Monday, August 12, 2019

A Child’s 18th Century Lace Stomacher

Carefully preserved in the collections of the Pilgrim Hall Museum in Plymouth, MA. is a diminutive stomacher (Accession #PHM111A). Made for a member of the Standish family, it is 8 inches long and 6 inches wide at the widest point. Triangular in shape, it is made of needle lace insets with a bobbin lace edge. Similar triangular shaped stomachers were an essential component of 18th century women’s dress, serving both to cover stays, and to embellish open robes or gowns. They were easily removable via quick stitching or straight pins.

This charming piece may have been owned by Hannah Standish between 1703-1774, although the maker and wearer are not known.

Many thanks to PHM Director, Donna Curtin, for her assistance.

For additional information, contact

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

A Textile Portrait in Purple and White, c. 1830

I am so taken with this elegant portrait of a fashionable sitter, c. 1830. I have a fragment only-- one section of the repeat. The original textile from the Cooper Hewitt (, shows two women set within decorative medallions. 
Seen from waist up, these portrait busts are carried out in purple and white cotton, with the engraving done on a plain weave. There is an emphasis on their delicate features, and the latest on-trend dresses, with their voluminous sleeves, and hairstyles for 1830. It would not be surprising if they were based on actual portraits or taken from contemporary fashion plates. I am hopeful a reader may be able to identify the source.
What is especially interesting about the fragment in my study collection, is that, unlike the extant example at the Cooper Hewitt, its was repurposed for a light weight quilt or coverlet as some slightly later time. Although somewhat faded likely due to exposure to light, the piece provides an opportunity to see the hand- quilting up close, and to peek at the cotton batting which is falling away. Underneath is left a ghost of the original portrait, gazing out from her cotton enclosure.

 For an example of the original textile, see:

Friday, June 21, 2019

Brocaded Silk Shoes: James Adams, London Shoemaker, 1770s

I viewed these elegant court pumps from the collection of the Pilgrim Hall Museum, in Plymouth, MA. ( on my summer research road trip in 2018. They are stunners. 
Vibrant, with high quality finish work, these c.1770s brocaded silk buckle shoes exhibit a high Italian heel, oval toe and pattern matched heels & toes. There is evidence of multiple buckle piercings on straps/lachets; they may have been wedding shoes. Note the snippet of the brocade placed on the underside of the upper portion of the tongue - a special visual 'pop' for the wearer.

One shoe features a paper label, identifying the shoemaker as James Adams at the ‘shoe warehouse,’ 224 High Street, Borough, London. Adams is mentioned in Wakefield’s Merchant and Tradesman’s General Directory for London from 1793. 
The accession number is 1373.3a,b

Thank you to curator Rebecca Griffin, and the staff of the Pilgrim Hall Museum for their kindly assistance.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Leverett Family Petticoat Returns to Colonial Williamsburg

The Leverett family quilted petticoat, reproduced from a pattern created by pricking the design onto muslin, has been returned to the makers at the Margaret Hunter Shop, Milliners and Mantuamakers at Colonial Williamsburg. 
The pricking was in the collection of Massachusetts Historical Society, along with a written description (left by a family member) which noted it was a pale blue silk with silk thread used for the quilting, which gave it the impression of light ‘tissue.’ The recreation of the petticoat was a collaborative project between the Massachusetts Historical Society and Colonial Williamsburg, and was created for display in the exhibit entitled Fashioning the New England Family, on view from October 2018-April 2019. 
Fashioning the New England Family,
Mannequins by Astrida Schaeffer
It is now safely in the hands of Mistress Whitacre, where it will be used for educational and interpretive purposes. It was entirely hand sewn by the milliners and mantua-makers.
For information on the project, see: 

For information on the exhibition, see:

For an interview with Jared Bowen of Open Studio on WGBH:

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

The Latest in Mourning Wear: Advice from Harper’s Bazar, 1901

“Crepe is more fashionable than ever” notes the November 1901 edition of Harper’s Bazar. “House gowns and dinner gowns made entirely of crepe and in the princesse style are exceedingly becoming, while there is permitted on crepe dinner gowns a trimming of the dull jet passementerie.”

Making reference to the fact that “all of England is in mourning” –Queen Victoria died on the 22ndof January, 1901 -- the author observed that it is no wonder that there was a plethora of choices of style and textiles available on the market. The writer also notes that after the first expenditure of the dress and appropriate accessories, it is possible to get along with “fewer gowns than when wearing colors.”

