Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Road to Tara

In July 2010 I attended the American Sewing Guild Conference and Annual Meeting in Atlanta, GA. Wow, what a show! Almost 1,000 attended, and the teachers and presenters were among the best in the industry. Shirley Adams, from Indiana, a ground-breaker in the field of teaching on TV, was inducted into the Sewing Hall of Fame. Sadly she's retiring from the circuit, but I don't think we've heard the last from Shirley!

Many vendors come to Conference, showing off the latest and greatest in sewing tools. I picked up some shrinking thread, which actually helps to create puckers and tucks in fabric, making for interesting textures. I also bought some lovely wool, a few hand dyed horn buttons, and of course a couple of patterns and books.

A really special part of the trip was the tour I took on Monday to Jonesboro, GA. The site of a Civil War battle (or as the Sourherners say, the Recent Unpleasantness), there are many museums and memorials in Jonesboro. One is the Road to Tara Museum, dedicated to the film and book Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell. The other is a lovely Plantation called Stately Oaks.

At Stately Oaks in August, you can take the Victorian Mourning tour. The public rooms of the house are decked out for mourning as if there had been the death of a child in the family. The docents leading the tours area knowlegable in all phases of mourning in the Victorian era, which was approximatlely 1850-1905. After the regular tour, our group was treated to a southern style luncheon, and then a presentation from Miss Martha on 19th Century clothing construction. She is the acknowledged expert, helping to keep the Plantation's docents and re-enactors authentically garbed.

The dresses she made are made the same way a woman in 1864 would have done it. The seams are impecably finished inside and out. Bodices are lined, and 'underpinnings' protect them from touching the body. Believe me, if you took 30-40 hours of hand work to create a dress, you would not want it to be tossed into the washing machine! She showed us the inner construction techniques, and the hundreds of tiny Cartridge Pleats that gathered skirts and sleeves. Amazing work, considering the woman of the house would have done all this after her normal chores.
Underpinnings, and men's shirts
Had you lived in 1864, you would probably have had 3-4 dresses for every day and one for 'good' -- that is unless you were very wealthy and could hire a seamstress! But just like today, chances are your good dress would have been black.

I have a new appreciation for sewing machines, sergers and steam irons! Although I am making myself a vow to try to get more proficient in better seam finishes, so the insides of my garments look better, even if they never reach the stature of Miss Martha's work.

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