Museum Exhibit Now Open

Fabricating Fashion: Female Enterprise in Connecticut, 1692-1865

Admission is $5.00 for the general public, FREE for Society members and children under the age of 12.

The new exhibition focuses on the accomplishments of women in the textile and clothing trades from 1692 thru 1865. Women were always at the center of textile manufacture, whether in the home or on the factory floor. The exhibit also reflects on Connecticut’s vital historical role in textile manufacture and some of the inventions that improved the process.

The first part of the exhibit explores the many steps involved in processing the four natural fibers – wool, linen, cotton and silk – and follows their transformation into fabric and ultimately into clothing. In the adjacent rooms, the production of woven material is illustrated. Various coloring techniques are part of the display showing examples of dyed and printed material. A recreated 19th century Draper’s Shop illustrates the wide variety of fabrics that were created. A full-sized floor loom is also available for an interactive opportunity.

The journey from fiber to fabric culminates with the creation of fashionable garments. A recreated 19th century Dressmaker’s Shop emphasizes dressmaking tools and technologies and portrays the lives of the women fabricators before and at the very beginning of the sewing machine era.

One on the processing vignettes.
Brown Pregnant Housecoat
House Gown, brown cotton print, c. 1840-1850. This style of dress that buttoned completely down the front was typically worn while working around the house, recuperating from an illness, or as a maternity outfit. It belonged to a member of the Storrs family of Mansfield.

Interspersed throughout the exhibition, a dozen garments are beautifully displayed on dress forms. The dresses and accessories range in date from the 1840s to 1860s and provide examples of textiles made of wool, cotton, linen and silk. Most belonged to local women.

The knitting industry also developed from this small rural area. Established in 1838, the stockinette mill in the village of Merrow was among the first in the nation. The mill thrived during the Civil War years producing thousands of pairs of woolen socks, mitts and underwear for the Union Army.  The majority of the mill employees were women and hand-finishing was also done by women doing piecework in their homes. Joseph Merrow’s invention of a “crochet machine” mechanized the finishing of knitwear. A number of his patents will be on display, along with other local patents rarely seen that demonstrate the Renaissance of creativity and invention in the 19th century.

Merrow Overlock Stitch Patent Drawing
The stockinette mill in Merrow, established in 1838.

Laura Crow and Shaina Dombrowik are the co-curators of this exhibit. Laura is a Professor Emerita of Costume History and Design with the UConn Department of Dramatic Arts and was the curator of last summer’s award-winning costume exhibit. Shaina has brought her perspective as a maker to this exhibit. She is a specialist in the creation of reproduction clothing, historic sewing techniques, and historic pattern making who has worked at Historic Deerfield, Plimoth Plantation and other museums in Massachusetts.

The museum is open on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, 1:30 – 4:30 p.m., through the end of September.

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