Thursday, January 30, 2014

"Goods to America" The Hose Family Exports Shoes From London, c.1730-1798

Mary Rand's 1773 London wedding shoes
"Jno. Hose & Son"
Courtesy, Connecticut Historical Society

Published in the Portsmouth Athenaeum Journal 2013
"Goods to America" 
The Hose Family Exports Shoes, c. 1730-1798.

Article begins on page 30
Link here

Friday, January 24, 2014

Shoes and The Enduring Flame Stitch

The bargello or flame stich was an important embroidery style throughout the later 17th century and into the 18th.  Indeed, you will still see “flame stitch” popping up on contemporary fashions, such as Missoni shoes and boots. Frequently associated with accessories such as pocketbooks and purses, its appearance on shoes provides a wonderful geometric burst of colors. 

These early 18th century British lachet shoes (c.1700-1729) rely on a bright palette and the thick metallic braid along the vamp to catch the eye, as opposed to the shine of silk brocades or damasks. The flame stitched pattern is of a common "zig zag". Note the Louis heel is also covered with matching needlework, rather than contrasting leather. With a length of 8.5 inches or 21.6 cm., they are roughly a woman’s size 5 (USA), size 3 (UK) or 35-36 (EUR) by today's conversion. (Metropolitan Museum of Art, Acc.# 2009.300.1411)

I find something wonderfully creative about this pair of wool, linen and silk British shoes from c. 1750–69, made a few decades later than the ones pictured above. They demonstrate the persistence of the popular flame stitch, although the pattern is quite complex. It is somewhat disconcerting to have the heavier, textured flame stitched upper contrasted with the smoothness and delicacy of the printed silk covered heel. They run counter to what we think of as the harmony and balance of Georgian shoes - which is probably why I have always admired them. (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

An observation on shoe size:

These are especially diminutive shoes: at 7.5 inches in length, they would be a child’s size 13 (USA), or size 12 (UK). This translates to the size of a 7-8 year-old child.

Missoni Flame Stich Slipper

Kimberly Alexander, Ph.D.
Department of History
University of New Hampshire

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Vintage Inspirations in Irish Lace, Sheelin Lace Shop

Winter whites. Wedding whites. Frothy, lacy loveliness. Vintage inspirations. 
I recently made a virtual visit to Rosemary Cathcart's Sheelin Lace Shop and Museum. This was a delightful distraction from the gray landscape outside my studio window.

The Sheelin Lace Shop and Museum is filled with all those wonderful items you wish your grannies and great grannies had kept safely in attic trunks. The proprietor has Irish lace items and other vintage textiles and clothing. Antique wedding dresses, wedding veils, shawls, collars, bonnets, christening gowns, 1920s dresses, feather fans and headpieces are available for purchase. 
d Carrickmacross - with all the lace dating from 1850 to 1920s.

If you are planning a special event, this looks like a rewarding visit, whether in person or on the web.

All images, Rosemary Cathcart
For more information, contact Rosemary Cathcart 
+44(0)2866 348052

Clothing May Make the Man, but He Governs the Rules

Collected posts on men's wear by guest blogger, Jeffrey Hopper.
Summer surtouts, men's panniers, commissioning a kilt, how to lose a sporran, leaving behind your sword and other tantalizing glimpses into the past and present of men's fashions and accessories.

Jeff is a museum professional, editor and author. 

Find posts HERE.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Perspective: The Public Face of Future Beauty, Peabody Essex Museum

Junya Watanabe for Junya Watanabe Comme des Garçons, Autumn/Winter 2000-01.
Collection of the Kyoto Costume Institute.
Photo by Takashi Hatakeyama.
On view at
I recently had the opportunity for a special tour of "Future Beauty" with Director of Merchandising at the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM), Lynne Francis-Lunn.  Chances are you have read the laudatory reviews and in-depth analysis of the exhibition in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and the Boston Globe. Organized by the Kyoto Costume Institute and the Barbican Art Gallery, the PEM is the only North American venue for this evocative and inspirational show. If you can plan a visit to New England and PEM before the exhibit closes on 26 January 2014, your efforts will be well-rewarded.

"The fashion designers featured in this exhibition are remarkable for their daring visions, bold wit and incisive creativity," said Lynda Roscoe Hartigan, PEM's James B. and Mary Lou Hawkes Chief Curator and the exhibition's coordinating curator. "Through their designs we are exposed to alternate  definitions of beauty, new ways of considering the human form and insight into some of the most provocative artistic minds working today."

As a museum professional and fashion historian, I found many subtle additions by the PEM curatorial and  education staff to be especially beneficial to those who might otherwise have felt some level of intimidation through the unfamiliarity of the fashion concepts in display. Indeed, these additions help underscore Hartigan's comment "… ways of considering the human form and insight into some of the most provocative artistic minds working today.

A rack of clothes by several of the designers featured in the exhibition is located in the gallery, so visitors can try on garments and get of feel for textures and fabrics, and take note of the construction and other details. I was particularly interested in a jacket that is "reversible" but not from inside out, but rather from top to bottom. Worn one way, the black jacket has a diminutive "peplum" while worn the other way, it is neatly cropped at the waist. A simple but brilliant experience. Adjacent to the clothing is a mannequin with a bright red Issey Miyake "Pleats Please" infinity scarf. Viewers are invited to try on this dynamic silky accessory, providing an entirely different tactile experience than simply viewing it at distance.

Image (above): Lynne deftly demonstrated techniques for donning one of Issey Miyake's "Pleats Please" infinity scarves. (Limited quantities available at  the PEM shop; for further information.) 

