the one we know today, thanks to General Butterfield.

Another interesting story about the First Battle of Manassas, is the story of the McLean family whose house was hit by cannon during the battle. Legend tells that because of that, they moved away from the war, south, to Appomatox Courthouse...where Generals Lee and Grant signed the surrender papers in McLeans parlor!  According to the NPS though, the McLeans would have made the move regardless of the cannon ball hitting their house because of the economy.  Nevertheless it is a great story!


Although bugles played Ruffles and Flourishes for heads of state in Europe and for generals as early as the 18th century (it's in General von Steubon's manual) I read somewhere that it wasn't used for the president until the end of the 19th century for President McKinley.  Nevertheless we decided to use it for Lincoln, to tell his story which sadly ended in assassination.  Reformation for the south would have been greatly eased if Lincoln had lived.  "Malice towards none, charity toward all."


To mourn the death of the Great Emancipator.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Civil War Regimental and the British Sewing Bee

In a few hours the trousers were complete! I have one tiny mistake with the fly front.  I thought this left over right was wrong, which meant the buttonholes would be under the buttons, so I reversed it and had to snip a bit to make it lay nicely. Then I doing this did put the buttoholes on the bottom layer. ugh. I reversed it again, but now I have a bit of snipped frayed fabric at the very bottom. Otherwise it lays quite nicely, even when my son is wearing them. Also we fit these trousers to him with little trouble. I'm sure a professional tailor could do a better job, but the pants fit him so much better than the coat. These are a size XS and his waist is at least 4" smaller than the pattern.   All those breeches I've sewn I think has helped a lot with my fitting him!


In this picture I've opened the fly so you can see the buttons and button holes.  None of the buttons are authentic. My son chose from my button stash (I always snip off buttons from old garments that are going to be thrown away. Sometimes I'll buy a 25 cent garment at a yard sale or thrift shop if the buttons are great.)  He said we'll pretend the white ones are bone buttons. They are all he could find that match and weren't flowers.


While making these I did a quick google and found this site with information on Civil War trousers. The pattern had us make a split waistband, it splits in the back. That was done on the British Sewing Bee with their zipped fly front trousers too. One of the contestants did quite a bit of research, checking all the men's back waistbands to see this novelty!  Here it is too, except in the 21st century version it is sewn together, into one waistband, albeit with a seam in the center back. In the regimental trousers, the waistband is split in two parts and ties are used to cinch things up. This is done in 18th century breeches too. My son doesn't need this feature, he's so skinny, but I threw it in for accuracy sake.  The rest of the back is different from those at the site, since I had a different pattern. Also I have a stray thread to snip. 


Here's a link on everything you might want to know about Civil War trousers, whether Union or Confederate or civilian...throughout the course of the war.  There was a progression so that by the end of the war a soldier was happy to have anything. Then at the beginning the Confederates weren't organized with a standard regimental yet, since they had just formed their own nation. Lots of great information here.  

I hope the overall look will come together.  I am thrilled to have succeeded with one small skill and laughing that I'm already applying something from the British Sewing Bee!  Now to finish my gown!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

1860's Corset-Finis!

I have recently completed an 1860's corset, made from many layers of linen which I had leftover from making 18th century shirts and shifts.

In the mid-19th century manner, I did use a sewing machine.  I live near Washington DC, so in my interpretation of a senator's wife living in the federal city, a sewing machine usage is highly plausible I would think. I read lots of reenactor's forums and repeatedly I read that corsets of this era are not meant to squeeze you like Scarlett O'Hara and Mammy would make one think! Instead they help to shape the body into the hourglass shape, but not to the extreme of squeezing the body.

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For the outer layer I purchased some linen with a damask print.

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Then like many extant corsets with lace, I handsewed cotton lace from my stash to the edges. I already had a package of grommets in my stash, so no new purchase needed there.

