Wednesday, June 23, 2010

morrow's world

Have you ever given any thought as to what you would have been doing as a woman in the 18th-century? Most women were stay-at-home moms even then - homeschooling their children and taking care of their often big families. Few women owned businesses. For the most part, colonial law prevented women from being independent though they were able to work as seamstresses and own millinery shops. There were quite a few poets, artists, and writers among them but they used male pseudonyms for the most part or stayed anonymous.

I made Morrow a seamstress in Courting Morrow Little because it suited her personality just as much as Lael was unsuited to be a teacher in The Frontiersman's Daughter. Elfreth's Alley actually exists in Philadelphia and is thought to be the oldest continuously inhabited street in America. I thought it was a charming place for Aunt Etta's millinery or mantua (gown-making) shoppe. Benjamin Franklin lived there as well but no one really knows which house was his. There's the sweetest little courtyard along the alley and one house has a spinning balcony, a tiny porch on the second floor where, in pleasant days, the lady of the house set her spinning wheel.

Some fun facts about milliners/mantua-makers:
~Milliners sometimes used bread to rub out stains in clothing
~Ready-made clothing was not considered fashionable
~Red dye was the most expensive for fabrics and came from ground cochineal beetles
~To attract business, some advertised they could sew a gown in one day!
~In summer, women wore green silk half-masks to protect their skin from the sun
~Some cities had as many as fifty tailors and seamstresses

Below is a short video that shows what you'd have to endure to be in fashion back then. Wonder what our colonial sisters would think of our Levis and t-shirts and flip flops?!


  1. Good morning Laura, oh how I loved reding this post, I want to open the window and climb right into your story...

    I'm sure I would have been a milliner,seamstress, all of those things as that is pretty much what I'm doing now~for my dolls and grand daughters~ and have been drawn to it since a little girl.

    I love coming to read your blog posts and anxiously look forward to reading my first of many "Laura books".

    Please, do let me know where I should start!

    many thanks for such a lovely respite, visiting your blog is just so nice.


  2. I often thank my lucky stars that I live in an age where I am not consumed with the drudgery of just getting my chores done....with my washer and going right now I have the time to paint my pictures, post to my creative.
    I think in 'the olden days' I could have been one of those traveling artists :) But even that had a lot of work to it--- before I even got started I'd have to make my own paints from powders, make my brushes....sheesh. Thank goodness for the craft store!

    And I cant imagine making one of those huge dresses in a day....I really admire the skill of hand sewing and am pretty sure I will never master it!

  3. Christine,
    So happy you're here! Love the words ~ "I want to open the window and climb right into your story..."
    I felt that very same way when I visited your blog(s)! You and Heather here have to meet if you haven't already! You are kindred spirits and artists, I'm thinking.

    I always find it so touching and interesting that we're all gifted from an early age to do something. Since about age 7 I felt I wanted to be a writer and I sense you were the same. It's nice to meet a real live seamstress and doll maker here! I can't sew a stitch but had a granny who made wonderful things - and all my clothes till I grew up.

    I'd love for you to read my books. I think they might resonate with your history-loving heart. Your library might well have a copy of my first, The Frontiersman's Daughter, or you could get it on inter-library loan. It's in bookstores and online, too. Courting Morrow Little, which has just released, is about a seamstress though I don't let her dally in Philly long:)

    Bless you for your gracious words. I'm looking forward to visiting your blog archives when my deadline passes. Your current post is just wonderful!

  4. Heather,
    So true - "consumed with the drudgery" is THE perfect wording for those chores and the routine of daily life back then. Combine that with disease, premature death, danger and all the rest and I don't know how they stayed sane!

    I'm so thankful for craft stores, too, and Walmart where I can stock up on writing paper and pens and such:) Though I do have an old-fasioned quill and inkwell and such. Merely decorative!

    I don't think I would have done well back then either though my heart is rooted in that century. For one, I wouldn't have lived out my childhood as I was a very sickly kid!

