Friday, September 26, 2014

Hidden Treasures

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.


  1. I love your post Hidden Treasures. The photos are great and the exhibition makes me swoon!! I think we would all like to know the name of the Historical Society, Exhibition and Town as well as where we can get information about it in case it is near by and would like to visit. Please let us know about this exhibition. And in the future share the information for us….just in case we too can go. Thank you.

  2. Jeannie, the exhibition is over now, hence the reason I did not mention where it was-which was Wilton, Connecticut and I know you weren't going to be there anytime soon! My idea behind this blog was more to encourage people to see what was hiding in their local historical society storage places. This has all gone back into storage-but at least I know it is there!

  3. I had the wonderful experience of working with the Wisconsin Historical Society a couple years ago. I wanted to plan a special day for my best friend (who is as passionate about heirloom sewing as me) as a thank-you for acting at the matron-of-honor at my wedding. Working with the curator, I was able to go online and select the garments we wanted to see (I focused on christening gowns and children's clothing from about 1880-1920). She pulled them all and we then spent a glorious afternoon examining each of the garments in detail. The curator said it was fun for her since the items are so rarely on display and she invited us back to select other items to view anytime. (We're thinking wedding gowns, tea gowns, and special occasion gowns this time.)