New exhibit in Seaford Museum includes pieces with a long history

By Lynn R. Parks

Amanda Goebel doesnt believe in ghosts. But a linen chemise that she acquired several years ago for her collection of period clothing makes her wonder.

A chemise, or shift, is an undergarment that was worn next to the skin. This one in particular was made in 1868 by a Pennsylvania woman, either Quaker or Shaker, named Hannah Williamson; we know that because Hannah wrote her name and the date on the inside edge of the garments neckline.

It is of extremely high quality, said Goebel, executive director of the Seaford Historical Society. Hannahs stitches are precise and so small that they almost vanish in the delicate threads of the fabric. Cording, which Hannah also hand-stitched, Goebel said, edges the neck and the sleeves; a decorative edge stich around the neck looks like lace trim.

Considering the fact that Hannah probably wove the linen from which the chemise is made, and grew the flax from which the linen is woven, production of the garment likely took two years, Goebel said.

Goebel bought the chemise from a vendor on eBay for $7. Included for that price was an infants gown, made around 1900 from a piece of cloth that had probably been stored for a long period of time in a trunk. Goebel has come to that conclusion because the fabric bears the faint but regular imprints of flowers, in a pattern that would commonly be seen on the decorative paper lining a trunk. Perhaps whoever made the babys gown had a chemise or other item of clothing that she had kept in a trunk and that she reused to make the gown, Goebel said.

In any case, the two garments arrived at Goebels home at the same time. When Goebel unwrapped the package that they came in, she noticed that the babys gown had a moth on it. So I wrapped it up and put it in the freezer, she said. Leaving a garment in the freezer overnight will kill any bugs that might harm the cloth.

Goebel kept Hannahs chemise in her bedroom. That night, I had panic attacks over and over, Goebel said. I was miserable. And I had never had panic attacks before.

The next day, she reunited the chemise and the babys gown. And there were no more problems, Goebel said.

On another occasion, the chemise and the babys gown were again separated. I walked into the room where the chemise was and a piece of Tupperware flew off a table and hit me in the knee. There was no air moving, no windows open, but that Tupperware sailed 15 to 20 feet across the room and hit me. I just said, OK, Hannah, stop it. She was angry.

Since then, Goebel has been careful to keep the chemise and the gown together. In an exhibit at the Seaford Museum, What We Wore: Fashions from the Everyday Clothing Project, the two items are displayed in the same case, separated only by a pair of bloomers. To be certain that Hannah is happy, Goebel has placed several photographs of babies in the case.

What We Wore opened on Saturday and will remain on display through mid-spring. Included are garments from the 1830s through 1980.

Clothing tells the story of the people who wore it, Goebel says. A dress from the 1920s, in the flapper style with a low waistline and pleated skirt, was sewn from patterned feed sacks and decorated with lace from another garment. The dress shows a lot of wear: It probably belonged to someone who was really hit by the Depression, and had to keep wearing it for many years, Goebel said. Its a pretty dress, but she probably wore it to do the dishes.

A childs coat tells the same kind of story. Dating to the early 1930s, it has been altered several times to accommodate different children. A quantity of siblings wore this coat through the Depression, Goebel said. It was expanded for a child who had grown, and then taken back in for another child.

The display also includes a deep purple silk and silk-velvet dress bodice, made in the 1880s and featuring enameled steel buttons, cut into patterns; several white dresses that would have been worn to afternoon teas; a pair of scuffed baby shoes; and a mans wedding suit, circa 1955.

For background music, Goebel played period records from her collection on the museums 1928 Victrola and recorded the tunes. The records are on display with garments from the same era, as are pieces of sheet music.

Goebel said that the clothing in the exhibit is typical of what people were wearing. This is all everyday clothing, she said. No designer gowns. And most of it is worn out. Nothing is pristine because people kept clothing and wore it as long as they could.

To go What We Wore: Fashions from the Everyday Clothing Project is on display at the Seaford Museum, 203 High St., Seaford. The museum is open Thursday through Sunday, 1 to 4 p.m. A reception will be Saturday, Feb. 18, from noon to 1 p.m. Admission to the museum is $7, $3 to see the clothing exhibit only. For information, call 628-9828 or visit the website seafordhistoricalsociety.com.

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