What’s the difference between a swag and a meander?

Nancy Rexford (left) shows students how to identify styles in a skirt border.

Kitty Cassetti, student participant, Hampshire College, says:
I came into this project expecting it to be much bigger than it actually was. I was expecting to be neck deep in historical garments and be able to be up close and personal with them. I expected that I would come close to tears when faced with a regency wedding dress. I was expecting that all of my knowledge that would come from my exposure to these garments was only going to go as far as a note card. Essentially, I was expecting to be Nancy Rexford and provide the data that was already available to us when I came to the project.
Computers, metadata, spreadsheets, and working towards a website were quite the surprise, but, I wanted to move beyond my expectations and really learn how a historian would document these garments into a working website instead of my odd whimsical ideas surrounding costume historians.
In all honesty, the hardest, most gratifying, most exhausting part of the entire process were the long lectures that we sat through with Nancy as she taught us how to identify a shawl or lace pattern and then having that result in the four of us being able to work together to identify something to a T. But second to that, I really enjoyed the steady job of numbering the shawls and the images associated with each shawl. Numbering the book was a different matter since it was much much more stressful. Many times, especially when scanning or cataloging, the question of what should qualify as one image or what should be considered part of a group. In that respect, I adored working with Lydia, Niani and Megan because we were quite good at bouncing ideas off of each other. There were more time than I could count when one of us would encounter a shawl without a year, a border with more than one layer or a motif that we couldn’t name and we would bounce ideas off of each other until there was mutual consent. Second to learning about dating nineteenth century shawls, being able to bounce ideas off of each other was an incredibly useful skill for me to further develop.
If I were to go back and edit something, I would have the notebook re-numbered, which (I know because I numbered the whole thing) would be a pain. But, here’s the thing, in many of the borders or motifs that we worked with, there was always a lot of question about which piece was meant to be seen ¬†together and which piece was it just easier to not cut apart. So if Nancy could sit with the numberer and indicate ¬†where the divisions should be made, it would make the numbering of the book much more cohesive. The other thing that I had a hard time with was using a standard for the metadata. When first explained to me, much of it didn’t stick and in the process of actually cataloging the shawls, I found that it played close to no role. If there was some way for one person working on the project to put together a collection of words that would be options for the catalogers to use when faced with certain categories. Or if there was a standard for what each of the motifs was called, like, what’s the difference between a swag and a meander? Having said that, as a cataloger, it was hard at first for me to worry about where the standards were and where I could be a bit more colorful in my use of language.
Finally, the thing that I got out of the overall project was how much of a maker and a do-er I am. When I started working with garments and clothing as a medium, I asked myself if I would ever know where I would end up. I knew that sewing and creating garments was my main love, but I didn’t know if going down a historian’s route would ever be right for me. I can honestly say that, though being able to identify costume down to a five year period is a skill that I would love to possess, if it’s not directly applicable in my work, I don’t find it nearly as satisfying. Don’t get me wrong, cataloging is good hard work and I always come away from it proud of the work I’ve done but it doesn’t give me the glowing satisfaction that I get when I see a person, whether for the stage or for the everyday, fully embrace a garment I’ve created.

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