The history of Nebraska as a prairie state, of immigrants and settlers, is a valued part of our heritage around these parts. Willa Cather and Beth Streeter Aldrich wrote brilliantly of Nebraska’s pioneering history. (I personally recommend My Antonia by Cather and A White Bird Flying by Aldrich to anyone and everyone.) The social dynamics of European immigrants as settlers of Nebraska, the interaction of the communities of isolated nationalities, and how it can still be seen in the Nebraska of today are fascinating lessons in the history of American immigration, differing from those taught by 19th century Boston and New York. And we are proud of that history; of the perseverance and courage of our forebears.
And so, in my little part of the world, we try to teach our children the lessons of prairie life. In fourth grade, we send our children to Heritage School for a day, where they participate in a one-room class taught in the style of the late 19th century, in period clothing (or close approximations thereof) and with period expectations of manners. This after a long unit at school learning the differences they can expect, learning the songs they’ll sing, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance (as it was said in the 1890′s), learning what kinds of lessons they can expect, and preparing for the spelling bee.And where do I come in? The costume, of course. When I attended Heritage School, my mother made my costume, and I could do no less than to put my skills to work for my own daughter’s special day. I cheated a little; At Goodwill dollar days when the Halloween costumes were still on display I found a dress that would fit Kit, who is nearly the same size as I am. (The dress I wore to Heritage School in 4th grade Kit wore at Halloween when she was 6.) The dress is a somewhat unfortunate color of peach, and had a strange stand-up, fold-over collar and 3/4 length sleeves, with a weird yoke-look created with applied eyelet on the front of the dress. Obviously we had some things to change. I removed the eyelet on the front. I planned on removing the edging from the sleeves as well, but plans change. I managed to find a fabric that closely matched the dress and was therefore able to remove the weird collar and replace it with a rounded collar much more in keeping with the period. The matching fabric also allowed me to use contrasting fabric on other parts of the costume, which was nice. I created a plain muslin petticoat, which you can’t see. The bib apron is my own design, and I’ll be re-making a slightly modernized version with a tutorial in the near future. (It’s really very easy, and I just made it up as I went. In the re-make, there are a few points I’ll change for the sake of elegance of design.) For the bonnet I used this tutorial with a few changes (namely using a contrasting fabric for the underside of the brim and no interfacing) and was very happy with the results. Kit has requested that we keep them rather than donate them to the school when she’s through, but we will be lending them out in the future. Kit is by far one of the tallest children in 4th grade, and the items of her costume are very much adult-sized. I know from personal experience that it can be a challenge to provide costumes for a child of such above-average size, and it amuses me a little to know that a teacher could just as easily borrow this particular outfit. Notes on the costume itself: Yes, it is March, but it is snowing today, so long underwear was necessary, and owing to the non-period-correct short sleeves, her long-johns show. Also, I was so busy making the costume that I forgot I needed to go hunting for less-obvious shoes. Bad mommy. She does have a shawl of wool plaid for wearing inside the chilly schoolhouse, but fortunately, they’ll be wearing their own coats for recess.