I had the pleasure of participating in an 18th century immersion weekend this past weekend at Historic London Town. The weekend was meant to show life at London Town in the year 1770. The centerpiece of London Town is the William Brown House which was a tavern in the 18th century. Rooms in the tavern were used for some participants to sleep in and the main room was used to conduct ciphering classes and a needlework school. There was a 2nd room in which tavern games were set up for the travelers. Two indentured servants were at the tavern, keeping house and serving meals. There are also 2 small wooden structures that were used. The larger of the two, the carpenter's shop, was used for a fairly large group of tailors. There is a 2nd room in the carpenter's shop that was used for an 18th century dance session, since one of the tailor's was also a fiddler. The Lord Mayor's Tenement is a small wood house with open windows and a brick hearth. There is a bed chamber off of the main room with the hearth. Meals were cooked over the hearth. Several of us were set up in the bed chamber sewing. I portrayed Elizabeth Ferguson, an actual London Town resident. Elizabeth was the wife of Alexander Ferguson who owned a booming tailor business from 1740 until his death in 1770. The Fergusons also owned an ordinary in the town.
Here is an ad from a 1767 Maryland Gazette for Alexander Ferguson's Tailor shop. He is advertising that he has added a stay-making business. While stays were worn by women, it was men who typically were stay-makers. Stay making involved more than just sewing--bones for the stays had to be made from whalebone, wood or reed which was quite labor intensive.
Alexander Ferguson died in 1770. His wife, Elizabeth, continued the stay-making business and she continued to run the ordinary. Her son Andrew ran the tailoring business.
There seem to be no portraits of Elizabeth Ferguson so I had to use what information I could find to come up with an impression for her. Her husband's inventory was quite extensive, showing that they were pretty well off. They owned 6 properties. Mr. Ferguson had a lot of fine fabric as part of his tailor business. The Fergusons were older--at least in their 50's--and they were Scottish immigrants. I picture them being practical, hard working people. While Elizabeth could probably afford some finery--as a working woman, I picture her dressed in a simple wool gown made of a finer quality fabric. I had 2 yards of this brown wool/silk Irish "stuff" (worsted) that I had bought to line a bedgown. I pulled it out and decided it was just too nice to use for lining so I bought 2 more yards to make a basic stomacher gown. I also bought the bright indigo worsted for a petticoat.
I went about making my usual stomacher gown pattern, making a reversible stomacher--one side being plain and one side having 3 horizontal strips. I also made a 1760's cuff to give this gown an earlier style.
I wore the gown with a plain linsey woolsey neck handkerchief, a simple lappet cap and a finer linen apron accented with my pinball and watch. This seemed to be fine enough, yet practical enough for someone like Elizabeth Ferguson to wear while working.
For Sunday church, I switched out the stomacher and dressed the gown up with tambour work accessories (apron and neck handkerchief), a round eared cap, and a nicer 2 inch wide silk ribbon on my cap and gown front.
I was really happy with this gown. I like having a simple gown that is made out of really fine fabric. The hand stitching shows up nicely on the pleats in back and it just gives a nice tailored look--fitting for an older woman, a tailor's widow.