Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Pennsylvania German Tuesday

Trini Tuesday will be back next week, but this week I wanted to share part of my heritage and cultural roots.

As I mentioned yesterday, two of the kids and I worked at a historical fall festival this weekend. It's a working historical farm that is run according to the early 19th century standards used by Pennsylvania Germans (who are also commonly called Pennsylvania Dutch because in German they called themselves deutsch ).

All three of my kids have done apprenticeships at the farm during the summer. All of them enjoy going out there and stepping back in time for the day even though it means wearing strange clothes. My son's costume was given to us by someone who outgrew his old one. I sewed the costumes the girls and I wear. I love that my kids get a chance to learn about their own heritage and what makes it unique and special. I love that they've each been able to see some value in the old ways and see that there are some things that should be included in modern life.


Ok, here I am in my little 19th century PA dutch farmer's wife outfit. Bonnet on head, the blouse is called a short gown and is fastened with straight pins and a drawstring at the waist. That's right, no buttons, zippers or snaps, straight pins. The green scarf around my neck is called a fichu (FEE-shoo) and is basically a modesty garment that also provides a little warmth in cooler months. I have my apron and wooly socks too. It may be hard to see since I'm doing my silly curtsey but the skirt, called a petticoat, only reaches mid-calf length. Although we tend to think of women from the 1800s and earlier as wearing floor-skimming dresses those were really reserved for the women who didn't live on and work on farms. No farm woman wanted her skirt trailing the floor while she milked cows or mucked stalls. And lest I forget, the fabric these garments would have been made from was called linsey-woolsey. It was a blend of linen and wool that was durable but scratchy as you please. Mine is cotton, since linsey-woolsey isn't exactly widely available anymore (I think I'm glad for that).


Under my apron is my pocket. Petticoats didn't have pockets so the ladies wore these fastened around their waists over the shortgown and under the apron. Often they were embroidered with initials or other designs. I left mine plain. Ladies might carry some dried fruits or nuts for snacking, sewing scissors, handkerchiefs, or whatever little items they might need through the day. I hid my decidedly modern cellphone in my pocket on festival day.


The bonnet was an important part of a woman's wardrobe and even girls were expected to wear them. Obviously these weren't going to protect from the sun like a prairie bonnet would. The Pennsylvania Dutch wove rye straw bonnets for that. The simple white bonnets were worn during waking moments as a sign of piety and modesty. Since Scriptures exhort us to 'pray continually' and women were to pray with their heads covered the bonnet was necessary to indicate a practice of constant prayer and remind the wearer that whatever she did was to be done as for the Lord. Hair was to be kept long but not worn loose (that would indicate loose morals AND get in the way in the barn), always neatly tucked inside the bonnet.

It's an odd process donning this whole outfit but as each piece goes on I feel a bit of modernity slip away and I take one more step back in time. Once dressed, I move differently than I would in my jeans, tie dyes, and Birkenstocks. I'm not dainty in it and I doubt anyone would describe the look as becoming but there is a decided practical (not froufrou....good heavens, that might kill me) femininity that takes over. You can see it in the men at the farm too. Ambiguity evaporates as everyone takes on the well defined traditional roles that cloak our 21st century personas.


steve said...

Wow Lime that is soooo cool!! I bet it was very intresting that weekend you had!!

ttfootball said...

Great lesson in culture Lime, but pious? suuuuure... ;-)

David said...

Thank you so much.

I love to learn about history and culture.

barefoot_mistress said...

I just love learning about costume and textiles from other "lands"...this one being our land of course...

Jodes said...

sounds fun.........go pink my dear - see my post!!!! :)

Logophile said...

I hope you remembered to put your cell on vibrate, the ring tone might not match the overall effect.
It sounds like a very cool way to experience that, and show it to your kids. Good weekend.

Anonymous said...

lime, as I said over on my blog I mentioned about how much I respect the Amish and the Pennsylvania Dutch. It's great that you are doing this and get your kids involved as well. Loved the description.

Breazy said...

I would really enjoy doing something like that . I love to step back in time . By the way , very nice curtsy Ms. Lime! I think it is awesome that you and your children get involved and enjoy doing the festival . I have always been into genealogy and my kids love it when we go to an old grave yard that has some ancestors of mine in it because I can drone on and on and they love it . You have a good day !

MyUtopia said...

Great pictures! You totally look the part : )

James Goodman said...

