Meet the Makers – Old England Grown New

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Tell us about yourself?
We are dedicated to rediscovering the lives and work of historical tailors and related craftsmen. We exclusively use historically accurate materials, processes, and handwork techniques in our experiments and projects to better understand the world in which our nation’s seeds were sown. We’re a very small group based between Chicago and Milwaukee, and two of us, Dan and Elizabeth, will be taking part in the Maker Faire. You can follow our work on Facebook.

What are you presenting at Maker Faire Milwaukee?
We will have an array of reproduction and original artifacts on display and use them to work on various articles of handsewn clothing. Guests are welcome to try on the next best thing to surviving garments and learn some centuries-old hand stitches.

Why is making important to you?
In many ways, we’re disconnected with where we come from, how we got there, and all manner of handwork. Consumer products often lack the touch and care of the human hand, and our communities our losing our craftspeople. We of course value technology and progress, but we feel our world is losing some of the beauty wrought by mastery of various crafts and seek to preserve the technologies that got us where we are today.

What was the first thing you remember making?
Dan: There’s a steep learning curve to figuring out centuries-old practices, and we’ve all made our share of duds which were far from both quality and fidelity to history. I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember and I started messing around with trying to reproduce historical objects in high school. My first handsewn jacket, shamefully, had liberal application of fabric glue in hard-to-see
places.

Elizabeth: The first historical thing I tried to make was a sewn doll for my fourth-grade ‘pioneer life’ craft assignment. It looked more like a gingerbread man than a doll, but it was the first step in teaching myself the technology of sewing fabric together to make a desired shape.

What have you made that you are most proud of?
Dan: Each time we make something new, we learn more and improve. I am most proud of humble garments of canvas and wool which represent what was worn by regular people. They’re made with, hypothetically, the same care and quality that would have served our forebears; they demonstrate that our past wasn’t just a sea of drab colors and primitive fiddling about.

Elizabeth: I’m not sure, but I think I’m proud of every garment that gets finished. Not all fabric ends up as a wearable item!

Given an unlimited budget, what would you make?
I think we’d travel the world to conduct research, examine artifacts, and collaborate with historical interpreters and academics to better understand our collective ancestors. Then we’d build ourselves a reproduction of a 16th-early 17th century workshop and acquire a mountain of hand-woven, naturally-dyed materials to experiment with.