Local history came alive at the Reher Center for Immigrant Culture and History when the “Stitched Together” project premiered earlier this month, and the stories of nine women who worked at the F. Jacobson and Sons Shirt Factory in Kingston during World War I were recovered, reimagined, and retold through fashion, facts, and creativity. The exhibit, a community effort between local students and professionals, and the Reher Center, will run until the end of August.
The women were once seen in photographs as a bland group of sewing machine operators dressed in identical clothing, but the students of the Ulster BOCES Career & Technical Center’s Fashion Design & Merchandising (FDM) program collaborated with students from Kingston Catholic High School and Rhinebeck High School to breathe life into each individual woman’s story. Kingston Catholic High School students worked with Ulster County Archivist Taylor Bruck to gather historical and demographic facts about the workers from the 1918 Census; then Grade 9 students at Rhinebeck High School composed imagined diary entries based on these facts; and the FDM students created a “customer profile” and a “mood board'' for each woman in preparation for designing an outfit that would be perfect for her.
The result is a lively display of several stunning outfits with special stitching and embellishments, as well as a poster for each woman showcasing the research and creativity that were “stitched together” by the students to bring out the woman’s individuality and character.
“The project really allowed our Fashion students to go beyond the surface of regular classroom learning and enter a space where they could develop both their creativity and a sense of empathy for another’s perspectives,” said FDM instructor Nicole Foti. “These are skills that prepare them for a future beyond BOCES.”
The FDM students considered the influences that the war and the women’s suffrage movement had on apparel, such as the emergence of more practical dresses with reconstructed silhouettes, to create their outfits. Designers considered the facts and diary entries to envision what colors each woman would enjoy based on what they could gather about their personalities.
Sophia Legnon-Bozman, a FDM student from the Rondout Valley Central School District, used inventiveness and logic in designing the colorful embellishments, which she stitched by hand, to the blouse her group made for Olga Hardwick, a Saugerties native who began working at the factory at the young age of 12. “Olga was not a typical factory worker,” Legnon-Bozman said. “I think she loved being out with friends. When I read that the factory had a dance hall and that Olga liked to go to it, I thought she really seemed like a free spirit.” Olga’s outfit consisted of the blouse and a long taupe wool skirt made by Sophie McCarthy, also from the Rondout Valley Central School District.
Another student, Peyton Goldleaf, from the New Paltz Central School District, applied both historical accuracy and modern means to work on the design for a blouse made for 17-year-old worker Catherine Snyder. First, she and her partner Phoenix Grossell, also from the New Paltz Central School School District, used the graphic design platform Canva to make slides for the customer profile and mood board. Then Goldleaf learned to dye garments naturally, the way they did back in Catherine’s time, which was to use butterfly pea flower and tea leaves.
“My inspiration came mostly from the diary entry made by the Kingston Catholic students and early 1900s fashion trends,” Goldleaf said. Drawing on the idea that Catherine’s favorite color was blue, she first learned to embroider a light and dark blue chain around the neckline and ends of the sleeves on the blouse; then she tried her hand at experimenting with the butterfly pea flower. “I haven't seen a lot of people do this with butterfly pea flowers, so I really had no idea what the color was going to look like,” she said. After not being satisfied with her first try, Goldleaf’s second attempt produced a beautiful light blue blouse that, with her group’s accompanying long navy skirt, would be the envy of even today’s most influential trendsetters.
The FDM students expressed how the project not only taught them many new techniques for careers in the fashion industry, such as time management and team collaboration skills, but also an appreciation for what life was like for many in the early 20th Century.
“Despite some of the difficult circumstances in their lives, many of these women stayed confident and positive,” said Legnon-Bozman. “Many had aspirations and dreams.”
Several students were interviewed by local videographer Paula Mitchell of Mitchell Communications for a short film called "The Making of Stitched Together," which is scheduled to premiere in August as part of an event to raise funds for K-12 programs for the Reher Center.
- Career & Technical Education (CTE)