    Happy painting to you today!

  5. Here's my little secret, while I am so drawn to the 18th and 19th centuries, there is no way I would have wanted to live back then; unless I was among the elites. I would much prefer to be able to pay someone to do all of the work.

    I'd like to think I would have been one of the women writers if I'd lived back then.

    Using bread to rub out stains really makes me smile. When I was very little my grandmother bought brown napkins one time, and my grandfather ended up using a dinner roll to wipe my face. I'll have to tell him he was more right than he realized!

  6. You took me right back to Aunt Etta's shop, and made me think of a trip I took to Boston a few years ago, walking down the narrow streets where people actually trod in the 1700's. Amazing. And it makes me want to read Morrow all over again! Sigh....

  7. That movie is fascinating! The women really liked their hips to look big didn't they? :} How in the world did they get anything done??

  8. Hey Laura,
    Why yes I do know Christine!~ Her blog and dolls are beauuuuutiful! I am the lucky owner of one dainty little doll from Deerfield Farm. She is the sweetest!~

    And if I remember correctly, I think a couple of Christine's dolls are in the magazine I sent you, the one about the craftsmen~

  9. What fun facts!
    It does amaze me that God puts us in the time we are supposed to be in.
    I don't think I could have lived back then really, despite all the romantic thoughts and feeling I get when I read about them. (Especially after watching John Adams [thank you for recommending that, by the way. LOVED IT, and bought it!!] and some of the medical scenes... AH! No thank you.)

  10. I would be eleven years in my grave by now if I lived in any other time period, but up until I turned thirty... say I was born to the life of my maternal ancestors, a few generations back, I'd have been a tobacco farmer's daughter in southern Virginia, probably married a tobacco farmer who was some distant kin, or kin of kin, living nearby or just over the border in Carolina, or further west toward the frontier. I'd have had lots of babies (if I was able to), tried to find beauty in the everyday (I can see me arranging wildflowers in a pretty crockery pitcher, or taking special pains with curtains and the like), and then died young. Not very romantic, is it? But it's how it would have played out, I think. Just the hard realities of that time.

    I've also heard of shining up gold lace with a wad of bread. Thank you, Diana Gabaldon, for that tidbit!

  11. Wow! I can't imagine sewing a gown as complex as what some of the ladies wore in as little as a day! My mom is a seamstress and I don't know if I ever remember her sewing a dress in one day...maybe for one of my Barbies when I was little but a dress for an adult?

    I really need to make it a point to visit Philadelphia one day, I've never been there and it's such a shame as there is so much history.

    XOXO~ Renee

  12. Michelle, I got a good chuckle over your priceless ~ and practical ~ memory:) I think those kind of things have been handed down over generations. Since napkins didn't exist for most people, I can imagine them using bread to clean up:) Stains or faces!

    I'm like you and would have been happy with lots of household help so I could have been free to write. As a girl growing up in KY, I always thought I had been born too late. But after researching the past, I know I was right on time:) The Lord sure doesn't make mistakes!

  13. Oh Regina,
    Be my guest for that second round or reading:) That sure makes me smile. Though I imagine your reading list runneth over like mine! The funny thing is that I added that dress shop scene last minute with Aunt Etta in Philly. And I really liked it!

    Your trip to Boston sounds sooo neat. So historic! And you said something that has always given me goosebumps - that people really walked those streets and led full lives... Beautiful but haunting, too.

  14. Casey,
    Thanks for watching! I have never cared for that wide-hipped look back then, maybe because I don't need the extra help:) I think it is so unattractive! Strangely enough, I just read an account (200 years+ old) where men were saying how alluring they found those hoops/panniers, etc. I think the gowns themselves were so lovely and feminine but oh, no hoops for me please:)

  15. Heather,
    I was driving down the road today (didn't read your 2nd comment till now) and I thought, "Heather must know Christine!" You two are just too much alike art-wise, etc. How neat that you have one of her dolls! I was immediately reminded of the doll museum you told me about in Bellevue (Seattle). Will have to scout out that magazine! I'm even considering ordering back issues! Bless you!