Oh, that sounds like a good time. I really like the outfit. It's oddly becoming. :D

snavy said...

You look hotter than I've ever seen you.

I think I want you.


Very cool stuff. I would love to do something like that.

BTExpress said...

My mother's family on her mother's side (Stoner) is from Pennsylvania and Pennsylvania Dutch. I really thought that meant she was part Dutch and not German. Thanks for the history lesson.

TheGoat said...

Great post...always good to look at our past.

Northern German on my Mother's side. From Flensburg; right on the Denmark border.

lime said...

steve, we had a great time

tt, i'm not pious, i only play a pious woman at the farm

david, glad you enjoyed

susie, so ya gonna whip up some linsey woolsey for me?

jodes, it was

logo, yes, i was on vibrate. i'd make some suggestive crack about that but i need to be all pious and stuff.

alistair, thanks so much. glad you enjoyed this.

breazy, oh that's great that your kids enjoy it too1 good on ya for pasing on your own family history.

myutopia, danke

james, oddly becoming, i'll take that....hehehe, thanks.

snavy, *batting my eyelashes and twisting my bonnet strings coyly*

btexpress, ahh, glad i could clarify that for you a bit!

goat, very interesting. i'd have to go look in the family archives to see exactly which part of germany we came from. i kow our forefather came over just after the revolution.

Blither said...

I wanna dress up.

m said...

i love the bonnet! altho, the continual prayer while doing chores sounds like a hardship, you know like rubbing your tummy and patting your head at the same time.

Anonymous said...

Oh my lord! Thank you so much for this post as well as the pictures. I love 18th/19th century style dress. It also plays a big part in my fantasy life. So this was like, just wonderful to see. It has such a wonderful 'old ways' feel to it. You look so lovely dear!

Nothing but blessings as always.


lime said...

blither, i have an extra bonnet...

m, it's more an attitude of prayer than actual on your knees prayers

marc, thanks:)

Anonymous said...

I so love this post, Lime. Do you know from which part of Germany the Pennsylvania Dutch came? Your dress does look a little different than the "Trachten" still worn for festivities in the South of Germany, probably because yours are real work clothes. However, the apron bag is still worn to this day, mostly by Bavarian waitresses who store their wallets in them :).

A few years back their was a reality show on German TV, in which a family tried to survive on a 18th century farm in the Black Forest. It was very interesting to see, how different life was then.

Seamus said...

Didn't we see you dressed like this last year?
Excellent post!

lime said...

cosima, man of the Pennsylvania Germans were Palatine Germans, German speaking Swiss, and from the southwest of germany. Regardless of where in germany they came from the earliest German settlers in PA were almost entirely those from Anabaptist religious sects, meaning they practiced adult baptism by immersion rather than infant sprinkling. Pennsylvania was their destination because it was the one colony most hospitable to their religious beliefs. hope that helps. :) that show sounds like it would have been very interesting.

Seamus, yes but i didn't explain all the parts of my costume. Thought i'd go all educational on you this year. hehe

lime said...

cosima, a little more....the Penn. germans are now found through several other states but unfortunately the language has all but died out except among the amish and old order mennonites (the plain dutch). among the modern penn. germans (fancy dutch) like my family it is all but impossible to find anyone under the age of 50 who can speak the language. i was told by a friend who visited germany that when he said a phrase in disgust (while in bavaria) that heads whipped around in shock because he was speaking a dialect his hosts recognized from a nearby region. don't know if that helps or not.

Nancy Drew said...

That was such a treat!! Thanks Lime!!!

Lacquer, Semi-Gloss Lacquer said...

I cannot for the life of me, imagine a woman wearing a bonnet out here in California, (even though there are tons of Mennonites,)

-They are, um, rather obvious about their chests, and it was a bit of an adjustement to go to a wedding and see more cleavage than a 'Leave it to Beaver,' marathon. (That just didn't come out right, did it..)

-It did remind me, (the bonnets, not the, erm, uh, McGuffies,) of Church, where all of the women wore veils (Plymouth Brethren Women all wear veils or Hats during the service...)
Havn't thought of that in thirty years... huh.

John-Michael said...

It is fascinating to be aware of a "reverential" attitude that accompanies seeing you in this attire. I am just a intrigued by my response to the image as I am to the delightfully "whimsical" image itself. Thank you for not only engaging your Self in all of the effort of creating the transformation ... but sharing it.