The Embroiderer's Story

A Jacket for Rebecca

August 31st, 2008 by Jill Hall

When Tricia was taking these pictures, Rebecca was dressing herself in these clothes for the first time. Before this she had only tried them all on, with help, especially with the stays. This time she laced herself in. Once she got into the petticoats I cast a critical eye upon her things and decided to tighten the stays a little. Of course that meant adjusting the waists of the petticoats too. Here Rebecca is hooking them back up after my fussing.

Next Rebecca needs a jacket – in the 1627 English Village called a waistcoat. We have a few probate inventories from early Plymouth Colony – 1629 to 1633. A couple of them mention women’s clothing, and they seem to call the upper body garment “a waistcoat.” It can be hard to match up historic garments with the name they were given in the period, but these inventories list the waistcoat together with a petticoat, which is how they were worn in the period. If it listed a waistcoat with a gown and/or petticoat I would wonder if the waistcoat was sleeveless, but in this case, and with a complete absence of any other named garment that could be the long-sleeved upper body garment, I feel pretty confident that they were calling this item a waistcoat. So anyway.

Rebecca chose to wear a lightweight wool waistcoat this day, because it was pretty cold and rainy. Here she’s buttoning and I’m holding her girdle with suspended knife and knitted pocket. We were hurrying, because Tricia was photographing and she had to leave pretty soon to pick up her son from the English Colonial summer camp.

Here’s a detail of the knife and pocket. There are plenty of 17th-century images of people wearing a belt or girdle with a pouch or pocket and/or a knife hanging off it. Generally, those wearing knives seem to be men and/or working away from the home. Our interpreters, both men and women (and the oldest two boy and girl volunteer children, and don’t think there wasn’t a protest from the younger, knife-less ones), wear a knife on their belt. They each need a knife to do their work, and even though a housewife would likely not have kept her knife on her person as she worked around her hearth and garden, we don’t want to leave them lying around. Both because they might “walk” away and because we don’t want anyone to get hurt trying it out if they should happen to find it in a cupboard.

There is, of course, historical evidence for women having knives hanging from their girdle; those seem to be more for either eating or other delicate tasks, rather than the sturdy work-type knife we’re using.

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2 Responses to “A Jacket for Rebecca”

  1. Colleen says:

    How did Rebecca lace herself in? Those look like back lacing stays…can you give a lesson? Do many of your interpreters help each other, or do they expect to be independent?

  2. Marty52 says:

    I’ve been following your blog for quite awhile and boy, do I wish I lived close enough to volunteer! I do have a couple of questions, though… What would they have kept in their knitted pocket? Also, were these pockets made in other ways, such as quilted or of leather?

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