  16. Kristen,
    So glad you're a John Adams fan! Isn't that an amazingly well done show? Easily watched again and again. But I'm with you - I closed my eyes through the medical stuff ~ even the tar and feathering. So realistic. Ouch. You are so right about God placing us in the right time period. I hardly have the stomach for the 21st-c., much less the 18th:)

  17. Lori,
    Leave it to you to make all those wonderful connections to the past and make it so real to you personally. Love your details! I would have been a Virginia girl, too - Botetourt County - as my ancestors lived in a stone house there and were magistrates. Then they migrated to KY. With a few slaves. That I'm not proud of. Boone had slaves, too:( Oh, to have one of their journals or some old letters! What stories they would tell!

  18. Renee,
    You are kind of near Philly (well, a few hours away, probably). I'm heading your way next spring, I think, to research Fort Pitt:) Or what's left of it! A bastion or blockhouse, sadly. My college roommate lives in Pittsburgh. Love all that PA history!

    Love learning that your mom is a seamstress. My granny made Barbie clothes for me. I have them in a case under my bed:) Sweet! Such good memories. Makes me wish I was little again.

  19. Laura, this post put the biggest smile on my face :) I LOVE learning about stuff like this! Great little fun facts too! Oh, and how I wish I could sew like Morrow, but alas, I was not blessed with the gift of the stitch :( But, maybe if it was a necessity I would've learned and hopefully would've been good at it :)

    Truthfully, I would love to travel back in time (even if it was just for a little while) and live the life of one of these women (though, as Michelle said, being among the elite would have made for a much nicer experience). Again, I think I tend to romanticize history, but, as you and Heather pointed out, it WAS drudgery and dangerous living back then. I was a somewhat sickly kid myself and probably wouldn’t have survived my childhood either (I had the croup A LOT, on top of asthma- don’t think they had nebulizer treatments and humidifiers back then, huh?). So I guess my “love” of history is better described as a love of historical “fiction” ;) But, I do LOVE the whole idea of being stay-at-home mom and homeschooling my kids. Which I know is a hard, 24/7 job nowadays (though arguably the most rewarding- at least thats what my mom says), can’t imagine what it was like for women back then? But, God’s grace is sufficient and will be supplied to meet the need no matter which century we find ourselves in :)

    Thanks again Laura! Praying the rest of your week is beautiful my friend!!

    Amanda Stanley

  20. There you are, dear Amanda! My day isn't quite right till I've had my Amanda fix:) I really am with you on wanting to leap back a couple of centuries and see what life was REALLY like. If I could, I'd be in Virginia in 1176, right on the cusp of the Revolutionary War. Like you, I so wish I could sew, too. I'd also love to learn to knit and spin...

    You have the perfect perspective - if we can't live back then, we can do so vicariously through historical fiction...while enjoying our air-conditioning and lattes and hot baths:) Amen!

  21. Did I say 1176? Oh my, can you tell I've been picking strawberries and doing errands all day and am tired tonight? Let's try that again...


  22. Laura, thank you for the kind words my friend- now my smile is even bigger :D Like you, my day was full of errands (surprised my brain can still form words right now), then I had church and out to dinner with family afterwards. But, my day isn't quite complete without my Laura fix either :) As soon as I got in I headed right over!

    Oh, and I'm currently reading "Seeds of Summer" by: Deborah Vogts and making good use of that WONDERFUL bookmark you sent me! Thanks again my friend!!

