Friday, April 28, 2017

Georgian Shoes in Transition

After a five year search, I recently became the proud owner of a pair of charming and delicate Boston-made, Neoclassical slip-on shoes. The silk satin shoes feature embroidery at toe and are a good example of a ‘transitional’ shoe – moving from the earlier 18th century Rococo style with its focus on bold floral patterns, densely embellished silk brocades, often adorned with metallic threads or metallic lace and spangles, and a weighty French (or Louis) heel. Whereas shoes from the earlier Georgian time period featured long straps and were attached via buckles – which ranged from simple paste stones to actual gems—these shoes would have slipped on. A small, thin tie or string, runs through a narrow channel at the top of the shoe.
Note the buckle shoes with their straps, compared to the transitional Boston-made shoes
By the mid-1780s, politics in a post-Revolutionary age made an appearence in fashion circles, as light cotton and muslin dresses with high waists and columnar shapes held sway in the assemblies and drawings rooms, echoing the look of ancient Greece and Rome. The same visual language was present in shoes made between 1785-1790s– lighter color palette, limited ornament, smaller heels and an architectonic quality. By the close of the 18th century, flats will take precedence in Regency/Empire/Neoclassical fashion, a trend which will continue into the mid-19th century.

The cream silk satin shoes shown were made in Boston by P. Gull and feature chain stitch embroidery at the toes, with what was known as an Italian heel. 
They were photographed on site at the John Paul Jones House, Portsmouth Historical Society, February 2017.
A similar transitional shoe, courtesy

Saturday, April 15, 2017

A Pretty Paisley Print Ditty Bag

I recently purchased this charming late 19th century (or very early 20th century) work bag (also called a ditty bag). The intricate paisley-style, polished sateen cotton print was visually pleasing with its pinks, reds and greens. Each side features a pink silk taffeta bow and the same ribbon if used for hanging or carrying. Machine sewn, it is so lightweight that one can scarcely imagine carrying much in it at all. Perhaps it was used for light embroidery or for minor repairs. In addition to the large central compartment for holding mending, there are two small outer pockets (presumably for needles, pins, thread and a small pair of scissors) and one, slightly gathered, compartment, also on the exterior.

The textile itself is strikingly similar to a line of early c.1904 Liberty of London printed cottons and lawns, some of which are still produced today. See:

Hand sewing and mending were a necessity for many Victorian women, requiring a receptacle to keep sewing tools and notions at hand.  Some were made at home, some were mundane serving a functional purpose but others were made from costly fabrics and trimming or recycled from older textiles.
What is also of interest is that bags of similar dimensions and shape, though of sturdier materials, are also associated with men, particularly those in the maritime trade. This bag measures (from the top to the bottom) 17-1/2" long x 11-1/2" wide.

Teacher's Institute: Martha Washington and the Women of the 18th Century

I was fortunate to spend time with a talented group of educators for an immersive, residential teacher's institute at the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington at Mount Vernon. As the lead scholar for the program "Martha Washington and the Women of the 18th Century" I was asked to focus on how to engage students using material culture in the classroom.

If you would like information on the various programs offered, see

Below, a link to a short film capturing the week: