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The Hand that Plied the Needle: Making Historical Garments as Research Methodology

Molly J McPherson, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


The purpose of this research was to understand what we can learn from historical garment making. Making a copy or interpretation of a historical object allows the maker the opportunity to experience a rich and fulfilling conversation with history. This embodied experience functions as an interpretation of the past, which aids in understanding better the relationship between clothing artifacts and their context. The objects become situated within the greater historical significance of a particular time period or culture. Three different components of the process were investigated during this research. The author examined the resources needed, focusing on text, images, patterns and instructions. They assessed procedures, looking at technologies and techniques utilized in historical garment making. They also investigated the process outcome, developing a complete garment reproduction and the associated artifact analysis. This included surveying makers across the country and studying with graduate students and professional historical clothing makers at Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia. The qualitative data from the observation/interview sessions and survey responses were coded, alongside the data collected from three individual case studies. Themes of goals, challenges, benefits, and guidelines for making historical garments emerged from the data. These themes support the author’s conclusion that making a historical garment can function as a thorough and successful historical research methodology.

Subject Area

Museum studies|Fashion|History

Recommended Citation

McPherson, Molly J, "The Hand that Plied the Needle: Making Historical Garments as Research Methodology" (2022). ETD collection for University of Nebraska-Lincoln. AAI29166405.