Costuming Fanshawe Pioneer Village

Sheila Johnson

Each winter, the permanent staff take on a special project to make things easier for the coming season. My project this past year was the organization of the costume collection, stored on the second floor of Denfield General Store. Fashion history has always been a passion of mine and my lecture: Victorian Secrets: A History of Women’s Undergarments from 1830 to 1900 has been presented throughout the City of London and Middlesex County.

The first step in the organization of this immense collection was to improve the room it was stored in. Jack Glassman and John Perrin kindly agreed to work on the second floor of Denfield General Store during January and February. They happily spent those cold winter months repaired the drywall, taping, mudding and painting the stairwell and stair landing. While this was underway, Kelly Mercer volunteered to help organize the sewing supplies stored in a separate room just off the stair landing. We scrubbed the room down, and Kelly took care of the rest. She organized all the fabric by type and pattern, rehoused it in clear containers and labeled them. She sorted and organized all the sewing notions and stored them in labeled drawers including a huge button collection!

When Jack and John finished the upper landing, Kelly and I moved the costumes collection into this new space. This project took Kelly and I most of a week! We separated out the theatre props from the costumes and moved them to a room in the Peel Basement, with a complete inventory by Kelly, of course! Once the costumes were moved onto the newly completed stair landing, Jack and John went to work in the costume room.

The costume room was in much worse condition than the other rooms on the second floor of Denfield. It also needed drywall repair, taping, mudding and painting. Jack and John worked furiously on this project and finished it just in time for the spring weather when they were needed elsewhere on site. In May, Kelly and I moved the costume collection back into this beautifully finished room.

This was a massive job and took most of two weeks. We reorganized the costume racks for easy access to the most frequently used costumes. The costumes were sorted and organized and pieces not period appropriate or worn thin were removed. A growing pile of mending developed and this is where we introduce Peggy Topping. Peggy has assisted with the costume collection at Fanshawe Pioneer Village for years. She has an amazing eye and can pick up appropriate pieces at Talize or Goodwill for a few dollars. She is also quite an accomplished sewer and made 1914 replica skirts and jumpers for the education team this spring. However, for most of 2015, Peggy has been steadily mending and repairing damaged costumes.

So, just in time for opening, the costume room was clean and painted. All costumes were repaired, sorted, organized and stored on racks and the sewing room organized and labeled. Strolling through the racks, it suddenly became very apparent that we needed some new costumes!

To help us restock the costume collection, Fanshawe Pioneer Village formed a partnership with the Technical Costume Studies program of Fanshawe College. Kate Zantingh is currently completing her internship at Fanshawe Pioneer Village in this program and will be employed throughout the summer, sewing new costumes for us.

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To date Kate has made new dresses, blouses and satchels and will move onto 1914 formal dresses in July. She does beautiful work and we are most fortunate to have her!

As this column attests, it takes many hands to complete a major project at Fanshawe Pioneer Village. The success of this venture is due to Jack and John, Kelly and Peggy and a very talented Kate who donated their time and expertise to make the project happen. Thank you!!

Sheila Johnson
Executive Director