How Clothing Dies (and How to Put Off the Inevitable)

The following is a shortened version of an article that appears in full in A.S.K.: ALHFAM’s Skill & Knowledge Base. Want full access to all 25,000 documents? Join today! Membership starts at just $30 per year for individuals.

When is clothing dead? If l threw out all of Living History Farms’ faded clothing, I’d lose most of my stock. It may be faded and even unsightly, but it will fit someone, and it will suit the work that they do for us. No, clothing is dead when the fabric itself dies, and any attempt at repair will either fail or take longer to do than to construct a garment from new cloth.

Preventing Early Clothing Death

The goal is to have all parts of the garment die all at the same time.

Prevention starts even before the clothing is cut out. First, preshrink every material that will go into the garment if it will ever be cleaned. The general rule is to wash fabric a little harder than the finished clothing will be washed. I prewash in hot water and tumble dry cotton fabrics, and warm wash and tumble dry wools so that Living History Farms doesn’t end up with coats that are bigger on the inside than the outside. Clothing construction also affects longevity. Your thread should not be stronger than your fabric, even when sewing on buttons— otherwise you will have to patch a hole before sewing the button back on!


Since too much machine laundering damages clothing, I tell interpreters, “If it doesn’t look dirty or smell dirty, it isn’t dirty.” There are period ways to put off washing. Collars and cuffs aren’t just nice accessories—they take the worst of the wear and dirt that clothing collects. Add these to dress shields in a bodice, and it may go for weeks without seeing a washing machine.

When you do wash clothes, use the lightest cycle and the coolest water that will get them clean, to prevent wear, fading and shrinkage. Hang period clothing to dry whenever you can. Dark or brightly colored clothing should be hung to dry in the shade or indoors. It gets faded enough while being worn.

Doc3-1[1]Ironing is also important to reduce wear. Press out the wrinkles that develop in sleeves and skirts from wearing in between washings, so they don’t become creases that wear out on the edges. Also, starch early and often. Hot starching fills in the spaces between threads that would otherwise collect dirt and washes out, taking the dirt with it. Even spray starch will help clothing look better and last longer. Avoid fabric softener. It’s not period, not necessary, and makes light and fuzzy fabrics more likely to burn like a torch.

Doc2-1[1]Clothing death usually is not a sudden thing. Shirt collars can be turned when the fold grows thin: Rip the collar from the collar band, turn it over, insert it and stitch it back in. Bodices and vests can be darned by hand on the unavoidable thick spots before the outer fabric wears through. Find a line of transparency where a let-down hem was? Take a tiny tuck on the inside of the garment, and protect the new edge if possible. When doing repairs, remember: These are permanent. Use small stitches, not large hasty ones, on your patches.

Clothing is made to be worn. My hope is that, by using good construction techniques and making repairs as soon as possible, it will be a long time before your period clothing wears out.

May your clothing live long and prosper.

Poresky, Laura M. “How Clothing Dies and How to Put Off the Inevitable.” In Proceedings of the 2010 Conference and Annual Meeting, edited by Carol Kennis Lopez, 110-115. Bloomfield, Ohio, 2011.

Full text first appeared in: MOMCC Magazine, Volume XXXIV, No. 1


Posted in Agricultural Museum, ALHFAM, clothing, Living History, Proceedings, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Future of Living History

Although I work at a “big box” Museum & Science Center, I try to stay active in the world of living history. As a volunteer interpreter and reenactor, I’ve heard many friends worry aloud about the future of the hobby and the profession. They see that fewer young men and women are joining reenacting units and volunteering at historic sites. They often cite the shallow focus on history in public schools and the increasing addiction to electronics as reasons for the decline.

I understand the concern, but I also see signs of hope. Perhaps the numbers of 15 – 30 year olds are dwindling, but I have had the pleasure to know and support a really wonderful group of young men and women. I am frequently amazed at the integrity of their research and their depth of understanding of the time period, events, and processes they interpret.