The large format videos of runway shows are absolutely mesmerizing, and familiar to both the fashion savvy as well as a general audience. As visitors make their way through the ample and well lit gallery, each garment takes on its own sculptural personality. And yet, despite the innovative materials and garment construction, one will recognize bustles, evening wear, cloaks and other historically familiar elements. It is a highly accessible exhibit and installation. I am returning this week.

"Not what has been seen before - not what has been repeated, instead new discoveries that look to the future" -- Rei Kawakubo

Kimberly Alexander, Ph.D.

Adjunct Faculty
History Department
University of New Hampshire

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Victorian Embellishments Exhibition Travels to New England Quilt Museum, January 2014

Installation view, University of New Hampshire Museum
Photograph, courtesy, Lisa Nugent
Thirteen Victorian dresses from the Irma Bowen Textile Collection at the University of New Hampshire, will be on view at the New England Quilt Museum in Lowell, MA from January 22-March 22, 2014. There will be a gallery talk and full day technique workshop on February 8th as well. Click the "programs" link the at the bottom of the museum's exhibition announcement for more information:

For information on Astrida Schaeffer and SchaefferArts or to purchase "Embellishments: Constructing Victorian Detail, see:

If you were not able to view the exhibition at the University of New Hampshire, now is your opportunity!

Gown of Midnight Blue Velvet, 1890s
University of New Hampshire Museum
Photograph, courtesy, Brian Smestad

Monday, January 6, 2014

A Winter Supper with Dorothy Hancock's Plain Yeast Rolls

Dorothy Quincy (Hancock), c. 1772
John Singleton Copley
Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Dorothy (Dolly) Hancock (1747-1830) was a gracious and tireless hostess, a key position in the strategic operations of any political household past or present. Currently researching a post on Mrs. Hancock's fashionable ensembles, I was sidetracked by wintery cold weather. Mulling over what it must have been like to entertain in the "Hancock Mansion" on Beacon Hill, Boston, during the heady times following the American Revolution, I came across a recipe for her plain yeast rolls. It was adapted by Robert Pelton in his 2004 publication "Baking Recipes of Our Founding Fathers." I appreciate the many learned and skilled hearth cooks and culinary historians, who recreate the food of our ancestors through scholarly research, and care. I am merely a dabbler and I make no pretense of detailed knowledge in this arena  This post is simply about connecting food with historic events, places and people - and to try something new today. 
The Hancock "Mansion" in snow, c. 1860 (Demolished 1863)
Courtesy, The Trustees of the Boston Public Library
Contemporary accounts noted that theIt was noted prior to demolition that the west wing was used for the kitchen and other domestic functions. 
Some of my favorite observations regarding the couple's entertaining -- a harried, overworked cook on the verge of collapse, an unexpected dinner for several hundred French visitors, which required Mrs. Hancock to declare all the cows grazing on the Common be milked -- were made in 1854 by William Sumner (from his conversations with Mrs. Hancock) and appear in J.L. Bell's article "Dorothy Hancock: Political Hostess" (

I am making a roast chicken with root vegetables tonight and, time permitting, plan to try out her recipe for rolls. Will let you know if there is approbation around the table.

Dorothy Hancock's Plain Yeast Rolls
4 cups milk, warm
¼ cup yeast
5 cups flour
1 egg, well beaten
2 Tbsp butter
1 tsp salt
1 Tbsp sugar
½ tsp baking soda
Flour to suit

Make sponge by blending milk, yeast and flour in large wooden mixing bowl. Cover bowl with thick towel or cloth. Set aside in warm place to rise. When light (risen), stir in beaten egg, melted butter, salt and sugar. Dissolve baking soda in a little hot water and add while stirring. Put in sufficient flour to make soft, pliable dough. Cover as before and set in warm place to rise for about 4 or 5 hours.

Roll these out to ½" cakes. Fold cakes, not quite in center, like turnovers. Or simply shape with hands into balls. Set cakes or balls close together on shallow, buttered pan. Cover once again and set aside in warm place. Let dough rise a third time for about one hour.

When risen, cut deeply across top of each roll with sharp knife. Put into quick oven (425 degrees). Bake about thirty minutes or until tops of rolls are lightly browned.

SOURCE: "Baking Recipes Of Our Founding Fathers" By Robert W. Pelton accessed online at:

Saturday, January 4, 2014

"My wedding bonnet, October 23, 1878" - Paris, New York, Boston, Portsmouth

While chief curator at Strawbery Banke Museum in Portsmouth, NH, I worked with some very special collections, including the historic garment and textile collection. Certain objects linger with you over time as has this especially noteworthy hat and hatbox. In the bride’s own hand, a label found inside the original hatbox notes "My wedding bonnet, October 23, 1878."
Photographed by Ellen McDermott (
this beauty offers abundant and complex views and textures. The bonnet was worn by Celia Amanda Elsie Fall Hussey (1855-1944) of Great Falls, NH and was donated by her granddaughter to Strawbery Banke (

The bonnet is of white or cream felt, attached to a buckram base. The pointed crown features a large bow of cream brocade, highlighted by a maroon, pink and green brocaded floral motif. Eye catching white ostrich feathers crest the bonnet. A brim of maroon velvet encircles the composition. Matching ribbon streamers are affixed to each side. Overall, the condition is good although the feathers are somewhat fragile.

Imported from France ca. 1875-1878, this wedding accessory indicates the savvy fashion sense of New Hampshire brides. Imported from the French millinery and retail shop of Joaquin & Cie. 277 Rue Saint Denis, to New York (58 West 14th Street) and then to Boston (32 Temple Place) and then purchased either through a Boston or Portsmouth shop. Clearly, the acquisition of the bonnet played an important role in the day of this bride. Not everyone can carry off such a piece, which no doubt it caused a few heads to turn and nod with appreciation.

Photographs, courtesy Ellen McDermott, 2010.