A New Year

I hope everyone has enjoyed a safe and happy holiday season!  I love the end of the year, it offers everyone a chance to reflect on the past 12 months and start the next year with a fresh perspective!  William Penn’s dream for his new colony was all about living a fulfilled and worthwhile life, and it’s never too late to make a difference.

We have featured some amazing articles this past year on so many different issues and people, and gathered a wonderful following for the blog!  I’d like to send out a big THANK-YOU to the staff and interns who have contributed articles this past year.  I think we have created a very special resource for our volunteers and anyone with an interest in 17th-century history!!

But this is not meant to be a one-way street – we invite your comments, questions, and discussion!  Also if there are any topics you find fascinating and would like to learn more about, please feel free to comment on this post and we’ll try to address it in the coming months!

I wish all Pennsbury’s wonderful volunteers a very happy New Year!

Written by Hannah Howard, Volunteer Coordinator

Confessions of a Costumier: Dress Warmly

Those that participated in Pennsbury Manor’s annual Holly Nights last week may have noticed a larger selection of winter wear for costumed interpreters.  That’s because our Sewing & Mending Society has been working hard the past couple months to create more cloaks, capes, and mitts for our clothing collection!  After last year’s bitterly cold event, we wanted to ensure that all our volunteers were as warm as possible. 

So I’d like to offer a little background on the 17th-century cloak and all the research that went into our reproductions!

Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute
As with all clothing research, we use two main sources to find out how clothing was made and used.  They are both “primary” – meaning that they come directly from the period in history, rather than someone else’s later perspective on that period.  The first is 17th-century artifacts: garments that have survived from the time.  Often these are nicer, upper-class pieces, since they are made from valuable fabric that was inherited by descendents.  The early 18th-century piece seen above and below is from Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute, which has a wonderful online collection of artifact images (the database can be found here).
Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute. Notice the seaming on the bottom edge, seen above - fabric was typically cut in a half-circle or crescent shape, depending on how full they wanted to make the cloak. But if the fabric was not long enough, the remaining scraps could be sewn onto the sides to finish off the arc. Notice the way the back closure has been sewn into place, a variation on the styles seen below. Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Confessions of a Costumier: Clothing Diversity

It is so easy to get caught up in creating the ULTIMATE historical ensemble.  We worry about perfecting every detail, down to the smallest buttons and buckles. When costumiers get so caught up in recreating one outfit, it’s easy to forget just how diverse the clothing options actually were!  We can’t just recreate one look (as we have done here) and think it will work for all people of all levels in society.  Think about the modern world – we can tell a lot about a person’s job or life based on their clothing.  Business men and women dress differently than artists or plumbers or teachers or politicians or… well, you get the picture. 

So it’s our job as historians to research how those same clothing differences played out 300 years ago.  We are developing job-specific costumes for the staff and volunteer interpreters recreating circa 1700 Pennsbury Manor, and working to increase our clothing collection with enough sizes to outfit everyone in the garments they need.  Over the next few months, I’ll be posting in-depth tutorials for the different ensembles, but in the meantime I wanted to give you a sneak peak at our work…. enjoy!!

LEFT TO RIGHT: Gardener/Stablehand (Summer); Basic Tradesmen/Estate Worker or Gardener/Stablehand (Winter); Supervising Tradesmen or Estate Caretakers/Visiting Businessmen
LEFT TO RIGHT: Gardener/Stablehand/Cook (Extreme Heat Only - Otherwise with Short Gown worn also); Basic Craftswomen/Estate Workers; House Caretakers/Visiting Women

by Hannah Howard, Volunteer Coordinator

Confessions of a Costumier: Ladies’ Dressing Guide!

Many of you may not realize how much time and research goes into crafting the historical outfits worn by our Pennsbury Manor Interpreters.  These reproductions are all based on original artifacts, paintings, and sketches in order to honor the people whose stories we tell.  It’s a constant evolution, but we are working very hard to make sure each item (down to your pins and socks!) are as close as we can get to 17th-century originals. In many cases, we try to copy the same styles and silhouettes as real 17th-century people, as we have done here with this 1687 London strawberry seller:


Continue reading “Confessions of a Costumier: Ladies’ Dressing Guide!”

Confessions of a Costumier: Please STAY!

I just read a great article from the blog Two Nerdy History Girls that I just had to share.  This is an interesting (and usually well-researched) blog written by a couple historical fiction writers, and it’s always a good read for those who enjoy learning about historical clothing and lifestyle.
The article that inspired me to post is on 18th-century ladies’ stays and how to lace them.  Follow this link to see their article, which features images of a Colonial Williamsburg interpreter putting on her own stays!  For anyone who has tried wearing REAL stays (not those torturous Victorian corsets), getting into them is the most difficult part.  But once you’ve done it a few times, it gets much easier and FASTER – I’m speaking from my own recent experience!! 
The images above and below are of my first attempt to make stays using a pattern from Reconstructing History.  They are definitely amateur, full boned with a mixture of metal and reed pieces.  I also made slight changes to the pattern, and we are working on resolving But they work and have held up admirably, and if someone who had been sewing for less than 6 months could do this, ANYONE CAN. 
Trust me ladies, the time spent getting into your stays is worth it for two reasons: 1) in my opinion, they are actually comfortable and give some great back support, and 2) it completely CHANGES how you look and move in your period clothing.  I will offer up myself on the altar of the Guinea Pig.  Check these shots of me in my modern “foundation garments” and then with my circa 1700 Stays…
See the difference!  It changes your silhouette completely!!  In my stays, suddenly the gowns that WERE hard to find in my size and felt  awkward to wear became the right size and a good fit!  I can’t encourage you enough to try them. You will notice a difference in how you feel, how you walk, stand, sit… and the visitor will notice too.
Pennsbury is starting to make our own stays and will slowly be increasing our collection.  They will be partly-boned with bendable reeds, so that interpreter and craft demonstrators will have the flexibility they need to move and work.  In fact, we will eventually have enough for all female volunteers to be able to wear stays!  Our standards for researched authenticity have always been high, and we’re working hard and taking our clothing program to the next level.   You all work so hard to learn your informative talks and trade skills… our clothing volunteers want you to know you’re dressed in well-researched and well-made reproductions!!  
Stay tuned for more posts on stays and other new clothing items in the collection!
Written by Hannah Howard, Volunteer Coordinator!