One example is a group of young interpreters at the Hetchler Farm at Genesee Country Village & Museum. When they were first hired in their late teens and twenties, they had little experience with agriculture. They learned history and process from seasoned interpreters, and from nineteenth-century agricultural publications, original tools and equipment, and period paintings and prints of farm work and life. It was a great pleasure to watch the four become proficient in animal husbandry; sowing, tending, and reaping crops; and making and caring for reproduction tools. Most important, they learned to share their passion for history with visitors in a compelling way. The Farm has undergone a transition from older interpreters to younger, and the quality of the visitors’ experience is very high. And happily, there are other under-30 interpreters throughout the Village, doing equally fine research and interpretation.


Agricultural work at the Hetchler Farm, Genesee Country Village & Museum. One of a small group of young interpreters who learned early 19th century animal husbandry, agriculture, cooking, and other farm chores and do a thorough, engaging interpretation for the public.   Photo Credit: Charles LeCount

At the Rochester Museum & Science Center, I arrange appointments for researchers to examine artifacts in our collections. Several young men have scheduled research visits with me to examine the construction and materials of the Civil War uniforms in my care. The intensity with which they examined the garments was striking, as was their depth of knowledge. They compared each garment with other examples they had seen in person or in print, and they worked hard to understand the tailoring and sewing techniques used. They respected the artifacts and handled them carefully. The fact that they were polite and grateful for the opportunity was an added bonus! With these young men integrating the knowledge gained from the original garments into garments they construct for themselves and others, the quality of their clothing will improve, and hopefully inspire others to do the same.

Finally, the most impressive dedication to living history I have been even a small part of occurred June 27 – July 2, 2018. My son and several of his friends participated in the 6th Corps March to Gettysburg. At first, Chuck and I weren’t sure this was a great idea. After all, it was over 90 miles along paved roads in summer, far from home. But we realized that if you are going to undertake such an experience, it’s best to do it when you’re 17, with good friends, and seasoned support.

This commemorative march is planned and executed every five years. The logistics are daunting: food and beverage are rationed to the marchers daily, camping spots are secured well in advance, two chase vehicles hover nearby in case of need. This year’s participants ranged in age from 17 to 60-something, and with the exception of 2 soldiers who left the march because of work obligations, everyone finished. My son and his friends were hot, tired, blistered, and sore, but they persevered. As one of them said, they wanted to “draw attention to the story of the heroic men who marched the route 155 years ago, and to experience a small portion of what those soldiers endured.” They left their last camp during the night of July 1, with 32 miles to go. They arrived at the Sedgewick Monument on the Gettysburg Battlefield at 3:30 p.m. on July 2 and were honored with cheers and applause from family, friends, and supporters.


Participants in the 6th Corps march arrive at Lockhouse 25 on the C&O Canal for a period-appropriate meal and safe place to camp. Photo Credit: William J. Watson

After long showers, a celebratory supper, and a good night’s sleep, the marchers noted that, 155 years ago, the soldiers of the 6th corps only had the hard ground and a battle to greet them. As one of them said “I want to reinforce that with however much attention the participants of this march received, we MUST remember those who came before us and sacrificed so much for this war.”

This is why I am hopeful about the future of living history. There are young people who do the research, learn trades or skills, and learn to interpret the past effectively. They are passionate, energetic, and dedicated. I don’t know how to increase their numbers, but if we all pay attention to our young people, recognize and encourage their talent, and support them in this great endeavor to keep history alive, we may see the results we need.

Sarah Wilson LeCount is the Collections Manager for the Rochester Museum & Science Center. She began reenacting when she met her husband in the 1980s and is grateful to have raised their son in the hobby.

Posted in Agricultural Museum, ALHFAM, civil war, Farm Museum, Historic Agriculture, Living History, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Walking Plow

Today’s guest entry was submitted by Ross Gould who has volunteered at Heritage Park in Calgary, Alberta for the past eight years. Staff at the Park recently directed Ross to the ALHFAM website. Intrigued by the request for blog material, he reached out to share the following story.

As a senior interpreter, now 86, at Heritage Park Historical Village in Calgary; I “hang out” in the machine shed, which contains antique farm equipment that was used by the pioneers who came to our prairies over a century ago. I farmed in central Alberta for seventeen years, and as a youth I heard lots of stories of pioneer farming from my father and grandfather. They came to Alberta from Ontario in 1912.

