Sunday, April 28, 2013

Victorian Ensemble: Part 1

One of the things I love about working at Strawbery Banke museum, is the wide variety of history that I get to take advantage of. Last year I was an interpreter, a role-player, a museum teacher, and a demonstrator. All those are just titles, they do not cover the variety of time periods, stories, and themes I got to cover in just one year. I know I will have a ton of new adventures this year, a couple of which I’ve already started, even though the museum does not open until next week. The one I want to talk about today is the Victorian garden.

For the most part, the costumed role-players at SBM work inside one of the historical houses, but that is not the case with the Goodwin Roleplayer. The Goodwin mansion was moved to the grounds of the museum (unlike most of the houses which we built where they stand today) and when the house was brought in, the garden plans and diaries of Mrs. Goodwin were brought in too so the garden could be recreated. Today it is a full froofy Victorian confection, and as such it requires a lot of work. More work than two horticulturists with an entire museum to look after can accomplish. So the garden is also looked after by a roleplayer, usually playing Mrs. Goodwin in the later half of her life. I am not of an age to play Mrs. Goodwin, but she had grown daughters most of whom lived at home during various parts of their adult lives, and it is not inconceivable that they might have helped out in the garden.

I’m looking forward to spending some time outside both working in the garden, and roleplaying in the year 1870. Last year I roleplayed 1919 and 1777, this year I’m still doing both, but adding 1870 will be a particular challenge because I get to do more research and learn a lot more myself! So now I’m reading the book based on Mrs. Goodwin’s writings, and I’m looking at home manuals of the time, and I’m preparing my gardening clothes.

I admit, the clothes have been occupying much of my prep time. I have an Irish maid outfit that I made at various times, mostly many many years ago, but very little of it will transfer to the front of the house. I also cheat quite a bit on the underthings for the Irish maid, using a modern elastic-sided corset, and just about any skirt that will fit underneath as a petticoat. When I started the project I had two months to complete an outfit so I was determined to do it right, though most of that time was eaten up by my winter job and a fairly thorough overhaul of the sewing room.

Why am I making my own outfit and not having the museum provide me with one? First, because if the museum provided one it would not be ready until mid-June and I have to be in the garden on May 2nd. Second, while the museum would have paid me to make a dress, they were only willing to pay for the dress, and then they would have kept it. If I’m going to make the whole thing I’d like to own the dress that goes on top, and since I am not actually a professional level seamstress I am not confident enough in my own skills to have the museum own one of my pieces.

So there you have it, The first in an installment about my Victorian Ensemble. Stay tuned for further installments!


  1. Love Strawbery Banke, and I love Victorian clothing. I make my own, and people think I am crazy for wanting to dress like that. You can see mine at
    Happy sewing...and if you need some help, give me a call. :)

    1. You're in New Hampshire! I love finding folks that live near me, do you do any events etc.? Where do you wear the lovely outfits you make?