Have you ever visited your local historical society? Maybe you have been on a school trip or been to a reenactment of a local civil war battle, but have you ever wondered what they might have hidden away in their collections?
I recently visited an historical society in a nearby town because they held an exhibition entitled ’White Linen and Lace: Baby Clothing from 1800-1950’, selections from the permanent collection. The items, ranging from christening gowns to under shirts; bibs and bonnets to knitted socks and were beautifully arranged in a small room used for temporary exhibits.
Pintucked and feather stitched bonnet
Usually the items are hidden away in a storage room, along with many other pieces of local history. So where did the ‘collection’ come from? Well, the usual story as pieces came from local families who when a family member died, found grannies christening gown wrapped up in a trunk in the attic and no one in the family had use for it, so –oh yes, let’s give it to the historical society! The historical society then catalogued the items and noted the name of the donor, any known history and off into storage it goes with the many other items no one knows what to do with.
Sometimes, as in the case of the exhibit I visited, someone decides to use some of the items and showcase a piece of local history, but many times the pieces are just stored and often forgotten about. Maybe you could visit your local historical society and make enquiries as to what they might have in storage? You might find some beautiful pieces and encourage them to hold a display. They may not have as many christening gowns or heirloom pieces as the exhibit I visited, but I am sure that there are other textiles of interest, such as ladies gowns, quilts, bed linens etc. that would make an interesting display. You might find that they just need a little encouragement from a member of the public and the idea that others would like to see these pieces.
If the historical society holds an exhibition, you could offer to have a Smock in Public Day to coincide with the event and maybe even offer to hold a learn to smock class. Even if they do not want to set up an exhibit, maybe they would let your chapter visit and view their collections? A great chapter programme and field trip! It is a great chance to see some wonderful heirloom techniques up close and get some inspiration for your own projects. The exhibit I viewed even had a copy of a magazine with some of the embroidery designs that were used on one of the gowns on display.
The designs in these books were stitched on the gown in the previous closeup
So, ladies, don’t just walk or drive by the building that contains your town/local history items and dismiss it as dull and boring, pop in and make a few enquiries as you never know what hidden treasures they may have!
This gown was stitched by the baby's grandmother sometime between 1870 and 1900.