Early mornings at the Park, before the day’s visitors come by, I have plenty of time to reflect on times past. One weekend there was a marathon in Calgary, and I began to think about the pioneer who broke the prairie sod with the walking plow. In those days, when railways were being built across the prairies, the rail companies needed settlers to produce crops that needed to be transported by rail. Our government would give a pioneer full title to 160 acres of land if they could have 30 acres of crop within 3 years. I began to think about how far the pioneer had to walk to seed and harvest his crop each year.

=John Deere Walking Plow

He walked behind his walking plow. His horse walked about 2.5 miles per hour. In a 10-hour day he probably walked 25 miles, maybe more. At that rate, his 12-inch bottom walking plow would probably cover about 2.5 acres. It would take 12 days to plow his 30 acres:that means he probably would walk 300 miles just to prepare the seed bed for his crop. But he was not yet done. He had to walk the field again, broadcasting the seed by hand from a bag over his shoulder. And still he was not yet done because he had to walk behind his horse pulling a harrow to cover the seed. All told he probably had to walk almost 400 miles just to prepare the land and seed his crop! Our mostly urban guests often comment on how fit the pioneers must have been, and they are right. Of course the pioneer’s exercise is not done with the seeding. At harvest he must walk the field with a scythe, gather the crop, thresh it with a flail and winnow the grain from the straw in the prairie breeze.

Back to that marathon comparison: The prairie pioneer probably walked the equivalent of more than 15 marathons each season to seed and harvest his crop!

Rope Sq 2010 Kay and Ross cropped

Ross & Kay Gould


Posted in Agricultural Museum, ALHFAM, Farm Museum, Historic Agriculture, Historic Farming, Living History, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Kindred Spirits

I’m certain that many of you agree that some of the best things about ALHFAM are those unique learning opportunities –: the chance to get your hands-on history, to learn about past trades, techniques and technologies–, more than you could ever experience from the printed page. In my role as a senior administrator, the “hands-on” part isn’t a regular aspect of my job, but as the person who oversees agricultural and living history programming at our site, I am always eager to learn more about the responsibilities of our front-line staff.

IMG_7637 (3)

One such opportunity happened during an ALHFAM Board meeting that was held a few years ago at Tillers International . After a day of strategic planning, we had a chance to tour the campus, learn more about their courses and programs and get up close with resident oxen, Hershel and Walker. I was in awe of these gentle giants and the patience they seemed to show a rookie drover who hesitated a bit with her “gee” and “haw” commands. That 10-minute experience had me giddy with excitement, and to this day still ranks in the top 10 of my ALHFAM experiences. Upon my return to work, I promptly went to our Agriculture supervisor with the eagerness of a little girl asking for a pony, to see what it would take to get some get some oxen for our site.

As in many other regions in North America, oxen featured prominently in the settlement of Western Canada. Oxen were shipped to Canada from England by the Hudson’s Bay Company–; they pulled the carts of the Metis trappers and traders, the North West Mounted Police set upon their epic March West with 142 head of ox, and they were an essential provision for the intending settler, inexpensive to keep and well suited for breaking the harsh prairie soil. Our local archives abounds with fascinating photographs of oxen at work, pulling carts, and freighting supplies –: massive bull trains of 12-16 oxen were used to transport goods from the Missouri River system at Fort Benton, Montana to Southern Alberta. You see single ox and even teams paired with horses, breaking sod, hauling hay, pulling sleds or skids in winter, powering machinery from water drilling rigs to threshing machines. There are many scenes of oxen pulling wagons loaded with settlers’ effects, and even pulling carriages. And ox races were even featured as part of small-town sports day festivities.

PC002386 Oxen

Team of Oxen, friends of the homesteader.

Given their historical prevalence, oxen are surprisingly absent from living history presentations in Western Canada. Heritage Park had a team of highland steers in the late seventies, Pierre and Elliott, but they were never replaced. Despite my eagerness to reintroduce a team to our programming, there were many practicalities to consider–: oxen take a degree of specialized knowledge for their conditioning and care, there are considerations for housing, and ultimately should serve a practical purpose, all beyond what our turn-of-the-century mixed farm would represent. But part of my dream came true this summer through a collaboration with a nearby craft distillery who agreed to a one-month loan of their “spokes-oxen” – Lion and Bright.


