I recently visited Old Deerfield Village in Deerfield, Massachusetts. Their Helen Geier Flynt Center for Early New England Life is showcasing a textile collection to celebrate their 50th anniversary. I longed to see what they had on display. Although their website states they own over 8,000 pieces, I saw only a sampling in the gallery, which makes me promise to visit again soon and over and over again.
The space was impressive. The walls were paneled with period fabrics. The contemporary lighting did a remarkable job of highlighting the amazing hand stitching of the pieces. If you have ever wanted to see hand stitching up close, this was the place. I have never seen hand stitching this tiny. The stitches were nearly as close as the thread count.
Today’s dress is so shapeless by comparison. I remember the shape of ball gowns, of course, but I had not seen up close, hip wide petticoats, back bustles and real sleeves. Nowadays we have tube shapes hanging from shoulders. I would have come visit for the assortment of sleeves alone.
The details in each gown was impressive. They did so very much more with shape and line then we do today. I don’t think we allow society to garment themselves in much more then the standard hanging tube shape.
I am still in awe of this trim on the what I am titling, the-really-big-hips gown. I took this close up of it, so I could continue to study its details. Oh, someone had great imagination in staging as all the full mannequins had paper hair. I had never seen this done before and appreciated the shapes that it allowed them to create. I would take a paper hair dressing class.
The period of dress was very attentive to butt shape, especially. Petticoat making had to have been a very creative art form. It can affect everything and completely shape a garment. I remember when I did dressmaking that I was not able to hem a gown without the right petticoat in place. That not done, one never knew where the hem would land. We also created very deep hems that helped create the right drape of the skirt. It makes me miss making gowns.
Interspersed amongst the gowns, I found doll sized mannequins.
And wonderful for me, each doll mannequin had fabric hanging from the stand to feel. I appreciated this as any designer has roaming hands when it comes to fabric. You long to touch and feel.
One doll mannequin had a petticoat that demonstrated petticoat construction. Why do we not use this art form any longer? How fun could shaping be? What would petticoat shaping be in a modern, out-of-the-hanging-tube-garment world? How far could I take it? I will give that a proper think.
The only Apron I found was on a doll. It was in linen and offered fabric samples to touch. It’s surprising how soft the fabrics were back then and so tightly woven, much more so than I find today.
I plan to return, over and over again. There is another museum on the property that was closed for the season. I will be back for its seasonal opening. I want to see the other thousands of garments that they house.
Old Deerfield is best known for the several homes it owns in the village. They are open to tour in original condition. I had time to tour a few but one really needs at least a full day if not two to really take in what they have. It is an important museum as it holds time in place and offers us a chance to go back and take a walk through time.
I am going to watch for exhibit changes and I will be back. They are going on my visit list.
Learn about Old Deerfield Village.