Stitching Together the Past
Edmond Residents Lori Smith and George Cunningham are stuck in the past and their clothing shows it. The two measure, cut, sew and stitch together replica clothing reflecting fashions of the 1830’s to the 1890’s. Together, they’ve created and sold clothing for independent filmmakers, American Movie Classics and reenactments in France, Scotland, Australia and even in Iraq. Just don’t ask them to make anything modern.
“Can’t do it,” Smith says, “I recently made wedding dresses for a family member, and in an odd sort of way, they looked very much like dresses from the Civil War.”
Authenticity is a hallmark of every piece of clothing the two make. Buttons are made from glass or metal, for instance. Anachronisms like elastic, zippers and plastic can’t be found on their creations. Smith and Cunningham can even capture economic status in a period costume.
“You really said a lot about yourself by the number of rows of buttons on your town vest. One row meant you were a commoner and two meant you were someone of financial importance,” Cunningham says, “If you could afford more than one row of buttons, than that meant you had money.”
One popularly requested item is the leather pants used by frontiersmen in the mid 1800’s. Made from elk hide, these come complete with the fringe. The fringe doesn’t do much for the modern wearer, but it served the frontiersman well.
First, if there was a need to tie anything for any reason, one could simply use a piece of fringe as a durable tie. Second, as leather soaked from crossing streams, all of the water wicked down the strings and away from the body.
Clothing again changed dramatically during the Civil War era. Heavy wool coats, colored with vegetable dyes, became common. Women wore extravagant dresses heavy with lace, and pillow ticking became extremely popular for everything from mattress coverings to shirts and jacket linings.
At a time when the nearest clothing merchant took a week to reach, clothing was made to last. Girls wore what was known as a growing dress, with two inch pleats which would be let out as they girl grew.
“You have to remember, in this part of the country people had very little,” Smith says, “If you were fortunate enough to have a new coat or a new dress, it was cherished.”
After the Civil War, clothing continued to change. Indian capotes, coats made from wool blankets, grew in popularity. For the women, long cuffs and tight pleating for their dresses came into fashion. By the turn of the 20th century, styles changed, cultures changed and the final frontier became settled and civilized.
“And we had to draw the line somewhere, or we’d be making clothing styles into the 21st century, and we already know what happens then.” Smith laughs.
For more information about Smith and Cunningham’s unique business, log onto www.thimblesllc.com and check out some of their creations of yesteryear.