Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The First Oval Office and Other Military Textiles

I'm excited to be involved in the "First Oval Office" project, a multi-institutional initiative to reproduce George Washington's sleeping marquee (tent). Readers might remember that I've written about Washington's camp equipage before. The original marquee, probably made in early 1778, is owned by the Museum of the American Revolution (other parts of the same suite of tentage are owned by the Smithsonian and the National Park Service/Yorktown Battlefield). This past weekend, the crew hired to sew the reproduction tent this summer, including myself, visited the original tent and worked on reproducing the various stitches, seams, and grommets of the original. From mid-May through mid-August, we'll be sewing and interpreting tentmaking in Colonial Williamsburg's Secretary's Office (an original structure dating to 1747-48). It will be well worth a visit, and you can also follow the project on Facebook. Here are a couple images from our first study/sewing session.

Examining the original marquee roof in the collection of the Museum of the American Revolution.

Working on replicating construction techniques.

Speaking of  replicating Washingtonia, Carol James of Sashweaver recently wrapped up an impressive project recreating a sprang (a technique akin to but distinct from knitting and netting) sash owned by Washington. The original survives at Mount Vernon and was purportedly given to Washington by General Edward Braddock. Below are the original and the reproduction sashes.

Braddock/Washington sash. Mount Vernon Ladies' Association, from here.

The new Braddock/Washington sash by Carol James, from here.

And, on a final note relevant to military textiles, Nicole recently drew my attention to a fascinating social project called Combat Paper. The concept behind these workshops is for returning veterans to turn their uniforms into paper and art as a means of reconciling themselves with their wartime experiences and aiding in the transition back to civilian life. It's a great initiative to help veterans, and we need more like it. It's also interesting to consider just how many military uniforms became paper in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, when men and women sold their rags and worn-out textiles for use in papermaking. More than a few of the Revolutionary War uniforms of American enlisted men, not a single example of which survives today, probably ended up as paper pulp. Today, the same process might also be therapeutic. 

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