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




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