Lion and Bright at Heritage Park, Calgary

Eau Claire Distillery is located in Turner Valley – a short drive southwest of Calgary, and it promotes a most-unique “farm to glass” mandate. Partnering with the Bar U Ranch National Historic Site (one of the hosts from the ALHFAM 2014 Annual Meeting) the distillery seasonally cultivates 25 acres of barley and rye using draft horses and historical farming methods. Last summer, Eau Claire acquired a team of oxen from Truro, Nova Scotia as a promotional tool for their Prickly Pear EquineOx (a sweet, barley based liquor) and have showcased the duo throughout the area.

For the month of August, Park guests will have a chance to see Lion and Bright around the Park. There will be yoking demonstrations and a chance to learn more about the role that oxen played in Western Canadian history. This is also a great learning opportunity for our Agriculture staff to expand their animal husbandry skills. The arrangement also provides some exposure for Eau Claire Distillery and will hopefully lead to other opportunities for collaboration.  Looking beyond our historical / museum networks, where else can we find these kindred spirits to help advance our goal of preserving and presenting our agricultural past?

Susan Reckseidler is the Manager, Interpretation at Heritage Park Historical Village in Calgary, Canada and current Vice-President of ALHFAM.

Posted in Agricultural Museum, ALHFAM, Historic Farming, Living History, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

A First Timer’s Experience


Nelson Mandela once said, “There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.” I have found this sentiment to be quite true as I ease myself back into my daily activities at the Sam Houston Memorial Museum. I came back to work after a weeklong ALHFAM adventure in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, and as I walked around the grounds of the museum, nothing seemed to have changed. It was the same, everything exactly as I had left it. But things felt different. I was different. In just a week I had gone to my first ALHFAM conference, and after all was said and done, I came back completely altered.

It was my first time attending an ALHFAM conference, and my experience as a first-time ALHFAMer surpassed all I could have imagined. One of the spectacular things about being in Tahlequah was being in the center of the Cherokee Nation. If you are not familiar with the story of Sam Houston, at the age of 13 he ran away from home and was adopted into the Cherokee tribe by Chief Oo-Loo-Te-Ka. The Cherokees, no doubt, made a huge impact on Sam’s life, and there was nothing quite like being in the middle of the Cherokee Nation, hearing the stories and experiencing the Cherokee culture, to get a glimpse of what life might have been like for Sam during his time among the Cherokee.

Questions began to form in my mind, “How can I take what I am learning and shape it to fit our mission, preserving the memory of Sam Houston?” Whether it was a conversation sitting with someone in the hallway, across the table at dinner, or from the workshops, sessions and field trips, there was never a moment where I was not taking in something. Like a sponge, I wanted to absorb everything I possibly could. In the sessions, I took pages and pages of notes, and from the second I finished my first session my head was spinning with all of the ideas that I could bring back to my museum; all of the programs we could implement; all of the ways we could improve what we already have to offer.

One of my favorite things I did during the conference was the Old Settlers Tour, where we visited Sequoyah’s cabin, the Dwight Mission, and Ft. Smith just across the Arkansas border. Our guide, Janelle, was wonderful, and I hung on her every word. In fact, all of the guides at each of the locations were phenomenal. They were so full of passion, and I could tell through their stories that they really enjoyed what they did. The whole time I kept thinking to myself, “Wow, I want our visitors to have this same experience when they visit the Sam Houston Memorial Museum. I want to be this kind of interpreter.

My first attendance at ALHFAM changed the course of my career forever. The things I learned and the places I experienced will stick with me for years as I continue in this line of work. But ALHFAM cannot be summed up in briefs about sessions, field trips, or inspiring locations. The friendships and partnerships I formed during my time in Tahlequah made a lasting impact on me as an interpreter. Having an opportunity to sit with colleagues-turned-friends and swap stories about sites and programs or discuss histories and experiences made me realize, “These are my people.” I will be forever grateful to ALHFAM and my new ALHFAMily for opening my eyes to this incredible, but not so new, world!