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Friday, April 12, 2013

Colonial Williamsburg Video from 1936

A friend of mine posted this link to a 1936 movie of Colonial Williamsburg to her facebook wall yesterday. After my son and I watched through it, my friend and I had a bit of chit chat over the fun in it!  The setting is the newly restored historic area, complete with 1936 automobiles and fashions walking the street, as we see historic hostesses with super-wide hips (an earlier 18th century fashion than now portrayed) lead guests into the key buildings of Colonial Williamsburg.  Merchant Square looks completely different, as do the trees, but the historic sites themselves are like old friends, beckoning us to enter her halls of hallowed history of the beginnings of our country. If you've been dreaming of a visit and wondered what it would be like, or haven't been there in a while and are having with-drawal pains, then this movie clip is for you. If you've never heard of Colonial Williamsburg, you will be surprised by the tidbits of history you'll learn. As the movie opens we are reminded that this is the only town in America that can be visited today, as it was, over 200 years ago. Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Global Economy-Colonial Williamsburg EFT

Last month my kids and I got to watch the premier of the Colonial Williamsburg Electronic Field Trip, "The Global Economy."  A year ago my high school kids and I researched details of the 18th century British form of economics known as mercantilism in Colonial Williamsburg, not knowing that as we conducted our research, cute little puppet rats were popping in and out of hidden spots of the historic area as camera crews secretly shot their journey around the British global trade route of the 18th century to teach for this EFT.  With their witticisms and perkiness they make this complex topic quite easy for students as young as elementary age capable of  comprehending the very topic that caused many an adult CW interpreter begin to shake in their colonial shoes when we asked them last year, "What is mercantilism?"  Psst, the puppet rats will tell you without even a quiver of their whisker.

In fact, students of schools that subscribe to the EFTs got to e-mail one of the rats, Margarat Ratledge, the week of the live broadcast.  Also for the first time that I've ever seen in viewing EFTs, puppet rats got to help host the premier of the EFT broadcast, sharing many tidbits of knowledge with the students who were watching! How often does a student get to say, "I learned everything I needed to know about the complexities of mercantilism from a rat?"  Why not?  Rats, puppet rats in this case, were stow aways on ships for various reasons. (The EFT tells all.)  Through the travels of Maggie the Rat, we learn of the triangular trade route between Britain, Africa and the New World.

Basically raw materials were shipped to Britain where the factories were.  Finished goods were then shipped back to the colonies. The colonies could not trade with other countries.  This kept the colonies reliant on Britain and made Britain rich.  Monetary exchange wasn't quite handled in the same way as it is today. In Virginia tobacco was primarily grown which when taken to an agent, a tobacco note was given in exchange for the value of the goods.  The tobacco was then exported to England where it was processed.  Each colony did the same with the goods they specialized in. In writing this paragraph, I have been shaking in my own 21st century shoes hoping I got that right.  If this doesn't make much sense, and you are a homeschooler, then hurry over to Homeschool Buyer's Co-op to subscribe to the 2012-2013 series of EFTs.  They can be viewed 24/7 through the end of the summer.  What a great way to escape the summer heat than to relax in air conditioning, watch EFTs, play 2 computer games per EFT that teach the historical concepts, communicate on the message board moderated by the CW EFT crews' finest, and learn complex economical concepts with simplicity, ease and fun from puppet rats hiding from the humans aboard ship and at each port of call. (There are six other great EFTs to enjoy too!)

With the EFTs come teacher guides with background history, timelines, definitions, activities, games, reading lists, internet links, etc, etc, etc, appropriate for students as young as elementary school. I don't know anyone who is too old to learn from one of these EFTs.  One of the activities my son did was to look at a bunch of flash cards I had copied from the EFT packet. He had to first identify them.  With all his visits to Colonial Williamsburg, he still learned a few new things, and so did I.  Then he had to categorize which were imports and which were exports, and from which location the raw materials originated.

