Dressing for Display

By Melissa Cole, Curator

Mounting a historic dress can be challenging, even for the experienced dress curators and conservators.  Inappropriate handling is one of the main causes of damage to museum objects.  Handling should be kept to a minimum; the risk of damage occurring can be reduced by good preparation before, during, and after the historic dress has been mounted.

The condition and structure of the historic dress should be carefully analyzed to determine if it has any structural weaknesses, previous damage, or fragile surfaces.  The condition of the dress will inform how to safely display the piece, or even if it can be displayed at all.  Ensure to consider its stability against environmental conditions and mounts while on exhibit.

A properly dressed mannequin is important for both the visitor experience at a museum and the artefact/garment itself.   The correct style of mount should be chosen, whether it is two dimensional or three dimensional.  For our display at the Oshawa Museum, we have chosen three dimensional mounts using mannequins in various shapes and sizes to create the correct silhouette.  It is important to remember when working with mannequins and dressing historic garments that it is not the same as dressing a store mannequin.  At a store, the mannequin is automatically the correct silhouette and the garment is new and can withstand the stress and handling.

When mounting historic garments, a mannequin should be chosen that is significantly smaller than the garment.  First, carefully measure the garment and ensure to take the time to measure properly.  Measure the entire bodice of a garment, not just straight across the chest.  Carefully measure all the way across the inside of the garment, following the curve of any space created for the bust.

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Areas to measure on the mannequin and the historic dress.  The second photo indicates the measurement of the entire bodice, not just straight across.

 

Once the proper mannequin has been selected, it is time to start building out the mannequin so the historic dress is well supported throughout.  Supplies to build out mannequins include white cotton sheet, pantyhose, quilt batting, cotton twill tape, flexible fabric measuring tape, scissors, and straight pins.  A well-dressed mannequin should go unnoticed by visitors.  This means the visitor will focus on the historic dress itself and not on how it is displayed.  A poorly mounted mannequin can distract the visitor from focusing on the garment and its story.

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When simply placed on a mannequin, this 1860s dress is neither supported nor provides a true representation of its silhouette.

 

The final stage is to ensure the proper silhouette is created.  This primarily comes into consideration with women’s and children’s clothing during certain periods.   Through the addition of appropriate under structure, the garment will be fully supported.  This is completed through the use of petticoats (antique or reproduction) from different time periods, for example, small pillows for bustles, and fabric tulle or netting can be used to create a 1950s crinoline or a 1830s full skirt.

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By using petticoats to fill out the skirt and acid free tissue paper to stuff the sleeves, the garment presents a truer illustration of 1860s fashion.

 

Be sure to watch our social media channels for a glimpse behind the scenes in the upcoming weeks as we prepare for our upcoming exhibition, The Vintage Catwalk!

Image for OMA site

Getting Dressed, the Victorian Way!

By Jill Passmore, Visitor Experience Co-ordonator

We recently hosted some grade 2/3 students from a local school to participate in our Day in the Life of a Victorian Child program. This allows kids to experience some of the chores and learn some of the rules that applied to kids in the Victorian Era. This time we were able to change up the program with the implementation of three new activities.

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Patty lacing Jill into the corset

Now that we have our loom in the Henry house kitchen set up, the students were able to see how Lurenda and the girls turned fleece into yarn and then yarn into cloth. They also had an imaginary $20 to create an outfit from our reproduction 1901 Eaton’s catalogue and saw what it took to dress a Victorian lady.

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Pettycoat #2 being tied

Our in-house Costumer was on hand to dress me up in ten different layers of basic clothing – stockings, knickers, chemise, corset, corset cover, petticoat, overskirt, bustle, undersleeves and bodice and skit. If I were getting dressed to go out in the winter weather, there would have been more layers! I had so much fun doing this. It is definitely something we will be incorporating into more programs!

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Jill is ready in her Victorian finest

For more information about educational programs at the Oshawa Museum, please check out our Education Catalogue, or give us a call at the Museum (905-436-7624 x 106)!

Student Museum Musings: Making Ice Cream!

By Karen A., Summer Student

I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream! Who doesn’t love ice cream? That’s a silly question, since I’m pretty sure everyone enjoys some flavour of ice cream.  And since July is National Ice Cream Month, as recognized by The International Ice Cream Association, the museum has dusted off the ice cream maker in prep for Grandpa Henry’s picnic which features old fashioned ice cream making (and taste testing)!

The origins of ice cream date back to the second century B.C.E. although no specific date can be determined for when this tasty treat was invented. It is known that Alexander the Great enjoyed ice and snow flavoured with honey and nectar. Likewise, Roman Emperor Nero Claudius Caesar sent runners into the mountains to gather snow which he then flavoured with fruits and juice. England started making ice cream during the 16th century, along with the Italians and French. But it wasn’t until the mid-17th century that ice cream became available to the general public because of its expensive cost.

In the Victorian period ice cream was made by hand. With the use of wooden buckets which had hand cranks attached, the mixture was then combined together and frozen. It was difficult however as the Victorians didn’t have access to electric freezers or ice cream machines. A lot of the ice used to make the ice cream and to keep it cold, was collected from rivers and ponds in the winter time which was then stored in ice houses.

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Lauren & Karen using our Ice Cream maker!

At the museum we now have our own hand crank ice cream maker; fortunately it also comes with a motor attached so we are not stuck hand cranking all the ice cream. This ice cream maker allows us to show visitors how Victorians hand cranked their ice cream, but also lets us make enough ice cream for everyone without getting tired!

