Mar 17, 2011

Making an 1830s beaded watch chain

Yesterday was spent at the Colonial Williamsburg Education Centre with Christina Westenberger learning about 1830s beaded watch chains. We were given a kit and started making our own, to finish in our own time.
1830s beaded watch chain supplies

Reproduction watch chain and graph pattern we are following

A working example

And another extant example
Christina provided us with wonderful instruction sheets and all the materials needed to make a full-length chain. She was very organised and started out by showing us portraits of 1830s women wearing the chains. Until now I have to admit that I never noticed their presence in 1830s portraits.

There is a wonderful article onlineWoven Bead Chains in Early 19th-Century American Dress by Lynne Basset, 1995 and an example on exhibition at the Dewitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum in Colonial Williamsburg as part of their Fashion Accessories from Head to Toe exhibition that runs until December 31, 2012.  This exhibition features costume accessories from the late seventeenth through the early nineteenth century. If you can't view this wonderful exhibition in person, there are a selection of items online in their e-museum. Unfortunately the watch chain is not viewable online and my photo is too grainy to see anything.

Lynne Basset also wrote an article "Guard Thy Hours: Bead Watch Chains of the 1830s" in PIECEWORK, May/June 2000, pg 37-40. This article shows a portrait of a New England woman wearing a bead watch chain in the early 1830s.
Lynne Basset wrote a more comprehensive article, "Woven bead chains of the 1830s", in the December 1995 issue of Antiques.

Below are two portraits I found online in a quick google search, both show the watch chain worn around the neck and then tucked into the belt.

Mrs Pearce, 1835. Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Centre, Williamsburg, Virginia US.

Source unknown.
Most chains in collections today are 40-60 inches long and half an inch wide and close with a silk ribbon tie. They often have a date and name woven into them and were both used by the maker and given as gifts.

Aylwen Gardiner-Garden making her reproduction 1830s watch chain.


Time Traveling in Costume said...

Thank you for including the mention of Lynne Bassett's article on watch chains in Piecework. I was told about that too, and want to try and find it.
Did they give you any info on how any of us can get one of those rigs to make the chain on?

accessoryqueen1 said...

Val here's a link for buying one online:
or to make your own:

Time Traveling in Costume said...

Thank you. I've bookmarked that when I'm done with my other 5 projects. :)

accessoryqueen1 said...

Aylwen, I hope yours is going better than mine is! I still can't find the turqoise beads I need.

accessoryqueen1 said...

Oh girl I wish I only had 5 projects-LOL! BTW, if you're in the US try looking for a beading loom/kit at Michael's, Wal-Mart, Jo-Ann's, etc.

Time Traveling in Costume said...

I am, and those are a couple locations someone else suggested to me also. Thanks!

Mrs Aylwen Gardiner-Garden said...

Unfortunately until our Jane Austen Festival is over I can't even look at it. Thats one of the problems being the Director!

Jtknits said...

Very nice. Do you have a source for the graph?

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