    Amanda Stanley

  23. I like their little lacy mobcaps.

  24. Oh, thanks for the post. Love the cover of the Book Courting Morrow

    Oh, I love to win one thanks

  25. Hi Margaret! So happy to enter you in the drawing for CML:) And thanks for your comments about the cover - I love it, too! Am wondering how on earth my next book is going to live up to this one? They're deciding the title and working on cover direction now. Anyway, happy reading to you. Hope that sweet daughter of yours is doing well:)

  26. Hi Britt,
    Like the lacy part:) My mobcap is so plain and that might be part of the problem. If I had a scanner I'd love to post a pic of me in my younger years wearing mine. I DO love bonnets. I have a litle pink one that was my great-granny's and then a few others my granny made me.

    Please come back for tomorrow's drawing for CML. You're in the hat!

  27. "Seeds of Summer" sounds like the perfect summer read, Amanda. Glad you're putting Heather's beautiful bookmark to good use:) Never too many bookmarks - or good books! Bless you today.

  28. What would I be doing as an 18th century woman? Sweltering in the heat! LOL. How did they endure? Though I guess all that clothing protected them from moqsuito bites. And no fear of skin cancer!

    I think I'd like to be a farmer's wife. Sheep rancher? Whatever. And I say that only because I want a lot of smart, cagey dogs around. :-) I love to quilt, but the idea of handsewing a dress in one day leaves me shuddering.

    Now this is how my mind works (and it's scary). I read your comment about Christine's dolls so I checked out her website and spent a happy little while exploring there (and fell in love with Tasha Tudor's garden)and her dolls (Christine's not Tasha's) reminded me of a book I read as a kid (no I'm not that old, but it's a Newbery and my library still had it) Hitty : her first hundred years by Rachel Field. I think it was written in the late 30's.

    I LOVED that book. I LOVED that doll (it's the memoirs of a wooden doll carved out of mountain ash). So I googled Hitty because I couldn't remember the author's name and came across a bunch of Hitty sights and discovered that there are other Hitty enthusiasts out there and wonderful dollmakers making Hitty dolls that look just like Hitty!!!!! I am so excited!!!!!!

    So then I couldn't resist googling Tasha Tudor gardens and found a youtube video tour (with Japanese narration!)and watched a very elderly but oh-so-spritely Miss Tudor walk around her garden.

    This reminded me of my own garden and the carpet roses that I don't know what to do with so I googled them and watched a video clip on how to properly trim a rose bush and that left me staring blankly at the screen wondering what I was doing here in the first place...

    And that's when I remembered that I was replying to your blog post. Rolling eyes...I'm such a flake!

  29. Kav,
    I'm chuckling mightily as I can SO relate! Just this morning I had plans to start working at 7am and finish this round of editing. Now it's - ahem - 8:30 and I've been visiting some of the same sites you've been visiting!! My, but one rabbit trail (or beautiful blog) leads to another and then another. Be still, my 18th-century loving heart!! I guess I'll call it inspiration. NOT procrastination:)

    I am so amazed that there is a whole new world of history loving folks out there in various forms. Christine's site is amazing, as is Heather's and so many others. Anyway, back to work for me. Oh, your carpet roses sound divine...

  30. Alluring? Really? How strange.

    Have I ever told you how much I love your blog?? Well, I am now, it is one of my favorites. And I am almost done with Morrow. Oh what will become of them??

    I have an award for you. :)

  31. Oh Casey,
    You're nearly done! Bless you for reading! And just remember, I promised a happy ending...

    Thanks SO much for enjoying my blog. If it weren't for you readers, I'd just close up shop:) Off to collect my blog award. You are such a blessing!

  32. YAY! I'm excited you're coming to my neck of the woods! I live about 35 miles from Pittsburgh. There's a lot of history here! I hope you love it!

    XOXO~ Renee

  33. Laura, thanks for a peek into Morrow's world. I have to admit I might be one to only wear a "slight shift" under a gown, for shame! and forgo all the other confining layers. But since I'd probably be home schooling my children, and not out in public much, that might be just fine!

  34. Me, too, Suzanne! I'm all for shifts and being barefoot. I'm afraid I'd have been a fainting female in all those layers!