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Here are some recipes on how to make Victorian ice cream;

Lemon Fig Ice Cream
1 c. whipping cream
1 c. milk
1 egg, well beaten
Few grains salt
¾ c. sugar
1 c. chopped preserved figs, and juice
Juice 2 lemons

Combine eggs, sugar, salt, figs and juice, lemon juice, and milk. Pour into freezer. Partially freeze. Carefully fold in whipped cream. Continue freezing until firm. 8 servings.

 

Lemon Ice
2 c. water
1 c. sugar
Few grains salt
6 tbsp. lemon juice

Combine water, sugar, and salt. Heat to boiling. Boil 5 minutes. Cool. Add lemon juice. Freeze. 4 servings.

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Sources

http://www.idfa.org/news-views/media-kits/ice-cream/the-history-of-ice-cream

http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/pick-of-season/how-to-make-victorian-ice-cream/

The Host Files – Victorian Flower Language

This blog series comes from our dedicated and awesome Visitor Host staff, and topics range from favourite artifacts, thoughts on our latest exhibits, and anything else in between!

By Karen A., Visitor Host

The Victorian Era ushered in a time of proper etiquette among the upper class in England during Queen Victoria’s reign. Among the many rules and customs, there were expected behaviors that prohibited outright flirtations, questions, or scandalous relationships between two young lovers.

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The use of flowers to convey messages had been used in Persia and the Middle East, it was during the Victorian Era and the publication of flower dictionaries explaining the meaning of plants, flowers and herbs, that the tradition began to spread throughout England. Soon it became popular to use flowers to send secretive messages. Though often portrayed to relay positive messages of interest, affection and love, flowers could also send a negative message and at times, the same flower could have opposite meanings depending on how it was arranged or delivered.

There was even a “Floral Clock”, with each flower representing a different hour of the day. “Meet me tomorrow at five o’clock”, for example, could be said with a combination of pimpernel, buttercup, and sweet-pea. Through the language of flowers, Victorian sweethearts were able to exchange messages and arrange meetings under the noses of their unsuspecting parents!

Victorian Era etiquette was dictated by who was around to observe the behaviors and manners of others. There was a clear distinction between upper class, middle-class, and the poor. Proper etiquette often limited communications based on people of another social status, or of a different gender.

Even within the same social class, many topics were taboo and it was impolite or downright rude to ask openly about relationships. Flirtations did take place, but secretly and with attention to discretion. By today’s standards, much of Victorian etiquette seems overly complicated or foolish, but in fact much of it was based on simple good manners. Some customs have been passed along and continued to be followed today such as men removing their hats when indoors, showing respect to women by opening doors for them or bringing a hostess gift to parties.

Here are some examples of the Victorian flower language:

Lavender- Sad refusal. “I like you, but only as a friend.”
Purple Iris- Ardour. “My heart is aflame.”
Bulrush- Haste. “Be more discreet in future.”
Daffodil- Rebuttal. “I do not share your feelings.”
Daisy- Delay. “Await my answer in a few days.”
Fuchsia- Warning. “Take heed, your lover is false.”
Pimpernel- Meeting. “Suggest when and where to meet.”
Primrose- New Love. “I may learn to love you. It’s too soon to tell.”
Begonia – Warning. “We are being watched.”
Tulip- Confession. “With this flower I declare my love.

So the next time you receive a gift of flowers, pay close attention—they may be talking to you!

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From the Archival Collection of the Oshawa Museum

Where the Streets Get Their Names – Victoria and Albert

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

Every May, Canadians enjoy a long weekend, often regaled as the unofficial start to the summer. Colloquially known as the May 2-4 weekend, the holiday Monday is named Victoria Day, and on this date, we celebrate the birthday of Queen Victoria, the second longest British monarch¹ and the reigning Queen when Canada confederated in 1867.

Victoria was born in 1819 and became Queen in 1837 upon the death of her uncle William IV.  In her diary, she wrote:

I was awoke at 6 o’clock by Mamma, who told me the Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Conyngham were here and wished to see me. I got out of bed and went into my sitting-room (only in my dressing gown) and alone, and saw them. Lord Conyngham then acquainted me that my poor Uncle, the King, was no more, and had expired at 12 minutes past 2 this morning, and consequently that I am Queen.

She was married in 1840 to Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, who was her first cousin. They had nine children together, and currently her descendants occupy the thrones of Belgium,Denmark, Luxemburg, Norway, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.  Albert died in 1861, and his death devastated the Queen.  She would mourn him for the rest of her life.

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Queen Victoria

While Queen (and later Empress of India), the United Kingdom saw a period of industrial, cultural, political, scientific, and military change, and there was great expansion of the British Empire. The years of her reign are referred to as the Victorian Era.  She passed away in January of 1901.

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Detail from 1884 Fire Insurance Map, Victoria Street is circled

Victoria was honoured with a street in Oshawa, a short street between Bond and King.  It was closed to vehicular traffic in 2010 making it pedestrian friendly to the various students who attend classes at the Regent Theatre and the UOIT building at 55 Bond Street.

We cannot say for sure if the Queen was ‘amused’ by the closure or not…

Her husband, Albert, also has a street in Oshawa named for him, being Albert Street.  Albert Street lies east of Simcoe Street, with its north terminus at King Street and its south terminus just south of Bloor Street (connecting eventually with Simcoe as it traverses south-east towards the lake).

Happy Victoria Day from the Oshawa Museum!


 

¹ In September 2015, Queen Elizabeth II surpassed her great-great grandmother as the longest reigning  British monarch.  We looked at what was happening in Oshawa when Queen Elizabeth ascended to the throne in 1952.  You can read about that here.