Then we looked at the primary sources that were in the EFT packet.  There were several, including quotes of 18th century people, even some we had studied.  We analyzed a tobacco note, planters' marks and an invoice of goods, all from the 18th century. We studied an exerpt from the Navigation Act of 1660, advertisements from the Virginia Gazette, courtesy of Mr. Purdie who prints the news. He can often be found around town, with a copy of the Virginia Gazette in his pocket. He's always discussing his paper with us, so of course we would find examples of mercantilism in his paper.  The entire colonial society was based on mercantilism.  Everyone's lives was entrenched in it in one way or another.  The EFT shows this with help from the puppet rats!

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Then the EFT links took us to deeper studies, learning various things.  For one we learned why the oft asked query in CW, "How much money would that be today?" is next to impossible to answer.  We also learned how account books were kept. Some things were bought on credit (in Virginia that was most often done with tobacco notes) or for trade or for ready money.  To understand how credit was kept, because one had to wait over a year for the tobacco crops to be harvested, proper accounting was essential. My son pretended to be a merchant who had to keep track of a waste book throughout a day of working with various customers, then at the end of the day he transcribed the information to individual ledger sheets for each customer.

There was a primary source document of a waste book and ledger from Benjamin Powell that we used as a model. 

My son wrapped up the lessons by making a map of the triangular trade route.

A great culminating activity, which we actually did the year before, was to recreate that route and walk through it ourselves with activity cards and actual objects that could be traded

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Studying the American Civil War...a James McPherson Unit!

With original intent to speed through our study of the American Civil War, the need for time to sew the costumes required slowing down the studies.  We whizzed through all the readings, allowing time for various field trips, extra studies and college research.

Our beginning weeks of study started slowly, as did the war from 1861-1863. We studied one week of 1861 and one week of 1862.  Then reflecting Grant's promotion over the Union forces and his relentness push to conquer and end the war, we completed 1863 to 1865 in one week. In between all that we took a week off to focus completely on "The Global Economy, " a fun Colonial Williamsburg Electronic Field Trip (post forthcoming).  Then that weekend my son focused on his literature book and the book that he requested for his extra research, listed below.

For each presidential unit we first read To the Best of My Ability, edited by James McPherson to get an overview of the influence of the president for the time of history we are studying. Each president has an essay written by a different historian. This time we were treated by McPherson's engaging synopsis of President Lincoln.

Then we started digging into our studies of the Civil War with a review of the Missouri Compromise, Dred Scott decision, Kansas-Nebraska Act and the Lincoln-Douglas Debates. I was thrilled to find interpreters portraying Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas, recreating each of the seven debates of 1858.  Here is a list of the debates.  Here is a map of where the debates were located.  Here are the reenactments of the debates at CSPAN.

I had fun pulling out our book for the actual study of the Civil War, Fields of Fury by....James McPherson!  It's a large picture book with lots of text. The major battles are featured along with key themes from the war.  On the left side of the book is the the text with boxes of interesting facts. On the right side of the page are beautiful renderings of the era, battle scenes and portraitures of famous people like Lee, Jackson and Grant.

Another book we've been reading is Civil War Williamsburg written by Carson Hudson, historian from Colonial Williamsburg. We've been to his fun and interesting lecture talk with slide presentation about the Civil War in the historic area, what we know now as Colonial Williamsburg (which wasn't built until the 1920's).  His book includes Civil War period photographs and renderings of buildings of the historic area. Like today, people back then kept up with the times by adding mid-19th century architecture to the 18th century buildings. Get the book and quiz yourself: can you recognize the buildings? The story of the Peninsular Campaign also unfolds, along with interesting anectdotes. Did you know George Armstrong Custer was there?

Yet another book requested by my son has been his extra research book, The Monitor Chronicles: One Sailor's Account, which was published by the Mariner's Museum in Newport News, about 20 miles from Williamsburg.  The Battle of Hampton Roads made way for the Peninsular Campaign, with the debut battle of the ironclads, the Monitor and the Merrimac...practically across the river from this museum.