A Ground-Breaking Program

Volunteer Sue Crook works on her sewing project

Our group of period clothing volunteers had such an AMAZING, productive sewing day this weekend.  I was inspired to commend everyone and point out the value of their hard work.

Pennsbury Manor's collection of ladies' chemises

Some volunteers may have noticed a few new things popping up in the clothing room, especially the men who have never had REAL authentic waistcoats to wear until recently!  But I bet no one really understands how much hard work is happening behind the scenes to make that happen and how important this work actually is. So I thought I’d share an update on where we are in the wide world of historical interpretation. 

Over the last year, I have been researching circa 1700 clothing styles, construction, techniques, fabric, etc. This quest has led me on a nation-wide search for other historic clothing programs and find out who else is using the same time period and clothing styles.  It’s not a time period much discussed at historic sites and museums, which means places to buy clothing or patterns is very slim.  It would be so helpful if we could work together in sharing resources, patterns, and tips right??  Well guess how many I found???  ZERO.
Olivia D'Alessio getting dressed for Holly Nights

That’s right.  I have not found a single historic site that interprets the turn of the 18th Century AND has a clothing collection they use regularly.   

That means Pennsbury Manor is THE ONLY PROGRAM IN THE COUNTRY that studies and makes clothing for this critical period in our nation’s development. Am I the only one who thinks this is astonishing???

We always knew Pennsbury had a very special story to tell, but I never thought it was such a unique and important place within the diaspora of North American museums and historic sites.  A couple programs I’ve found have begun to consider moving beyond just a couple interpreter costumes used on special occasions, but are still in their early stages. 

Interpreters at Hampton Court Palace (image found on Flickr via google image search)

In fact, the only program I have discovered with regular-use, circa-1700 clothing seems to be at England’s Hampton Court Palace, where interpreters are outfited in the style of courtiers to interpret William & Mary’s Apartments.  These garments looks beautiful and were custom-made by a British historical costumer (http://www.thestaymaker.co.uk/index.php), but they seem to only include upper-class styles, certainly far too ornate for most American colonists. 

Interpreter at Hampton Court Palace (image found at http://www.annandave.org/Male%20guard.JPG)

I really hope I am proven wrong and find another program that focuses on this amazing period in America’s story.  But at this moment, Pennsbury remains an even more treasured corner of this country’s historic sites and will continue to break ground in its standards of interpretive excellence.  The clothing volunteers are hitting their stride and have some wonderful garments in the works – I look forward to sharing with everyone our progress and giving you the best possible tools for interpretation. 

Charlie Thomforde interprets cider-making for school children


Written by Hannah Howard, Volunteer Coordinator

I Have to Wear What??

I just discovered a great online resource called American Centuries that I just had to share!  This website, which can be found at this address: http://americancenturies.mass.edu/home.html, was developed by Memorial Hall Museum in Deerfield, Massachusetts.  It’s main content looks at the turn-of-the-centuries in American History – 1700, 1800, and 1900 – and examines the people, politics, and daily life.  It includes some great content videos, activities, and even online collections to browse. 

I’ll let you explore on your own, but I want to highlight a GREAT interactive feature!  They have a fantastic “Dress Up” area where you can explore the different layers of clothing for women: http://americancenturies.mass.edu/activities/dressup/1700_woman.html AND for men: http://americancenturies.mass.edu/activities/dressup/1700_man.html

These are very good examples of early 18th century dress, and very close to how we try to dress at Pennsbury Manor.  To learn about a garment or accessory, simply roll your mouse over the object until it highlights – a text box should appear and an audio voice will also read the text aloud.  Have fun learning and feel free to discuss in the comments section below!!

Changing Perspectives

Staff have been really busy working on our new Interpretive Guide which will include a fantastic new layout.  We are also going to include some great content on the 20th century perspective that was such a huge influence on the way they did the Reconstruction.  Sometimes we forget that “History” is not made of unchanging facts and certainties.  History is our PERSPECTIVE of what happened before! 

While thinking about how we can talk about this evolution with visitors, I stumbled onto this amazing timeline by Colonial Williamsburg’s Costume Design Center, which celebrated their 75th anniversary last year!  They have developed this website feature that goes through their program and the changes that have happened since they started in 1934. 


It includes some fantastic images you can click to enlarge, and really highlights how our knowledge and accuracy has improved since we started interpreting historic sites like Pennsbury!  Enjoy!

Period Clothing

The Wm Penn Sewing & Mending Society will be holding its first session in the Crozier House this Saturday, August 21 from 10am-2pm!  We hope that this will be only the beginning of a fun and productive program at Pennsbury, and there is room for anyone willing to help out.  We need beginners and experienced sewers and anyone willing to learn how to make lucette string, so please join us and lend a hand! 


As a special treat, I am including this link to an interactive game by Colonial Williamsburg!  It’s based on clothing from 75 years after Pennsbury’s time period, but it’s similar in many ways and you can see how clothing evolved between Penn and the Revolution.  Have fun!

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