By Sue Wambolt, Contributing Writer
Grafton – Juliana West, a senior at the Massachusetts Academy of Math and Science at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, has a love for history which began at a very young age. From attending Renaissance fairs in costume with her mother and sister as a little girl to recently attending a Confederate Christmas ball, West has an affinity for history that reaches far beyond facts taught in textbooks.
West became interested in the Civil War when she was 14 and bedridden following knee surgery. It was during this time that she spent countless hours on the computer studying 1760-1890 fashions. She fell in love with the dresses and began researching historical sewing techniques so that she could make her own.
In 2013, after more than 150 hours of work, West finished an authentic 1860s two-piece outfit which she wore to a costume ball.
“I taught myself the historical techniques from the Internet and the dressmaking guide in the back of Frances Grimble’s ‘Fashions of the Gilded Age I and II,’” West said. “My mother taught me to read modern patterns, but a lot of things I figured out without outside information. I just made it up as I went along.”
In the spring of 2014, West learned about and signed up for a weeklong historical summer camp for girls at the Athenaeum Girls School in Columbia, Tenn. There, campers dress in period clothing from 1861 and take classes such as tatting, etiquette, language, crochet, domestic arts, penmanship, music history, art and dancing.
“I decided I wanted to go, and not only go, but make my own clothing for it,” West said. “I made and brought with me two day dresses, a mourning gown, a ball gown and all necessary undergarments.”
West made many friends at camp and returned in December for the Confederate Christmas Ball. She made a new corset and hoop skirt, as well as a matching bag, for the occasion.
What most intrigues West about history, she said, is the day-to-day life and traditions of the people living during the period. It’s the small things – the food, the clothes, the way they cleaned and just went about life – that peak her interest. West spent last summer working as a junior costumed intern at Old Sturbridge Village, allowing her the opportunity to “live” history.
“I learned mostly about civilian life in the late 1830s, which is the time period that the village generally portrays. I got to cook and take care of animals and dye wool and sew and clean,” she shared. “It definitely made me want to learn more about the civilian life of other eras and get into portrayal.”
West is currently working on an outfit from the late 1870s for a school project.
“I have all the undergarments done,” she said. “The outer layer will be burgundy, there will be a satin skirt and a blouse with a black velvet lace-up bodice. I also have ideas floating around in my mind for when I have more time and money – perhaps a 1780s polonaise dress, a Regency-era riding habit and ball gown, a Transition-era bib-front dress or a medieval cotehardie.”
As for her plans after high school, West hopes to work on a farm, specifically a small well-rounded farm that focuses on heritage and heirloom plants and animals.