I recently found this volume of Harper's
in fine condition at the Avenue Victor Hugo Books in Lee, NH (May 2019).

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Mrs. Catherine Donovan, Dressmaker to the NYC Elite

Irish–born dressmaker to New York’s elite, Mrs. Catherine Donovan (1826?-1906), studied fashion in Paris. Donovan created her gowns in her fashionable shop and showroom in New York. By 1900, she was located on Madison Avenue. In addition to her designs, which were heavily influenced by French couturiers, she also sold gowns by Worth and Pingat. In her use of materials and her design idioms, she favored the historical references employed by her French contemporaries.

Numerous evening, and afternoon dresses, and ball gowns survive in North American museum collections, and they frequently come up in auctions as well. It is clear that Donovan was able to provide a wide variety of styles for her discriminating and affluent customers.

As noted by the Philadelphia Museum of Art
“After her death in 1906, Irish-born Catherine Donovan was described by the New York Times as "the pioneer dressmaker of the 400," for dressing New York's social elite known as the "400." She owned a building on Madison Avenue at 40th Street, where she sold imported gowns from leading Paris couturiers such as Charles Frederick Worth and Emile Pingat. At least once, her employees' baggage was seized at U.S. customs on suspicion of smuggling. It was common practice for seized goods to be auctioned publicly, and in 1893 over five hundred people attended an auction of Worth, Pingat, and other gowns seized from Donovan.”
This evening ensemble (bodice and skirt), c. 1885, looks to France for inspiration, as well as historical references from the 17thand 18thcentury. The ensemble features a flowered, striped pale blue silk moiré, pale blue silk satin, and ecru lace at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (

Here, a red and ivory checked cotton dress, complete with ivory cotton dickie, c. 1885 from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

A two-piece ball gown, c1890s, metallic silk brocade trimmed in cutwork velvet and cord, skirt pleated at center back, hem lined in lace. Courtesy, Whitaker Auctions (

Fortunately, her name and address is stamped on her petershams, providing an opportunity to trace her various locations from the 1880s through the early 1900s-- "Mrs. C. Donovan/315.5th Ave./N.Y.," "Mrs. C. Donovan/245 5th Ave./New York," or "Mrs. C Donovan & Co/280 Madison Ave./ New York."

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Spring in Rural New England During the Founding Era: General Montgomery's Store

General Montogmery’s Store, 24 March 1793, Haverhill, NH
 What was happening in the small court town of Haverhill, NH. on this day in 1793? 
         It was a Sunday, and there were no purchases at General Montgomery’s store that day. Most of the townspeople were attending the Congregational Church, where Reverend Ethan Smith was delivering his sermon. General Montgomery (1764-February 21, 1825) and his family were seated in pews on the first floor; his store clerks in the gallery. [1]
Montgomery's shop with 19th century additions 
         Reverend Smith had visited the General’s shop two days earlier day to purchase “1 chamberpot” and "1 sugar bowle."  In subsequent visits, Smith's acquisitions are, not surprisingly, modest, given his remuneration from the congregation who supported his work.  For example, on April 1st, he acquires items important to his ministry – paper and ink powder –  along with an ivory comb, for the sum of 2 shillings. [2]
General John Montgomery 
Even the wealthiest man in town, General Montgomery, would run afoul of the church leaders, for riding on the Sabbath, and was called upon to ask forgiveness.  Church records observed that: "Brother John Montgomery sent in a confession to be read in public for his transgression in riding on two occasions on the Lord's day, with humble acknowledgement of his sin which was accepted. "
Page from the 1793 Daybook, Courtesy, Haverhill Historical Society
         On the following day, the shop was open as usual, ready to supply the townspeople with nails, grains, textiles, leather, buttons, coffee, and spirits.

The material in this post is from my next book project.
1. General Montgomery’s 1825 Grafton County probate inventory records that he held one pew (No.4) in the South Meeting House, lower floor, valued at $30.00 and also one in the gallery (No. 25) valued at $4.00, most likely for his clerks or apprentices.
2Rev. Smith was installed as pastor on 25 January 1792 and his requested "dimission" was in 1799. While gathering many new families to the Church, Rev. Smith's tenure was not with its troubles. Indeed, he was considered to be relatively strict and unyielding in his expectations. 
The townspeople were taxed £40 for Rev. Smith’s ministry and some would not pay this tax, citing the fact that the church was catering to the Piermont side of the town, among other reasons.