Not to be confused with the Great Benefit Street Curtain Kerfluffle of 2007, in which I averred in a lectured that the wealthy of Providence did, in fact, have not just shutters but also curtains, and was publicly challenged by irate docents. Sometimes I feel the need to remind them that John Brown did not in fact squat naked in a corner of a fireless room gnawing on a joint until Benjamin Franklin appeared with the gift of fire called down from the sky by a kite….why, yes, I do have some docent issues.
Way back in a warm sunny month I bought the Waverly curtains at Lowe’s in the cream color way, though both the black and the red were also tempting. Now the question is, what to make? Not that there aren’t plenty of other projects requiring my attention…but sometimes, you want to do something just because it’s fun.
“Fun” is a concept I have some trouble with. I am much better with work and responsibility and guilt. “Spontaneous” isn’t too bad (how do you think I end up in some of the situations I find myself in?) but simple “fun” can be tricky. So here I am with the spontaneously purchased curtains, and the need for a plan.
The plan has vacillated between “just for fun” dress and a fully documented dress. A “just for fun” dress would not have to be documented to 1770-1780 New England or 1790-1805 Rhode Island. How liberating! French dressing, here I come! Except…where and when would I get to wear my new creation? So I need not just a plan but a cunning plan.
Where to turn? I chose the Met, and here’s what I found.
Dress number 1, 1725-1750, British, embroidered linen. Has the right features (open, robings, cuffs) and the fabric could be plausibly mimicked with the print. Could be worn with a matching petticoat (need another curtain if I do that) or a red flannel petticoat. Would be super amazing with a crewel stomacher if I made myself do that. Could probably be worn to Rev War events if I felt a bit brazen. (She wore curtains at Battle Road?! My dear, the idea!)
Dress number 2, 18th century, French. Printed cotton. Actually a two-piece item, jacket or bodice and petticoat, this is probably 1790-1800. Dates are good for work and other places in Rhode Island. Problem? It’s French, and there’s no evidence that anything like this was worn in the U.S., much less in New England.
Dress number 3, mid-18th century, American, linen and cotton. The bodice closes edge-to-edge, the back is pleated, and the skirts open. Probably 1775-1785, trending later than 1775 judging by the closed front and the longer sleeves and the style of the cuff. Not OK for Rev War events. Just OK for events at work, but not ideal.
Dress number 4, ca. 1780, from the Scottish National Museums. I have been looking in the National Trust Collections online for an image of the gown that appears in Nancy Bradfield’s book (see below), but to no avail. (I do keep falling asleep at night, and while that doesn’t help, it may be that the dress has not been photographed.) The fun part of this dress is that I have some light-weight Ikea curtains to make a petticoat and kerchief out of. Also, my hair can get into the crazy hedgehog style practically on its own. But I can document this to Rhode Island 1780-1790?
See the dilemma? Maybe the thing to do is to make the fabric into a banyan for Mr S (that would be a little weird to see on a private soldier in von Steuben camp) and think again about the later styles.
Or maybe the thing to do is to lighten up a tiny bit and make a dress that’s just for fun.