Frank Naboriny, Kent farmer
We begin our journey at Seven Hearths in the kitchen. Here we see what the average middle-class or working person might have worn in everyday life in nineteenth-century Kent.
The Barton family is represented by a faded but carefully mended calico dress and a pair of much worn shoes. A skillfully patched man’s shirt once belonged to a member of the Hall family. Belinda sits at the kitchen table, attending to the mending. Belinda is the fully articulated artist’s model, who once belonged to Asher Durand, and was purchased from his estate by George Laurence Nelson. Belinda has graced various rooms at Seven Hearths since that time and is a beloved familiar figure to our regular visitors.
There are photographs of Kent families, and tools and equipment of every day life: a laundry tub, baking equipment, sewing kit and a 1902 Sears Roebuck Catalog complete this vignette.
Our relationship to the kitchen and the preparation of food has evolved in much the same way we acquire our wardrobes. Today, most of us rely on the grocery store for much of our food needs, and some of us use the kitchen simply to reheat already prepared food.
Most of us do not make the clothes our families wear, let alone shear sheep or grow flax, spin yarn, or weave cloth, as has been the case throughout thousands of years of clothing history. When we say we’ve made our clothes today, it usually means we have purchased cloth and sewn the garment using an electric sewing machine.
There was a shift during the Industrial Revolution from handmade clothing to mass-produced commercial garments. Until the nineteenth century, clothing was made at home – a labor-intensive chore for most working class families. Making a simple shirt or a pair of work pants took a lot of time. Clothing was mended and reused; it was valued.
Today, most of us, regardless of our social class, have large wardrobes, even if those wardrobes seem to be full of very similar garments. Teenagers, how many pairs of jeans do you own? Everyone, how many tee shirts? Most of us think nothing of occasionally cleaning out our closets and replenishing them with new things, even if the replacement clothes are very similar to what has been discarded. How different this would be if we had to, by hand, cut and sew each piece of clothing in our closets!
In light of the time and effort it takes to make a garment by hand, it is easier to understand the value that was placed on clothing, and on the mending and altering of the clothes on display here.
Sears Roebuck brought mass produced clothing to middle-class people in small and rural towns across America, through mail order, and allowed many more people accessibility to the latest fashion. It also freed up a lot of time for those whose responsibility was clothing the family, as of course did the sewing machine.
The sewing machine did not come into widespread popularity until the Civil War, when its use made possible the vast numbers of uniforms needed to supply the soldiers. Once it had come into use, its value was recognized, and many families became owners of Singer sewing machines in the postwar period.