Another teacher and I took a group of ten students to a Revolutionary War “civilian reenactment” at the Saratoga battlefield yesterday. The advertising had made it seem as if it would be a huge and exciting event. Instead, it was about fifty reenactors from all over New England gathering to show off their homemade period clothing. As the Revolution is my passion I was perfectly happy, but it must be said that the children, though polite, were considerably less enthralled by hand-sewn seams.
This woman, Ann Cooney, playing a rebel camp-follower, was particularly receptive to our questions. She had sewn all her clothes herself.
Here she’s showing us her shoes, wool stockings, white linen shift, and petticoat under her gown. She explained that she had to put her stockings and shoes on while wearing only her shift, because after she put on her stays (which are like the later corset) she couldn’t bend well enough to reach her feet.
Wasn’t she hot in all those layers, the children asked (the temperature would climb into the upper 80s). Not really, she explained, showing how she could tuck up the back of her gown in her apron tie for ventilation.
I asked about the straight pins holding her bodice together (buttons were not used in most of women’s clothing at the time) and about her stays. To the children’s amazement, Ann immediately began pulling pins out of the stomacher covering her chest…
and showed us all her stays. She had sewn them herself out of linen with rushes for stiffening.
She had hand-bound all the lacing eyelets.
I told Ann that stays were the one item of period clothing I wish I owned, because though over the course of my lifetime I have had the experience of wearing dresses, aprons, neck scarves, shoes, and stockings, I couldn’t quite imagine the feeling of stays.
This remark must have spread, as before we left the encampment, this woman flagged me down, pulled aside her fichu, and showed me her own hand-sewn stays.
I was smiling inside but also very grateful. Today a pair of handmade stays costs between $200-$800, so it’s not likely I’ll ever have the experience of wearing them.
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Five members of Lucy’s ski team arrived just after I got home from work. They stopped here for dinner and a bed overnight before a competition this morning. After coffee and breakfast at 6 AM, they left for the race. DH followed to watch the event and leaves for Chicago this afternoon.