Grant to help university’s preservation project

A $5,000 grant to Shippensburg University’s Fashion Archives and Museum (SUFAM) will allow completion of a project to conserve a rare man’s coat from the 1830s.

The grant from the William R. and Esther Richmond Foundation will allow restorers to complete stabilization of the Kentucky jean coat.

It will be stabilized with hand-woven reproduction jean cloth dyed and woven to match by Barbara Miller, patterned by Martha McCain, and stabilized and conserved for preservation and future exhibit by Dr. Karin J. Bohleke, archives and museum director, and professional costume conservator Colleen Callahan.

According to Bohleke, “Early nineteenth-century men’s clothing is extremely rare. Men generally had fewer garments than women and often wore their clothing until it was worn out, at which point the fabric was reused in other ways, becoming cleaning rags and similar consumable textiles. The man’s 1830s tailcoat is from a family farm in the small town of Ovid Center, near Interlaken, N.Y., and is in an even rarer category—the surviving clothing of an ordinary farmer, in this case his casual and loosely tailored summer coat.”

She said that usually when early men’s clothing survives, it is often in the “best” category or formal attire, such as wedding suits, and typically belonged to a member of the middle or upper economic classes. Dress of the common man, such as this farmer’s coat, falls into the rarest category of surviving men’s clothing.”

The coat is made of sky blue jean cloth also known as Kentucky jean, a utilitarian fabric with few extant examples. It took Bohleke nearly a year to find Miller, who has the necessary expertise and experience to replicate 18th- and early-19th-century woven utilitarian fabrics, and it subsequently took Miller four months to locate suitable fibers.

While Miller is preparing swatches for color matching, warping her loom and beginning to weave, McCain, a clothing historian and professional pattern drafter, will document the coat by doing an in-depth study of its construction and features and drafting a pattern of it for future publication. This painstaking process can take up to 200 hours.

Upon completion of both the pattern and the weaving, Callahan and Bohleke will spend an intensive conservation session working on the coat together. The conservation procedures will stabilize the structural integrity of the coat, which is now compromised by many holes and areas of loss, which is not unusual in a garment of this age with this provenance.

Part of SUFAM’s mission statement includes preservation of items and this project is the opportunity to preserve and subsequently display one of the rarest and most valuable items in its collection.

Work begins this fall semester and individuals can follow the progress through updates at