For literature we read Uncle Tom's Cabin. Although published before the war in 1852, we were busy with Les Miserables during that study time. When I was in high school and college, the textbooks always mentioned that Uncle Tom's Cabin started the Civil War (attributed to President Lincoln)...yet no one had us read it. Not even my honors classes.  Therefore I have assigned it for our high school history reading for the Civil War unit.   I have much more to say about this incredible book. Stay tuned for a separate post.  My son finished the book a week ago and since then he's been working on a literary analysis (with argumentative thesis for there is no other way to do a literary analysis) of his choice on this book (using IEW's Windows to the World for a guide.) He is almost done with the paper.

Next week we start studyng Reconstruction with a book by...James McPherson! It's called Into the West and discusses all the programs supported by Lincoln and Johnson that were in full force after the war. Also Reconstruction is well-covered. Stay tuned!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Fireside Poets

For 19th century literature my son and I have recently studied the Fireside Poets whose work evoke images of comfort like the name suggests.  Personally I appreciate this unit after studying the heaviness in Romantic Era writing about death and eerie ideas.  Although that might still be subtly referenced, traditional rhythm and rhyme returns to poetry with the Fireside Poets, and that in itself brings a bit of comfort.  Their poems are easier to understand than many we've studied, though some might still require some deep thinking.  The Fireside Poets are the oft-quoted ones. Thus their poetry often has been memorized by school children. Did you memorize any of these?

I remember as a little girl, sitting with my colorful Childcraft poetry books that had once belonged to my mom, and sing-songing "Song of Hiawatha" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

My son recognized "The Wreck of the Hesperus" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow while we were listening to a poetry recitation in the movie version of Anne of Green Gables.

-"The Wreck of the Hesperus" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Now that certainly was a gloomy one. In fact we talked about how Anne Shirley is always talking about how this is Romantic or that is Romantic, and how her imagination gets the best of her in the woods.

How about this cheerful one, albeit with gloomy undertones! -"The Children's Hour" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

That one sounds gloomy but read the entirety of it at the link and enjoy the fun!  It reminds me of when my kids were wee ones!  When we used the A Beka English books, my daughter memorized many poems, mostly Longfellow and some Frost. "The Children's Hour" was one of them. This is a great poem, even with children, to discuss the literal in the first stanza, and the imagery of the next stanza.

Speaking of imagery, how about this sweet, poignant piece that struck my heart as my son read it, "The First Snowfall," by James Russell Lowell. (Have tissues ready.)

We are going to wrap up this unit next week, by using the following infamous poem as a bridge to the next unit, the Transcendentalists... -"Paul Revere's Ride" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

This poem was not written to be historically accurate, but to "moralize" (as partially characterizes Fireside Poets.)  Written in 1860, Longfellow's goal was to inspire unity and patriotism at a time of great uncertainty and upheaval. Longfellow wanted the public to remember America's past. Fort Sumter and Civil War erupted a few months later.

Many Transcendalist writers lived in Concord, the route of Paul Revere's Ride.  Another poem commemorates that, written by one of the Transcendalist  poets. Stay tuned for more on them.

Meanwhile it is time to sign off.  My computer has become quite poetic, don't you think?  Those indents under each of the first lines somehow kicked in and I have no idea how to fix it.  Think I'll let the Romanticness of it remain.  

Friday, April 5, 2013

A Civil War Era Chemise

Since I have enormously limited knowledge of draping, and due to my budget of economy, I chose the Simplicity Pattern #9769. (gasp)  My choice of this pattern was driven not only by the mere cost of $1 but also because they were designed by the acclaimed Martha McCain.  Much of my research brought me to reenactor forums where she was one of the ones they went to for historically accurate clothing.  Of course Simplicity then fudges on her designs for the modern seamstress (and thereby complicating things). I thought I'd compare my knowledge of 18th century shift sewing with that of my 19th century research.  What has changed inbetween the times?  Sewing machines, so I used one!  Cotton is king, so cotton was my choice of fabric.  I found side gores, which I found in the extant chemise above, and that matched the pattern at hand. Underarm gussets are in the pattern. so much is similar, apart from the scoop neckline out to the shoulders, a reflection of the mid-19th century fashion. There are times I have purchased "true" historic patterns which can cost $10-20 or more and still have much historically inaccuracy.

