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Very few children’s’ garments made in the 19th century survive today. Garments were handed down from one child to another, so this dress must have been lovingly cared for. Approximately 150 years ago, the Gerstenburger family emigrated to Bond Head, in Simcoe Country, Ontario, and a child in the family wore this dress.

Where was this textile created?

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The Nursery

North America: Canada, Central Canada, Ontario, Simcoe County, Bond Head
1860 - 1870
Handspun and hand-woven wool yarns, block printed cotton lining
72 cm x 56 cm
Gift of Greta Ferguson
T90.0366 Textile Museum of Canada

The clothing of children from pioneer communities powerfully evokes their experiences and the lives they lived. Their small bodies, vulnerable yet full of hope for the future, were contained and protected within carefully made garments like this plaid dress. The body and sleeves were cut and sewn from hand woven cloth of hand spun wool yarns, and the result is sober in colour and style. The velvet trim around the neck and the pleated bodice and skirt suggest family prosperity, as do the lines of machine sewing, probably made by a treadle sewing machine that had been manufactured for home use.

Catharine Parr Traill, a settler in 19th century Ontario who wrote many books about pioneer life, could have been looking at a little child in a dress much like this one as she wrote: “Good sense is as much marked by the style of a person’s dress, as by their conversation.” Catherine Parr Traill, The Canadian Settlers Guide, 1855.

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