18th Century, Living History

Betsy Ross House Living History Exhibit: Dressing The Bed

Cutting and ironing the fabric
Cutting and ironing the fabric- Image by Betsy Ross House

I got a lovely email last week about a new living history exhibit. Im a little late in posting about due to house plumbing issues,
but if anyone is in the Philadelphia area it sounds like a great project to check out.

Because I am nosy I asked some questions about the hand stitches that will be used in this project and got a reply back!

From Carol Spacht who is leading the project:

“The stiches are all very simple: running stitch, back-stitch, combination stitch (running & backstitch together) &  plain hem stitch. Seams with raw edges are felled, and seams with selvedges are stitched with either combination or backstitch, and then simply pressed; we are not felling or otherwise finishing-off selvedge seams. In the course of the project, we will be making many eyelets.

We will use a plain overcast stitch (no pearls) for the eyelets; we will also over-hand selvedges when we join  the pieces of linen together for the counterpane and, just for variation, we’ll do a Holland seam for the sheet – a slightly different stitch that is similar to over-handing.  Other stitches that we use with frequency in the shop include: overcasting raw edges, whipstitch, and spaced back-stitch. An interesting question that we are sometimes asked in the shop, regards the period names for stitches.

We have chosen to rely upon the research of Kathleen Kannik,The Lady’s Guide to Plain Sewing. Stitches often have variant names, but it appears that many of the common names that we know stitches by today, were also probably used in the 18th century.”




Cutting the fabric -Image by Betsy Ross House
Cutting the fabric -Image by Betsy Ross House

Philadelphia, PA – A new living history exhibit designed to further expand visitors’ understanding of Betsy Ross and her work beyond flagmaking is now underway at the Betsy Ross House.  Dressing the Bed  takes place in the site’s fully-functional upholstery shop and is being staffed by first-person Betsy Ross interpreters.

Dressing the Bed features a highly trained, costumed and in-character Betsy Ross interpreter stitching reproduction bed curtains using 18th century hand-sewing techniques and accurate, hand woven, hand dyed reproduction fabrics, while also explaining the work to visitors.  All of the labor for this exhibit is being done in public view, and the completed curtains will entirely be the work of the interpreters.  When finished, the bed curtains will be installed in Betsy Ross’ bedroom for ongoing display.

Dressing the bed fabric &  trim
Dressing the bed fabric & trim -Image by Betsy Ross House

According to the site’s director, Lisa Acker Moulder, the new exhibit presents an opportunity for the House to tell visitors a broader story about Betsy Ross’ life as a tradeswoman, including the economics of the work, the cost, color and texture of colonial cloth, the sewing techniques and designs used by 18th century upholsterers, and contemporary upholsters who may have collaborated with Betsy Ross.

“While many visitors will want to hear the flag-making story, others are interested in women’s history and many are fascinated by the work of an 18th century upholsterer,” said Moulder.  “By having our highly trained Betsy Ross interpreters present in the shop every day, each visitor can have a customized interaction with Betsy suited to what they find most interesting.  We often hear from our visitors that interacting with Betsy Ross and learning is the highlight of their experience.”

The research portion of Dressing the Bed  lasted through the summer and fall,  with the interpreters  researching appropriate styles, techniques and installation.   Stitching on a mock-up valance will began in June.  Work on the bed curtains is expected to take almost a full year to complete, with installation tentatively set for December 2014.

The new living history exhibit is being made possible with funding provided by the Coby Foundation, Pennsylvania Humanities Council (PHC) and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC).

Betsy Ross Sewing
Betsy Ross Sewing – Image by Miles Kennedy

The Betsy Ross House is open daily 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; closed Mondays, except holidays in January and February.  The audio guide, which includes admission, is $7 for adults; $6 for children, seniors, students and members of our military.

The Betsy Ross House is dedicated to preserving the legend of the first flag and the story of Betsy Ross, herself, and of all colonial women.  The House, located at 239 Arch Street, just blocks from Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, is one of Philadelphia’s most popular historic attractions with more than 200,000 visitors annually.

For more information about the Betsy Ross House or any of its programs, or call (215) 686-1252 or visit www.historicphiladelphia.org.

1 thought on “Betsy Ross House Living History Exhibit: Dressing The Bed

  1. Oooh, that does look interesting! Thank you for sharing; I’ve got a little Regency outing planned in Philadelphia with a few friends soon, and I think this may have to be one of our stops!

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