Recent Exhibition Highlight: Embellishments in Victorian Dress, May 13-August 27, 2017


Saco Museum

How did nineteenth century clothing makers think about design? How did they create the fabulous, over-the-top trims late 19th c. fashion is known for? Embellishments in Victorian Dress looked at nine design principles, and how they were applied, to help see Victorian fashion in a new way.

First opening at the University Museum at UNH, Durham in September 2012, the exhibition traveled to Lowell, Massachusetts in 2014 and the Portsmouth Athenaeum in 2015. This new, greatly expanded exhibition of fifty garments featured the nine core examples from the original show, with many new selections from the University of New Hampshire’s Irma Bowen Textile Collection, the Saco Museum, Portsmouth Historical Society’s John Paul Jones House, Strawbery Banke Museum, and Woodman Institute Museum.



Strawbery Banke Museum

Woodman Institute Museum










John Paul Jones House


Saco Museum




Embellishments 2015: June-November in Portsmouth, NH



photo by Lisa Nugent

Embellishments: Constructing Victorian Detail will be coming to the Portsmouth Athenaeum in lovely downtown Portsmouth, NH! The opening reception is Friday, June 19, 2015 from 5-7 pm and the exhibition will run through the evening of November 6.

A full slate of gallery talks, lecture, and a workshop are scheduled, hope to see you there! Go to for directions and information on visiting.

Saturday, June 27, 2015, 1-2 pm,
Curator’s Gallery Talk,
The Portsmouth Athenaeum, Portsmouth, NH

Embellishments curator Astrida Schaeffer leads an exploration and discussion of the thirteen dresses on view.

Saturday, July 18, 1-2 pm,
Dress in Detail: A White Glove Tour,
The Portsmouth Athenaeum, Portsmouth, NH

Take part in an in-depth examination of three dresses on view in Embellishments: Constructing Victorian Detail, with guest curator Astrida Schaeffer. Get a look at construction inside and out.

Thursday, August 20, 7 -8 pm,
Lecture: High Fashion, Local Flavor: Social Positioning Through Dress in Seacoast NH,
The Portsmouth Athenaeum, Portsmouth, NH

In the early 1870s, a woman went for a stroll through Somersworth, NH wearing a high fashion bustled silk gown trimmed with ruffles, fringe, and more, looking like she’d stepped from the pages of the latest fashion news. Everyone who saw her could tell at a glance that she was a woman of importance. In fact she was only Celestia Freeman, a textile mill overseer’s wife, and she had made the dress herself.
The story behind the dress is that of the booming, innovative 19th century with all its new ideas and new possibilities: the invention and introduction of the sewing machine into the home, the creation of a commercial pattern industry, and the spread of fashion magazines across the nation. These things together gave women across social levels all they needed to turn dress into status. Celestia’s dress is the centerpiece of an exploration of how a woman of limited means could make the clothes that could make the woman.
With curator Astrida Schaeffer.

Saturday, October 3, 10 am-4 pm,
Victorian Trims & Embellishments Workshop,
The Portsmouth Athenaeum, Portsmouth, NH

Get inspired by 19th century gown embellishments with author and costume historian Astrida Schaeffer. Learn how the Victorians thought about design, and make a sampler of the piping, cording, pleating, ribbon work, applique and self-trim techniques that made their clothes fabulous. The class includes a visual tour of Victorian gowns, handouts, and hands-on instruction. Fee: $90, registration required click on button below.