Also I tend to learn best by researching to my utmost, then diving in and giving it a go, even if I make some mistakes.  What I gain is a great familiarity with the construction attempts, causing my eye to pick up even more details in the extant garments next time I am around them. It improves my working vocabulary when talking to the experts, so that I can glean more than if I simply waited. Worst, if I wait, my kids will never have a history presentation to learn with. So I choose to learn from my mistakes, if there are any.  It's all a process and I hope to improve with each attempt.   

Without further ado, here is my chemise.

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I could not find lace that matched the extant version, but I like this a lot.

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And it is entirely possible that they eyelets of the original were handworked, which I could do and would love to do...someday.  It's definitely on my dream list.

Next I am attemping a corset.  Oh I hope I have it figured out correctly! Stay tuned...

Thursday, April 4, 2013

A Pink 18th Century Gown from the Colonial Williamsburg Mantua Makers

Watch this vodcast from Colonial Williamsburg to see the Mantua Makers reproduce an 18th century pink gown in one day! Part I at the link tells the story of the special import of the gorgeous reproducton fabric from England.

Part II of A Gown in a Day shows the draping process by a shop of mantua makers in one day.  They conclude by inviting all to meet the gown in person at Colonial Williamsburg, which I got to do on President's Day weekend!

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It's more beautiful in person. (sigh)

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Meeting with Lady Washington who had Queries for the Children

Last month, or two months ago (where has the time gone?) my son and I visited Colonial Williamsburg for President's Day weekend events.  One of the events was an audience with Lady Washington, who had recently moved to New York City because her husband had been elected President of the United States of America.

In the capacity of First Lady, Lady Washington had many quanderies, all of which she hoped the audience would advise her on.  It was her hope, as well as her husband's, to find the balance upon the fine line between practicality of normal living and the grandness of the presidency on the world stage.  In truth it was their innermost heart's desire to stay home at Mount Vernon and allow someone else the duty of the presidency. However General Washington had been unanimously elected, and even before that the Constitution was pretty much planned with the model of the ideal president after the stately gentleman whom everyone highly respected, General George Washington, who presided over the convention.  Washington, like Cincinnatus of the days of the Roman Empire, had always preferred home life.  Yet when duty called, he was up to the the French and Indian War, as a burgess, as commanding general of the Continental Forces in the American Revolution, as president of the Constitutional Convention, and now, though tired and willing to retire to Mount Vernon, his country called him once more to serve as the first president of the United States of America.

As president and first lady, the Washingtons, since they had to be there, would have liked to live a simple and quiet life in New York City. However duty needed a bit of grandness to hold the respect of the world as the young nation proved her worth.  How to balance grandness with simplicity? Where was the line to be drawn?  The Washingtons were the pace setters for the history of the American presidency.  They knew that whatever they did would not only be highly scrutinized for better or for worse by the people, but would also be looked upon as a model by future presidents. 

If they were too grand, they would be accused of being like the English monarch, King George, whom they had conquered in the war so America could be free and independent.  In fact they were criticized for having British leanings.  On the other hand, when they chose simplicity, they were criticized for undervaluing the status of the office of the presidency to the world, from whom America needed to gain respect. There was no pleasing everyone and the task became wearisome.  Lady Washington asked for advice.

Through Lady Washington's explanation of the issues at hand, and her specific examples of their choices in grandness versus simplicity, she often asked what she should do.  Part way through her conversation, the audience was able to ask questions about the experience and even to offer encouragement and advice.

Then Lady Washington shared the story of how her grandchildren were sorely missing Mount Vernon and were trying to fit in to life in an unfamiliar place of New York City in the unfamiliar situation of the presidential household.  This is where the children got involved, sharing their stories of things that helped them cope when they had to move to an unfamiliar location.

After the program I think there was even an opportunity for the children to write notes to Lady Washington, offering advice.  It was quite cute having the children so directly involved.  My son even had to share his two cents and most highly commended her on a job well done!