Historical clothing made for Harper’s Mansion

A fashionable pair of ‘unmentionables’ are now on display at Harper’s Mansion.

After a visit to the Southern Highlands, a group of Western Sydney women decided to recreate a piece of history for Harper’s Mansion. The Encore Historical Sewing Group visited the iconic Berrima mansion more than two years ago and decided to get their needles and thread out to create a few new pieces of historical clothing for display.

“Our visit to Harpers Mansion in 2016 was a little outing initiated by one of our members, who had been there and seen the costumes and thought we should all see them,” Encore’s Barbara Porter said.

“We had a lovely day there and were very enthusiastic when Haper’s Mansion’s Eric Savage asked us if we would make a pair of men’s trousers circa 1841 and a ‘Sunday Best’ for a six-year-old boy to add to their collection.

“Of course we said yes.”

And on April 13, after two years of hard work, the group presented the Mansion with five new pieces of of handmade, historically accurate clothing from the 1800s.

Harper’s Mansion was built by James and Mary Harper just after Berrima was gazetted in 1831 and presents an inspiring story of a proud early Australian family.

The Encore sewing group made a pair of men’s pants, sized to fit James Harper, some braces embroidered with vine leaves instead of a belt, and a little boy’s cap, white shirt and pants.

“When we began our research we found that this was the time when modern dress was evolving for men and boys,” Ms Porter said.

By this time the Industrial Revolution had begun in Europe and the increasing smog from the growing number of factories made it no longer possible for businessmen to wear brightly coloured silks, satins and velvets.

“We researched at the Powerhouse Museum Research Library and discovered that black and dark blue colours became more popular,” Ms Porter.

“After about 1835 trousers with a buttoned front, known as unmentionables, started to be worn by men in Australia ,” Ms Porter said.

“We have made the boys pants with the older style, and gentleman’s trousers with the newer fly opening.”

The women traced the pattern for the boys shorts from an original at the Powerhouse library while the mens shirt, called a square shirt, was made from an American pattern.

“Images of stitching on convict shirts found at the Hyde Park Barracks were useful for reproducing authentic 1840s hand stitches,” Ms Porter said.

The garments will be displayed at Harper’s Mansion and Ms Porter said she hoped the community enjoyed the work of the Encore group.

“We hope these garments give more of an insight into life in Berrima in the 1840s,” she said.


Photo: Encore’s Gaye Nyhuis, Babara Porter, Caroline Volkiene, Rosemary Vine, Jane Holmes, Christine Lanckriet, Lyn Forde, Harper’s Mansion volunteers Anthea Walker Smith and Wendy Waide.

(Written by Madeline Crittenden for the Southern Highland News)