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In the past week, I’ve worked on at least seven different exhibitions.  One day I had so many phone calls and e-mails that I had a hard time remembering which show I was talking or writing about.  With two special exhibition galleries now instead of one, it’s a little hectic.  But it’s a good sort of hectic.  We’ve got a lot of different ideas in the works for you.

For Changing Landscapes, one of the current shows, I was finalizing travel arrangements with Deborah Corsini, the curator at the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles.  She’ll be here with us in the gallery on February 28th to talk about how the show came to be and what the fiber art scene in China is like.  It’s been a pleasure for us to show this exhibition, especially because it’s the first-ever show of contemporary Chinese fiber art in the United States.

 For a while, I played e-mail and phone tag with a reviewer about the Aprons exhibit, eventually providing him with information and photos that should appear soon in ArtScope magazine.  Let’s hope he liked the show as much as we enjoyed putting it together.                                                                                                                                 

Talk about hectic!                                                                         We had about fifty students here from Lynne Blake’s Accessories Design class at Lasell College on February 4th.  Each student had looked at pictures of all our hats online in our Chace Catalogue (available at and chose one they thought they might like to use as design inspiration for a hat they’d create.  At the Museum, they got to see their hats in person and examine them closely. Some were happy with their choices, and others just had to make a                                                                                      change—because things always look different “in the flesh” than in pictures.  We’re now working out the details for judging, which will determine which hats are shown in the gallery in Inspired Design beginning this May.  It was a very exciting day.

In between students and reporters, we’ve been negotiating the terms to bring a collection of haute couture to ATHM in the fall.  We haven’t dotted every ‘i’ or crossed all the ‘t’s, so I can’t say more about it yet, but we think it will be a beautiful and fascinating exhibition.  And, we’re also working on an exhibition that will commemorate the sesquicentennial of the Civil War.  It’s still in the planning stage, but the guest curators have already found textiles with absolutely fabulous stories —like the quilt a southern family used to wrap the silver they buried to hide their family treasures from General Sherman’s troops.  We’ll see that exhibition in 2012.

But back to the present.  Right now, we’re figuring out logistics and mounting details for More Than a Number, which opens April 17th.  That’s more challenging than you might think.  This time, one of the elements in the show is colorful dance costume from Lowell’s Angkor Dance Troupe.  Parts of the costume are tightly wrapped around the dancers’ bodies.  That works best with real people wearing them, but it’s not really a practical answer for us.  We’re used to dressing forms and mannequins, but this time, we can’t use torso forms since we need solid legs, and mannequins can’t assume a dance pose.  So, we’re working on that one.  You’ll have to come visit the Museum while More Than a Number is on view to see our solution.  And, keep your eye on the blog for updates on some of our future exhibitions.

Diane Fagan Affleck

Director of Interpretation


I have always loved clothes and the soft feel of textiles. As little girls my big sister and I had matching winter coats that our mother had lovingly sewn for us. We called them our “pink minks” and we felt like princesses when we dressed up in our fleecy coats with our black patent leather shoes.

Ballet recitals were opportunities for us to wear beautiful brightly colored satin costumes with stiff pink tutus made of netting. I distinctly remember twirling around on stage in a purple glittered costume one year – and finding glitter stuck to my skin for days after the recital.

By high school mother no longer sewed our clothes and for several years we both attended parochial school where we were required to wear uniforms complete with saddle shoes, gloves and beanies. We were horrified if one of our neighborhood friends, especially a boy, saw us coming or going in such ugly attire!  

At the local town dances we favored the “preppy” style of the 1960s. We wore circle pins, a-line wool skirts and matching wool sweaters trimmed in grosgrain. A friend of our mother’s owned the Yankee Lady in Andover and we would frequently stop in to see if she had any new Villager sets for us to add to our wardrobe.

School proms were very special occasions requiring months of planning and shopping.  One year, as president of the senior class at Presentation of Mary Academy, my sister was at the head of the line at the Christmas Cotillion.  All the seniors were presented to the bishop in their white gowns while those of us younger students rustled around the room in our pastel taffetas.

After college Janice parlayed her love of fashion into a position as the youngest-ever manager of the designer salon at Bonwit Teller in Boston. By the time that I graduated she had moved on to Lord and Taylor and she got me a job there too. At lunch time she let me know that I had better rush up the escalator to the designer salon since she had just marked down the Pucci dresses. That job actually cost me money each month – even with the employee discount.  We also found my wedding dress at Lord and Taylor – the same design as the one Kathryn Ross wore in the movie The Graduate. My marriage did not last, but I still have that dress!

Janice adjusting my veil on my wedding day


Janice and I wearing our Pucci dresses for this family portrait with my young children

My sister passed away last year, but I still have wonderful memories of all the fun we had with fashion.  The recent Iris Apfel exhibit at the Peabody Essex Museum reminded me so much of my sister – and her unique fashion sense and style.

At the American Textile History Museum we provide the opportunity for our visitors to enjoy fashion and the memories that are conjured up with certain styles. Through April 18th  we have a highly nostalgic exhibit entitled Aprons: Fifties FUNctional Fashion.

This one is truly fun for all ages and guaranteed to bring back fond memories.

Linda Carpenter—Director of Advancement


Two weeks ago I was working on an abstract for the Dublin Seminar (a conference held by Boston University on New England folklife every June), and as often happens when you are researching a project, I was stuck! ATHM has some great sewing diaries in the collection, and one in particular I really wanted to delve into more. The author, Estelle Potter Harrison, was a young woman in the 1890s, attending college and writing notes about her clothes….an old fashion blog basically. Well, since I have been researching Estelle and her family for a few years, I was sure there must be some way I could showcase her clothes for this conference. But, after reading and rereading her entries, what stood out to me was how much this upper middle class family, with the funds to buy clothes, kept remodeling and remaking things.When I’m stuck, I turn to Madelyn Shaw and Diane Fagan Affleck, both great curators and friends. Side note…never underestimate good sounding boards. Anyway, they each in turn directed me to several sources about remaking clothing in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I then went down to check out our collection of 1890s dresses and—lo and behold— a quarter of them definitely had been remodeled or restyled. I got chills up my back. I love it when research starts to come together, and I have a better understanding of the objects in ATHM’s collection. So, although my research project didn’t start out about remodeling clothes, it turned into quite a fun topic and all the preliminary  research shows that people with discretionary money in the late 19th century were just as likely to remodel their clothes as those without extra funds.

Estelle Potter


Estelle Potter Fabric Diary. Look at entries #11 & #13.


Check out the pictures of two bodices in ATHM’s collection that show where trim was added. The first bodice, from about 1893 (1996.24.139-a-b), has cream lace that was added at the shoulders and the sleeves; maybe the dress had been for made for the fall and the new additions were to make it more spring-like.

1996-24-139 a-b

1996-24-139 back


The second bodice (1996.24.153-a-b), from about 1899, has red ribbon that was added to make cuffs, a new trim at the waist, and decorative bows at the back.



1996-24-163 a back


I will keep you posted as I make progress on this project.

Karen Herbaugh, Curator