By Taylon Black, Historical Interpreter, Sam Houston Memorial Museum

Posted in Agricultural Museum, ALHFAM, Annual meeting, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

What’s in a Name? Hunter’s Home

Some of you might be confused about the host site for the 2018 ALHFAM conference in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. Once the state of Oklahoma acquired the property in 1945, it became known as the George M. Murrell Home in the tradition of naming historical homes after the white men who once lived there. The property was transferred from the Oklahoma Department of Tourism and Recreation to the Oklahoma Historical Society (OHS) in 1991. Recently, thanks to the leadership of ALHFAM member and OHS regional director David Fowler, the home has been transitioning from a static historical home into an 1850s Cherokee plantation. Membership in ALHFAM and attendance at the conferences definitely influenced this transition. As part of the change, the OHS has restored the original family name to the property, Hunter’s Home. Though the name has changed the address is still Murrell Home Road, and the group serving as our financial partner for the conference is still the Friends of the Murrell Home.  These legal things take time to change!  Learn more about it in the OHS Extra posted here:

name change hunters home



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Great Entertainment is Awaiting You at ALHFAM 2018

We have a great line-up of entertainment for the 2018 ALHFAM conference, featuring local talent. Music during the opening reception will be provided by Preston Ware. In addition to his talents as a graphic artist with the Oklahoma Historical Society (he designed this year’s program.), Preston frequently fills in at events as an interpreter. He will be playing music from the American Civil War and earlier. Preston plays a variety of instruments, some of which are handmade from vintage cigar boxes.


Just before the opening session with Cherokee Principal Chief Bill John Baker and OHS Executive Director Dr. Bob Blackburn, the Cherokee National Youth Choir will perform traditional songs in the Cherokee language. The choir was founded in 2000 as a way to keep Cherokee youth interested in and involved with Cherokee language and culture. Listen to the opening stanza of the USA National Anthem, the Star Spangled Banner, in Cherokee at

While enjoying dinner in downtown Tahlequah you will be treated to the talents of Cherokee folk musician Kalyn Fay Barnoski. KalynFayKalyn is an up-and-coming singer-songwriter, pursuing art in many forms. According to this Cherokee musician, she is part White but can’t prove it. Listen to a sampling of her music and learn about her struggle to fit into two very different worlds at


Before the auction on Sunday night, sit and back enjoy food and drink as you listen to Cherokee National Treasure Robert Lewis, a native storyteller, author, and artist of Cherokee, Navajo, and Apache descent. Robert shares his culture through family stories and traditional stories. Robert works for the Cherokee Nation as a school and community specialist and conducts outreach classes and services in art, culture, and storytelling. He is also Adjunct Professor of Art at Northeastern State University, where he teaches classes in art and native crafts. Robert explains that “traditional stories are a voice for cultural identity of a particular tribe’s lineage and heritage, a vital link to preserving the rich oral traditions, and I find myself fortunate to be one of those storytellers retelling this knowledge and humor that has been passed down through time.” Learn more about Robert Lewis at

Sunday morning at the Cherokee Heritage Center ALHFAMers will have the opportunity to participate in a 1860s-style sermon and enjoy the Grity family singing hymns in Cherokee. Learn more about the Grity family and listen to hymns in Cherokee at

During the Presidential Banquet music will be performed by Tommy Wildcat. Tommy, a full-blood citizen of the Cherokee Nation, is a Cherokee cultural promoter, flutist, historical storyteller, lecturer, and traditionalist. In 2013 the Cherokee Nation honored Tommy by naming him a National Treasure for his flute music and river cane flute making. A self-taught composer of flute songs, Tommy learned his tribe’s traditional vocal songs from his father Tom W. Wildcat. Learn more about Tommy Wildcat and his music at

Before dinner at the Pawnee Bill Ranch and Museum, watch Pawnee dancing demonstrations. Then, while you enjoy your dinner, you will be treated to cowboy singer and poet Jim Garling. Boots tap, hands clap, and grins grow like new spring grass during a Jim Garling performance. An Oklahoma native, Garling’s influences include Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, the Sons of the Pioneers, and Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, combining their sounds for just the right mix of old-style, acoustic western cowboy music and western swing. For a sampling of Jim’s music visit

And last but certainly not least are performers from the 30th Commemorative Pawnee Bill Wild West Show.WildWestShow2





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